The European Championships are mere weeks away and as all the cup finals drew to a close all the attention is now diverted to France. The Euros promises everything us football fanatics are craving; entertainment, drama, wonderful play and of course goals that we will be talking for years.The groups for the Euros have been made and there are some tasty match-ups and inevitably the dreaded ‘group of death’ which promises some good games.
Manager: Didier Deschamps
Key player: Antoine Giezmann (Atletico Madrid)
As the hosts of the tournament they have a chance to win silverware on home soil, much like with the world cup in 1998, in which they beat Brazil 2-0 in the final. This generation’s France squad is extremely talented with talents like Lloris, Pogba, Martial amongst others. The absence of Karim Benzema will not be too mourned as Atleti forward Antoine Griezmann has been in crazy form and could be the man to deliver the bookies’ favourites to glory after a series of sub standard performances in previous tournaments.
Manager: Anghel Iordănescu
Key Player: Vlad Chiriches (Napoli)
Romania are a decent footballing side with some good players who can provide some good moments and will be counting on their defence being their saving grace as they conceded just 2 goals in 10 games, the best defensive record of any side in qualifying. However on a whole the Romania squad aren’t strong enough and have enough quality to really progress far into the tournament, especially with sides like France and Switzerland in their group, but are likely to grab 3rd place and go into the newly formatted 3rd place play-off.
Manager: Vladimir Petković
Key Player: Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)
The Swiss are worth a shout as one of the tournament’s dark horses with a team that is brimming with young talents which as Wolfsburg left back Ricardo Rodriguez, Arsenal new man Granit Xhaka as well one of the world’s best emerging talents in Basel’s Breel Donald Embolo. Xherdan Shaqiri, fresh from a decent debut season with Stoke City, the former Champions League winner will be hoping to put in similar talismanic performances like he did in Brazil 2 years ago.
Manager: Gianni de Biasi
Key Player: Lorik Cana (Nantes)
Euro 2016 will be Albania’s first appearance in a major tournament since joining UEFA as an association of football in 1930, so them qualifying to participate in France is an amazing achievement but it is more than likely to be damage limitation for the Albanians as they will be depending on captain Cana to command their defence due to their lack of goals as they only scored 7 goals, the lowest total of any team to have qualified for the Euros.
My prediction about Group A: France to top the group with ease, Switzerland or Romania for 2nd, but I’m leaning more towards the Swiss to make it out of the group stages.
Manager: Roy Hodgson
Key Player: Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur)
The curious case of the England football team. After a series of underwhelming failure after underwhelming failure, England have constructed a squad with young talents like Dele Alli and Marcus Rashford infused with some experience in the form of Joe Hart and captain Wayne Rooney. The defence is still an area of concern with questions of left back and a partner for Chris Smalling, however the aforementioned positives coupled with the fact England have the Premier League’s two scorers in Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy will undoubtedly lead to exciting games, even if there are only 3 of them for England.
Manager: Leonid Slutsky
Key Player: Artem Dzyuba (Zenit St Petersburg)
Russia are always undoubtedly going to be a tough and difficult team for anyone to come up against, and this is no different come the 10th of June. Russia are historically a very physical side and this Russia side can be embodied in Zenit striker Artem Dzyuba, a 6’5 clinical powerhouse who leads the Russia attack, a player who loves to put himself about and drag defenders with him to allow him more elegant and explosive players like Oleg Shatov to devastate defences by cutting inside or even lumping balls into Dzyuba to head in or for knock downs, a tactic which is effective in knockout tournaments, where results matter most.
Manager: Jan Kozak
Key Player: Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
Slovakia are in somewhat a similar boat as Albania as Slovakia has never actually qualified for the European championships despite having qualified for the world cup, albeit in 2010 for South Africa. Slovakia have quality players however such as Liverpool’s nutcase and Slovakia captain Martin Skrtel as well as Marek Hamsik of Napoli, who a lot of people are expecting to be his country’s catalyst when attacking.
Manager: Chris Coleman
Key player: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Euro 2016 marks Wales’ first participation in a major tournament since 1958 and despite popular belief, Wales are not there just to make the numbers. They have some serious quality in their side such as Ashley Williams who’s dependable despite his team’s struggles, Aaron Ramsey is a top end dynamic midfielder as well his midfield partner Joe Ledley. This is without mentioning the colossus that is Gareth Bale, fresh from his 2nd Champions League triumph in 3 years, will be desperate to show his quality on the international stage to the world.
My prediction for group B: England will top the group with relative ease and I actually think there will be an upset on the cards as Wales will finish 2nd and Slovakia will grab 3rd place.
- Northern Ireland
Manager: Joachim Low
Key Player: Mesut Ozil (Arsenal)
The world champions had a somewhat turbulent qualification period but managed to finish top as well as recently losing 3-2 to England at home after being 2-0 up and losing 3-1 to Slovakia after being 1-0, both of which are in group B. Injuries have ruled out Marco Reus and Hummels for at least the first group game as well as the fact that Lahm has retired means Emre Can is likely to play at RB, signalling a dent in Germany’s defence. However the Germans are still extremely potent in attack with the likes of Gotze, Kroos, Gomez and the in form Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil, who just had a record equalling season with Arsenal as he accumulated 20 assists in the Premier League, tied with Thierry Henry.
Manager: Michael O’Neill
Key Player: Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City)
Qualifying for this year’s European championships is a massive achievement for O’Neill and his men and will be determined to make a real go for it and with players like Southampton’s Steven Davis in midfield, former Man Utd player Johnny Evans and current Man Utd player Paddy McNair in defence as well as Kyle Lafferty who although his club form goes off the boil, he always does it for his country. He will be vital as his physical presence will play a part in their play as NI score a lot from set pieces.
Manager: Adam Nawalka
Key Player: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich)
Poland are a dangerous team which can inflict damage to any team and this is bad news for teams, especially the Germans as a lot of them are likely to see their Bayern club team-mate score against them as opposed to for them in the form of Robert Loewandowski, who’s in riveting form. They also have Sevilla midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, Glik and Piszczek in defence as well as Swansea shot stopper Lucasz Fabianski. With such as devastatingly clinical forward like Lewandowski, Poland are a team to be reckoned with
Manager: Myklo Fomenko
Key Player: Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla)
Ukraine are arguably the weakest team in group C but despite this they still possess some players who provide sparks such as Dynamo Kiev’s Andriy Yarmolenko who likes to fizz around the final third and create chances as well as recent Europa League winner Yevhen Konoplyanka who is much more direct as he likes to run down the left hand side, cut inside to his right and rifle a shot in but is also capable to hugging the touch-line and delivering quality class into the box. Ukraine’s Euro 2016 is more than likely only going to be 3 matches long but they can still pull up a surprise or two.
My prediction about Group C: Germany will face stern tests from Poland and Ukraine but will still top the group to top the group with fierce foes Poland following them in 2nd place. However I feel Northern Ireland have more than meets the eye and will finish in 3rd above Ukraine.
- Czech Republic
Manager: Ante Cacic
Key Player: Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
The Croatian national team is littered with quality players all over the park through the spine of the team with AS Monaco’s Subasic between the sticks, Darijo Srna and Tin Jedvaj in the defence with the creative double duo of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric who are coming off the back of La Liga and Champions League wins respectively as well as Ivan Perisic, who’s had a good season with Inter Milan in Italy. This is spearheaded by Juventus’ Mario Mandzukic, who’s endured an indifferent season in Turin, but is still a dangerous player for his national team.
Manager: Pavel Vrba
Key Player: Petr Cech (Arsenal)
The Czech Republic are without a doubt the weakest team in the group and although have some decent players with the likes of Arsenal’s Petr Cech, Marek Suchy of Basel, Daniel Pudil and even free agent Thomas Rosicky in the midfield, there are still woefully short of genuine quality to drag them far into the tournament and even with Petr Cech in-goal, they still conceded 14 goals in qualifying, the highest of any team in the Euros.
Manager: Vincente del Bosque
Key Player David De Gea (Manchester United)
Spain will be desperate to wipe all memories and nightmares of the 2014 Brazil where they were humiliated by both the Dutch and the Chileans and put up a quite frankly embarrassing defence of their world cup title, which they surrendered ever so easily into the hands of the Germans. With the exclusion of players like Diego Costa, Isco and Saul Niguez this allowed players like Bruno Soriano, Celta Vigo’s Nolitio and Arsenal speed demon Hector Bellerin, who made the cut over Saul and Isco. I personally think David De Gea will have the massive task over overhauling Iker Casillas as the Manchester United man is likely to start for the Spanish in net, and this can be the start of him cementing his place in the Spain starting XI for the next 10-12 years.
Manager: Fatih Terim
Key Player: Arda Turan (Barcelona)
Turkey qualified by the skin of their teeth as the qualified via being the 3rd best places team with the best record in their group but I for one am really glad that they are in this year’s Euros, as they have an array of talent, especially in the midfield, which can showcase their talent on the big stage. This includes players like Borussia Dortmund’s Nuri Sahin, Oguzhan Ozyakup of Besiktas as well as arguably the best dead ball specialist in the world Hakan Calhanoglu, although Leverkusen team-mate Toprak will not be there. Then of course comes Barcelona’s Arda Turn who although hasn’t played a lot of football since joining the Catalan club, still embodies the Turkish way: power, determination and sheer passion.
My prediction about Group D: I think Spain and Turkey will battle it out for top spot and I actually think Turkey will pip them to top spot with Spain in behind although with the new look Spain squad Del Bosque has, you just never know. Croatia will put up a good fight too but I think the aforementioned teams will have too much for the Croatians.
- Republic of Ireland
Manager: Marc Wilmots
Key Player: Kevin de Bruyne (Manchester City)
After their somewhat underwhelming performance in the 2014 world cup in Brazil, Wilmots and his men will be determined to amend their wrongs from two years and are one of the favourites to win the Euros this year. The Belgium players are bang in form with the likes of Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen being rocks for Tottenham, Radja Nainggolan commanding the midfield in Italy, Romelu Lukaku scoring 25+ goals for a very poor Everton side and even Eden Hazard who endured a terrible season for Chelsea, came into form as of late to the end of the season The main man for Belgium will undoubtedly be Kevin de Bruyne who’s been amazing for Manchester City before and even after his 3 month lay-off. All these inform players makes Belgium a real force in defence, midfield and attack.
Manager: Antonio Conte
Key Player: Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
If not for the players, Euro 2016 is huge for the Italy manager Antonio Conte as for one this is his swan song with the Italy national side as well as a chance to prove his credentials to any doubters he has about becoming the new Chelsea boss, replacing new Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho as the blues’ new permanent manager. As for the players, the losses of Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio and the exclusion of Andrea Pirlo will be big blows to the Azzurri but have quality in their side in the form of Antonio Candreva, Stephan El Shaarawy and even Southampton’s Graziano Pelle but Insigne has had a fantastic season with Napoli, and there is no sign of his form not carrying on into France.
Republic of Ireland
Manager: Martin O’Neill
Key Player: Jonathan Walters (Stoke City)
The Republic of Ireland will be hoping to better their tournament best of the reaching just the group stages but after seeing the rest of their group, I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t instantly disheartened. They are in the dreaded ‘group of death’ as are drawn with the powerhouses that are Italy, the 2nd best team in the world in Belgium is FIFA rankings are to be taken serious and although they are probably better than Sweden, they do possess one of the most lethal forwards in Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Despite this, ROI have a decent squad with good players such as Everton trio McCarthy, Coleman and McGeady. This is without mentioned the experience of John O’Shea and Robbie Keane, Robbie Brady of Norwich can be an attacking outlet but most of their hopes lie on the strikers Shane Long and Walters, the whole experience will be great for the squad however.
Manager: Erik Hamren
Key Player: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Unattached)
Sweden would be odds on to finish rock bottom of this group with probably no points, especially with the other teams in their group if it wasn’t for one man. Zlatan. For all the stick he gets about him domestically about him not being proven in good domestic leagues and being over rated, myself included, you cannot ignore that the 6’5 forward carries and drags that Sweden team more than any other player does for their national team and any sort of service to the big Swede will likely be devastating to their opponents , but I still think this isn’t enough to drag them further than the 3 group stages.
My prediction about Group E: Group E is the hardest group to call as there are arguments for all four claiming the top spot but realistically I don’t see there being a major upset as I think both Belgium and Italy will finish top two, although I see Belgium finishing 1st with Italy in 2nd and I actually see Sweden piping ROI to 3rd.
Manager: Marcel Koller
Key Player: Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City)
I personally see Austria as a dark horse in this year’s Euros as they have talent all over the pitch and a lot of their better players are in form for their clubs, which signals even more potential success for Koller’s team. In the defence they have Dragovic, Prodl of Watford, Kevin Wimmer who’s had a good spell at Spurs as well as Christian Fuchs, who won the Premier League with Leicester City, being a staple to their success. from left back. Their midfield is their strongest component with Bundesliga duo David Alaba from Bayern Munich and Julian Baumgartlinger, who has recently joined Bayer Leverkusen from Mainz. The star of the Austria team is however Marko Arnautovic, who got 11 goals and 6 assists in the BPL in the season just past, and at 6’4, is a fast, strong and powerful attacking outlet.
Manager: Bernd Storck
Key Player: Tamas Priskin (Slovan Bratislava)
Hungary are a team which aren’t filled with stars or in fact any that really light up Europe and as a result of this, I don’t see them doing anything worth noting in the Euros, in fact they qualified via a play-off against Norway, in which Norway were very unlucky to lose 3-1 on aggregate. They do have former Watford and QPR forward Tamas Priskin who’s been in decent form in the Slovakian league, but I really don’t see much for Hungary at the euros, should be an easy 3 points for the others on the group.
Manager: Lars Lagerback
Key Player: Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea)
The European Champions in France will mark Iceland’s first ever participation in any sort of major tournament having never previously being able to manage to qualify for a Euros or world cup. The small country of Iceland aren’t tipped to light things up in France but with players like Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, it would be a grave mistake allowing the former Spurs man a lot of time on the ball to shoot or pick out a pass or even giving him a dead ball situation within 30 yards and he’s shown in the Premier League that he knows how to strike a ball clean into the top bins.
Manager: Fernando Santos
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Portugal had a woeful world cup as they limped out of Brazil in the group stage, looking disjointed and clearly out of ideas once they realized that star man Ronaldo are clearly carrying a knock which made him pretty much redundant, crazy how a country with such great players can still be so reliant on one player. The newly crowned Champions League winner is again carrying a knock going into France, much like two years but it is much better than before and they still have dangerous players like Nani, Moutinho and Quaresma. Like I said in my world cup preview for world cup 2014, their greatest asset could be their greatest weakness however, as the Portugal side are majorly dependent on Real Madrid winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
My prediction about Group F: I have my reservations about group F and that is purely because of Cristano Ronaldo’s fitness, or lack of it. If he can prove his fitness and perform like we all know he can, then I am sure he can propel Portugal into finishing top with Austria taking second followed by Iceland.
On a whole, the Euros are mere days away and the excitement is already bubbling inside of me, strange, considering I support England and it will end in penalties and tears for me. As Always. On a serious note, this year’s euros will no doubt provide great entertainment for all and will hopefully live long in our memories, for all the right reasons.