As part of news.bwin’s Euro Legends series, the continent was scoured in order to gauge the predictions of a former international from each if the 24 countries involved in this summer’s European Championships. From Andrei Kanchelskis to Chris Waddle, here’s what these retired greats had to say ahead of Euro 2016…
France – Pascal Chimbonda
A member of the France squad that reached the 2006 World Cup final, Pascal Chimbonda knows what it takes to go far in international tournaments and, whatever that sacred blend may be, he believes the current Bleus outfit have it in abundance.
PC on France at Euro 2016…
There will be immense pressure on France because the competition is at home and when you’re playing in your own country, you’re expected to play well and to win. We have a great team with very good players, so they’ll have to perform well and look to win the competition.
When you look at the group on paper, you think that it will be easy for France to progress but we know in football it doesn’t always work like that and one poor result can have a bad effect – look at Brazil at the World Cup. There are no small teams in our group and we have to treat each game as a must-win.
PC on France’s key players this summer and his prediction…
We have some fantastic players in this current squad with Paul Pogba the centre of attention. He has to stand up and be counted this summer as one of the stars in Europe. Alongside Pogba, we’ve got a world-class keeper in Hugo Lloris, a very talented centre back in Raphael Varane and some strong attacking players in Dimitri Payet, Olivier Giroud, Andre-Pierre Gignac and Antoine Griezmann.
We have a couple of younger players who can have special tournaments as impact players too; Anthony Martial from Manchester United and Kingsley Coman from Bayern Munich. Both players are very fast and coming off the bench, they can cause defences all sorts of problems.
If I was to predict the final, I think France will play Italy. I hope we can win it all and it would be an incredible achievement for the country.
Key Man: Paul Pogba
Romania – Florin Raducioiu
A fleeting, mid-90’s stint at West Ham United enabled Florin Raducioiu to complete the set in terms of appearances in Europe’s elite leagues. It was arguably his stellar international record that brought him to the attention of top-flight clubs in England, Italy, Spain and Germany, with 21 goals scored across 40 caps for Romania. Having represented his country at the ’94 World Cup and Euro ’96, who better to pass opinion on how the Tricolori will fare in France this summer?
FR on Romania at Euro 2016…
Personally, Euro 96 wasn’t a great experience as we lost all three games and gave a poor account of ourselves on the continental stage. The best thing for me was the goal I scored against Spain, but, ultimately, it was irrelevant.
Romania come into Euro 2016 as a team without expectations and hopefully they can do better than we did 20 years ago. However, I think we lack a true leader who could carry the team, an attacker who causes the opposition problems. You really need a high-quality striker who can score a goal out of nowhere when you’re playing against strong teams.
My idea of football today, since so much has changed in the last decade, is that the teams with the most experience, whose players are used to playing at a high level and under pressure, will be successful.
Romania just don’t have these kinds of players to compete with the very best.
I’d say our best player is Vlad Chiriches but he’s not playing enough at Napoli. Our players don’t get enough game time at the top level any more like we did ahead of previous Euros, with the likes of Gheorghe Hagi and Dan Petrescu.
I try to remain optimistic about my country but the truth is we’ll do well to qualify for the knockout stage.
Without trying to provoke a reaction, I think the group stages of the tournament will be a bit boring. This tournament will be like the Champions League, beginning in the second round when the best teams in the tournament face each other.
FR on England’s chances…
England are a very young, interesting team.
They have discovered some players this season who have been incredible, like Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli. I think England should reach the quarter finals at the least, but I hope they’re able to go further.
Prediction: Group Stages
Key Man: Vlad Chiriches
Albania – Alban Bushi
Only one Albanian has been a bigger scourge of opposition defences in the colours of his country than the Eagles’ second-highest goalscorer, Alban Bushi. The continent-trotting, centre-forward earned a crust in six different domains during his lengthy playing career and is bubbling with anticipation as Albania prepare to sample a major international football tournament for the first time.
AB on Albania ahead of Euro 2016…
Victory against Portugal in the first qualifier for Euro 2016 gave us the self-belief that we could fight against any team we face. It was a great achievement to qualify for the finals and the reception from our fans was amazing; hopefully, there’ll be plenty out there supporting us in France. They were the 12th man during qualification and I’m sure they’ll continue to be during Euro 2016.
We have been drawn in a very tough group as France, Switzerland and Romania have great players but we are not going as tourists. We will fight for every minute of every match and I hope we can cause a few surprises in the competition.
AB on Lorik Cana and Milot Rashica…
Lorik is our most experienced player who has won a lot of international caps and he is using this experience to help our national team. He is the key player for us defensively.
I think Milot Rashica will reach the highest levels of the current Albanian squad. He had a good season scoring goals in the Eredivisie with Vitesse, but we’ve also got a very promising player in Elseid Hysaj, who is currently playing for Napoli. It’s exciting to see our young talents developing.
It’s very difficult to say which players will make a big impact this summer because every success achieved for us is a team effort and it will be a team effort that will determine our Euro 2016 fate. The team’s effort combined with our fans’ support will make the difference in France; the enthusiasm in the stands will be one of our strongest weapons.
Prediction: Round of 16
Key Man: Lorik Cana
Switzerland – Ramon Vega
Marshalling the Swiss rearguard that held England to a draw in the opening game of Euro ’96 was undoubtedly a high point in the 23-cap international career of Ramon Vega. It proved to be the only point Switzerland would win in that tournament, but the ex-Spurs stopper envisages greater fortunes for his countrymen 20 years on.
RV on Switzerland at Euro 2016…
I think we’re a good outside bet, but not much more than that. Our first team is good enough to challenge anyone, we saw that when we beat Spain in the 2010 World Cup, but you need a squad to win a tournament and I don’t think we have that depth.
The game against France will have the most spice for sure – they are probably our biggest sporting rivals. We always want to beat them.
Other than depth, we have to make sure we play without fear. I thought we were scared against England in the qualifying and that was reflected in the performances and the result.
It’s no secret that Xherdan Shaqiri is our key threat. His shooting makes him a threat from any distance within 30 yards and his movement is superb.
Against a top team like France, he will need to produce a wonderful performance for us to have any chance of a result.
I’ve been watching him at Stoke and I think he’s really benefitting from plying his trade in England. He is well-suited physically and has the right worth ethic to succeed.
RV on England at Euro 2016…
Roy Hodgson is doing to England what he did for Switzerland in Euro 96 – he’s creating a squad with ‘experienced youth’ and the qualifying group has allowed him to do this very well.
By this I mean he is getting young players involved in the England setup at the right time, so when we get to the tournament these players are young but not inexperienced.
Dele Alli has a goal against France, Raheem Sterling has 20 caps aged 21 and the likes of Phil Jones and Nathaniel Clyne have been around the squad.
This has been building in the last two years, so while England are going to have a young group, they are not inexperienced.
It was similar with Hodgson in Switzerland. He brought me into the squad for the Euros, along with a few others, who were young but kind of experienced. It’s a nice position to be in ahead of a major tournament.
Prediction: Quarter finals
Key Man: Xherdan Shaqiri
England – Chris Waddle
Boasting a repertoire of tricks that belies a heritage deep-rooted in the working-class communities of north east England, Waddle was the type of player the phrase ‘orthodox winger’ was defined around. 62 England caps encrusted a magnificent, 24-year career, with two World Cups and a European Championship experienced along the way.
CW on England at Euro 2016 and the relative inexperience in the team…
I’m a great believer that this team isn’t as inexperienced as people are making out as there are players in that team who have played in top European competitions. Yes players like Kane, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling are young but they all play at a very high level. Granted we were very poor at the World Cup in Brazil but I think we play a very different style of football in the Premier League to how we play in international football so you can see why they struggle to adjust.
Looking at the group – Slovakia, Russia and Wales – all those teams will be content with sitting back and soaking up England pressure and then trying to hit us on the counter. We have to be careful to avoid being too attacking, but we certainly shouldn’t throw caution to the wind in France.
There’s an unbelievable amount of pressure on England at every tournament and with Euro 2016, we’ve got players who will go there with great confidence like Kane and Alli, but they’ll have to adjust as England won’t play with the same style as Spurs.
CW on potential selections and the style of play England should adopt…
I think we have to go 4-3-3 at the tournament and change it to a diamond if it’s not working, with two up top. I think Wayne Rooney will start on the left as, based on this season, you have to start Kane and Vardy through the middle. Alli deserves his place behind Kane and if you want to play fast and attacking, you have to play Danny Rose at left back and either Kyle Walker or Nathaniel Clyne on the other flank.
Our main problem is our defensive situation, especially at centre half. They have to be protected. I think John Stones’ best position is defensive midfield. I’d like to see him play there in the upcoming friendlies to see how he performs because one of him or Eric Dier has to protect the two centre backs.
CW on Wayne Rooney…
Rooney will be walking out as captain in England’s first game. He’s experienced and has played in international tournaments and, more importantly, he’s needed in the dressing room to help the younger players. It difficult to say what position he plays and that’s something Roy Hodgson will need to decide, but he’ll be guaranteed a role in the team. Whether people agree or disagree, Rooney should be in the team.
CW on England’s star man and his prediction for the tournament…
I think Alli could be our surprise package as he plays with a free spirit but I also feel Wilshere, if fit, will also have a great tournament. If Wilshere plays in three of the last four games for Arsenal and shows he’s ready, then he’ll go to the Euros and he could well start as a deeper midfield player who plays box-to-box.
There will always be the question as to why you’d take a footballer who hasn’t played all season but Hodgson is a big fan of his and he said he’ll take Wilshere if he’s fit.
I’d be very surprised if we don’t win our group and then you come across the big boys – France, Spain, Germany, Italy and Belgium – so it’s difficult to predict. I think we’ll get to the quarter-finals and then it’s anyone’s guess.
Prediction – Quarter finals
Key Man – Dele Alli
Russia – Andrei Kanchelskis
A star for Manchester United in the early-to-mid ‘90s, Kanchelskis won 36 caps for Russia post-Soviet Union collapse and a further 23 before it. His international career took him to Euro ’92 and ’96, though it’s unlikely he remembers the experiences fondly. His country finished bottom in the respective group stages of each tournament and, worryingly for Russia, he doesn’t see his 21st century successors faring much better in France…
AK on Russia’s chances at Euro 2016…
Honestly, I think it is going to be a difficult tournament for Russia. Our main issue is our defence is ageing.
We have a lot of experience, but you have to look at how well England are doing now they have good young players coming through. We need more youthful players coming through.
Luckily I think we have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Igor Akinfeev and Artem Dzyuba is playing well for Zenit St Petersburg. He has a good international goals record.
I could see him playing in the Premier League, he’s very big and strong which is very important in English football.
We have a very good manager in Leonid Slutsky, who is also the manager of CSKA Moscow.
He has a very good record so far, but I thought Fabio Capello had a good one too – so Slutsky has a bit to build on. Staying injury-free will be crucial if we are to make it out of the group.
Prediction: Group Stages
Key Man: Artem Dzyuba
Wales – Neville Southall
Few goalkeepers are idolised quite like Southall is at Everton, for whom he made over 700 appearances. For Wales, he fell just short of 100 caps after devoting 15 years to the Dragons’ cause but, sadly, Southall was unable to compete in a major tournament. Propelled by the undebatable magnificence of Gareth Bale, however, he reckons Chris Coleman’s charges can have an impact at Euro 2016.
NS on Wales’ chances at Euro 2016…
Chris Coleman will go to that tournament thinking he can win it otherwise what is the point turning up? You don’t go to enjoy yourself, you go to win and if you look at the teams in our group, they are all beatable.
England under Roy Hodgson are very defensive and prioritise defending over attacking, so we can definitely attack them. When you’ve got a player like Gareth Bale, we can beat any team in the group. Wayne Rooney is on the same level for England and he’s the player the whole team will look to but if we can keep it tight, we can nick a goal late on.
Bale is the best Welsh footballer that I’ve ever seen and when you have him, you have a really nice balanced squad. Teams will try their best to stop him but we’ve got other players such as Aaron Ramsey to turn too as well.
NS on Wales’ lesser-heralded stars…
If I’m completely honest, we will hang our hat on Gareth Bale. I watched Ryan Giggs play and I remember against Moldova they kicked lumps out of him and it’s difficult to maintain a high level of play when teams are targeting you. Nowadays, it’s easier; you can’t be as blatant about your fouls and this will help Gareth.
In La Liga, there are a lot of defenders trying to stop Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Bale but sometimes, because they’re so good, you just can’t.
If you’re looking at a lesser-known player, Hal Robson-Kanu is the one to watch. He’s strong, he has good movement and he’s got good enthusiasm. There are other players such as Joe Allen, Joe Ledley who are currently playing at top clubs so they are used to the environment. I think this squad is good enough to get out of the group.
NS’ predictions for Euro 2016…
If Bale stays fit, we’ll get out of the group and then we’ll go as far as he can take us. The problem for him is that he’s playing in Ronaldo’s shadow at Real Madrid, but this tournament could be his time to shine. If he goes and has a good tournament, he’ll be as well known as Messi and Ronaldo on the world stage.
However, before we start coining him as on par with those two, he needs to be more consistent in his play. If he becomes more consistent and continues to play at a top level, he’ll be on their level in three/four years time.
NS’ top three goalkeepers to watch in the tournament…
I think at the moment you can’t look past Manuel Neuer, who is head and shoulders above the competition, Hugo Lloris, and Hart. I really want to see Wayne Hennessey do well as he’s taken a long time to come through and now he’s having a good season at Crystal Palace. Outside of those three goalkeepers and David de Gea, who is getting better and better, there aren’t any world-class goalkeepers.
Prediction: Last 16
Key Man: Gareth Bale
Slovakia – Stan Varga
A former centre-back and captain of Slovakia, the imposing frame of Varga was wrapped in the striped shirts of Sunderland and Celtic across an eight-year stay in the British Isles. He was a regular for his country across nine seasons too, winning 54 caps along the way.
SV on Slovakia’s chances at Euro 2016 and facing off against England…
It’s a very hard group for Slovakia, considering our opponents, but if we can keep our players fit throughout the tournament, we might see a few surprises. It will be very difficult to get out of the group.
We’re fortunate that teams like Spain, who are very technical, are not in our group. That’s not to say England, Wales or Russia aren’t, but if we perform to our best, we can do well.
I think we can beat Wales but it will be tough with Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey playing.
We’ve got some very good players, such as Vladimir Weiss, who, in my opinion, should be playing at higher level than what he is in Qatar now because he’s a very good player. He has played for Manchester City, Espanyol and Rangers – top teams.
He can be a very important for us, but I think the key men are Martin Škrtel, Marek Hamšík and Jaraj Jucka from AC Milan.
If those 3 players are going to be fit then we have a good chance of doing well in the European Championships.
In every tournament, whether that is a World Cup or the European Champions, England are favourites in my opinion and that’s not any different now.
Prediction – Group Stages
Key Man – Martin Skrtel
Germany – Christian Ziege
Had Thor himself witnessed Ziege’s left foot strike a ball, he’d have consigned his fabled hammer to the shed and spent the rest of his days trying to talk the German into having it amputated. His feted boot helped Bayern Munich, AC Milan and Liverpool to seven major trophies, while the country of his birth benefitted from it on 72 occasions.
CZ on Germany at Euro 2016…
The pressure on Germany is always so high as the whole nation is behind them and expecting them to go to the final and win the tournament. They have to perform well and they have been recently, with Joachim Löw leading them to some great wins. Beating Brazil 7-1 in their own country was phenomenal and beating Argentina to win the World Cup in South America was a great achievement but this is all history and we can’t rest on our laurels.
We had a tough qualifying campaign for the Euros and some players such as Per Mertesacker and Lahm retired so we’re regaining that confidence. We’ve also had some bad injuries, with the likes of Bastian Schweinsteiger not playing a lot, Jerome Boateng struggling for fitness and now Emre Can out.
CZ on Germany’s weaknesses…
We have world-class midfielders, defenders and a super goalkeeper but we don’t have a great striker. The lack of star striker almost cost us dearly at the World Cup and though Löw has been coping well without a traditional striker, its something we need to fix fast. I can’t think of any young, traditional strikers coming up through the ranks who can carry a team with Germany’s quality and although we have Thomas Muller who is a great goalscorer, we need an out-an-out striker to complete the team.
CZ on his prediction for Germany at the Euros and star player…
I think France will play Germany in the final. The French have been playing very well like the Italians and the Spanish. I would love England to do well as the UK is my second home and if we played them in the final, it would be a great game and we would probably win on penalties.
I think Muller is going to be Germany’s top player as he’s always the key player in important games. Manuel Neuer is obviously the best player we have but he doesn’t have the same game-changing influence that Muller does.
Key Man: Thomas Muller
Ukraine – Yevhen Levchenko
Levchenko’s globetrotting career took him from his native Ukraine to Russia, the Netherlands and Australia, picking up eight international caps along the way. He helped the Yellow-Blue all the way to a World Cup 2002 play-off, though they couldn’t clear the final barrier to Japan and South Korea. Having booked a place in Euro 2016 via the same method, he sees his compatriots escaping the group-stage this time.
YL on Ukraine ahead of Euro 2016…
First and foremost, it’s an incredible honour to play for your country and as a player, receiving the recognition to be selected amongst the best players in your nation is an amazing achievement.
I think Ukrainian players nowadays understand this honour much more than 20 years ago, where players weren’t as fussed if they played or not.
For us this summer, the most crucial game will be against Poland. I think every Ukraine supporter will know that we’re not as good as Germany as they have very few weaknesses.
I think we can beat Northern Ireland, who in my opinion play very similarly to Wales, but I’m concerned about the change in tactics that Michael O’Neill can employ during the game against us.
I feel we’re very rigid in the way we play and set up and I’m afraid that if teams change their style against us, that we won’t be able to adjust. If we beat Northern Ireland, the crucial game will be against Poland, which will be a 50/50 game.
YL on Ukraine’s key players this summer…
It’s difficult to point at just one player, but Konoplyanka is our best and most important. He plays for a strong European team whereas Yarmolenko and our other players are either playing in Ukraine or for lesser European teams.
Another key player for us is defender Yevhen Khacheridi because as a team we don’t concede a lot of goals, so he’ll be very important for us.
Our Captain Ruslan Rotan will also be an important figure for us in the midfield and although he’s 34 now, he’s still vital both on the pitch and off it.
YL on his prediction for Ukraine…
I think we can get out the group stages and if we beat Poland and finish second that would be a good achievement. Then once you get out the group it’s very difficult to call.
Prediction: Knockout rounds
Key Man: Yevhen Konoplyanka
Poland – Dariusz Dziekanowski
A former assistant to the national manager, Leo Beenhakker, Dariusz Dziekanowski has played a significant role for Poland off the field, as well as on it. He won 62 caps and scored 20 goals between 1981-90, however, he’s most famous for a scintillating four-strike showing in Celtic’s away goals loss to Partizan Belgrade in the 1989/90 European Cup Winners’ Cup.
DD on Poland at Euro 2016…
Poland have an interesting group but we will certainly not fear any teams we play, especially Germany. We have a few players who are stars, with five or six of them being truly world class.
Robert Lewandowski and Arkadiusz Milik epitomise our star quality and our goalkeeper, Lukasz Fabianski is also phenomenal. They are leading lights within our team and can inspire the young players to greatness.
DD on Robert Lewandowski…
Lewandowski is very important and we really don’t want him to get injured. He’s a great influence, leads by example and he realised that playing well for his club as well as for his national team would elevate him to a much higher level.
He’s just as important for Bayern Munich as he is for Poland.
He communicates well with his teammates and this allows him to link up with players who play for smaller clubs in Europe and Poland. Consequently, he can still be very effective even if he isn’t playing with the best players in Europe like he does at Bayern.
DD on players in the Polish league who could surprise everyone at the Euros…
The young players who play at KS Cracovia have the ability to challenge some of the best in Europe. Bartosz Kapustka, the nineteen-year-old midfielder, plays like he owns the pitch and he’s definitely going to be picked up by one of the bigger European clubs. We also have Karol Linetty, from Lech Poznan, who plays just behind the striker and shoulders that responsibility like he’s a much more experienced player.
DD on the passion of Polish fans and the rest of Europe…
Polish football has been going through significant changes because of the amount of new stadiums opening, especially in 2011 and 2012. They’re comparable to Western European stadiums and consequently, more fans want to come and watch. It’s no longer the case that we only have two or three decent stadiums in Poland.
Now that fans have these great stadiums, they’re demanding a higher standard of football. With 40,000-seat stadiums, you have to fill them up and the best way to do that is to have more European clubs like Legia Warsaw competing on bigger stages. The reality is that it’s hard for most Polish clubs to compete with the rest of Europe financially to bring in the best players so this means that teams will need to build good youth academies and create a loyalty to the Polish league amongst their players.
Our clubs need to be more ambitious and not simply be satisfied with playing in the Polish top league. They all need to be pushing to get to elite European competitions. That sort of competition will be good for Polish football.
DD on how far Poland will go in the Euros…
If our players don’t get injured, the whole of Poland will probably be sitting in a park watching the Euro 2016 final with Poland playing to win the tournament.
Key Man: Robert Lewandowski
Northern Ireland – Iain Dowie
An adopted Ulsterman, Dowie donned Norn Iron green 59 times in total. He scored 12 goals along the way, including the opener in Northern Ireland’s 1-1 draw with their counterparts from the Republic.
ID on Northern Ireland’s chances at Euro 2016…
My advice to anyone watching the Euros this summer would be ‘write off Northern Ireland at your peril’.
Michael O’Neill has done a wonderful job of creating a club mentality at national level and he’s a great example of the benefits of giving a manager time to get his mantra across.
It wasn’t too long ago that people were calling for his head and questioning his appointment.
When you look at the group we’ve got, it is a blow – but there are lots of reasons to be positive.
Kyle Lafferty is on fire internationally, our set-pieces are a threat to any defence and Gareth McAuley is a great leader.
Looking at the group we have, I believe we can beat Ukraine, get a point off Poland and then Germany is a great last game to have.
They may already be qualified and take the foot off the gas slightly and this group of players have the heart to capitalise on that.
With third place potentially meaning qualification to the knockouts, I predict we’ll get out of the group.
Prediction: Third-place in the group and into the knockout stage
Key Man: Gareth McAuley
Spain – Vicente Engonga
The anchor of a Mallorca midfield that graced the European Cup Winners’ Cup final in 1998/99, Engonga was so highly thought of by Spanish coach Jose Camacho that he was picked for Euro 2000, despite being 34 at the time. He represented La Roja 14 times in total and has a warning for all those ready to write them off on the back of the 2014 World Cup.
VE on Spain’s chances at the Euro 2016…
There will always be an expectation for the Spanish team to go to the final and win the tournament. If we don’t win, it will be a disappointment. The players are under pressure because they are used to winning a lot of titles, both domestically and internationally, playing a great style of football and they’ll have to do so again.
Our group, with Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey, will be very difficult but I hope that Spain can go far in this tournament. At the moment there is not a lot of confidence amongst the fans because of our World Cup campaign and there is a lot of doubt and uncertainty surrounding the team this summer. It’s crucial to get out of the group. Spain are better suited to knockout football and, if we navigate a tricky group, we will go far.
We have a strong team but how we do will depend on how we defend, so our key players this tournament will be Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos. If they are both playing 100% in this tournament, then the competition will be a lot easier.
Key Man: Sergio Ramos
Czech Republic – Vladimir Smicer
A goalscorer in Liverpool’s illustrious Champions League final comeback of 2004/05 against AC Milan, Smicer is no stranger to the big stage. At international level, he turned out for the Czech Republic in three separate European Championships, venturing as far as the final in 1996 and the semis in 2004.
VS on Czech Republic’s chances at Euro 2016…
I think our group is one of the tightest in the tournament because every team has a chance to progress, it’s difficult to call it.
Spain will come in as favourites to win the group but Croatia, Turkey and Czech Republic all played well in qualification. As we had Croatia in our qualifying stage group we know them well, which is an advantage. It is also an advantage that three teams can qualify from the group, which is different to how it used to be. I think we’ve got a good chance to qualify for the knockout rounds.
VS on Arsenal players Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky and their importance to the Czech team…
These are two top class players who are widely respected by not just the Czech Republic team, but fans and media alike.
Unfortunately, Rosicky hasn’t played too many games this season due to injury, and we still don’t know if he will be available for the Euros, but he remains an important player for us if fit. The rest of the squad doesn’t have too much experience and a lot of players are currently plying their trade in the Czech league. A lot of these players are under the radar, so they could spring a few surprises.
VS on where Czech Republic will finish…
I would be very happy if we reached the quarter finals but if we’re being realistic, getting out the group is a good result.
Once you’re in the knockout stages anything can happen. Maybe we can surprise the other teams, but it’s hard to predict. We have to be effective on the break to do well this tournament, as we won’t be dominating the ball. It will come down to how well we play defensively and tactically against the better teams. We’re really lacking star qualities so it will come down to how well we play as a team.
Prediction: Quarter final
Key Man: Petr Cech
Turkey – Muzzy Izzet
Izzet’s international career may have been fleeting, but it still includes a World Cup semi-final appearance – few footballers have scaled to such a pinnacle. However, it’s not for his nine Turkey caps that he is best known, but for an eight-year stint at Leicester, with whom he won two League Cups and made over 250 appearances.
MI on playing at Euro 2000 and the current Turkish squad…
Euro 2000 was a fantastic tournament with a fantastic atmosphere in Belgium and the Netherlands. You only dream as a young boy of playing in the tournament that you watch on the TV and it’s a real special moment to realise it.
One minute I was playing Sunday league football, the next I was playing the likes of Italy in a major international competition.
Looking at Turkey’s group, it’s a very tough ask to get out of it with Spain, Croatia and Czech Republic fighting with them for three spots. To be honest, it will be between them and Croatia for that third spot – if the Turks can win the first game then they can nick it.
The Crescent-Stars are a technically-good team thanks to the way they develop their players from an early age. They could be a surprise package and get out of the group.
Arda Turan is an exceptional talent and Turkey will rely heavily on him to creates chances.
Burak Yilmaz who plays in China now will lead the line; he was the top scorer in qualifying – those are the two players to watch out for.
With the coach Fatih Terim, they’ve also got a manager who has been there, seen it and done it and knows all about the players and the tournament so there is a good amount of experience there.
MI on the surprise team in the tournament…
I can’t see anyone outdoing Germany, but I really do think England will do well this tournament because we’re writing them off. It takes the pressure off and I think they could surprise a few people.
If I was Roy Hodgson, I would look at players such as Danny Drinkwater, who has been excellent this season – I can’t see him not being taken if you’re selecting the squad on form.
Technically Danny is a very good player, he keeps possession and works exceptionally hard. He doesn’t score a lot of goals but he does his job well and he’s the sort of player you need at the tournament, I don’t know why he hasn’t been included in the England set up before.
Hodgson should go with an attacking team, with plenty of pace. The players they’re facing won’t know too much about Drinkwater, Jamie Vardy or Dele Alli so you need to expose that uncertainty. You need these sorts of players in the team, those selfless players who will fight for the team.
Turkey are very similar in that they have their star players. However, it’s a different culture in Turkey; they’re very religious and very little ego, it produces very humble players.
Prediction: Last 16
Key Man: Arda Turan
Croatia – Igor Biscan
Versatility was one of the Biscan’s biggest assets, with his towering presence enabling him to perform equally well in central-defence as well as midfield, which he did with aplomb for Liverpool and Croatia. A Champions League winner and 15-cap international, he sees his compatriots advancing from a testing Euro 2016 group.
IB on any Dinamo Zagreb players who could make a Premier League move…
There are some really interesting young players in the Zagreb team, such as Marko Pjaca, who will probably go to the Euros and start for us. He’s physically good enough to go to the Premier League and has very good technical ability. If I had to choose one player, Marco would be the one I’d be most confident could succeed in English football.
IB on whether Croatia rely too heavily on Mario Mandzukic and Luka Modric…
There’s a lot of expectation on those two players because they’re playing for two of the best teams in the world. The Croatian fans love football and they can’t wait for the tournament because I think this team has a lot of potential to do well.
We have players like Mandzukic and Modric who are used to playing at a very high level and competing for big competitions so hopefully this will help us in the tournament.
IB on how far Croatia will go at Euro 2016…
I think everyone in our group is thinking about trying to qualify from it as there are no weak teams.
Turkey and the Czech Republic are very strong. There’s a lot of expectation on us to qualify ahead of them though so I hope we can do but it will be tough. If we can make it out the group then it would be a good achievement.
IB on Croatia’s most important player…
In my opinion Luka Modric is the most important player for us and he’s playing for one of the best teams in the world in Real Madrid. He’s one who could be our star player but there are other players on the team who could make big contributions for too.
IB on England’s chances…
I’m a big fan of the English national team and I always say that England will go far, but it never happens. This tournament could be the one where they go all the way but everything has to go right for England. With the players they’ve got now, they’re going to be a very interesting team this summer.
Prediction: Last 16
Key Man: Luka Modric
Belgium – Marc Degryse
Belgium may be combating the fitness issues of various star men, but that won’t stop them going far at Euro 2016. That’s according to former Sheff Wed forward Marc Degryse, who won 63 caps for his country. He thinks the cavernous depths of quality available to Rode Duivels coach Marc Wilmots will see them safely through to the semi-finals at least.
MD on Belgium’s chances at Euro 2016…
Belgium are rightly considered strong candidates in my opinion as you look to the names we have and how they have performed this season, but one thing we have to worry about is fitness.
We have several players who have all struggled to find fitness this season with Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Thibaut Courtois, Christian Benteke and Divock Origi all missing big parts of the campaign due to injury.
We also have several players who are playing without a position, such as Mousa Dembele and Toby Alderweireld.
To do that we’d have to move a couple of players around and that may mean we’d struggle a little with playing certain players out of position.
However, we have had a lot of players who have been very impressive for their clubs this season. Alderweireld and Vertonghen is a pretty good pairing at the heart of the defence as they have been for Spurs all season.
Courtois is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, Romelu Lukaku is only 22 and has had his best season yet for Everton.
De Bruyne is coming back to good form after a prolonged absence, so we’ve got a very dangerous squad. In four or five years, if this team stays together, it could be the start of something special.
I think for the first time in a while, England could do very well in the tournament. There are similarities between Belgium and England in that there is often a lot of expectation but it doesn’t quite come off for either.
This England squad is one of the best in recent times with Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Dele Alli having great seasons.
MD on whether the physical nature of the Premier League will hinder Belgium’s chances…
I’m not sure that the ‘hard’ nature of the Premier League season will affect the team that much. If you look to Germany and Spain, with Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Real Madrid, those competitions aren’t exactly easy are they?
I agree that a January break might help the Premier League players but you shouldn’t overstate the impact of the division’s structure.
The managers have significant medical assistance and players’ lives are so controlled that, in 2016, these sorts of things shouldn’t be an issue.
MD on the lesser known Belgian players who could make a massive difference…
Yannick Carrasco at Atletico Madrid is a young guy who can definitely add something to the Red Devils.
He’s performing really well for his club, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the new star for the national team. Once he has found his position in the team and his game time increases, he will be one to watch for the future.
MD’s predictions for the Euros and Belgium…
Belgium should be aiming to reach the semi-finals, but this will come with some luck along the way. In tournament football, you can go on a run and do very well but of course it will be difficult.
One thing’s for certain is that if we don’t reach the semi-finals, it will be a disappointment as the ambition in this team now is to win.
Unlike the Dutch, we’re not used to winning things so, naturally, our expectations are more reserved, but I think now the confidence in the team and amongst the fans is high.
Key Man: Kevin De Bruyne
Italy – Stefano Fiore
Fiore is a seasoned Euros campaigner, having participated in two tournaments with Italy. A wonderful goal in the 2-0 Euro 2000 defeat of Belgium was the first of a 38-cap Azzurri career. He featured in every match of that competition as his country reached the final, but given the calibre of their opponents, he thinks repeating the feat 16 years on will be difficult.
SF on who will win Euro 2016…
I believe that Germany and Spain have to be taken into serious consideration. Having said this, anything can happen and we might see surprises, especially from Belgium: they are working very well, and the team is young and full of talent.
SF on Spain: can they bounce back after a terrible World Cup?
I think they are in with a chance. They should stick with their philosophy. After such a winning streak, a change in fortunes was predictable. It is true that some of their key players are a bit older, but I don’t think that their cycle has reached the end.
Some of the main players of that period are no longer there, but there are others that have replaced them and done well. The main thing with Spain is not the individuals, but their philosophy, something that Germany has tried to recreate. After all, you win matches with organisation, with a shared concept of how to play.
SF on France…
They’re a team that’s growing. They’ve changed a lot and have talented youngsters. However, I don’t consider them mature enough to win it yet, they’re still a work in progress.
SF on the Netherlands’ failure to qualify…
Everyone was surprised. The Netherlands, although they never reached the highest peaks, was always there. A lot has been said about the coach, but in a national team the coach’s role is never fundamental, his job is to pay attention to what happens in the leagues. I think their missed qualification has more to do with playing too many youngsters, who proved themselves not ready yet.
SF on the potential star of the tournament…
I would say Belgium’s Eden Hazard.
SF on the Euros being Paul Pogba’s elevator to superstardom…
It is possible, but it’s necessary to see how he will approach those games. The previous months will be very important. He has done some fantastic things so far, but he has to step up mentally. He has been made a central figure at Juventus, a huge team, and he might have paid for this increased responsibility in the first months, both mentally and with below-par performances.
However, he has all the potential to be a world-class player. He has to mature and go to the tournament with greater awareness, more faith in his potential.
SF on Italy’s underdog’s status…
We are technically inferior to four, five nations in the tournament.
However, we have always been difficult to play against. We are going through a renovation phase, where some important players are reaching the end of their careers, and, although we’re lacking either talented new players or great goalscorers, the team is led by the right person in Antonio Conte. The difference could be made by the team spirit and Conte has proven to be a master in creating the right atmosphere.
SF on comparisons between Conte and Marcello Lippi…
Conte’s personality is even stronger. I see him live, feel, breathe the matches. Let’s say that Lippi could get specific results using a more subdued approach.
SF on Italy’s key man for the Euros…
As the most talented player, the injured Marco Verratti is a huge miss.
Without him, Thiago Motta may is likely to step into the playmaking role in midfield, having kept things moving for PSG during their four successive Ligue 1 title conquests.
SF on the tactics Italy should adopt…
It’s one of the options. However, I believe that if you want to play 4-4-2 you can’t use Alessandro Florenzi, Antonio Candreva can cross the ball, but Florenzi is more tactical.
The team has to be built from the defence and I believe that it is hard to deviate from the Juventus blueprint: a 3-5-2.
I would like to see a 3-4-3, because we have players well suited to that system. However I think that Conte prefers three midfielders, with the central player starting the action.
It is going to be tough regardless. It is important to deploy a strategy that suits the players, not the other way around, and to choose a formation that brings the best out of the main men. Performances get distorted otherwise.
Key Man: Thiago Motta
Republic of Ireland – Matt Holland
Born in Lancashire he may have been, but such was his passion and commitment, Holland was an occasional captain of Republic of Ireland across his 49 international appearances. He was a key player in the country’s qualification for the 2002 World Cup, while, at club level, he was a regular in the Premier League for Ipswich and Charlton.
MH on his Ireland career and his thought on Euro 2016…
There were a few raised eyebrows when I declared for Ireland, but I was eligible through my grandmother, so all I could do was get my head down and deliver and hopefully the fans think I did.
You only have to look at how influential Jon Walters has been to see how quickly your birthplace can be a non-issue. He epitomises everything good about the current group, wears his heart on his sleeve and scores goals too. I don’t think too many Irish fans care that he was born on Merseyside.
In terms of how far this Irish side can go, it’s going to be really tough. Belgium have half the Premier League in their starting line-up, Sweden have Zlatan Ibrahimovic and if the right Italy turn up, they’re going to be a tough side to beat. However, we’ve seen in this season’s Premier League how a good group can completely overcome pure talent and Ireland have the right calibre of players to ‘do a Leicester’.
Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane have worked really hard to create a club mentality and I think it’s fair to say with Roy in the setup, preparations will be meticulous.
When you look at the players in the squad, there is a fantastic work ethic. Shane Long is tireless, Walters is non-stop and Jeff Hendrick has really impressed me for Derby this season. He could make a name for himself. I think if everyone performs at their limit, we’ll make it out of the group either automatically or via a best third-placed finish.
Prediction: Last 16
Key Man: Jon Walters
Sweden – Johan Mjallby
Domineering centre-back Mjallby fell one cap short of a half century for Sweden but being selected for two European Championships and a World Cup in the early 2000’s surely sugar-coated this minor disappointment.
JM on Sweden’s chances at Euro 2016…
I played in two very different tournaments; in 2000 we were very poor, whereas in 2004 we did really well. I’m really looking forward to this one.
To be honest, it’s a tough group and we’ll do well to get out of it, but I think it’s between us and the Republic of Ireland for that last qualification spot.
Belgium and Italy are the clear favourites to top the group and I think Sweden are as good as Ireland, so it will come down to that match to see who progresses.
Sweden has always been a strong team and they play a very direct style of football.
During the last year or so, they’ve been playing far more attacking and when we played Denmark in the play-off, we went back to the old Sweden, playing as a team, direct and attacking.
There’s no denying that Zlatan Ibrahimovic is vital to our chances but they’ve become far too reliant on him. If we’re to stand any chance, we’ll need to play as a team as we simply don’t have enough stars not to.
The main question is who is going to take this invisible armband and act like a captain from the back, where we have been weak of late?
We have some good players at the moment such Albin Ekdal, who is a box-to-box midfielder, but I think the really interesting player to watch out for if he makes the starting team is Victor Lindelof, who is playing for Benfica.
He’s a young, solid defender and could be a rising star of Swedish football.
Prediction: Group Stages
Key Man: Victor Lindelof
Portugal – Luis Boa Morte
Cristiano Ronaldo is far from the only string to Portugal’s bow, with the Seleccao’s emerging crop of precocious talents set to play prominent supporting roles in a successful tournament. That’s the view of former Arsenal, Fulham and West Ham winger Luis Boa Morte, who turned out for the country in question on 28 occasions.
LBM on Portugal at Euro 2016…
Portugal have to win their group. We have the second best player in the world and players with good experience at a very high level. We have to finish top, no excuses.
Under the circumstances, Portugal will have to reach the quarter final. It should be a prerequisite to finish among Europe’s top eight teams, as Portugal is certainly a part of that category. Of course, in tournament football, there are always surprises, such as Greece in Euro 2004, but it would be a disaster if Portugal did not reach that stage.
Wales could be a real surprise this tournament with Chris Coleman at the helm and Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey leading by example. They don’t have a lot of pressure on them this tournament as it’s their first in over fifty years, whereas Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo must perform. Wales did very well to catch Belgium by surprise and to get through so they can catch a few teams off guard. Ryan Giggs had a wonderful career at Manchester United but never really got the chance to shine with Wales. Bale is fortunate as he will have the limelight on the big stage.
Portugal does not depend on Ronaldo, we have some exciting players who are ready for the tournament, the likes of Danilo Pereira at Porto, Bernardo Silva at Monaco, Renato Sanches at Benfica, so there are some good young players who could make a name for themselves. There are a lot of fantastic young players on the verge of breaking through, so Portuguese football has a bright future.
Prediction: Quarter final
Key Man: Cristiano Ronaldo
Iceland – Gudni Bergsson
Now assisting in the enforcement of Icelandic law, Bergsson is best-known as Bolton’s lion-hearted defender in an eight-year spell that straddled two centuries. He also won 80 caps for his country, whom he is certain won’t be overawed in their maiden international tournament this summer.
GB on Iceland at Euro 2016…
Iceland’s opening game will come down to how well we can limit the influence of Cristiano Ronaldo. If we can keep him quiet, I think we can get points against them.
However, the most important game in the group will be the second game against Hungary, who I’d argue are the weakest of the three opponents. With Austria and Hungary in good form of late, it’s going to be difficult but I’m quietly confident we can qualify from the group. I’m sure the coaches, players and people around the team will know that we are not there just to make up the numbers, we’re there to qualify from our group.
If we go into the knockout stages, that will be a great achievement and if somehow we reach the last eight, it would be beyond anyone’s dreams – Greece won it in 2004 so anything is possible. The main thing is that we do ourselves justice, play well and really take the game to the opposition.
I think Gylfi Sigurdsson has been playing especially well in recent weeks. He’s a creative player, who is very technical and skilful but also very dangerous from dead-ball situations. He is valuable because not only does he create chances, he can score from anywhere – he is without doubt the best player for Iceland. He scored six goals in qualifying so let’s hope he can continue that form in the tournament.
It’s good to see him doing really well for Swansea because they have struggled for consistency this season and with the regular football he’s getting there, he’s finding his best form and hopefully that translates to his country.
GB on England’s chances…
With England you never quite know how well they’ll perform. I always hope England do well but it seems that gradually as time has progressed, they have gone from a team that reaches the final/last four to the last eight and then last 16. I can’t understand why England do not perform better in these competitions.
If Wayne Rooney does well and players like Kane, Alli and Jamie Vardy can keep up their momentum at the tournament, without fear of failure, then England can have success.
Prediction: Last 16
Key Man: Gylfi Sigurdsson
Austria – Paul Scharner
A man of many hairstyles, the best years of Scharner’s life were spent playing in the Premier League with Wigan and West Brom. The high point of his career, however, was captaining Austria for a short-spell in the midst of a 40-cap tenure in the national team.
PS on Austria at Euro 2016…
Austria and England are in comparable situations. They are both in the top three for the most successful qualification campaigns for this tournament, but the difference between the qualifying campaign and the tournament will be vast.
Our boys need to get their targets right and now’s the time to start thinking about them.
The team needs to believe anything is possible given their strong qualification campaign and I honestly believe, without sounding too optimistic, that a realistic target should be the semi-final.
Setting low targets, like West Brom have consistently done, saps the drive from a team and targets should be set on the border of what teams can realistically expect and what they dream of achieving.
My personal prediction is that Austria will reach the quarters, but they should be more ambitious than that.
PS on Austria’s rising stars…
Everyone thinks the foundation of Austria’s success will be players like Marko Arnautovic, David Alaba and Aleksandar Dragovic and it’s certainly true that if any one them is injured, the tournament will become more difficult.
Despite this, there are players who people just don’t talk about who could actually be more critical to Austria’s campaign.
Robert Almer from Austrian Wien, Julian Baumgartlinger from Mainz and most of all Zlatko Junuzovic from Werder Bremen, have the ability to light up the tournament and I look forward to seeing how they perform.
Prediction: Quarter final
Key Man: Zlatko Junuzovic
Hungary –Akos Buzsaky
Capped 20 times by Hungary, Buzsaky has sampled the managerial majesty of Jose Mourinho first-hand and helped QPR to promotion to the Premier League too. Despite their lengthy absence from tournament football, he expects his fellow Hungarians to be playing knockout soccer in France this summer.
AB on Hungary ahead of Euro 2016…
We haven’t qualified for 30 years so, now that we have, everybody is a football fan in Hungary. I think we have a good group with Austria, Iceland and Portugal; there are much harder groups in the tournament than that. That doesn’t mean to say it’s going to be easy but we have much more of a chance in this group than we would’ve done in others.
We always do well against Austria, Iceland are a tricky opponent and Portugal are the favourites. Crucially, if we can get a few points from the first two games, then we stand a good chance of qualifying. Most importantly, however, we must go and enjoy ourselves and show what we can do.
AB on the lack of firepower in the team…
We’ve got a couple of strikers who are in good form, but they’re not top strikers. Tamas Priskin, who is known in England, is one. It’ll be between him and Adam Szalai as to who leads the line.
Szalai is a bit of a prima donna but he has Bundesliga experience, so hopefully he turns up with the right attitude and helps the team.
AB on Hungary’s prediction and key player…
If we can qualify from the group, that would be unbelievable; a dream come true. It really depends on the first game and if we can get off to a good start. If we do, I think we stand a really good chance.
Obviously, Balazs Dzsudzsak is a big player for us but we have a good, young talent in Adam Nagy who can have a big tournament too.
Prediction: Last 16
Key Man: Balazs Dzsudzsak