The Biggishmouth on Euro 2016 – Initial Preview and Predictions

The European Championships of 2016 are a matter of days away – 24 teams and 51 matches with the Henri-Delaunay Cup the prize for the winners on the 10th July in Paris – Roll on June 10th.

group aGroup A

Albania

First time in a major tournament and showed what they are capable of with a win away in Portugal during the qualification stage. The thing in their favour is nothing is expected of them. Their target was just to qualify so anything more will be a bonus.

France

Hosts and favourites. They will be under pressure to perform but going forward they look irresistible and players like Pogba have the stage to show they are world class. A bonus for them is the last two tournaments the French have hosted (Euro 1984 and World Cup 1998) they have won. Make no mistake they are primed to win this competition and anything less will be seen as failure.

Romania

A fifth appearance in the European Championships for the Romanian’s. They were unbeaten in their qualifying campaign and will be targeting qualification for the round of 16 as a minimum requirement. Solid defensively they will be difficult to beat in this tournament and may surprise a few.

Switzerland

Serial qualifiers for major competitions in recent years, only missing out on Euro 2012 since 2004.  They have a good young squad, who took World Cup finalists Argentina to the wire in 2014, and will look to go deep in an open tournament. Potential quarter finalists for me with their favourable draw.

Group B Group b

England

50 years of hurt blah blah blah – the usual stuff thrown out as England enter another major tournament. Personally I think they can win it, but would need all the luck in the world to do it. An imbalanced squad is a worry, with manager Hodgson picking a number of players on reputation and the club they play for. Quarter finals is a minimum requirement, but rumour has it that only a run to at least the semi-finals will keep him in a job.

Russia

After an awful start to their qualifying campaign Leonid Slutsky took over from Fabio Capello and the team went on a run that ultimately meant automatic qualification for this tournament. They have a very experienced squad, especially their defence which may well be their achilles heel. They are in a tough group and a good start is imperative if they want to progress to the knockout phase.

Slovakia

European Championship debutants who after a superb start to their qualification campaign with 6 straight wins, including a defeat of holders Spain, they then struggled in their last few qualifiers and were thankful for their strong start. In Marek Hamšík they have one of the potential stars of the tournament who can most definitely help them progress from the group phase.

Wales

Another debutant team for this competition and they go into the tournament full of confidence, especially as they held their own in a very competitive qualification group that included, Belgium, Bosnia, Israel and Cyprus. Gareth Bale is obviously a the key man and despite having an outstanding team ethic his performances will determine how far they will progress in France.

group cGroup C

Germany

World champions but have been sketchy since, but lets be honest that is typical of the Germans. Make no mistake they will be there or thereabouts when we get to squeaky bum time in the latter stages of this tournament. Same old story – never write off the teutonic army when it comes to football.

Northern Ireland

This is a debut in the European Championships for the Northern Irish and their first appearance at a finals tournament since the World Cup of 1986. Michael O’Neill will be looking to progress his team further and qualify for the knockout phase. It will be a hard task in this group but they enter France with confidence at an all time high.

Poland

They beat Germany in qualifying and probably have the best striker in Europe in Robert Lewandowski. If they can supply him they will be dark horses in France as they are a very capable team when on song.

Ukraine

A dangerous team who have some outstanding individuals on their day such as Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. They will fancy their chances of qualifying for the knockout phase if they fire and they will need to in a tricky group.

Group D group d

Croatia

After a troubled qualification campaign, including a point deduction, they secured their place in France finishing 2nd in their group. They enter the tournament in a little bit of turmoil – manager, Ante Cacic has already dropped key defender Dejan Lovren and it will be interesting to see how they fare this summer. With players such as Luka Modric and Mario Mandžukic in their squad they will be dangerous and if they can get out of this tricky group, may well surprise a few.

Czech Republic

An excellent qualifying campaign saw the Czechs top a difficult group comprising of Netherlands, Turkey, Iceland, Latvia and Kazakhstan. This tournament may well be the last hurrah for players such as Petr Cech and captain Tomas Rosicky. They will need their experience if they are to progress to the knockout phases

Spain

Holders and back to back European Champions, its a long time since they lost in these finals – 20th June 2004 to be precise, when Portugal ended their involvement in Euro 2004. After their failure at the last World Cup the rebuild has begun and despite an early qualification defeat to Slovakia they have got themselves back on track and though they come to France with a slightly tarnished reputation don’t be surprised to see them there or thereabouts battling it out during the later stages of this tournament.

Turkey

After an awful start to their qualification campaign, they ended it with a wet sail and actually qualified automatically as the best third place side. In 2008 they surprised everybody with a run to the semi-finals and may well be capable of that again if they can get out of the group.

group eGroup E

Belgium

With their current golden generation a lot is expected from the Red Devils this tournament. A quarter final return in the last World Cup was acceptable (they lost to eventual finalists Argentina) but the football they played was very dull. Injuries are not helping their preparations but that will not be an excuse, neither will their tough group. Their public expects and a run to the last four will be the minimum requirement.

Italy

Four time World Champions, but they have had indifferent performances in the European Championships, with only one triumph and despite getting to the final in 2012, their 4-0 final thrashing is something they would rather forget. The Italians do have a habit of being average but making progress in tournaments and I have a feeling we will see the same again here, how far they will go is anyone’s guess, but for sure they will not be easy to beat.

Republic of Ireland

Drawn in the group of death for the second European Championships running. Martin O’Neill’s men survived the playoffs seeing off a strong Bosnia team after getting through a very tough qualification phase consisting of matches against the World champions, Germany, Poland and Scotland. Getting out of this group will be seen as a success for the Irish.

Sweden

ZLATAN UNITED head to France after a 4-3 aggregate playoff victory over their Scandinavian neighbours Denmark, Zlatan scored three by the way. To be fair to Sweden they do have decent players and a good team ethic but Ibrahimovic is the key to their progress in France. The biggest negative they face is the group they have been drawn in, which I feel they will struggle to get out of.

Group F Group F

Austria

This is the first tournament Austria have actually qualified for since 1998. They stormed their qualification group  with 9 wins and 1 draw and go into this competition as dark horses in my opinion. Their captain, Christian Fuchs has already been part of a surprise Championship winning team with Leicester this season, maybe lightning could strike twice.

Hungary

The last time Hungary had a team in a major tournament was way back in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. They qualified through the playoffs and the celebrations went on well into the night. In an open group and in a competition where third place may get you to the knockout phase, they will think they have an opportunity of making at least the last 16.

Iceland

First time in a major tournament for Iceland and they will fear nobody after qualifying from a tricky group (after a being in Pot 5 of the seedings) that contained the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Turkey, Latvia and Kazakhstan. They will enter this competition full of hope and with nothing to lose and in this open group they will fancy their chances.

Portugal

Since 1996 Portugal’s record in the European Championships reads as follows – ‘QF, SF, RU, QF, SF’ – close but no cigar but a very good record. After a shock loss to Albania in their first qualifier they stepped up and won seven on the bounce to dominate their qualification group. As top seeds they will be favourites for this group and if talisman, Cristiano Ronaldo, returns fully fit and at the top of his game then – ‘W’ may be by their name come the end of the tournament.

Initial Tournament Predictions

Winners – France

Surprise Package – Austria

Biggest Disappointment – Belgium

 

Golden Boot – Cristiano Ronaldo

England – To be honest there are 2 provisos – If they top their group – I’m going out on a limb and saying they can make it to the final and a loss to the hosts, otherwise It will be a standard QF knockout if they finish 2nd or 3rd in their group. Not even contemplating failure to get out of the group mind – maybe that’s more fool me.

 

There will be daily predictions on Euro 2016 and comment as and when I get the opportunity to pass on my thoughts – enjoy – let me know your thoughts.

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