I know I’m a bit behind since the Euro Cup 2016 started already, but better than late than never right?
After all it is only the second day and so far, my initial predictions haven’t been affected by the first three games played.
Now, I typically don’t write about soccer on here, but since I just published a list of the best pubs for Euro Cup watching in the ‘Burgh I figured I might as well rope-a-dope my group stage predictions on here before the tournament gets really going.
I’m only doing a list of my picks on how each group will finish. I was going to do a full-on prediction up to the finals, but with Euro’s tricky rules about the advancement of certain third-place teams I decided I’d save myself the headache in math.
Although I’ll be honest this is France and Germany’s tournament to lose. Germany is still the most well-balanced team in the tournament and you cannot count France out on home soil.
Now without further ado, here’s my predicted finishes for each Euro Cup Group.
As I said, this is France’s tournament to lose. You’d have to go back to the 1930s to find a time France lost as the host nation. Add in the fact this may be the most talented roster Les Blues has had in years it makes for a dangerous combination. Their biggest question will be can a young core with Paul Pogba, Yohan Cabaye, and Kingsley Coman keep their composure all tournament long? Albania is a nice Cinderella story, but the truth is the Swiss have enough firepower and creativity behind Xherdan Shaqiri to nip that fantasy in the butt.
I know, I know it’s crazy I have Slovakia winning the group. Now I had this picked before this afternoon’s 2-1 loss to Wales, but I’m not going to change it now. Slovakia is a solid group of players who play surprisingly well together. Marek Hamsik is their playmaker in the center of midfield and Vladimir Weiss is a fantastic workhorse on the flank, with a sharp, creative spark (one which he showcased today). Their biggest strength is not relying on any one player – they get goals from everyone. Something they showed during their 3-1 win over Germany in a May friendly. I have England losing today (check Twitter) against Russia 2-1, but the Three Lions always find a way to battle back from an opening match debacle. They have enough talent this year to make it out of this group. Wales will be the heartbreak story. After Gareth Bale, Aaron Ramsey, and Ben Davies the number of skill players on their roster is marginal at best. I expect the July 16 scuffle with England will take the fight out of them and effectively spoil their Euro.
Another wild pick – Northern Ireland?! I know ESPN loves them some Poland, but truth is after Robert Lewandoski they don’t have much of anything. Not to mention, they routinely find new ways to lose in epic fashion (missed qualifying for the 2014 World Cup because of an own goal). So that leaves Norther Ireland, who have won 11 straight matches. That sort of confidence is a relatively open group is the perfect recipe for a shocker. Plus let’s face it after Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004 the Euro has a reputation for surprising story lines.
A tough group, but not quite the Group of Death. Croatia is the arguably the most disrespected team in the tournament. The partnership between Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic is easily the best 1-2 midfield punch in the tournament. Not to mention the big man Mario Mandzukic up top is a proven goal scorer (24 goals for Croatia in 66 appearances). Call me crazy with La Roja finishing third, but I don’t see them being a legit threat in year’s edition. And after that 1-0 loss to Georgia last week I don’t think anyone in this group will be afraid of them. Turkey is my tournament dark horse. They have a superbly young and talented squad built from Turkey’s Super Lig’s best players (12 of their 23 players play for either Fenerbahce, Galatasaray, or Besiktas in Turkey’s domestic league). That sort of unity is hard to come by and very reminiscent of Spain’s memorable 2008-2012 run built largely with players from La Liga’s Real Madrid and Barcelona rosters.
Republic of Ireland
Now friends and co-workers will call me bias for placing my Azzurri at the top of the real Group of Death, but hear me out. Conte’s Italy have not lost a competitive match yet (just a few friendlies along the way) and topped their qualifying group. Even with the constant rotation of players during the qualifying campaign, Italy found ways to win. Plus, with Gigi Buffon in net and the tournament’s best defensive unit it is hard to count them out. After all defense wins’ championships. Now the real shocker here is Sweden over Belgium. I think Belgium is going to lose their opening match to Italy – that isn’t bias that’s just acknowledging the Red Devils have one of the thinnest backlines in the tourney. Without Vincent Kompany their defensive leadership is going to be left wanting. Plus, despite the loads of talent on this squad with the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne, Radja Nainggolan, and Alex Witsel I have yet to see them play together as a unit. They have loads of potential but just like at the 2014 World Cup they haven’t found a way to put it all together. With the pressure of being a tournament favorite I feel like all the fixings for another early exit is aligned for Belgium. Leaving Sweden to slip in ahead of them. The Swedes boast one of the world’s best players in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and a roster sprinkled with talent from the Blagult’s recent Under-21 World Championship core. They should not be taken lightly.
Austria is another team high on the list of ‘dark horses,’ but David Alba – their best player — isn’t the type of player who can elevate an entire squad to European glory. That leaves the always underachieving Portuguese to limp into the knockout rounds. Their squad has more gaps than I can recall in recent memory but with Christiano Ronaldo still in the lineup they’ll will their way out of the group. Iceland is my surprise here. Similar to my logic with Turkey they have a young core with a ton of cohesion amongst the players. They ran a stellar qualifying campaign finishing just two points behind group winner Czech Republic. But what stood out to me was their +11 goal difference during the campaign. The boys can play and in a wide-open group they’ll surprise more than just fans.
Photo credit: Nazionale Calcio via Flickr Creative Commons