We are nearing ever closer to the new format of the European Championships, which begin in northeast of Paris on June 10, as the hosts France face Romania.
24 teams head into the tournament but who will come out as winners in the Stade de France on July 10?
In this preview I’ll be aiming to highlight some ante-post outright markets that have appeal, from outright winners to top scorer and so forth.
Hosts France have been pre-tournament favourites for a while and have to put behind them recent failures when it comes to major tournaments.
They are not known for their harmonic squads and the French camp doesn’t tend to be boring with something usually happening. Nothing too sinister is yet to happen since the squad has been picked by Didier Deschamps.
Les Blues look to have a strong squad and are in a weak group, in which they are undefeated against their three rivals on 12 previous occasions.
Looking at their squad it does look lacking in defensive strength. They are without Raphael Varane and Aymeric Laporte through injury, whilst Mamadou Sakho is also missing. The question left is who will partner Laurent Koscielny in their opening fixture against Romania.
This defensive worry has been highlighted by the fact they have conceded six goals in three friendlies against the Netherlands, Russian and Cameroon respectively. At the business end of the tournament this could be a worry for them.
Deschamps is also without Karim Benzema meaning the line is likely to be lead by Olivier Giroud, who has 15 international goals. It looks like they are probably going to be playing a 4-3-3 with Giroud through the middle and this style could suit him and gives him a chance of the Golden Boot.
Overall, I worry for their defensive frailties and whilst it is being played in their backyard something tends to go amiss with the French national team. One final point is their lack of competitive game time as a group of players. Going on a run of eight wins in nine playing friendlies is all well and good but that doesn’t necessarily translate into tournament football.
There will be a lot of focus on World Champions Germany to deliver once more and bring their form from Brazil into this despite the retirements of influential pair Philip Lahm and Miroslav Klose.
Four of the last five World Cup winners have reached the final of the following European Championships, so on the back of a stat like this the pressure is definitely on.
Die Mannschaft still have a wealth of experience to call upon but this squad doesn’t look to have the strength in depth that it did just two years ago. Joachim Low has only picked three strikers in his 23-man squad and the way they are likely to line up is with Mario Götze leading the line with Thomas Muller playing on a wing.
They come up against Poland, who they met in their qualification group and did lose to on their travels to Warsaw. That looks the important game to who tops the group in all honesty but the Germans should have just enough to secure top spot and the chance to play the 3rd place team from Group A/B/F.
Next in the betting are defending champions Spain, who have been through a bit of a transition since then and especially after their early elimination in the World Cup just two years ago.
La Roja lost just once in their qualification campaign playing with a similar verve that has bought them joy in the past and Vincent Del Bosque has selected a squad that looks to have plenty of experience.
They look strong at the back and only conceded three goals in their qualification group. On top of that they scored 23 goals but top scorer from that Paco Alcacer hasn’t been selected and neither has Diego Costa. This is the area where they do look a little light yet Nolito and Alvaro Morato have scored six goals in two friendlies, as they fight for the forward role in their opening match against Czech Republic.
Del Bosque will be looking to win this trophy for a third consecutive tournament but one slight worry is the fact that the players of both Madrid sides won’t join up till late following the Champions League final. When this last happened was back in the 2014 World Cup, when Spain flopped.
If all goes to plan there route out of the groups, if winning, could involve a Quarter Final against Poland then a Semi Final against England. The Round of 16 match is against a 3rd placed team, so that part is up in the air.
You look at their squad and it oozes class. If they play to what we know they can then they are a major force to be reckoned with. It would look likely this is the last tournament for manager Del Bosque and midfield maestro Andreas Iniesta, so it would be fitting for one last hurrah.
Now let’s turn to England, whose best tournament was a run to the Semi Finals when hosting back in 1996. Roy Hodgson does have a selection conundrum for his first eleven and after the friendly against Portugal there could still be a few place up for grabs come the opening match against Russia.
The Three Lions have the youngest squad on average age at the tournament, so it is an exciting time but there has to be worry about Hodgson’s tactical nous and not trying to stifle the attacking nature of the squad he’s chosen.
In qualifying it was the second best attack and the second best defence but we were only playing the likes of San Marino. This group doesn’t seem to be the most difficult but knowing England they’ll find a way of stumbling and making hard work of it.
Overall the Portugal friendly will have tempered the enthusiasm considering they struggled to beat 10-men. A 3rd place team awaits in the Round of 16, if we top the group, then a possible re-match with Portugal, with Cristiano Ronaldo.
However a potential Semi Final clash against Spain is as far as I can envisage Roy Hodgson’s Lions going.
Those are the four nations at the top end of the betting, here are other nations to consider:
Italy – Antonio Conte’s final international tournament before taking over at Chelsea and I was interested in their chances until I plotted a rough path for them. They could face either Germany in the Quarter Finals and you don’t expect them to win that after recently losing 4-1 to the World Champions.
Conte has refused to pick Sebastian Giovinco and Andrea Pirlo for playing in the MLS plus they are without influential pairing of Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio, which could make them vulnerable.
Portugal – They have a squad with plenty of potential but are too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo. In qualifying it started with an embarrassing defeat at home to Albania and despite that being their only defeat they only notched 11 goals in eight games.
Fernando Santos has his work cut out on preparing this team, who are in a bit of a tricky group. He’s a defensively drilled manager, who recalled Ricardo Carvalho, and they could go three at the back with Jose Fonte and Pepe in the squad. Strong in the attacking department but not one that always delivers.
Belgium – No Vincent Kompany is a huge blow for the Belgians and considering Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are played a full-back, there has to be a concern. The squad picked by coach Marc Wilmots looks unbalanced.
They disappointed at the 2014 World Cup, so it’ll be good to see how much coach Wilmots and the players have learnt from that. The Red Devils are the highest ranked European side but that could be more on potential rather than on the field showings. There recent friendly against Finland highlights that – they dominated for the large part and it took an 89th minute equaliser from Romelu Lukaku to earn the draw.
Poland – The White Eagles finished second in qualifying behind Germany and similar will be expected in this group where they will once against face Die Mannschaft. In qualifying they did beat the Germans at home despite being outplayed – if they can get something off them then they could actually top the group and avoid the devilishly difficult bottom half of the draw.
They scored the most goals in qualifying with 33, which lead Robert Lewandowski to being top scorer in that campaign with 13 goals. His partnership with Arkadiusz Milik is crucial to their chance. Adam Nawalka does look to have quality all over the pitch and if they remain disciplined then they could go well in this tournament causing a few upsets along the way but they have something to prove at tournaments.
Austria – Major underdogs, a la Greece 2004, but could be some of the value on offer. Das Team play attractive football, which came to light in qualifying when topping an open group scoring 22 goals along the way. They’ve been rewarding for that with a good looking group here and could get the better of the more fancied Portugal.
A team that consists of Christian Fuchs, Sebastian Prödl, David Alaba, Martin Harnik, Marko Arnautovic and their talisman Marc Janko. The core of this squad featured in the 2007 U20’s World Cup when they claimed a fourth place finish and they have since matured. Their preparation hasn’t been the best when looking at it from a results basis but coach Marcel Koller has tried a few different formations and roles for players.
They could be in the same half of the draw as the likes of England and Spain but you cannot underestimate their flair and also grit. They may not have passed the group stages since 1982 but there is plenty to like on paper and at a big price are worth chancing.
Advice: Spain (11/2)