With almost two months to go until the tournament begins, there’s only one question in everyone’s mind: who’s going to win it this year? Naturally, the favorite will always be the team who won the World Cup two years ago, in our case Germany, but things can change a lot in that time span. For example, Netherlands, who made it all the way to the semi-finals of the World Cup didn’t even qualify for the Euro, while a team like Iceland did. But let’s not waste any more time and talk about the teams who are the main favorites to return home with the trophy.
Let’s start with the host of the tournament, France. They have been placed in a relatively easy group, against Switzerland, Romania and Albania. While on paper the Swiss seems like their toughest opponents, the Romanians are no pushovers as well, having had the best defensive record in the qualifying stage, only conceding two goals. Still, “les bleus” have the best squad in their group, if not in the whole tournament. They have a solid defense with Varane, Sakho or Koscielny as center backs and Sagna and Evra on the wings. Their midfield looks just as good, if not better, with players like Pogba, Matuidi, Diarra, Sissoko and Kante fighting for a place in the starting line-up. There front line is strong as well, having guys like Griezman, Martial, Payet, and Coman up there, but they lack a proper striker. They have Gignac and Giroud for that position, which aren’t the worst, but definitely not the best. Benzema could’ve been the last piece of the puzzle for the French, but unfortunately Deschamps won’t be counting on his services after that whole blackmailing scandal.
They did fairly well at the World Cup in 2014 when they barely lost 1-0 to Germany in the quarter-finals and this year’s tournament might just be theirs for the taking. They do have an advantage over all the other teams because all of their matches will be played at home. They managed to win the last two tournaments that they’ve hosted (the World Cup in 1998 and the Euro in 1984) and they seem pretty solid going into the next one as well.
Moving on to group B, we have England, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) teams who never won the Euro. They are nowhere near being the favorites this year, but they are definitely a team to look out for. They have been handed a pretty tough group, with the likes of Russia, Slovakia and Wales. “The three lions” aren’t the force that they once were, when they had players like Gerrard, Lampard or Beckham, but they still managed to win all 10 of their qualifying matches leading up to the tournament. They look decent in defense with guys like Cahill, Smalling or Stones in the center and Rose and Clyne on the wings, but it’s certainly not the best defensive line-up of the tournament. The same goes for their midfield, where they’ve got Henderson, Dier, Drinkwater and Milner. Their front line, however, looks a lot stronger, with players like Welbeck, Walcott, Lallana, Sturidge, Sterling and especially Kane in Vardy, the most in-form strikers in the Premier League.
They were pretty inconsistent in their last two friendly games, where they lost 2-0 to Spain, won 2-0 against France, won 3-2 against Germany and finally against to Netherlands 2-1. Like I said, they don’t look like the toughest team in the tournament, but they should definitely be taken serious. They have a lot of youngsters, like Stones, Barkley, Alli, Dier, Sterling or Kane, who can either breakout and prove themselves to be world class material or succumb to the pressure and wait until the next World Cup, when they’ll be a little more experienced.
Next up on our list is the world champions themselves, Germany. “Die Mannschaft” put up an impressive show in 2014 to win the World Cup. There most famous victory, without a shodow of a doubt, was their crushing and, at the same time, shocking victory over the host of the tournament, Brazil, when the Germans won 7-1. Ever since the tournament was over, though, they’ve showed us that they can be defeated, registering losses against Poland (2-0) and Ireland (1-0) in the qualification round and against USA (1-2), France (2-0) and most recently England (3-2) in friendly matches. At the Euro, Germany will play in the same group with Poland, against whom they playd in the qualifiers as well, Northern Ireland and Ukraine. Not the easiest of the groups, but for a team such as theirs, it shouldn’t be anything more than they can handle.
Squad-wise they are looking very strong. They have (probably) the best keeper in the world guarding their goal in Manuel Neuer and a solid defense in front of him with players like Hummels, Boateng, Emre Can (who can play in the midfield as well), Ginter Rudiger and Tah. And if you take a look at their midfield, it gets even better, having the likes of Ozil, Kroos, Khedira, Draxler, Reus, Muller and Gundogan. The only thing that Joachim Low’s team is missing is a quality striker. Their all-time great, Miroslav Klose, has retired from the national team and they don’t really have a replacement of the same calibre. They can use Gotze or Schurrle as their Center Forward, but they’re clearly not what a striker should look like. Mario Gomez and Podolski aren’t the players that they used to be and someone like Kruse or Volland aren’t exacltly the best of the best.
On paper, they are the favourites, hand down, but it will be interesting to see what form their in when the tournament begins.
And jumping into group D, we’re going to be taking a look at Croatia. Even though they’re far from being one of the favourites, it’s hard not to mention them when you look at their squad. They finished 2nd in their qualification group, only losing one out of their ten matches. At the Euro, they’ll play in what I consider to be the toughest group of them all, against Czech Republic, Turkey and Spain. They only suffered one loss ever since 2015 and their looking pretty good heading into this tournament.
When you look at their players, you can’t help but wonder „How come they didn’t perform better in the last tournaments?” Defensively, they’re not the most impressive, having the veterans Corluka and Srna, along side Vrsaljko, Lovren or Vida. Without question, their midfield players are the ones that stand out the most. The most notable ones have to be Rakitic, Modric and Kovacic, who play for Barcelona and Real Madrid. Aside from them, there are still Badelj, Brozovic, Perisic and Halilovic. Their strikers are also worth mentioning, with players like Mandzukic, Kalinic or Kramaric in the squad.
I’ve been a fan of Croatia ever since they had Prso in attack and am very interested to see how they’re going to look at this year’s Euro.
We’re not moving on from group D just yet because we still have to talk about the reigning European Champions, Spain. After an embarrassing display at the World Cup two years ago, when they lost the first two matches and were already knocked out of the group stages, „La Furia Roja” will be looking to redeem themself this year. They are going through a phase where alot of their players are getting old and need to be replaced. It happened with Puyol, it happened with Xavi, it happened with Xabi Alonso, it will soon happen to Iniesta and David Silva as well. And now it’s interesting to see if the younger players that are going to be brought up can live up to the hype creaded by their predecessors.
It’s not really the end of the era that won two European Championships and a World Cup, all in a row, because some players, like Ramos, Pique, Fabregas and Pedro, are still in Del Bosque’s squad. But, along them, are a few new faces, like Bartra, Mario Gaspar, Koke, Isco, Thiago, Sergi Roberto, Pago and Morata. It’s tough for Spain to have to change their best generation of football players in history, but it’s just something that every national team has to to at one point.
Along with them, alot of us are wondering when will Del Bosque’s time will come as well? He had known major succes with this team and with their famous „tiki-taka” strategy, but it’s all growing old now. This was proven two years ago when they got hammered by the Netherlands in a 5-1 defeat and then getting eliminated after a 2-0 loss against Chile. That team, that strategy, it all worked for them six years in a row, but they have to accept the fact that everything comes to an end sooner or later, and many believe that „tiki-taka’s” time has come as well.
Talk about a “has been”. In group E we have one of the most decorated national team in the history of football, Italy. While that might sound impressive, and it does, “Squadra Azzura” are far from their glory days. They did manage to finish first in the qualifying stage without losing any game, which isn’t easy, but if you look at their current squad, their names aren’t going to inspire you very much. Both their national team and the Serie A has declined alot in recent years. Those days when Milan and Inter were dominating the Champions League seem like ancient history. And the same seems to go for their national team as well.
They no longer have world class players like Del Pierro, Pirlo, Gattuso, Totti or Cannavaro. They still have some solid defenders in Bonucci, Barzagli, Chiellini and the young Rugani, but that’s about it. The best that they have in midfield are Montolivo, Motta, Florenzi and an ageing De Rossi. And their attack isn’t looking any better, with El Shaarawy, Pelle, Zaza or Insigne.
I don’t consider them to be weak, but let’s be honest. Compared to the rest of the teams, they’re not even in the top 5. They are going to play in a very top group against Sweden, Belgium and Ireland. In my opinion, i don’t think they’ll be able to qualify from the top two spots. They may do it by being one of the best ranked third-placed teams, which seems more than possible. But, only time will tell.
Still in group E, we have to talk about Belgium. “De Rode Duivels” are a team who grew over night into a powerhouse in recent years. They only lost one game in the qualifying stages, in a group where they played against Wales and Bosnia. Their Euro group seems like it’s going to be the most contested out of all, with no clear favorite out of the four teams. Despite that, Belgium seems to be the top dog between them.
Their developmental systems have produced quite a number of quality players in recent years and the curent generation seems more than capable of at least making it out of the group stage. They have a few top class experienced defenders in Verthonghen, Vermaelen, Kompany and Alderweireld, plus a few promising young lads, Jordan Lukaku, Denayer and Engels. Their midfield is of the same calibre, if not better, having got players like De Bruyne, Mertens, Dembele, Fellaini, Witsel and even Eden Hazard, who hasn’t been in his best form this season. And let’s not forget their attacking line-up, where they have Mirallas, Lukaku, Origi, Benteke and Januzaj.
They never were impressive in any major tournament so far. Their best World Cup performance was in 1986 when they finished 4th, while at the Euro they became runners-up in 1980. However, in order to at least match that performance, Wilmots’ boys will have to really give everything they’ve got and then some.
And last, but not least, in group F we have Portugal. „A Selecção” have been rather quiet in the qualifying round, only scoring 11 goals and conceiding 5 in their eight matches. They did, however, win 7 of those 8 matches, but still, their goals record is far from impressive. They’re going to play against Austria, Hungary and, the surprise of the tournament, Iceland. That’s far from an easy task, seeing as Austria haven’t lost a single match in the qualifyers, winnin 9 times and drawing once. And let’s not forget, even though Iceland seem to be out of their league in this group, they managed to qualify from 2nd place in a group where they played against the Czech Republic, Turkey and Netherlands. Don’t know why, but i’m expecting Ronaldo & Co. to slip up and get eliminated right from the group stage this year.
Looking at their squad, it’s not the weakest, but definitely not the strongest they’ve ever had. Their defense is still pretty solid, but Pepe’s getting old, Carvalho’s already old and Bruno Alves, Vieirinha, Eliseu, and Fonte aren’t that young themself. In midfield, they have an interesting mix of experienced and young players. They still have Nani, Quaresma, Danny, Tiago and Moutinho and, along side them, they have Danilo Pereira, Joao Mario or Rafa. Their attacking line, aside from the obvious Cristiano Ronaldo, has Eder and…well, that’s about it. I mean, there are still Nelson Oliveira and Lucas Joao, but let’s be honest, they play in the Championship, not even in the Premier League. And we’re talking about a team who has players from Real Madrid, Atletico, Valencia and Monaco.
In conclusion, who has the biggest chance of winning? In my honest opinion, i’m betting on France. Their curent generation of players is very strong and they’ll play in their home country. Sure, the world champions will participate as well, but things were very close between the two teams at the World Cup and i’m expecting „Les Bleus” to come out on top this year, if they are to play against each other again.
Spain and England both have interesting teams, with players that can either win you or cost you the tournament. And on the other hand, teams like Italy or Portugal seem to be in one of their lower points in history, so it’s hard to imagine that any of them will provide the shock of the year and actually win the Euro.
Or will someone like Croatia or Belgium finally step up and show their worth. Whoever it is, i’m sure that this year’s Euro is going to have it’s fair share of memorable moments.