The Euro 2016 action kicks off tonight, with France taking on Romania in Paris. The tournament now features more teams than ever, but which nations have the edge?
Group A – Can France Claim the Crown?
The French, with players like Payet, Lloris, Martial and Pogba, are many pundits’ favourites. Last time they hosted the event, they won the famous football trophy, but team issues have been known to affect their performance.
The Swiss could make it into the knockout stages, thanks to their creativity and Xherdan Shaqiri’s talents, while Romania’s defensive strength could see opponents struggling to score. The Albanians, performing in their first major competition, beat both Serbia and Portugal to qualify.
Group B – How Far Will England and Wales Progress?
England will be hoping to go further than they did in 2012, when they exited in the quarter-finals. Boasting players like Vardy, Kane and Sterling, they have enough potential, but their recent performance against Portugal was disappointing. Welsh manager, Chris Coleman, has admitted his team are “underdogs”, but they do have Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
The Russians have been on better form since Slutsky became manager, although the title’s probably out of their reach. The Slovakians have also been improving, but their success at Euro 2016 will largely be dependent upon Marek Hamsik’s performance.
Group C – Can Germany Take a Fourth European Title?
Many believe that Germany could win the tournament, but they have suffered some significant defeats recently. Northern Ireland topped their group in qualifying and Lafferty’s goal scoring capabilities could just see them through.
Lewandowski put thirteen past the post for Poland in the qualifying stages and, with Krychowiak in midfield and a strong defence, they could be tricky customers. Wingers Konoplyanka and Yarmolenko are the key threats on the Ukrainian team, playing in its first ever Euro finals.
Group D – Can Spain Make Amends for Their World Cup Performance?
The current European Champions will be desperate to make up for their 2014 World Cup disaster and, although they’re not the team they once were, they could still be a threat. The Croatian side’s not as impressive as it used to be either, although Modrić and Rakitic are dangerous in midfield.
The Czech Republic topped their group in qualifying, beating Holland in the process. While Turkey’s qualifying campaign got off to a shaky start, they grew in confidence as their results improved, and are strong in midfield.
Group E – How Will the Republic of Ireland Fare?
Italy’s squad, whilst weaker than it has been, is still capable of reaching the latter stages of the competition, while the Belgian team features plenty of talent but has been disappointing in recent years.
Ireland will need to work hard and have luck on their side if they want to get out of the group, but they have some high-quality players. Sweden’s recent form has been patchy, but a little Zlatan Ibrahimović magic could help them to progress.
Group F – Can Austria Continue to Shine during Euro 2016?
Austria’s a team on the rise and, if they continue to play like they did in qualifying, they could easily get into the knockout stages. The Portuguese, on the other hand, have been struggling to deliver tournament-winning performances.
The Hungarians are the least likely to progress from the group, but they could still pull off a shock result. Iceland, however, might be the tournament’s surprise package and Gylfi Sigurdsson is definitely one to watch.
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Read more about the history of the UEFA European Championships here.