The Football Hipsters Podcast Presents: UEFA Euro 2016

EurosHeader

15th UEFA European Championship – 10 June – 10 July 2016

Albania | Austria | Belgium | Croatia | Czech Republic | England | France | Germany | Hungary | Iceland | Italy | Northern Ireland | Poland |Portugal | Republic of Ireland | Romania | Russia | Slovakia | Spain | Sweden | Switzerland | Turkey | Ukraine | Wales

Group A – France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania

France

Hosting the tournament brings added pressure, but the general belief across the channel is that this French side has all the tools to compete & win Euro 2016. A squad blessed with a ton of attacking talent mixed with a world-class goalkeeper & experienced back line makes this hard to argue against. The one weakness may arguably be the center forward position, but with Olivier Giroud finishing the season well for Arsenal & Andre Pierre Gignac having had a stunning season in Mexico, I personally feel they wont be short of goals, especially with the width and pace the attacking support players offer.

BEST FINISH
Winners – 2000

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Olympique Marseille), Benoît Costil (Rennes)

Defenders: Patrice Evra (Juventus), Lucas Digne (AS Roma), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Samuel Umtiti (Olympique Lyonnais), Adil Rami (Sevilla), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Christophe Jallet (Olympique Lyonnais)

Midfielders: N’Golo Kanté (Leicester City), Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace), Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle United), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Dimitri Payet (West Ham United)

Forwards: Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), André-Pierre Gignac (Tigres UANL)

KEY PLAYERS
Paul Pogba & Anthony Martial – Juventus man Pogba will arguably carry the weight of his nation on his back this summer, with so much natural talent his midfield dominance could prove vital in Les Bleus push for the trophy. Much can also be said about Manchester United’s Anthony Martial, who will be absolutely vital in the attack from wide areas, offering blistering pace and an eye for goal – the 20-year old could be a star performer this summer.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
André Pierre Gignac and Hatem Ben Arfa – It’s difficult to see you’ve been passed over in selection when you’ve had the most brilliant season in your career, one that finally showed you’ve reached the level people have expected. For Ben Arfa, it must be seen as a huge blow that one of the most impressive players in Lique 1 this past season didn’t warrant a call, while some others in the squad surely aren’t deserving of a place. With Gignac it’s slightly different. He has had a great season in Mexico, and although he’s been rewarded for it, the decision to leave out France’s hottest striker in Alex Lacazette is also a huge risk if the goals do dry up.

EXPECTED XI
(4-3-3) Lloris; Evra, Mangala, Koscielny, Sagna; Matuidi, Pogba, Sissoko; Martial, Griezmann, Giroud.

PREDICTED FINISH
Winners – Home advantage, a wave of momentum and a huge showcase of attacking talent; the nation expects!


Switzerland

Switzerland enjoyed an expectedly consistent qualifying phase, winning 7 of their 10 games to finish behind England and will go into the Euro’s hoping their grit and organization will spring a surprise. Although they have played in the Euro’s on 3 occasions, they are yet to register a win, finishing bottom of their group every time.  Despite the negatives, a last 16 finish in the 2014 World Cup will give them reason to hope

BEST FINISH
Group phase (1996, 2004, 2008)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Yann Sommer (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Roman Bürki (Borussia Dortmund), Marwin Hitz (FC Augsburg)

Defenders: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), François Moubandje (Toulouse), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Steve von Bergen (BSC Young Boys), Michael Lang (FC Basel), Ricardo Rodriguez (VfL Wolfsburg), Johan Djourou (Hamburger SV), Fabian Schär (1899 Hoffenheim)

Midfielders: Fabian Frei (Mainz 05), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Valon Behrami (Watford), Denis Zakaria (BSC Young Boys), Blerim Džemaili (Genoa), Gélson Fernandes (Rennes), Shani Tarashaj (Grasshoppers), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)

Forwards: Breel Embolo (FC Basel), Haris Seferović (Eintracht Frankfurt), Admir Mehmedi (Bayer Leverkusen), Eren Derdiyok (Kasimpasa)

KEY PLAYERS
Xherdan Shaqiri was Switzerland’s top scorer in qualifying (4 goals), and after showing glimpses of real quality in big games for Stoke this season he’ll hope to build on that in France. Dubbed “The Alpine Messi” by his countrymen, Shaqiri is short but stocky and his low center of gravity gives him exceptional balance that eclipses his dribbling ability and powerful left foot

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Although he’s won a premier league medal this season, Gökhan Inler will surprisingly not be making the trip to France this summer, with his spot being taken by 19-year old Young Boys defensive midfielder Denis Zakaria. Switzerland coach Vladimir Petković said: “If you close one door, another one opens.” And that door has swung wide open for the completely uncapped Zakaria who now has a fantastic opportunity to enhance his reputation on the international stage

EXPECTED XI
(4-3-3) Sommer; Rodriguez, Schär, Djourou, Lichtsteiner; Fernandes, Xhaka, Frei; Mehmedi, Seferović, Shaqiri

PREDICTED FINISH
I’d expect Switzerland to finish comfortably behind France in Group A, having too much quality for the likes of Albania and Romania. I doubt they’ll get past the first knockout phase but this is a team with game changers and I doubt they’ll fear anyone.


Romania

Romania is a nation who continues to produce good players (and even some great ones) at club level, but have truly failed to make their mark on the international stage. They failed to qualify for Euro 2012, and have not featured in a World Cup since France ’98, but an excellent qualifying campaign in Group F that saw them finish runner-up behind shock leaders Northern Ireland seems to have them in the midst of somewhat of a rebirth. Goals are not part of their dossier, but only allowing 2 in 10 matches has drawn comparisons to Greece’s success in Euro 2004. They do not have expectations to manage, but the underdog tag suits them perfectly.

BEST FINISH
Quarter-Finals (2000)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers:

Goalkeepers: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Fiorentina), Costel Pantilimon (Watford), Silviu Lung (Astra Giurgiu)

Defenders: Cristian Sapunaru (Pandurii Targu Jiu), Alexandru Matel (Dinamo Zagreb), Vlad Chiriches (Napoli), Valerica Gaman (Astra Giurgiu), Cosmin Moti (Ludogorets), Dragos Grigore (Al-Sailiya), Razvan Rat (Rayo Vallecano), Steliano Filip (Dinamo Bucharest)

Midfielders: Mihai Pintilii (Steaua Bucharest), Ovidiu Hoban (Hapoel Beer Sheva), Andrei Prepelita (Ludogorets), Adrian Popa (Steaua Bucharest), Gabriel Torje (Osmanlispor), Alexandru Chipciu (Steaua Bucharest), Nicolae Stanciu (Steaua Bucharest), Lucian Sanmartean (Al-Ittihad)

Forwards: Claudiu Keseru (Ludogorets), Bogdan Stancu (Gençlerbirligi), Florin Andone (Córdoba), Denis Alibec (Astra Giurgiu)

KEY PLAYERS
Bogdan Stancu – It’ll be up to the Genclerbirligi forward to tuck away any high-quality chance that may come his way if Romania is to get out of the group this summer. For all their solidarity as a unit and defensive record in qualifying, their chances of getting out of the group will be directly tied to if they can find the back of the net effectively enough.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Despite having a difficult season at now relegated VfB Stuttgart, I still felt as though Alexandru Maxim could provide a bit of attacking qualify off the bench. Given Romania’s struggles in the final third, he would at least be direct and could perhaps force the issue if a goal late on was needed.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Tatarusanu; Rat, Chiriches, Grigore, Sapunaru; Pintilii, Hoban; Torje, Stanciu, Stancu; Andone

PREDICTED FINISH
Group Stage – Romania may turn a head or two with their passion, drive and desire to put faith in hard work, but it is unlikely that we’ll see them will their way into the knockout stages.  Their defensive record in qualifying was admirable, but a genuine lack of goals in the side means that results against France or Switzerland are sure to be lacking.  It’s good to see them back in a tournament, but I doubt they’ll make it past the group stage.


Albania

The unquestionable surprise of the tournament comes from Albania. A traditional European minnow, the Balkan nation turned heads when they finished runner-up in Group I qualifying ahead of the likes of Denmark and a downright awful Serbia. But perhaps it was always written in the stars that they’d end up in France this summer, when they kick-started qualifying with a 1-0 away win at eventual group winners Portugal. They only found the net 10 times in 8 matches, but a solid defense and a workman-like attitude saw them surrender just 5. They have it all to do and more in a few weeks time but they’ll enjoy the amazing ride while it lasts.

BEST FINISH
This will be their first major international tournament.

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani Tirana), Orges Shehi (KF Skënderbeu Korçë)

Defenders: Lorik Cana (FC Nantes), Ansi Agolli (Qarabag FK), Andi Lila (PAS Giannina), Mërgim Mavraj (FC Köln), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone), Naser Aliji (FC Basel), Frederic Veseli (FC Lugano)

Midfielders: Odise Roshi (HNK Rijeka), Migjen Basha (Como), Ermir Lenjani (FC Nantes), Amir Abrashi (SC Freiburg), Burim Kukeli (FC Zürich), Ergys Kaçe (PAOK), Ledian Memushaj (Pescara), Shkëlzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids), Taulant Xhaka (FC Basel)

Forwards: Armando Sadiku (FC Vaduz), Sokol Cikalleshi (Istanbul Basaksehir), Bekim Balaj (HNK Rijeka)

KEY PLAYERS
Lorik Cana – Cana is very experienced at the highest level, and was one of the first Albanian players to truly make somewhat of a name for himself in Europe.  His leadership at the back will be extremely important as they negotiate their first major tournament.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Albanian Super League top scorer Hamdi Salihi was left out of the squad. His 28 goals for Skenderbeu this past season shows that he does have an eye for goal, and that could come back to bite coach Gianni De Biasi as their main weakness is a lack of goal scoring.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Berisha; Hysaj, Cana, Mavraj, Agolli; Kukeli, Xhaka; Roshi, Abrashi, Lenjani; Çikalleshi

PREDICTED FINISH
Group Stage – Group A is quietly one of the most difficult in the tournament. France are a heavy favorite, Switzerland is tipped as a potential stumbling block for bigger sides and Romania can easily be considered one of the most organized and counter-attacking capable sides present – Albania will enjoy the experience of making history, but it likely will not include making it out of the group.

 

Group B – England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales

England

It was a seemingly easy qualification process for Roy Hodgson’s side as they topped their group with 10 wins out of 10. Switzerland proved to be England’s closest rivals, but even they finished nine points behind them. A tally of 31 goals and just three conceded in qualifying is not to be sniffed at, but the Three Lions still have a lot to prove going into the tournament.

BEST FINISH
Semi-finals (1968, 1996)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Joe Hart (Manchester City), Fraser Forster (Southampton), Tom Heaton (Burnley)

Defenders: Danny Rose (Tottenham), Ryan Bertrand (Southampton), Nathanial Clyne (Liverpool), Kyle Walker (Tottenham), Gary Cahill (Chelsea), Chris Smalling (Manchester United), John Stones (Everton)

Midfielders: Eric Dier (Tottenham), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Jordan Henderson (Liverpool), Jack Wilshere (Arsenal), James Milner (Liverpool), Adam Lallana (Liverpool), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City), Ross Barkley (Everton)

ForwardsHarry Kane (Tottenham), Jamie Vardy (Leicester City), Wayne Rooney (Manchester United), Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United)

KEY PLAYERS
There is arguably no standout player for England, but plenty of their young hopefuls could have a major role to play. Harry Kane was the Premier League’s top scorer this season and he will be entrusted with leading the line. Behind him PFA Young Player of Year Dele Alli has the chance to be one of the tournament’s surprise packages, while if Joe Hart can transfer his club form to England he will beat hard to beat in goal.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Marcus Rashford’s inclusion in Roy Hodgson’s original 26-man squad took many by surprise, but he has been a revelation since breaking into the Manchester United side. The striker has bagged eight goals in 17 games and he has been rewarded for his efforts. Theo Walcott is perhaps the biggest absentee, however. The Arsenal winger featured regularly during qualifying but he has struggled with his club form since the turn of the year.

EXPECTED XI
(4-1-2-1-2): Hart; Clyne, Cahill, Smalling, Rose; Dier, Alli, Henderson, Rooney; Vardy, Kane.

PREDICTED FINISH
Quarter-Finals is my prediction but the FA is eager for a semi-final berth.


Russia

The days of Andrei Arshavin zigzagging his way through opponents may be in the past, but Russia is still a side filled with talented players. Finishing runner-up in Group G behind dark horse Austria, Russia will be coming into the Euro’s looking to improve on a performance in 2012 that didn’t see them advance past the group stage. This summer they’ll have to tackle England, Slovakia and Wales in Group B – it’s very much a group where they could either finish first or bottom but there will still be expectations for them to progress nevertheless.

BEST FINISH
Semi-Finals (2008)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Igor Akinfeev (CSKA Moscow), Yuri Lodygin (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Guilherme Marinato (Lokomotiv Moscow)

Defenders: Sergei Ignashevich (CSKA Moscow), Vasili Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Aleksei Berezutski (CSKA Moscow), Dmitri Kombarov (Spartak Moscow), Igor Smolnikov (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Roman Shishkin (Lokomotiv Moscow), Georgi Schennikov (CSKA Moscow), Roman Neustädter (Schalke 04)

Midfielders: Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow), Artur Yusupov (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Denis Glushakov (Spartak Moscow), Aleksandr Samedov (Lokomotiv Moscow), Dmitri Torbinski (Krasnodar), Oleg Shatov (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Pavel Mamayev (Krasnodar), Aleksandr Golovin (CSKA Moscow), Oleg Ivanov (Terek Grozny)

Forwards: Artyom Dzyuba (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Aleksandr Kokorin (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Fyodor Smolov (Krasnodar)

KEY PLAYERS
Artem Dzyuba – The 6’5 target man is a mountain of a forward. His lack of technical ability is countered by his predatory instincts inside the area and a knack for being in the right place at the right time to find the back of the net. He led Russia in scoring during qualifying with 8 goals in 8 appearances, and his 23 goals in 43 appearances at club level shows that he’s no slouch in terms of finding the back of the net. With Russia maintaining an industrious midfield that is full of creativity, Dzyuba is the perfect player to fire them past the group stage.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
While the exclusions of experienced pair Yuri Zhirkov and Aleksandr Kerzhakov comes as a bit of a shock, it was removal of the talismanic Alan Dzagoev via a metatarsal fracture that could have the Russian’s reeling. Dzagoev’s direct style and creativity could end up being sorely missed, and though Dmitri Torbinski is a solid replacement, Dzagoev was bound to be heavily relied on this summer.

EXPECTED XI
(4-3-3) Akinfeev; Smolnikov, Ignashevich, V.Berezutski, Schennikov; Shirokov, Golovin, Torbinski; Shatov, Kokorin, Dzyuba

PREDICTED FINISH
Group Stage –  While there is a host of continuity and experience in the Russian squad, the loss of Alan Dzagoev and Igor Denisov, two vital central players, will be a little too much to overcome.  This isn’t the same Russia that shocked many with their performances at Euro 2008, and despite some quality players and threatening strikers up front, I think it’ll be a summer of disappointment.


Slovakia

Slovakia comes into a summer of gallivanting around France as part of their first appearance at the Euro’s. It’s been a recent trend for the central European nation, as their first appearance at the World Cup came back in 2010. South Africa saw them defy the odds and get out of a group containing Italy and Paraguay, and this summer won’t be any different in regards to level of difficulty. Despite a solid qualifying campaign that saw them finish behind group winners Spain (which included a 2-1 win against the Spanish in Slovakia), question marks still remain a constant in regards to their ability to show well in only their second overall tournament as an independent nation.

BEST FINISH
This is their first appearance at the Euro’s

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Ján Mucha (Slovan Bratislava), Matúš Kozáčik (Viktoria Plzen), Ján Novota (Rapid Wien)

Defenders: Martin Škrtel (Liverpool), Ján Durica (Lokomotiv Moscow), Peter Pekarik (Hertha BSC), Tomáš Hubočan (Dynamo Moscow), Kornel Saláta (Slovan Bratislava), Dušan Švento (FC Köln), Norbert Gyömbér (AS Roma), Milan Škriniar (Sampdoria)

Midfielders: Marek Hamšík (Napoli), Stanislav Šesták (Ferencváros), Miroslav Stoch (Bursaspor), Vladimir Weiss (Al-Gharafa), Juraj Kucka (AC Milan), Viktor Pečovsky (MŠK Žilina), Róbert Mak (PAOK), Ondrej Duda (Legia Warsaw), Patrik Hrošovsky (Viktoria Plzen) Ján Greguš (FK Jablonec)

Forwards: Michal Duriš (Viktoria Plzen), Adam Nemec (Willem II)

KEY PLAYERS
Marek Hamšík – It’s not every day that one of the best central players hails from a nation who’s sporting icons play in the NHL, but Marek Hamsik truthfully holds Slovakia’s chances of progression through the group stage in his hands. A brilliantly creative player, excellent delivery from dead-ball situations and leadership qualities easily make him their talisman. He lead Slovakia in goal scoring during qualifying with 5, and his ability to create for others will be key if they’re to find any sort of scoring form this summer.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
National team veteran Robert Vittek is the only surprise in the squad as coach Jan Kozak was unable to call on the Slovan Bratislava striker due to injury. Vittek’s 23 goals for his country see’s him as their all-time leader in goals, and without his services the responsibility of leading the line will likely fall on Willem II forward Adam Nemec or Viktoria Plzen striker Michal Duris.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Kozacik; Hubocan, Durica, Skrtel, Pekarik; Pecovsky, Kucka; Mak, Hamsik, Weiss; Nemec

PREDICTED FINISH
Round of 16 at least – Slovakia have far more quality than people give them credit. With Marek Hamšík pulling the strings combined with pace in key areas, Slovakia will be a huge threat on the counter. If Poland and Austria are the dark horse for many, Slovakia can fly under the radar and get through the group stage even as one of the better third placed teams…don’t write them off so quickly.


Wales

This is Wales’ first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup and as such most of their euphoria is born out of merely qualifying. But now they have made it to the tournament and there is expectancy that Wales can cause an upset. They did just that in qualifying, defeating Belgium 1-0 at home before coming second to them in the group by just two points. Achieving that was no mean feat as in doing so they finished above both Bosnia & Herzegovina and Israel.

BEST FINISH
Never previously qualified.

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Wayne Hennessey (Crystal Palace), Owain Fôn Williams (Inverness), Danny Ward (Liverpool)

Defenders: Chris Gunter (Reading), Ashley Williams (Swansea City), James Collins (West Ham United), Neil Taylor (Swansea City), Ben Davies (Tottenham), James Chester (West Bromwich Albion), Jazz Richards (Fulham)

Midfielders: Joe Ledley (Crystal Palace), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal), Andy King (Leicester City), David Edwards (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Joe Allen (Liverpool), David Cotterill (Birmingham City), Jonathan Williams (Crystal Palace)

Forwards: Gareth Bale (Real Madrid), Sam Vokes (Burnley), Simon Church (MK Dons), Hal Robson-Kanu (Reading), George Williams (Fulham)

KEY PLAYERS
There is no denying who the key man for Wales is – Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid star bagged seven goals during the qualifying campaign and is his team’s talisman; a role he now relishes. Alongside the winger Wales also boast the talents of Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, but it is the presence of Ashley Williams which should not be overlooked. The Swansea defender is the captain of the side and he could have a pivotal role to player for Chris Coleman’s team this summer.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
There are not many surprises in Chris Coleman’s squad, but given the nature of its make-up there are a few lower league players who people maybe unaware of it. One man to look out for is Jonathan Williams of Crystal Palace. The 22-year-old has spent the past season out on loan at Nottingham Forest and MK Dons, but he has bags of talent. Expect Williams to be Coleman’s go-to player when he needs a creative spark to change the game from the bench.

EXPECTED XI
(3-4-2-1): Hennessey; Richards, Williams, Taylor; Gunter, Ledley, Allen, Davies; Ramsey, Bale; Robson-Kanu.

PREDICTED FINISH
Last-16 would be a good effort; anything more would be a big surprise.

 

Group C – Germany, Poland, Ukraine, Northern Ireland

Germany

Semi-Finalist at Euro 2012 and defending World Cup champion – other than host nation France, Germany are surely the heavy favorite this summer…at least on paper. It wasn’t all smooth sailing during their qualifying campaign however, with poor results away at Poland, and only earning a single point out of six against the Republic of Ireland over two matches. Despite the stumbles they topped their group, besting the Poles by a single point, but expectations of an appearance in the finals and winning the tournament will be the standard this summer for Die Mannschaft.

BEST FINISH
Champion (1972, 1980, 1996)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich), Bernd Leno (Bayer Leverkusen), Marc-André ter Stegen (Barcelona)

Defenders: Jonas Hector (FC Köln), Benedikt Höwedes (Schalke 04), Jérôme Boateng (Bayern Munich), Mats Hummels (Bayern Munich), Antonio Rüdiger (AS Roma), Shkodran Mustafi (Valencia), Emre Can (Liverpool)

Midfielders: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Manchester United), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Julian Weigl (Borussia Dortmund), Joshua Kimmich (Bayern Munich), Mesut Özil (Arsenal), Julian Draxler (VfL Wolfsburg), Mario Götze (Bayern Munich)

Forwards: Thomas Müller (Bayern Munich), Mario Gómez (Besiktas), Lukas Podolski (Galatasaray), André Schürrle (VfL Wolfsburg), Leroy Sané (Schalke 04)

KEY PLAYERS
Thomas Muller – truthfully, there are about ten players you could choose from for this, but the reality is that Thomas Muller is one of the best and brightest on a global scale; something he constantly backs up in major tournaments. His intelligence, ability to always make the best run available and ruthless nature in the box make him the exclamation point on in a star-studded German attack. 31 goals in 70 appearances for his country is an excellent return for someone who is only still just 26, and his 9 goals in 9 qualifying matches was the difference maker. Five goals in each of the last two World Cup’s lends further weight to his pedigree, but failing to score a single goal at Euro 2012 will be something he surely rectifies this summer.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
While it’s difficult to see why Matthias Ginter and Lars Bender have not been included given the seasons they’ve had at club level, it’s the inclusions of young trio Leroy Sané, Joshua Kimmich and Julian Weigl that has both turned heads and brought some applause. Sané may play a larger role as an impact sub off the bench given his pace and personal style of play, Kimmich and Weigl have been rewarded for their meteoric rise at club level and undoubtedly will be in the national fold from here till the end of their careers.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Neuer; Hector, Hummels, Boateng, Höwedes; Kroos, Khedira; Draxler, Özil, Müller; Gomez

PREDICTED FINISH
It’s difficult to say if they can best a talented and motivated France on their home soil, but Germany can never be counted out for a deep run. In eleven Euro appearances, Germany has reached the semi-final eight times, so you can expect that to be the minimum achievement from them.


Poland

Like Winged Hussars from days gone by, Poland has charged into Euro 2016 in brilliant fashion. Finishing runner-up behind juggernaut Germany by just a single point, and leading qualifying with the most goals scored (33), Poland will be looking to make it out of the group stage for the first time at the Euro’s in what will be their third appearance. Though they’ve been reunited with Germany in Group C, they’ll not only be confident after their performances against their neighbors in qualifying, but they’ll surely fancy themselves against Ukraine and upstart Northern Ireland.

BEST FINISH
Group Stage (2008, 2012)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Wojciech Szczęsny (AS Roma), Lukasz Fabiański (Swansea City), Artur Boruc (Bournemouth)

Defenders: Artur Jędrzejczyk (Legia Warsaw), Michal Pazdan (Legia Warsaw), Thiago Cionek (Palermo), Jakub Wawrzyniak (Lechia Gdańsk), Kamil Glik (Torino), Bartosz Salamon (Cagliari), Lukasz Piszczek (Borussia Dortmund)

Midfielders: Krzysztof Maczyński (Wisla Kraków), Tomasz Jodlowiec (Legia Warsaw), Karol Linetty (Lech Poznan), Grzegorz Krychowiak (Sevilla), Kamil Grosicki (Rennes), Jakub Blaszczykowski (Fiorentina), Slawomir Peszko (Lechia Gdańsk), Piotr Zieliński (Empoli), Bartosz Kapustka (Cracovia), Filip Starzyński (Zaglębie Lubin)

Forwards: Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich), Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax Amsterdam), Mariusz Stepiński (Ruch Chorzów)

KEY PLAYERS
Robert Lewandowski and Grzegorz Krychowiak – Poland’s goal scoring exploits through qualifying owe much credit to Robert Lewandowski’s 13-goal haul. The Bayern Munich center-forward is one of the best in the business and his influence in the final third cannot be understated. As for Grzegorz Krychowiak, depending on who you ask, you’re talking about one of the best holding midfielders in Europe and arguably in all of La Liga. Poland’s defensive record in qualifying wasn’t excellent, but they did only allow one more goal than Germany. If they’re to not only get out of the group but also make a run past the round of 16, these two are the vital pieces of the puzzle.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
The exclusions of Sebastian Mila and Lukasz Szukala are surely the only massive surprises in Adam Nawalka’s squad. Both players were regulars during qualifying, but with the pair of them falling out of form at club level, they were rightly passed on. You don’t succeed in a tournament by taking players who are not at their best.

EXPECTED XI
(4-4-2) Szczesny; Wawrzyniak, Pazdan, Glik, Piszczek; Grosicki, Krychowiak, Zieliński, Blaszczykowski; Lewandowski, Milik

PREDICTED FINISH
Quarter-Finals – Their successful campaign that was filled with goals was no fluke; Poland will come to play and not only do I expect them to get out of the group (and push Germany all the way), they very well could provide a shock result in the round of 16 and make it to the Quarter-Finals.


Ukraine

It wasn’t even remotely an easy road traveled by the Ukraine to get to France, but when it was all said and done they found themselves guaranteed a place competition against the best the continent has to offer. A third place finish in Group C behind heavyweight Spain and tricky Slovakia saw them take on Slovenia in the two-legged playoff, which they won 3-1 on aggregate. Their reward for their tough route to France; Group C, featuring Germany, Poland and Northern Ireland – it hasn’t gotten any easier for them.

BEST FINISH
Never progressed past the group stage

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Andriy Pyatov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Denys Boyko (Besiktas), Mykyta Shevchenko (Zorya Luhansk)

Defenders: Vyacheslav Shevchuk (Shakhtar Donetsk), Oleksandr Kucher (Shakhtar Donetsk), Artem Fedetskyi (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Yevhen Khacheridi (Dynamo Kiev), Yaroslav Rakitskiy (Shakhtar Donetsk), Bohdan Butko (Amkar Perm)

Midfielders: Anatoliy Tymoshchuk (Kairat Almaty), Oleksandr Karavaev (Zorya Luhansk), Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev), Denys Garmash (Dynamo Kiev), Serhiy Sydorchuk (Dynamo Kiev), Serhiy Rybalka (Dynamo Kiev), Taras Stepanenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Viktor Kovalenko (Shakhtar Donetsk), Ruslan Rotan (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk), Yevhen Konoplyanka (Sevilla), Olexandr Zinchenko (Ufa)

Forwards: Yevhen Seleznyov (Shakhtar Donetsk), Pylyp Budkivskiy (Zoyra Luhansk), Roman Zozulya (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk)

KEY PLAYERS
The buck surely stops at Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka. The gifted pair of attackers are the most talented in the Ukrainian squad, and with their overall goal scoring struggles in qualifying (only 14 in 10 matches), their only hope is to place their faith right where it belongs…at the feet of these two.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
While the exclusion of forward Yevhen Sleznyov has been getting plenty attention, it’s the inclusion of veteran Anatoliy Tymoshchuk that caught me just a bit off guard…and yes that was sarcasm. It’s always important to have leaders and elder statesmen in the squad for a tournament, but the 37-year old is as influential as he is a potential liability. Eventually your legs just go, and after 141 caps for his country, and while this summer is surely the last time he puts his boots on for Ukraine, it must be one where he goes out on a high rather than up in smoke. Surely coach Mykhailo Formenko will only use him as an influence in the dressing room and on the training ground.

EXPECTED XI
(4-3-3) Pyatov; Shevchuk, Rakitskiy, Khacheridi, Fedetskiy; Garmash, Rybalka, Stepanenko; Konoplyanka, Yarmolenko; Zozulya

PREDICTED FINISH
Round of 16 at best – I fully expect them to finish third in a group that will come down to Germany and Poland, but the problem for the Ukraine will inevitably be if they end up as one of the best four teams who placed third in order to make the knockout stages; something I do not think they’ll be capable of achieving, but would not be surprised if they skirt by when it’s all said and done.


N Ireland

Northern Ireland’s heroics in their qualifying campaign that saw them top Group F will undoubtedly go down as one of the finest moments in the nations footballing history. While the nation has produced brilliant talents such as Pat Jennings and George Best, they’ve truly failed to make an impression on the international stage. A handful of appearances ion the World Cup are on their dossier, including a Quarter-Final appearance in Sweden ’58, but they have failed to qualify for a single international tournament since Mexico ’86. This summer see’s them in their first ever foray into the Euro’s, and without any expectations at all, they have nothing to lose.

BEST FINISH
This is their first appearance at the Euro’s

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Roy Carroll (Notts County), Michael McGovern (Hamilton Academical), Alan McManus (St.Johnstone)

Defenders: Craig Cathcart (Watford), Jonny Evans (West Bromwich Albion), Gareth McAuley (West Bromwich Albion), Luke McCullough (Doncaster Rovers), Conor McLaughlin (Fleetwood Town), Aaron Hughes (Melbourne City), Lee Hodson (MK Dons), Chris Baird (Derby County), Paddy McNair (Manchester United)

Midfielders: Steven Davis (Southampton), Oliver Norwood (Reading), Corry Evans (Blackburn Rovers), Jamie Ward (Nottingham Forest), Stuart Dallas (Leeds United), Niall McGinn (Aberdeen), Shane Ferguson (Millwall)

Forwards: Will Grigg (Wigan Athletic), Kyle Lafferty (Birmingham City), Conor Washington (Queens Park Rangers), Josh Magennis (Kilmarnock)

KEY PLAYERS
Steven Davis and Will Grigg – Captain Steven Davis’ experience at both club level and for Northern Ireland will be vital if he’s to keep those under his command mentally strong throughout a difficult group stage. While the goals of Kyle Lafferty (7) were key in qualifying, it’s Will Grigg who could explode this summer. His form for Wigan Athletic this season and the 25 league goals he slammed home are an excellent addition to the aforementioned Lafferty. If Griggs can become a second important source of goals, their chances of springing a shock are magnified tremendously.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
While it wasn’t due to poor form or a better available option, the exclusion of Premier League veteran Chris Brunt via a serious knee injury suffered back in March must be seen as a key figure on the pitch and in the dressing room lost. He may not be as influential going forward as he once was, but his ability on set pieces and experience in multiple roles will be sorely missed this summer.

EXPECTED XI
(4-3-2-1) McGovern; Baird, Evans, Cathcart, McAuley; Dallas, Davis, Evans; Magennis, Norwood, Lafferty

PREDICTED FINISH
Group Stage – Their heroics in qualifying aside (in a group that must be said was one of the easiest in the phase), I cannot see them producing enough to get out of their group. A date with Poland in their opener will likely end their tournament before it began, and though they don’t’ face Germany till the final group stage match day, it’s likely that they’ll be in need of a win that is far beyond their capabilities.

Group D -Spain, Czech Republic, Croatia, Turkey

Spain

The current holders of the European Championships will be looking for a much improved showing compared to their surprisingly poor performances in Brazil. Spain finished top of their qualifying group with 9 wins and 1 loss, in a group that included Slovakia, Ukraine, Belarus, Luxembourg and Macedonia. There will be the typical expectations upon Spain to perform highly and retain their title once again.

BEST FINISH
Winners (1964, 2008, 2012)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Iker Casillas (FC Porto), David de Gea (Manchester United), Sergio Rico (Sevilla)

Defenders: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Barcelona), Juanfran (Atlético Madrid), César Azpilicueta (Chelsea), Marc Bartra (Barcelona), Mikel San José (Athletic Bilbao), Héctor Bellerín (Arsenal)

Midfielders: Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona), Cesc Fàbregas (Chelsea), David Silva (Manchester City), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Koke (Atlético Madrid), Thiago Alcântara (Bayern Munich), Bruno Soriano (Villareal)

Forwards: Álvaro Morata (Juventus), Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao), Nolito (Celta Vigo), Pedro (Chelsea), Lucas Vázquez (Real Madrid)

KEY PLAYERS
Aduriz and Morata are the only recognized strikers selected by Vicente Del Bosque and unless there is a plan to field Fabregas in the sole center-forward role again, then there will be real pressure on the Atheltic Bilbao and Juventus forwards to have their shooting boots on. When Spain come to playing the more threatening teams, the main man on the field will certainly be Sergio Busquets; the world’s best central defensive midfielder will be imperative to Spain’s ball retention and protection of the back four.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
For Spain the surprises come from the players not selected. Fernando Torres finished the season in prolific form for Atletico but sees the wide forward Lucas Vazquez make the squad instead. Diego Costa is another high profile member missing from the squad – the Chelsea forward scored 12 league goals this season but it was not enough to convince Del Bosque to include him. A range of familiar faces didn’t make the squad: Santi Cazorla, Juan Mata, Paco Alcacer and Jesus Navas to name a few. However, even without these players, the squad is very strong and will be one of the favorites for the competition.

EXPECTED XI
This is extremely difficult to predict, Spain have experimented throughout the qualifying process.
(4-3-3) De Gea; Juanfran, Ramos, Pique, Alba; Busquets, Fabregas, Iniesta; Nolito, Silva, Morata

PREDICTED FINISH
Finalist – This is the earliest point in which Spain can meet World Champions Germany.


Czech Republic

Triumphant toppers of Group A in qualifying, the Czech Republics’ success in getting to France this summer will not come without a massive question mark. While they’ll have a nice blend of youth and experience, style and grit, their defense, despite the presence of veteran and icon Petr Čech, has a lot of work to do. Surrendering 14 goals through qualifying is worrying, but a recent impressive performance against Russia (a 2-1 friendly win) will serve as a benchmark for this summer for Pavel Vrba’s men.

BEST FINISH
Runner-Up (1996)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Petr Čech (Arsenal), Tomáš Vaclik (FC Basel), Tomáš Koubek (Slovan Liberec)

Defenders: Theodor Gabre Selassie (Werder Bremen), Roman Hubník (Viktoria Plzen), Pavel Kaderábek (1899 Hoffenheim), Michal Kadlec (Fenerbahçe), David Limbersky (Viktoria Plzen), Daniel Pudil (Sheffield Wednesday), Marek Suchy (FC Basel), Tomáš Sivok (Bursaspor)

Midfielders: Vlad Darida (Hertha BSC), Borek Dočkal (Sparta Prague), Daniel Kolár (Viktoria Plzen), Ladislav Krejčí (Sparta Prague), David Pavelka (Kasimpasa), Jaroslav Plašil (Girondins Bordeaux), Tomáš Rosicky (Arsenal), Jirí Skalák (Brighton & Hove Albion), Josef Šural (Sparta Prague)

Forwards: David Lafata (Sparta Prague), Tomáš Necid (Bursaspor_, Milan Škoda (Slavia Prague)

KEY PLAYERS
Petr Čech and Vlad Darida – Čech is already a goalkeeping icon both at home and across Europe, and his leading 120 caps for his country is a testament to his importance. He’s just coming off a golden-glove winning season with Arsenal, so he’s as ready as he’s ever going to be. As for Darida, he was a key feature in a Hertha Berlin side that defied expectations and finished seventh in the Bundesliga, qualifying for the final qualifying round of the Europa League next season. His ability to pull strings from deep as well as his knack for striking a ball from range will make him a threat behind Tomáš Rosicky.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Though he likely will be handed somewhat of a role off the bench, Jirí Skalák still seems a bit of a strange one. Though he’s featured for his country at every youth level before breaking into the full national set up, Skalák has never truly dazzled at club level. Extra exposure however may see his inclusion as more of preparation for the long term, as many Czech players are reaching 30 or already eclipsing that mark.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Čech; Kadeřábek, Sivok, Suchy (suspended for the opener), Limberský; Darida, Plašil; Dočkal, Rosický, Krejčí; Necid

PREDICTED FINISH
Round of 16 at best – The Czech’s have enough about them to show well in the group stage despite the serious question marks at the back, but I cannot see them capable of making it past the round of 16 despite a likely solid effort.


Croatia

Despite showing well in their pair of 1-1 draw’s against group favorites Italy, Croatia stumbled across the line with a second place finish just one point ahead of Norway. Poor showings away from home in Bulgaria (2-2 draw), Norway (2-0 loss) and Malta (1-0 win) highlight that despite the individual level of talent, Croatia has a lot of work to do.

BEST FINISH
Quarterfinals (1996, 2008)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Danijel Subašić (AS Monaco), Lovre Kalinić (Hajduk Split), Ivan Vargić (HNK Rijeka)

Defenders: Darijo Srna (Shakhtar Donetsk), Vedran Ćorluka (Lokomotiv Moscow), Domagoj Vida (Dynamo Kiev), Ivan Strinić (Napoli), Gordon Schildenfeld (Dinamo Zagreb), Šime Vrsaljko (Sassuolo), Tin Jedvaj (Bayer Leverkusen)

Midfielders: Luka Modrić (Real Madrid), Ivan Rakitić (Barcelona), Ivan Perišić (Inter), Mateo Kovačić (Real Madrid), Milan Badelj (Fiorentina), Marcelo Brozović (Inter), Marko Rog (Dinamo Zagreb), Ante Ćorić (Dinamo Zagreb)

Forwards: Mario Mandžukić (Juventus), Nikola Lalinić (Fiorentina), Andrej Kramarić (1899 Hoffenheim), Marko Pjaca (Dinamo Zagreb), Duje Čop (Málaga)

KEY PLAYERS
Croatia have a ridiculous amount of talent in midfield, but it’s the La Liga pair of Luka Modrić and Ivan Rakitić being the ones pulling the strings and dictating play throughout that stand highest. When these two are on, they are next to impossible to stop. Questions however must be asked at either end of the pitch. The back line is either aging or too young, while at the other end, a heavy reliance will surely be placed on Mario Mandžukić and company to put away critical chances in what is a deceptively very difficult group

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Ante Ćorić – despite his talent and being one of the most in-demand youngsters in Europe, he surely is a surprise pick considering the serious competition for a spot in Croatia’s midfield. An exciting prospect yes but perhaps one tournament too early.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Subašić; Srna, Ćorluka, Schildenfeld, Vida; Brozović, Modrić; Pjaca, Rakitić, Perišić; Mandžukić

PREDICTED FINISH
Quarterfinals – This may seem a bit lofty considering how disappointing they were in Brazil and how they struggled at times in qualifying, but Croatia do have the talent level to get out of a very difficult group and make a wave or two in the knockout stages. The other option is they crash and burn in the group stage, but I’ve gone with a bit of faith.


Turkey

Turkey’s road to France this summer certainly was not paved smoothly. Just one win in their opening five qualifying matches (the only full three point haul coming from a 3-1 home win against Kazakhstan) would have even the staunchest of supporters doubting progression – but then four wins and one draw in the remaining five fixtures saw Ay-Yildizlilar beat out the vaunted Dutch for the third place spot in Group A. Despite improved form to reach the tournament, questions will still be asked if Turkey have enough in the tank, despite their talent level, to make some waves in France.

BEST FINISH
Semi-Finals (2008)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Harun Tekin (Bursaspor), Onur Kivrak (Tranzonspor), Volkan Babacan (Istanbul Basaksehir)

Defenders: Gökhan Gönül (Fenerbahçe), Sener Özbayrakli (Fenerbahçe), Ahmet Calik (Gençlerbirligi), Hakan Balta (Galatasaray), Mehmet Topal (Fenerbahçe), Semih Kaya (Galatasaray), Caner Erkin (Fenerbahçe), Ismail Köybasi (Besiktas)

Midfielders: Emre Mor (Nordsjælland), Volkan Sen (Fenerbahçe), Hakan Çalhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen), Nuri Sahin (Borussia Dortmund), Oguzhan Özyakup (Besiktas), Ozan Tufan (Fenerbahçe), Selçuk Inan (Galatasaray), Arda Turan (Barcelona), Olcay Sahan (Besiktas)

Forwards: Burak Yilmaz (Beijing Guoan), Cenk Tosun (Besiktas), Yunus Malli (Mainz 05)

KEY PLAYERS
Hakan Çalhanoglu and Arda Turan – Leverkusen attacking-midfielder Hakan Çalhanoglu has long been lauded as one of the best set-piece specialists in Europe, but he is so much more than that. Technically strong, intelligent and able to feature well in multiple areas of the pitch, his ability to influence proceedings in the final third will be vital for a Turkey side looking to turn a head or two. Arda Turan, however, has it all to prove. Their most well known player, Turan made a name for himself at Atlético Madrid. Now at Barcelona, the 29-year old is on the outside looking in. His work rate at both ends of the pitch, hardnosed nature and ability in his own right has him primed to revitalize his club career while leading his nation to a hopeful prolonged stay in France.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
The omission of Gökhan Töre was a difficult call for coach Fatih Terim – the player faces a two-match suspension coming in, and despite his influence, Töre’s absence from crucial group stage fixtures was not a risk worth taking. Unlike England (and one or two others), Turkey also did not take a player who would come into the tournament out of form, Mevlüt Erdinç. Terim surely views his squad as needing to be comprised of players who are fit and firing if they are to get out of their group.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Babacan; Erkin, Balta, Kaya, Gönül; Topal, Inan; Turan, Çalhanoglu, Sen; Yilmaz

PREDICTED FINISH
Round of 16 at best – Their chances of progression, for me, will come down to a performance against the Czech Republic and if they can limit the pain incurred by Spain. They are in good form but I am just not sure if they have enough goals in their team to get much farther than the round of 16 if they do manage to emerge from the group stage. This one is a toss up, but they’ve been given the benefit of the doubt.

 

Group E -Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Republic of Ireland

Belgium

The rebirth of Belgium under Marc Wilmots and its current golden generation is now seemingly primed to put the finishing touches on years of progress. A decent yet slightly disappointing World Cup in Brazil (where many had them as the tournament dark horse) was built on by a strong Euro 2016 qualifying campaign where, despite the hiccup against upstart Wales, seemed to prove that the noisy red neighbors are readied in the chamber. Despite their improvement and lofty FIFA-ranking, they still have it all to prove this summer.

BEST FINISH
Runner-up (1980)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jean-François Gillet (KV Mechelen)

Defenders: Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham), Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Jason Denayer (Galatasaray), Thomas Meunier (Club Brugge), Jordan Lukaku (KV Oostende), Christian Kabasele (KRC Genk)

Midfielders: Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit Saint Petersburg), Moussa Dembélé (Tottenham), Radja Nainggolan (AS Roma), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (Altético Madrid)

Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Michy Batshuayi (Olympique Marseille), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Divock Origi (Liverpool)

KEY PLAYERS
When you look at Belgium you naturally look right at Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard – two of the most talented attacking players in Europe on the whole – but Belgium will have to rely on Romelu Lukaku to tuck away the chances being created for him. If he’s firing well, Belgium will be in great shape. At the back end it’s Tottenham pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen. Both were excellent for Spurs this season but according to Wilmots “Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld will start in the full-back positions”, meaning Belgium’s tournament could rest on how well the two can support the attack from wider areas while also covering the flanks efficiently.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
For me there are no surprises – this is the team, bar the absence of captain Vincent Kompany, that navigated qualifying and topped their group while only allowing five goals in the process. The one iffy inclusion for me would have to be Christian Benteke, but a lack of ready true center-forwards beyond Romelu Lukaku and Michy Batshuayi means he has to be taken to France.

EXPECTED XI
(4-3-3): Courtois; Alderweireld, Lombaerts, Denayer, Vertonghen; Nainggolan, Witsel; De Bruyne; Hazard, Carrasco, Lukaku

PREDICTED FINISH
Semi-Finals: It’ll be an improvement from two years ago in Brazil, and while they have one of the most talented groups of midfielders in the world coupled with two hungry center-forward’s, it’s tough to see them stand tallest come the final 90-minutes of the tournament.


Italy

Italy faced a relatively easy path through qualification. Apart from a 1-1 draw against challengers Croatia at home, they won every other home fixture and ended the campaign undefeated through ten with seven wins. Despite the ease of qualification, Italy will still be under enormous pressure after a disastrous 2014 in Brazil.

BEST FINISH
Winners (1968)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Salvatore Sirigu (Paris Saint-Germain), Federico Marchetti (Lazio)

Defenders: Mattia De Sciglio (AC Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham United), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)

Midfielders: Thiago Motta (Paris Saint-Germain), Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Alessandro Florenzi (AS Roma), Stefano Sturaro (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (AS Roma), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Federico Bernardeschi (Fiorentina), Stephan El Shaarawy (AS Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Bologna)

Forwards: Graziano Pellè (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli), Éder (Inter), Simone Zaza (Juventus)

KEY PLAYERS
Sadly with Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio both missing out this summer through injury there’s no one player who Italy will be looking to – it will be more of a collective reliance on the Juventus core defense of BBC and Buffon as the solid foundation. Lorenzo Insigne, Federico Bernadeschi and Stephan El Shaarawy all have that special spark, but as always with Italy (and Conte in particular), the team and not the individual comes first.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Eder can count himself lucky to currently be in the squad considering his poor form, and even Ciro Immobile may be a touch lucky considering he may not even be the best Italian striker at Torino this season. Sebastian Giovinco, despite playing in the MLS, is the surprise exclusion from the squad.

EXPECTED XI
(3-5-2) Buffon; Barzagli, Bonucci, Chiellini; Candreva, De Sciglio, De Rossi, Jorginho, Montolivo; Eder, Pelle

PREDICTED FINISH
Quarterfinals at best – Italy are defensively still strong but lacking in the forward department. They have a tough group to qualify from, which could see them with a tough draw as I can see them finishing second behind Belgium.


Sweden

The Swedes come in to Euro 2016 with a tough looking group and a squad hugely dependent on Zlatan Ibrahimovic…AGAIN! With the likes of Belgium, Italy and The Irish Republic to face its a tough ask to escape Group E. Having said that, if they do make it out of the group, the momentum could just be enough to see them surprise a few and make the quarterfinals or even further.

BEST FINISH
Semi Finals – 1992

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (Kasimpasa), Robin Olsen (FC Copenhagen), Patrik Carlgren (AIK)

Defenders:

Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Erik Johansson (FC Copenhagen), Andreas Grandqvist (Krasnodar), Martin Olsson (Norwich City), Pontus Jansson (Torino), Ludwig Augustinsson (FC Copenhagen), Victor Lindelöf (SL Benfica)

Midfielders: Emil Forsberg (RB Leipzig), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Albin Ekdal (Hamburger SV), Kim Källström (Grasshopper), Oscar Hijlemark (Palermo), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow), Oscar Lewicki (Malmö FF), Jimmy Durmaz (Olympiacos), Erkan Zengin (Trabzonspor)

Forwards: Zlatan Ibrahimović (Paris Saint-Germain), Marcus Berg (Panathinaikos), Emir Kujović (IFK Norrköping), John Guidetti (Celta Vigo)

KEY PLAYERS
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – It will come as no surprise but PSG’s all time leading goal scorer will be vital if the Swedes are to make any impact on the Euro’s. Even at 34 years of age, Zlatan has the skill and ability to win games single handedly, while his leadership will also be vital in a squad with some young talent.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Emir Kujovic – Whilst the 27-year old will probably not play much, his inclusion having only played for his country in three friendlies is somewhat of a surprise, even if he did notch a goal against Finland in January.

EXPECTED XI
(4-4-2) Isaksson; Olsson, Granqvist, Lindelof, Lustig; Forsberg, Kallstrom, Lewicki, Larsson; Ibrahimovic, Berg

PREDICTED FINISH
Quarterfinals – Whilst Group E looks tough, I can see Erik Hamren’s men springing a surprise and qualifying for the latter stages; never write off a well-organized side with a legitimate superstar upfront.


Ireland

Ireland will go into the Euro’s hoping to take advantage of what will most certainly be a ‘siege mentality’ approach to the tournament. Ireland have been drawn into Group E with Italy (former Euro and World Cup winners), Belgium (ranked number 2 in the world) and Sweden (have qualified for the last 4 European championship tournaments), and are well aware it’s a tough ask. Martin O’Neill said, “It couldn’t get any tougher. Italy should really have been in pot 1. They are a top ranking side so it’s difficult; it’s good for our fans but difficult for us.” Although the odds are against them, O’Neill’s Ireland squad aren’t strangers to what seems the impossible, they took 4 points out of a possible 6 in their two games against world champion’s Germany and put in a very impressive performance against a very well respected Bosnia team in the play-off’s to qualify.

BEST FINISH
Group Stage (1988, 2012)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Stoke City), Darren Randolph (West Ham United), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)

Defenders: John O’Shea (Sunderland), Cyrus Christie (Derby County), Seamus Coleman (Everton), Richard Keogh (Derby County), Shane Duffy (Blackburn Rovers), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Stephen Ward (Burnley)

Midfielders: Robbie Brady (Norwich City), Aiden McGeady (Sheffield Wednesday), David Meyler (Hull City), Jeff Hendrick (Derby County), Stephen Quinn (Reading), James McCarthy (Everton), Glenn Whelan (Stoke City), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich City), James McClean (West Bromwich Albion)

Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Shane Long (Southampton), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich Town), Jonathan Walters (Stoke City)

KEY PLAYERS
Shane Long has been in impressive form for Southampton in the second half of their Premier League campaign and his pace, versatility and work rate will be seen as important attributes to give Ireland an outlet on the counter attack. In qualifying Shane Long struck a 70th minute winner against Germany to get Ireland back in play-off contention

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
20-year-old winger Callum O’Dowda has received his first call up to the senior squad after impressing in England’s fourth division with Oxford United, he has 9 u21 caps to his name already in which he scored once. Although it’s very unlikely he’ll make it to the final 23 he’ll hope to show O’Neill something special in training

EXPECTED XI
(4-5-1) Randolph; Brady, O’Shea, Clark, Coleman; Hendrick, Whelan, Hoolahan, McCarthy, Walters; Long

PREDICTED FINISH
It’s hard to realistically expect Ireland to finish in the top 2 of a group that also includes Italy and Belgium but if they can keep the defensive standard that saw them concede just 8 goals in their 12 qualifying games anything can happen and with it being Robbie Keane’s last international tournament the script wouldn’t be written better were they to best the 2 aforementioned heavyweights to get to the knockout phase, or even finish as one of the best third-place sides.

 

Group F – Austria, Portugal, Iceland, Hungary

Austria

Austria had one of the strongest qualifying campaigns of all the teams who qualified, going unbeaten and winning nine of their matches. Their group included Moldova, Liechtenstein, Montenegro, Russia and Zlatan…apologies, I mean Sweden. I personally give Austria the “dark horse” tag for the tournament and some surprises may be in store.

BEST FINISH
Group stage (2008) and only appearance in the competition when the country hosted.

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Robert Almer (Austria Wien), Heinz Lindner (Eintracht Frankfurt), Ramazan Özcan (Ingolstadt 04)

Defenders: Christian Fuchs (Leicester City), Sebastian Prödl (Watford), Aleksandar Dragović (Dynamo Kiev), György Garics (Darmstadt 98), Florian Klein (VfB Stuttgart), Markus Suttner (Ingolstadt 04), Martin Hinteregger (Borussia Mönchengladbach), Kevin Wimmer (Tottenham)

Midfielders: David Alaba (Bayern Munich), Martin Harnik (VfB Stuttgart), Marko Arnautović (Stoke City), Zlatko Junuzović (Werder Bremen), Julian Baumgartlinger (Bayer Leverkusen), Jakob Jantscher (FC Luzern), Stefan Ilsanker (RB Leipzig), Alessandro Schöpf (Schalke 04)

Forwards: Marc Janko (FC Basel), Rubin Okotie (1860 München), Lukas Hinterseer (Ingolstadt 04), Marcel Sabitzer (RB Leipzig), Valentino Lazaro (Red Bull Salzburg)

KEY PLAYERS
The obvious standout player for Austria is David Alaba. The Bayern Munich man is typically deployed in a more advanced role for his national side than his defensive position for the Bavarians, and will be looking to be Austria’s talisman throughout the competition. The other player to keep an eye on will be Christian Fuchs. Off the back of the incredible Premiership triumph, the left-sided full-back will provide defensive consistency, physicality and a broad range of accurate passing.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
The inclusion of Red Bull Salzburg’s Valentino Lazaro was certainly a surprise, not because of any ability issues, but because he cost Rapid Vienna’s Florian Kainz a place in the squad. The left winger scored 7 goals and got 19 assists in 33 Austrian Bundesliga appearances for Rapid, compared to Lazaro’s goal tally of 2. I can only assume Koller looked at Lazaro’s versatility when making the decision.

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Almer; Klein, Dragovic, Hinteregger, Fuchs; Baumgartlinger, Alaba; Harnik, Junuzovic, Arnautovic; Janko

PREDICTED FINISH
Round-of-16, although a trip to the quarterfinals would not be a huge surprise.


Portugal

Any side that has Cristiano Ronaldo at the helm will surely be one people want to avoid…unless it’s Portugal. Though the Real Madrid man is arguably the greatest footballer on the planet, Portugal as a whole are not nearly as menacing collectively as their greatest ever player is singularly. Though they topped Group I in qualifying by a healthy seven-point margin, a paltry eleven goals in eight matches in what was one of the easiest groups in the field will not instill confidence that Portugal will yet again be nothing more than Ronaldo trying to will them deep into the tournaments latter stages. He will come to play, but everyone has to as well.

BEST FINISH
Runner-Up (2004, as hosts)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Rui Patricio (Sporting CP), Anthony Lopes (Olympique Lyonnais), Eduardo (Dinamo Zagreb)

Defenders: Bruno Alves (Fenerbahçe), Pepe (Real Madrid), José Fonte (Southampton), Raphaël Guerreiro (FC Lorient), Ricardo Carvalho (AS Monaco), Vieirinha (VfL Wolfsburg), Eliseu SL Benfica), Cédric Soares (Southampton)

Midfielders: João Moutinho (AS Monaco), João Mário (Sporting CP), Danilo (FC Porto), William Carvalho (Sporting CP), André Gomes (Valencia), Renato Sanches (SL Benfica), Adrien Silva (Sporting CP)

Forwards: Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid), Éder (LOSC Lille), Nani (Fenerbahçe), Rafa Silva (SC Braga), Ricardo Quaresma (Besiktas)

KEY PLAYERS
Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani – If the 2014 World cup in Brazil taught us anything, it’s that Portugal’s chances will live and die by the boots of Ronaldo and Nani. The Portuguese have a fantastic cast of supporting players with the likes of Adrien Silva, André Gomes and wunderkind Renato Sanches, but the now veteran attacking duo are two of only three players in Fernando Santos’ team to have double digit goals for their country (56 and 18 respectively). If they can slam home the chances that are sure to be provided, Portugal can make a run…if they can’t, it could be an early bath, just like in Brazil.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
While it’s always good to have an elder statesman, Ricardo Carvalho may be just a little too old. Now thirty-eight, he’s certainly been around the block for club and country and has performed at the highest level for the vast majority of his career. Aging and losing a step or twenty, it would be a potential issue should something happen to any of the three other CB’s ahead of him in the pecking order. He will be a leader in the dressing room, but Fernando Santos will be made to sweat if he has to call upon him.

EXPECTED XI
(4-1-2-1-2) Patrício; Cédric, Pepe, Alves, Guerreiro; Carvalho; Mário, Moutinho; Silva; Ronaldo, Nani

PREDICTED FINISH
Quarterfinals at best – Ronaldo still has much to prove, seeing that he’s yet to win a major trophy for his nation, so he will be motivated…but it still will not be enough. Unless he leads the tournament in goals it is unlikely that Portugal will be able to find their way past tougher opponents as the tournament progresses.


Iceland

The fairytale that is Iceland’s qualification for the Euro this summer can trace its roots back to their qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014. Finishing runner up in Group E behind Switzerland, Iceland would go on to lose their playoff against Croatia 2-0 on aggregate, but it was this experience that put them on a collision course with history. Beating out Turkey and the Netherlands and only finishing two points adrift of the Czech Republic, Strákarnir okkar boasted a credible attack (17 goals in 10 matches) while maintaining the groups best defensive record, only surrendering 6. Surely, they’ll be the hipsters’ choice to follow this summer as they look to impress in their first international tournament.

BEST FINISH
This is their first major tournament.

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Hannes Pór Halldórsson (Bodø/Glimt), Ögmundur Kristinsson (Hammarby IF), Ingvar Jónsson (Sandefjord)

Defenders: Birkir Már Sævarsson (Hammarby IF), Haukur Heidar Hauksson (AIK), Hjörtur Hermannsson (IFK Göteborg), Sverrir Ingi Ingason (KSC Lokeren), Ragnar Sigurdsson (Krasnodar), Kári Árnason (Malmö FF), Hördur Björgvin Magnússon (Cesena), Ari Freyr Skúlason (OB)

Midfielders: Jóhann Berg Gudmundsson (Charlton Athletic), Birkir Bjarnason (FC Basel), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City), Rúnar Már Sigurjónsson (GIF Sundsvall), Aaron Gunnarsson (Cardiff City), Theódór Elmar Bjarnason (Aarhus GF), Emil Hallfredsson (Udinese), Arnór Ingvi Traustason (IFK Norrköping)

Forwards: Alfred Finnbogason (FC Augsburg), Kolbeinn Sigpórsson (FC Nantes), Jón Dadi Bödvarsson (FC Kaiserslautern), Eidur Gudjohnsen (Molde FK)

KEY PLAYERS
Gylfi Sigurdsson and Aaron Gunnarsson – Despite Iceland boasting an effective and underrated strike force that includes Alfred Finnbogason, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and national footballing icon Eidur Gudjohnsen, it’ll be the center midfield fulcrum of Sigurdsson and Gunnarsson that hold the key for Iceland. Gunnarsson will be tasked with controlling the center of the park and adding an effective shield for the back-four, while Sigurdsson’s effectiveness going forward, lethality from range and expert nature at set pieces will be just as vital…as many fans of the Premier League can attest.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
To be honest, there really aren’t any surprises on either side of the coin. This is an Iceland side that is experienced individually and as a collective. As stated before, they’ve been playing together for a while now, and coaches Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson chose the best possible squad with which they’ll attempt to further write their names into the history books.

EXPECTED XI
(4-4-2) Kristinsson; Skúlason, R Sigurdsson, Árnason, Sævarsson; Gudmundsson, G Sigurdsson, Gunnarsson, Bjarnason; Sigthórsson, Finnbogason

PREDICTED FINISH
Round of 16 – It’ll be quite tight, but I think they can just make the cut as one of the best four third-placed teams in the group stage. Anything further would be an absolute dream, and although they’ve impressed to get there, they’ll be pleased to at least get out of the group in their first tournament appearance.


Hungary

Hungary is another Little Engine That Could side that probably had no business booking a summer in France. They certainly benefited from a group that has a lower degree of difficulty, but their performance in the qualification playoff against Norway where they won 3-1 on aggregate will add that little bit of crucial belief that they feel it will not be about making up the numbers this summer. Despite a footballing history that contains one of the most brilliant sides in the history of the sport, a lack of a genuine goal scorer and real quality in enough areas today means they could be in for a very rocky summer.

BEST FINISH
Third Place (1964)

SQUAD
Goalkeepers: Gábor Király (Haladás), Dénes Dibusz (Ferencváros), Péter Gulácsi (RB Leipzig)

Defenders: Attila Fiola (Puskás Akadémia), Barnabás Bese (MTK Budapest), Richárd Guzmics (Wisla Kraków), Roland Juhász (Videoton), Ádám Lang (Videoton), Tamás Kádár (Lech Poznań), Mihály Korhut (Debrecen)

Midfielders: Ákos Elek (Diósgyöri), Ádám Pintér (Ferencváros), Zoltán Gera (Ferencváros), Ádám Nagy (Ferencváros), László Kleinheisler (Werder Bremen), Gergö Lovrencsics (Lech Poznan), Zoltán Stieber (FC Nürnberg)

Forwards: Balázs Dzsudzsák (Bursaspor), Ádám Szalai (Hannover 96), Krisztián Németh (Al-Gharafa), Nemanja Nikolic (Legia Warsaw), Tamás Priskin (Slovan Bratislava), Dániel Böde (Ferencváros)

KEY PLAYERS
Balázs Dzsudzsák – While questions remain about who will lead the line for Hungary in the likely 4-2-3-1 that will be chosen by coach Bernd Storck, one factor remains the most vital, and that is the importance of Dzsudzsák. Creative, technically gifted and excellent from a dead-ball, the question shouldn’t be who leads the line, but rather how many chances they’ll convert that originated from this mans left foot.

SURPRISES IN THE SQUAD
Hungary suffers from quite a bit of inexperience internationally with the squad that is heading to France, so the exclusion of Zsolt Korcsmár for me comes as a mistake. The only defenders with more than 15 caps are Roland Juhász and Tamás Kádár, and if Korcsmár were included, he would add just a little bit more experience (he has 24 caps).

EXPECTED XI
(4-2-3-1) Király; Kádár, Lang, Guzmics, Fiola; Nagy, Gera; Dzsudzsák, Kleinheisler, Stieber; Szalai

PREDICTED FINISH
Group Stage – They’ll play their hearts out and leave nothing left in the tank, but anything past the group stage will surely be a bridge too far for a side that lacks a single credible goal scoring threat.

 

UEFA Euro 2016 Preview Presented by @TheFHPodcast

WRITERS
Drew Thompson @AFCBvB1410

Special thanks to:

Kris @AFCfreddie8 (France and Sweden)

John @jwelsh84 (Croatia and Italy)

Tom @TCanton94 (Austria and Spain)

Simon @sr_collings (England and Wales)

Luke @LukeisPremium (Switzerland and Ireland)