With Euro 2016 drawing nearer, news.bwin sought the ‘expert’ opinions of their various tipping taskforces located across the continent to gauge how the tournament will pan out. Here’s what our teams in England, Italy, Spain and Germany had to say…
James Middleton (English editorial team) – Spain @ 11/2
A poor World Cup is no reason to write off the reigning champs.
They’ve got a great coach and have integrated world-class talents like David de Gea and Koke into an already-stellar squad with better experience than most.
Thomas Reynolds (English editorial team) – Spain @ 11/2
In a tournament where first and second-favourites Germany and France seem vulnerable at the back, the Furia Roja’s miserly rearguard could prove the difference.
They’ve got all the attacking quality of their rivals – including an unusually deep and varied group of number nines – but have also conceded just once in eight games.
La Liga teams have dominated European competition this term, providing three of the four finalists across the Champions League and Europa League.
Added to that dominance of up-to-the-minute club matters, Spain can also call upon two strands of experience, each of which could prove vital in spurring them to victory.
The first is embodied by the likes of Iker Casillas, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Ramos and David Silva, each of whom have won three major tournaments together.
Pedro, Gerard Pique and Sergio Busquets are also among the squad members to have won more than one international bauble.
The second strand of experience is the memory of the humiliating way they exited World Cup 2014, with the need to avenge that shame expected to fire their campaign.
Dan Ross (English editorial team) – Belgium @ 11/1
Vincent Kompany’s injury is going to be a blessing in disguise for Belgium as it will allow them to start Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in central defence.
The Tottenham pair have formed a strong bond at White Hart Lane, with the Londoners only conceding 24 Premier League goals in 28 games when they both played.
This will give the Red Devils a solid foundation to build on and Eden Hazard’s return to form, coupled with Romelu Lukaku’s attacking threat, will make them strong going forward.
The Chelsea man has found the net three times in as many games, while Lukaku has scored 25 across all competitions for Everton.
Marco Barzizza (Italian editorial team) – France @ 333/100
Buoyed by the support of the home crowd, Didier Deschamps’ team will have an extra advantage in their quest for the European crown.
National unity and the strength of community spirit after the Paris attacks on the 13th of November, the first signs of which came precisely from the Stade de France during a match between the French and Germany, could further push the team towards a victory which, given their technical abilities, would be a credit to Paul Pogba and his teammates.
Andrea Repossi (Italian editorial team) – France @ 333/100
Les Bleus, on the eve of this domestic tournament, have matured a talented generation which already hinted at their potential during the 2014 World Cup.
Recent friendly wins (3-2 vs the Netherlands, 4-2 against Russia) suggest La Sélection like to win and have fun doing it. France have got a broader depth of attacking talent which they’ve not seen in a while and some 11th-hour protagonists – N’Golo Kantè, Dimitri Payet etc – will only aid their cause.
Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial: if one of those three can take on the leader’s mantle for the team (Karim Benzema is out for behavioural issues), other contenders won’t stand a chance.
Niccolo Franchini (Italian editorial team) – Belgium @11/1
Marc Wilmots’ side are without a doubt the most hyped at the moment. Off the back of reaching the quarter finals at the World Cup in Brazil, Belgium will be seeking to definitively prove themselves in France.
Thibaut Courtois is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, their defence is experienced and solid, in midfield Marouane Fellaini, Radja Nainggolan, Axel Witsel and Mousa Dembelé are the perfect mix of dynamism, technical skill and physical prowess, while up front they’re spoilt for choice with Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Divock Origi, Dries Martens, Kevin De Bruyne, Yannick Carrasco and Christian Benteke.
Only two issues remain: Vincent Kompany’s injury and a path to the finals which starts with a tricky group phase.
Ardiel Almeida (Spanish editorial team) – Belgium @ 11/1
In France it feels as if it may be the moment for a team like Belgium to finally click and fulfil all the expectations built up over the last few years.
It is no coincidence they sit top of the FIFA rankings. Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and Axel Witsel go into the Euros eager to show that this generation is ready to take the final leap and conquer Europe.
Álvaro Ramirez (Spanish editorial team) – France @ 333/100
Besides being the host nation, France can count on several footballers playing at the highest level that have enjoyed fantastic seasons.
One only has to look at the quality exhibited by players such as Antoine Greizmann or Paul Pogba over the course of the season.
France have experience of winning major tournaments on home soil, having won the World Cup in the country in 1998. On top of that, we must bear in mind that there are few strong challengers.
Spain, the reigning champions, are a team in transition and Germany, current world champions have shown signs of weakness in the qualifying stage.
Carlos Tur (Spanish editorial team) – Germany @ 333/100
It’s no coincidence that the Germans go into the tournament as favourites.
We’re talking about the current world champions, who have already demonstrated their credentials in Brazil and will be looking to dominate Europe once more.
Although the odds make France the closest rival to Joachim Löw’s team, Germany will more likely cross paths with Spain.
The Germans and the Spaniards have each won three European Championships and if one of them can triumph on French soil they will become the sole leading title-holders in the competition’s history.
France’s trophy cabinet, on the other hand, currently boasts two trophies, so winning the Euros will see them draw level with Germany and Spain.
The last time Germany won the Euros was in 1996 in England, meaning it is exactly 20 years since Die Mannschaft last won the tournament.
Add to that the Spanish domination of the Europa League and the Champions League and they will view Euro 2016 as an opportunity for revenge.
Beating Spain would go some way to avenging Bayern Munich’s defeat to Atlético Madrid in the Champions League semi-finals.
They boast a varied squad with a well-defined playing style and while it’s true that they have recently suffered defeat at the hands of England (2-3), it took them just three days to restore their pride with a 4-1 destruction of Italy.
If aside from title wins we also include the runners-up and third place spots, we can see that Germany are the dominant force in Europe.
I feel they will be top dogs once more and end the Spanish reign after their triumphs in Austria and Switzerland (2008) and Poland and Ukraine (2012).
Carsten Neuhaus (German editorial team) – France @ 333/100
The French have shown in 1998 already that they have got what it takes when playing in their own country. Didier Deschamps has developed Les Bleus into a real football power again that could only be stopped by Germany at the World Cup in Brazil.
With Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, they have two players who have significantly improved in recent years, so that the hosts can even dispense with the services of superstar Karim Benzema.
Andre Winkelhagen (German editorial team) – Spain @ 11/2
The Spaniards want to forget the fiasco of the World Cup in Brazil. In addition, Furia Roja could win their third European title in a row – which no other nation has done before.
Their famous short passing game still works and is difficult to defend against.
Individually, Spain is still staffed brilliantly and if Del Bosque finally decides on David de Gea between the goalposts, the title will only go to the Spaniards.
An axis of David de Gea, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta is one any opponent would fear.
Ingo Hagemann (German editorial team) – France @ 333/100
As at Euro 1984 and the 1998 World Cup, Les Bleus will triumph in their own country again.
Each position in the team has an outstanding protagonist. Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny and Hugo Lloris are the pillars.
There are also shooting stars like N’Golo Kanté and Dimitri Payet, who come into the tournament on the back of the best season of their professional careers.
France, with the fans behind them, will create an unbeatable unity and march all the way to the title.
James Middleton – Marc Janko @ 50/1
Indian summer striker Janko has evolved into quite the marksman in his senior years. After being put out to pasture in Australia’s A-League (where he scored 16 in 25 for Sydney FC), he signed for FC Basel and notched 20 in 29 last term, in addition to scoring seven in qualifying for Euro 2016, one fewer than Sweden’s feted frontman Zlatan Ibrahimovic managed en route to the tournament.
Austria have to be taken seriously in France and, with Marko Arnautovic, David Alaba and Zlatko Junuzovic supplying the ammunition, Janko will do the business.
Thomas Reynolds – Antoine Griezmann @ 9/1
Atletico Madrid’s excellent campaign on both the home and European fronts owes far more to being tough to break down than most of the continent’s leading sides.
Griezmann’s 31 strikes in all competitions is all the more impressive as a result, testifying to an unflappable ability to convert what chances do come his way, as demonstrated in Los Colchoneros’ Champions League clashes with Barcelona and Bayern Munich.
In a France team that looks stuffed to the gills with the creativity of Paul Pogba, Kingsley Coman and Dimitri Payet (to name but three) he should receive far more than his fair share.
Dan Ross – Thomas Muller @ 7/1
It’s hard to look beyond Muller for this accolade, with the 26-year-old used to flourishing in international competition. The World Cup 2010 Golden Boot winner also finished runner-up for that award in 2014 and scored nine times in qualifying for Euro 2016.
Muller has 32 strikes to his name across all competitions for Bayern Munich this term and will enter the tournament in good form.
Marco Barzizza – Thomas Muller @ 7/1
Germany is the team to beat, giving one of their attackers the best chance of topping the scoring charts.
Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller arrives at the tournament at the peak of his powers and has scored 32 goals in 49 games this season. It was enough to finish third in the Bundesliga scoring tables behind teammate Robert Lewandowski and Borussia Dortmund’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Niccolo Franchini – Robert Lewandowski @ 14/1
Bayern Munich’s striker has equalled his own record for Bundesliga goals in a single season (29), totaling 41 in 49 games across all comps.
Poland are not among the dreadnoughts of the tournament, but had the best attacking display during the qualifying stages with 33 goals and Lewandowski was the leading goal-scorer with 13 to his name.
In a group with Germany, Northern Ireland and Ukraine, it’s easy to see them making the last 16.
Andrea Repossi – Cristiano Ronaldo @ 8/1
While Lionel Messi will be dazzling audiences across the Atlantic in the Copa America, CR7 will try to top the Euros goal-scoring table as early as the end of the group stage.
After all, Portugal’s group includes Iceland, Austria and Hungary: what better victims for Real Madrid’s star to land some hat-tricks on and beat all records for goals during the group stages of a Euros in the process?
Carlos Tur – Antoine Griezmann @ 9/1
French coach Didier Deschamps can count on one of the most potent attacking line-ups of the tournament.
So much so that he has left Kevin Gameiro out of his squad, an extremely controversial decision taking into account his very impressive season with Sevilla.
Deschamps can call on strikers of the highest quality though, Antoine Griezmann being one such example.
Griezmann has outdone himself in goalscoring terms since his arrival at Atlético Madrid, where Simeone started using him not as a winger – as he had played at Real Sociedad – but as a striker, or sometimes just behind the frontman giving him total freedom, with magnificent results.
The Frenchman has been Atlético’s top scorer in both the last campaign and in this one.
His consistency is quite remarkable and he has no problem getting the goals in twos – his doubles are already a trademark and he could well take advantage of that against lesser sides, such as those he will face in the Group stage: Albania, Romania and Switzerland.
The German Thomas Müller and Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo find themselves ahead of him at the bookmakers, but that’s all the better for us punters.
He has already demonstrated how he excels when faced with expectations, even when the odds aren’t in his favour. The World Cup in Brazil was his first real test but this is his first Euros and he is shaping up to become France’s main man.
It may take people by surprise though, given that his performances in the friendlies have not been awash with goals.
Alvaro Ramirez – Antoine Griezmann @ 9/1
He has been the chief offensive threat for Atlético Madrid throughout the season, during which time he has shown a fantastic run of form.
Perhaps only Robert Lewandowski has been able to match his goal-scoring feats but Bayern Munich and Atlético Madrid are two very different sides in their styles of play. It’s also unlikely that Lewandowski’s Poland will go as far in the competition as France should.
Ardiel Almeida – Antoine Griezmann @ 9/1
With a French team considered as favourites, who will undoubtedly go deep into the latter stages, the Atlético Madrid forward has a real chance of being the tournament’s top scorer.
He has bettered his greatest goal-scoring feats again this season, notching 31 in all competitions for his club. If he continues at this level for the national team, this individual honour will surely not be far from his grasp.
Carston Neuhaus – Thomas Müller @ 7/1
Thomas Müller is and remains a real tournament player. In 2010 and 2014 he already proved that he delivers the goods when it matters.
In addition, head coach Jogi Löw has few alternative forwards. Returnee Mario Gomez will not be the first choice because Löw trusts Müller. In the first game against Ukraine, Müller will score twice.
Ingo Hagemann – Aritz Aduriz @ 18/1
Forget the frontrunners, this 35-year-old rascal knows how to score.
With only three international caps is among the most inexperienced picks amongst the nations expected to go far in the tournament.
But thats only the half part of the story. With 20 La Liga goals in 34 matches he was last season’s top scorer behind all these spotlight strikers like Luis Suarez, Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar and Antoine Griezmann.
His domestic return excelled those of Fernando Torres and Diego Costa, who have been overlooked by Vicente del Bosque.
Furthermore, he was the top scorer in the Europa League this year with 10 goals in 11 matches.
For those punters still unsure about Aduriz’s chart-topping capabilities, they need only look at the hordes of creative talents who’ll be assisting the Athletic Bilbao marksman.
Koke (Atlético Madrid), Saúl Ñíguez (Atlético Madrid), Thiago Alcántara (FC Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City), Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (FC Barcelona), Cesc Fàbregas (FC Chelsea) and Andrés Iniesta (FC Barcelona) are among those vying to provide his ammunition.
These guys should convince the last doubter that Aduriz will be the top scorer at Euro 2016.
Andre Winkelhagen – Antoine Griezmann @ 9/1
The 25-year-old is in the form of his life, having struck 19 times for Atletico since the turn of the year.
Now the nimble striker is determined to convince when wearing the jersey of France and prove his skills on the big stage.
Since France will go far in the tournament, Griezmann will get enough games to be crowned top scorer at the end.
Player of the Tournament…
James Middleton – Cesc Fabregas
The man anointed best player at a European Championship typically plays in central midfield and represents the winning country, or so has been the case in every tournament bar one since the award’s inception.
Xavi’s retirement has enabled Fabregas to play the lynchpin role for the national team he always dreamed of doing at Barcelona and, if Spain are to reign supreme for a third consecutive tournament, the Chelsea locksmith will need to be at his best.
Thomas Reynolds – N’Golo Kante
Quite simply, there is no other player that does what the Leicester dynamo does. Like a Roy Keane who smiles instead of snarls, his next-level work rate will liberate the artists around and in front of him and the bulwarks behind.
Yet, he’s far from strictly an artless terrier, as the goal on his Les Bleus debut shows, and it will be little surprise if he’s coveted by every team on the planet by the end of the tournament.
Dan Ross – Eden Hazard
Hazard is allegedly angling for a move away from Chelsea, with Euro 2016 serving as the perfect shop window for the Belgian.
Real Madrid signed James Rodriguez on the back of his strong showing in Brazil two years ago and this should serve as a motivator for the wantaway Blues star.
Despite his struggles this term, the 25-year-old clearly possesses bags of quality as evidenced by his PFA Player of the Season award in 2014/15.
Niccolo Franchini – Paul Pogba
If Belgium is my favourite to win the whole tournament, France is immediately behind, and Pogba has all the right attributes to become the team’s talisman in the next decade.
Juventus’ number ten has had an extraordinary season with the Italian side, during which he has also learnt to be a leader on and off the field after the departure of stalwarts like Andrea Pirlo, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal.
A good part of Juventus’ fifth consecutive Scudetto is down to Pogba’s eight goals and 13 assists and this summer an entire nation will be dreaming of victory thanks to his talents. With great power comes great responsibility and Pogba has already proven himself to be fearless.
Andrea Repossi – Paul Pogba
I struggled to choose between Pogba and Antoine Griezmann; in the end I chose the Juventus number ten, who has never been as indispensable for his club as he has been this year.
I think Pogba is a player with infinite skill, with the body of an android and will probably change the laws of physics two or three times this tournament to control impossible balls or attempt death-defying acrobatics.
It will be a pleasure to watch him, and to see how he will carry France to the end of the tournament.
Marco Barzizza – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
It will probably be his last hurrah in a Sweden jersey and, as he has said multiple times, he’d like to go out with a bang.
His team could be one of the surprises of the tournament, and as early as the group stage, where they’ll compete with Italy, Belgium and Ireland, Sweden will be the main obstacle for the Azzurri and the Rode Duivels on the way to the final 16.
Considering the fact that the best four teams finishing in third place in the group stages will also pass through to the knockout stage, there’s a good chance of seeing Ibra in the round of 16.
Despite his 34 years of age, Zlatan is still one of the best players around and he has few equals in Europe. Much will depend on the team around him, but his will and determination to carry Sweden’s bid could make the difference.
It wouldn’t be surprising if he strongly contested the title for top goal scorer of the competition too.
Carlos Tur – Antoine Griezmann
If he finishes against the odds as the top goal scorer at Euro 2016, Antoine Greizmann will most probably also be crowned the tournament’s best player.
Casting our gaze slightly wider though, one player who must be considered is the Belgian, Romelu Lukaku.
It’s fair to say he has never hit the heights with Belgium at a major tournament but this year he has improved his goal scoring record with Everton (19 goals, beating his previous best of 17 with West Bromwich Albion in 2012/13) and he has already scored in his national team’s only match this year.
He has had to play second fiddle to Christian Benteke or Divock Origi and is not even guaranteed a place in the Belgian starting XI.
But his goal scoring prowess has been impressive with Everton and he knows he still has to make that step up to playing for an elite team.
Will we see his stock rise at the Euros? If it is to do so, he must make the most of his minutes on the field in what is a tough group for Belgium.
If he is successful we may be talking about one of the best players at Euro 2016. Of course, Belgium’s team is full of potential candidates…
Alvaro Ramirez – Andres Iniesta
He may not have shone for Barcelona this season in the same way he has in the past, but this may be Iniesta’s last real opportunity at a major tournament with Spain and he will thrive on that.
Not to mention the fact he is the last remaining symbol of the great Spanish World Cup winning side; this could be his opportunity for a grand farewell.
With Xavi already gone, it will be down to him set the tempo for Vicente del Bosque’s Spain, while he will be physically fresh having enjoyed a relatively light season in terms of playing time.
Ardiel Almeida – Eden Hazard
Despite enduring one of his worst campaigns in a Chelsea shirt, with injuries included, Hazard has more than enough quality to shine in the Euros and lead his Belgium team to the title.
Even though the London club have had nothing to compete for over the last few months, they have allowed the attacking-midfielder time to return to his best form. He will go to France at 100%.
Carsten Neuhaus – Kevin de Bruyne
During the 2014 World Cup De Bruyne hinted at the explosively-brilliant form that was to come during the campaign that followed.
Since then, he has further matured and will, together with star forward Romelu Lukaku, lead dark horse Belgium to the semi-finals of Euro 2016.
Ingo Hagemann – Paul Pogba
It’s time for the Frenchman to show the world just how good he can be.
He will make his mark not only on the French team but on the whole tournament, with the Euros making him the most desirable player for the top clubs this summer.
Andre Winkelhagen – Eden Hazard
The Belgian will put his horror season at Chelsea behind him with a scintillating showing in France. Only since the middle of April, have things begun running smoothly for him again.
It seems as if Hazard has saved all his power for the European Championship. For Chelsea he scored four times in the last four league games, after failing to notch a single strike until January.
The 25-year-old is in top form again in time for the Euros and will do the business for the strong Belgians.
James Middleton – Turkey @ 80/1
Finishing above the Czech Republic proved too tough an ask in qualifying but, in order to advance to the latter stages of Euro 2016, Turkey will almost certainly have to achieve the feat at the second time of asking.
In terms of positivity, this is the just the fourth major tournament Turkey have qualified for this century having previously only made one – Euro 1996 – before that. Inexperience is yet to hinder them though, with one quarter-final and two semi-final finishes recorded in their three post-2000 tournaments.
Thomas Reynolds – Croatia @ 25/1
A Clasico-contesting middle band of Mateo Kovacic, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic is as good as any team in the competition, while Vatreni also have high-calibre forwards such as Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic to call upon.
Pity the fool who bumps into them in the knockout rounds, should the aforementioned quintet stay fit.
Dan Ross – Austria @ 33/1
Austria made easy work of qualification for this competition, going unbeaten and only failing to win one of their ten outings.
The 33/1 outsiders did the double over Russia on course to booking their place in France, also making the trip to Sweden to smash Zlatan Ibrahimovic and company 4-1.
Marc Janko scored seven goals in qualifying and the unheralded 32-year-old striker will bolster the quality provided by David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic.
Marco Barzizza – Sweden @ 100/1
Having spoken of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the most surprising team could well be Sweden. In a group in which only Belgium might be said to have it easy, it shouldn’t be difficult to manage showdowns with Italy and Ireland.
After that things will certainly get more complex, but having Ibra as a captain and motivator is a luxury that no other outsiders have.
Niccolo Franchini – Croatia @ 25/1
Put together players with shining talents like Luka Modric, Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Ivan Perisic from midfield, a classy international goalscorer like Mario Mandzukic, a defence known for its grit and determination and an expert coach like Ante Cacic running the show and you have a recipe which promises to deliver some surprises in the Euros.
No one is really paying attention to them, but Croatia have the quality and the pedigree to do very well this summer: victory isn’t really on the cards right now, but a semi-final finish wouldn’t shock me.
Andrea Repossi – England @ 8/1
Ok, given their history, you can’t really call the Three Lions a surprise, but I strongly believe that England will manage to keep up what it achieved in the qualifiers (10 victories out of 10) and reach the final without melting away just as things get interesting like they usually do on big stages.
Roy Hodgson has at his disposal a mix of experienced leaders (Wayne Rooney and James Milner) and young guns (Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling); and then there’s Jamie Vardy, raring to write sporting history within his own personal development story.
Carlos Tur – Austria @ 33/1
If we are looking for a team that could spring a shock in France, then we must consider Austria.
The team led by Marcel Koller finished as leaders of Group G in the qualifying stage and did so without losing a single game, beating Russia and even condemning Sweden to a third place finish.
Marc Janko is their key player, another to have in mind as the top goal scorer at odds of 50/1.
But Austria have showed they have strength in defence too. They kept clean sheets in six of their ten qualifying matches.
In the Euros in recent times, we have lived through the surprise of the Greece win in Portugal in 2004.
They won after getting out of the groups with a mere 4 points, before going on to win every knockout game, including the final, 1-0.
Alvaro Ramirez – Poland @ 50/1
This would be no great surprise. Poland are not a second-rate team, nor are they an unknown quantity, but they have been unable to break into the group of favourites to win a major tournament.
France 2016 may be their chance. They come into it with a great team, with a star player in Robert Lewandowski, and with the experience gained from the last Euros. If they remain competitive throughout the tournament, Poland could place themselves amongst the favourites to lift the trophy.
Ardiel Almeida – Wales @ 80/1
After more than half a century since they last participated in a major tournament (World Cup in Sweden in 1958), Wales come into the Euros in France eager to go as far as possible.
Having Gareth Bale in their ranks means Chris Coleman’s Dragons can perhaps allow themselves the right to dream.
Carsten Neuhaus – Austria @ 33/1
There is an incredible euphoria in the Alpine republic. The Austrians qualified for the first time for European Championship finals through their exploits on the field.
In addition, the team of coach Marcel Koller were able to enjoy a lucky draw. A group of Portugal, Iceland and Hungary is one they should advance from.
The Austrians breezed through qualification. With 28 of 30 possible points, they are the second-best team behind England, who won all their games. In Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, they also have a leader who knows how to fight in big games.
Ingo Hagemann – Portugal @ 20/1
Portugal will be led smoothly through the group stage by the towering Cristiano Ronaldo.
Adding to this, they have the potential to beat a great team every now and then. The route of the Iberians will only come to an end in the semi-finals.
In doing so the Seleccao das Quinas will equal their successes at the 2006 World Cup.
Andre Winkelhagen – Wales @ 80/1
Second place in Group B is definitely feasible behind big brother England, with Group F’s silver medallists their reward in the second round.
That looks most likely to be Portugal or Austria. Although the two nations are stronger in theory, Wales would not be without a chance in either of these duels.
With players like Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen, their strong squad can be trusted to spring a surprise.
Not for nothing did Wales march behind tournament favorites Belgium through the qualifying group, leaving the supposedly stronger Bosnia and Israel behind.
How Far Will Your Nation Get…
James Middleton – England – Quarter-finals @ 11/5
Group B is one England should top without too much difficulty and, if they do, a winnable last-16 date with the third-place side from Group A, C or D awaits.
However, there’s a strong chance that, should the above take place as forecast, one of indomitable duo Portugal or Italy (remember, this is England we’re talking about) will be the quarter-final fare and this will mark the end of the road, most likely via penalties.
Thomas Reynolds – England – Quarter-finals @ 11/5
Usually flaccid hopes have been stoked by the 3-2 win over Germany, replete with goals from exciting recent call-ups Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy and Eric Dier.
However, that match and the loss to a fourth-string Netherlands side days later highlight the fact that any half-decent opposition who let England dictate play and hit them on the counter (rather than vice versa) will neutralise much of their attacking threat.
Dan Ross – England – Semi-finals @ 9/2
There are enough reasons to feel cautiously optimistic about how the Three Lions will fare. Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane have scored 52 club goals between them this term and if Roy Hodgson can work out a way to get the best out of both, the side will have a potent attacking force.
Dele Alli and Eric Dier are exciting young talents, while the squad still has a decent amount of experience in the form of Joe Hart and Wayne Rooney. Don’t be surprised if they make it as far as the semi-finals.
Marco Barzizza – Italy – Group stage @ 4/1
With perhaps the worst squad ever, Italy arrives at the tournament with ambitions that may well meet hard-nosed reality.
Group-mates Belgium and Sweden could seriously trouble a team that, despite a cast-iron defence, will be missing two key players in midfield with Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio both injured, hampering Antonio Conte’s plans of controlling games and playing entertaining football.
Up front things are even worse; there isn’t a single centre-forward who has scored enough goals to quell the fears of the Azzurri fans. There are no exciting names, but plenty of solid players who could change our minds.
Niccolo Francini – Italy – Semi-final @11/4
And here we come to the sour note: what kind of Euros will Italy have?
I need to make a premise: when the Azzurri take to the pitch, I become the dreaming and naive child I once was. Up until a few months back I secretly nursed dreams of the final, but injuries to Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti have shattered those.
Italy, in terms of quality in the full squad, are definitely behind at least five or six teams, but something needs to be said: there is no team capable of maximising our (few) qualities, turning weak points into positive features and making adversity a virtue as much as ours.
History shows that the true litmus test is the qualifying rounds: once we get past those, we can always aim for the final four, a result which would allow Antonio Conte to leave his position without talk of failure, even if the final eight is probably the most achievable objective for a team missing its most tactically-important player (Marchisio).
But I want to believe!
Andrea Repossi – Italy – Quarter-finals @ 12/5
Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti are the strongest and best-performing players for Italy, and their injuries force Antonio Conte to redesign the entire midfield department with less than a month to go to the competition.
But we all know Italy relishes difficult situations and the Azzurri will pass the group stage and the first round of knockouts; then, when they square up against bigger opposition, all hopes will be on the shoulders (and in the hands) of Gianluigi Buffon.
Carlos Tur – Spain – Semi-finals @ 63/20
It really is difficult to say how Spain will fare in Euro 2016, especially taking into account their spectacular failure in the World Cup.
In France they face another difficult group; it will be far from straightforward up against Croatia, the Czech Republic and Turkey.
It may well be one of the toughest groups and we should not rule out a slip-up from Vicente del Bosque’s men.
Spain are struggling when it comes to goals. Indeed, they are still in search of an ideal centre forward.
They are finding it difficult to replicate the sumptuous flowing football which was admired the world over a few years ago, but they still have undoubted potential which makes them third-favourites to lift the trophy.
Currently, their most valuable asset is their defensive stability – they have kept clean sheets in the majority of their qualifying matches.
They’ll have to fight to win games and many of the clashes will be far from easy – their success will be determined by their ability to overcome these challenges.
Their aim is to win their third title in a row, but just getting to the final will be a difficult mission. It’s quite possible that the semi-finals prove an insurmountable obstacle – this time, it’s fair to say, much depends on their opponents…
Alvaro Ramirez – Spain – Final @ 7/1
It is not the best Spain team of recent times, not by any stretch, and they are certainly struggling to rediscover their best form.
They have made some positive additions since the last World Cup though; a more mature David De Gea comes in as one of the world’s best goalkeepers, alongside young stars such as Saúl Niguez, who should make his debut at the Euros following a great end to the season, or Alvaro Morata, who must surely start up top for Spain.
If Vicente del Bosque is able to blend these new figures with ones already established like Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta, Spain will boast a squad of a quality that few teams will be able to match.
Ardiel Almeida – Spain – Semi-finals @ 63/20
After the enormous disappointment of being knocked out in the group stage at the last World Cup, the reigning European Champions go to France with renewed energy.
Vicente del Bosque has introduced new blood to the squad (David de Gea, Koke, Thiago, Alvaro Morata…) in the qualifying rounds, demonstrating that this generation is capable of replicating the style of play that has brought Spain so much success in recent years.
Even if they do find their best levels and perhaps reach the final stages, it is perhaps a step too far for this team to compete at the level of the big favourites for the title such as France or Germany.
Carsten Neuhaus – Germany – Semi-finals @ 11/4
There have been a few tweaks to the squad since the World Cup finals of 2014, the Germans will stumble a little into the tournament and finish the group stage second behind Poland.
In the semi-finals Jogi Löw’s team will probably face France and will have to leave the tournament after two goals by Antoine Griezmann.
However, the German fans can again look forward to a penalty win over England. The British will win Group B and meet Germany in the quarter finals.
Wayne Rooney misses the third English penalty and thus the shootout ends 0-3.
Ingo Hagemann – Germany – Semi-finals @ 11/4
The group stage is a mere formality for the German team. Jogi Löw and his boys move on as group winners. Also the second round against the third-place team of Group A, B or F is not a stumbling block. In the quarter finals, Germany’s first victory over Italy in a major tournament will take place.
In the semi-finals, the injury problems in defensive-midfield, the lack of international class at the full-back and the weak form of many highly rated national players will be noticeable. It won’t be enough for the title, but they can leave with their heads held high.
Andre Winkelhagen – Germany – Runner up @ 5/1
Germany once again will live up to its reputation as a tournament team.
After the group stage win Jogi Low’s troops march through their first knockout fixture, then switches off Belgium in the quarter finals and eliminates hosts France in the semis.
The final will be a repeat of 2008 – with the same result: Spain wins.
As always under Löw, the team is in tournament mode right from the start. However, some errors creep in, as they already have in the qualifiers for the European Championships.
Therefore, the way to the final will be tough and on the home stretch Die Mannschaft will lack the strength and concentration to bring the title home.
Most Excited About…
The prospect of Northern Ireland outperforming Wales without the help of one of the world’s best footballers.
France’s cavalier assault on the prize. Didier Deschamps’ men have hinted at the type of entertainment we can expect from them this summer during the recent friendlies against the Netherlands and Russia, which they won 3-2 and 4-2 respectively.
Should the coach decided to embrace a similarly-buccaneering approach at Euro 2016, then his side, buoyed by vociferous home support, promise to be the height of attacking exuberance.
The expansion to 24 nations means a number of countries not used to tournament football will get a chance to strut their stuff.
Albania and Iceland have never made an international competition before, while Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Wales will be making their first appearance at the European Championship.
Seeing what these debutants have to offer on the world stage will be very intriguing, particularly if the home nations can outperform England.
Albania. De Biasi’s team is not favoured by the bookies, but after the mammoth task of qualifying, they could also finish in the top three in the group and potentially land a spot in the knock-out stages.
Hungary. I am often extremely excited by “first times” or when improbable teams qualify: China’s qualifying for the World Cup in 2002 and North Korea’s in 2010 had me as happy as a child, for example.
This year, as well as giving a warm welcome to Iceland, Wales, Albania, Northern Ireland and Slovakia, I will be unabashedly screaming for Hungary, the fallen giant of continental football (third in Europe in 1964, and second-place at the World Cups of 1938 and 1954), who have been missing from the final stages of the European showpiece since 1972.
Seeing one of my idols on the pitch: Eidur Gudjohnsen. Coming up to 38 years of age, with a footballing career most consider finished, Chelsea and Barcelona’s former forward will wear Iceland’s jersey in an international competition for the first time.
My dream is that in a group that isn’t exactly the group of death with Portugal, Austria and Hungary, Gudjohnsen will manage to drag his team into the last 16. I’ll be cheering for him.
Spanish fans are still on tenterhooks as they wait for certain key talking points to be resolved.
Will Íker Casillas keep his place in goal or will David de Gea finally make the number one jersey his own? Who will play as Spain’s centre forward?
Elsewhere, it will be interesting to see how the new format of the competition pans out, having been increased to include 24 teams rather than 16. And who will fill the gap left by the Netherlands’ absence?
In terms of hard and fast football, there is excitement to see if the offensive whirlwind that is Belgium can become the finished product, and if France’s potential will at least yield a title, just as it did last time they played at home in the 1998 World Cup.
In that team, Didier Deschamps featured as a shield to Zinedine Zidane in an eleven that will live long in the memory…
The Euros’ new format will see an increased number of teams, meaning it’s possible not all will be playing at the highest level.
That makes it interesting to see how competitive the so-called lesser nations making their debuts in France can be – Northern Ireland and Iceland for example – as well as other smaller teams like Ukraine, Hungary or Austria.
Equally, the presence of these nations will allow us to enjoy watching players who may have otherwise missed out on the tournament – Gareth Bale being a prime example.
It will be interesting to see what role Northern Ireland and Albania play in these Euros as two newcomers to a tournament of this stature.
Both find themselves in groups which you would imagine will give them no chance, but who knows? These competitions always leave the door open to the possibility of a surprise.
The mood in France and the surrounding countries. Hopefully the organisers have done everything in their power to ensure the greatest possible safety.
Our neighbours from Austria and Switzerland. Both nations are filled with many Bundesliga players and also want to make up for meager performances at Euro 2008.
The Austrians in particular are floating on a wave of euphoria. In addition, I’m looking forward to the many peaceful, noisy and hard-drinking fans from Ireland, who will make each game a home game for the Boys in Green.
The performance of the German team. As world champions, how will the they fare in a tournament? More than ever, Löw’s team are the hunted.
How does the central midfield look after Ilkay Gündogan’s injury and Bastian Schweinsteiger fragility-induced lack of form?
Who starts in offensive? Mario Götze has a season to forget behind him. Can he build on old achievements in the DFB-jersey anyway? And how does Löw solve the problem on the full-back positions?
Questions, questions. Although I believe that they will turn in a good tournament, based on individual and team class, I am looking forward to the performances and Löw’s solutions.
A Player To Earn A Move To Your Domestic Top Flight
James Middleton – Victor Lindelof (Sweden)
Young Swedish stopper Lindelof has emerged as a regular starter in Benfica’s team since the turn of the year, following January interest from recently-promoted Middlesbrough.
The Eagles aren’t known to hang onto players when the prospect to make a profit comes along and, with Boro looking to strengthen at both centre-back and right-back, expect to see Boro chase the versatile defender (who performs equally well in either position) once again.
Thomas Reynolds – Arkadiusz Milik (Poland)
Ajax centre-forward Milik sounds like a character from a Charles Dickens novel and it’s expected there will be plenty more to read about him as the summer progresses.
This season, he has scored 24 times in 42 appearances for the Godzonen, setting up a further 12 strikes for teammates. He was also the joint-top provider of the entire process for Polska in qualifying, where he chipped in with six goals and six assists.
Dan Ross – Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
Croatia will have a strong midfield made up of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mateo Kovacic. They are unlikely to be prised away from Real Madrid and Barcelona, but they will give the opportunity for other members of their squad to impress.
Inter’s Ivan Perisic has already been linked with a move to Liverpool and scored six times in qualifying.
Marco Barzizza – Arkadiusz Milik (Poland)
Alongside Robert Lewandowski, Poland can count on the attacking skills of Arkadiusz Milik, 22 years old and playing for Ajax.
A 1.86m-tall centre forward, he has scored 24 goals this season for the Dutch side, adding 12 assists to that across all comps.
A young player who could possibly move to Italy, he is currently worth around £7.5m and still has plenty of room for improvement. These Euros could launch him on the path to success.
Niccolo Franchini – Mateo Kovacic (Croatia)
No, I am not crazy. I know that Kovacic pulled on Inter’s black-and-blue for two-and-a-half seasons before being sold, with few regrets, to Real Madrid for a ridiculous sum and less impact than a wet napkin (zero goals in 25 games with an average of 41 minutes played).
It’s all true, but the Croatian midfielder is only 22-years-old and is going through an (admittedly very long) metamorphosis from caterpillar to butterfly, but he remains in my eyes one of the best midfielders in the world in terms of vision and technical skill.
His three assists casually doled out during Inter v Lazio back in May 2014 are still etched into my mind and will be for a long time.
Once Kovacic (or his coaches) understand what is the best tactical use for the Croat to really express himself, we’ll be talking about one of the best midfielders on the planet.
Andrea Repossi – Graziano Pellè (Italy)
Yes, him, the Italian centre-forward who has scored only one goal in Serie A.
The Azzurri number 9 has earned himself a gilded place in Antonio Conte’s XI thanks to a career spent abroad: First with AZ Alkmaar, then with Feyenoord (50 goals in 57 games) and finally with Southampton.
The last two seasons with the Saints have seen the Italian hit double figures each time, until he finally gained, at the age of 30, his first cap for the national side. In the first year of the Serie A without Luca Toni and Antonio Di Natale, he could be the right man at the right time for a return to the Italian championship.
Carsten Neuhaus – Michy Batshuayi (Belgium)
The fast forward of the Belgians may well already be on the shopping list of some major clubs, including Borussia Dortmund. In Marseille, he registered his best professional season. With 17 goals and nine assists, he saved L’OM from relegation almost single-handedly.
A good tournament preamble might even see him replace Christian Benteke in the Belgian forward line.
Ingo Hagemann – Andrei Yarmolenko (Ukraine)
It is no secret that Yarmolenko (26) currently is one of the most wanted Ukrainian players. He also has said that he would like to play in the Bundesliga.
He proved himself lethal during the 3-3 friendly draw against Germany on 11 November 2011 and if the DFB-defense is not careful, he will do it again at the Euro opener against Germany on 12 June.
Andre Winkelhagen – Breel Embolo (Switzerland)
For quite some time, the 19-year-old Swiss has been on the wishlist of several top clubs. Of Bundesliga teams, it is said that Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen, Borussia Dortmund and, most recently, RB Leipzig have shown an interest in the striker.
After contributing ten goals to FC Basel’s Swiss title retention, Embolo now wants to make a big tournament impact. He has the talent for it for sure.
First Frontrunners Eliminated…
James Middleton – Belgium
Key men (Eden Hazard and Thibaut Courtois in particular) have had poor seasons coming into the tournament. Captain Vincent Kompany is out injured and Marc Wilmots seems set on playing best centre-back pairing Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen in the full-back positions even when the skipper is absent.
The young shoulders of Romelu Lukaku and Kevin De Bruyne must carry the burden of a now-expectant nation in France and pressure of this magnitude has caused many superior players to crumble in the past.
Their Group E draw is probably the most difficult in the tournament and, after only scraping a spot above Wales (a weaker outfit than each of their three opponents in France) in qualifying, they’ll have a hard time making it to the knockout stage.
Thomas Reynolds – Germany
Die Mannschaft seem to have assumed the mantle of tournament favourites largely thanks to winning the World Cup, but they’ve lost mainstays Miroslav Klose, Philipp Lahm and Per Mertesacker to international retirement since then.
Germany looked distinctly susceptible in qualifying, conceding more than all bar two of the 18 sides to finish in the top two of their group and, given anything other than a final ticket would be an underachievement in the eyes of the bookies, they could well fall short.
Dan Ross – Italy
Italy’s preparations for the tournament are sure to be knocked by Antonio Conte’s announcement that he will be leaving for Chelsea at the end of the competition.
The squad is much weaker than the one which reached the final four years ago, while Belgium and Sweden will provide tough opposition in the group.
Marco Barzizza – Italy
Among the big guns, it could well be Italy to be first to drop out. The group stages might already be difficult with Belgium and Sweden, but progressing and meeting with another top team at the first knock-out stage means the risk of leaving France early is very high.
Niccolo Franchini – Spain
The third-favourite team to win the Euros according to the bookies, they’re also my main suspect for being the first big gun to go home.
La Roja compete for this dubious title with Germany, who have a much easier group and should make it to the last 16 unscathed, despite achieving victory in Brazil at the peak of a cycle now destined to be on the downward slope.
Spain is in full transition: it had uncontested domination from 2008 to 2012 before failing miserably at the last World Cup, out in the first round under the cosh of the Netherlands and Chile.
The qualifying stages were encouraging for Del Bosque (nine wins, one loss, three goals conceded), but the quality of the opposition left something to be desired.
In France it will be Croatia, Turkey and the Czech Republic awaiting them, three teams which, historically, have done very well and which will have more hunger and desire than the Spanish, still recovering from the hangover of past glories.
Andrea Repossi – Germany
It’s all a question of perspective: under what circumstances can you speak of German failure? Certainly I would expect a team which won the last World Cup and fields some of the best players in the world to at least get into the semi-finals.
But the issue of the modern German squad is not one to be ignored: historically they’ve always had a muted start, winning silverware by being a tricksy team, tough to beat and menacing in defence.
This time, on the other hand, they start as favourites, even if the natural leaders in the changing rooms (Miroslav Klose and Phillip Lahm above all) won’t be there: Spain 2014 teaches that failure can be just around the corner.
Carlos Tur – Italy
In Spain, despite being in a very tough group, the idea that the team may fail to make it through the early rounds in France is unthinkable.
Looking further afield and despite the fact that England may struggle, the team that should perhaps be wariest in the group stage is Italy.
They face Belgium, the Republic of Ireland and Sweden. Belgium’s potential is common knowledge, while Sweden, despite not being a top side, are always dangerous with the presence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic…
Alvaro Ramirez – England
They have good players and have shown they have firepower in attack, but the English league appears to have forgotten its country’s stars as the Premier League has become awash with foreign talent.
On occasions, these imports play regardless of their quality, often failing to show much more than their English counterparts.
All this has meant the overall the national team has fallen.
I think England will be over-reliant on star players, just as in previous tournaments. Of course, they can get through the group stage, but it’s likely they will fall in the knockout rounds when they come up against another quality team.
Ardiel Almeida – Italy
While Italy must always be considered among the favourites going into these competitions, not even their trademark competitive streak looks as though it will be enough to carry them very far in the Euros.
What’s more, Antonio Conte’s team lacks star players who can produce the moments of magic necessary to decide games. They have not been given an easy group either, up against one of the favourites in Belgium, alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s Sweden.