As we get closer to the Euro 2016 kick off in France, Alankrith Shankar writes to inform us about some of the hipster choices to support. Put on your beards, and grab a glass of organic root beer while you read this!
A long and yet surprising season of club football has finally come to a close. It is now time for the national teams to light up the summer with one of international football’s premier competitions; the UEFA Euro 2016, this time being contested by 24 teams in the wonderful country of France. Though the host nation haven’t had a significant say in any international competition since the 2006 FIFA World Cup finals, where current UEFA Champions League winning manager, Zidane infamously head butted Marco Materazzi, thereby cremating any chance the French had of winning the competition. But this year, even if the host nation jinx may play its part, the French team seems to be the most balanced, on form team, and has the best odds to win the tournament.
Of course, Belgium’s golden generation as they are being termed, the current number one side in the world is also every bookmaker’s favourite to win the competition. Germany may not have been the brightest on the build-up journey to France 2016, but will show up on the big stage and is surely one of the top 3 teams in the competition. Roy Hogdson’s young English side will be another strong contender as will Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Yet, there are other talented sides that are sure to spring a surprise, just like Greece, who shocked the whole footballing world with their win in 2004 over the host nation, Portugal in the final. Which are the teams that make that list?
Why? First up, we have the Swiss. With bags of talent and a moderately easy group featuring the host nation, Romania and Albania, the Swiss team should easily make it to the top 2 in Group A. The ideal finish for them in the group stages should be behind France. They did not make it easily to the final 24, losing both the legs to England, but having found themselves in the tournament and in a favourable group, the Euro 2008 co-hosts who finished in the round of 16 in the past world cup under legendary coach, Ottmar Hitzfeld, will look to make their first major tournament under Vladmir Petkovic a success and one to remember for the attack minded football they currently play.
Key Players: Newly signed central midfielder of Arsenal, Granit Xhaka would look to show to the non-Bundesliga viewers and the Arsenal fans, what he is made of in the tournament. One of the best central midfielders in Germany’s domestic league last season, he is surely to be the go-to man in the buildup play for Switzerland. Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri set the world cup alight for the Swiss and Petkovic will hope that Shaq-attack is present to set alight the Euro 2016 tournament as well. Yann Sommer and Roman Burki, both top quality goal keepers from the Bundesliga will be fighting for the #1 spot.
How Far Will They Go? Should easily make it out of the group stages, but might find it hard if they finish as the group runners as there are sides far better than them. A round of 16 exit, should be the minimum benchmark to achieve.
Why? Not that easy a group for the first timers. Ashley William’s Welsh side were one of the first sides to qualify for France 2016, but have found themselves in sort of a tricky group alongside England, Russia and Slovakia. But judging from their recent performances and the buoyant form they showed in their qualification matches, Wales should easily make it out of the group stages and probably make it further than the round of 16 as well.
Key Players: For the Welsh dream to be alive and last longer, they will require the heroics of Britain’s best player, Gareth Bale to be at his best and injury free throughout the tournament. The 100M move to Real Madrid has not only developed Bale as a player but has made him much more mature and a true leader on the football pitch, which will surely be a crucial factor for Wales. Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey will be the other player in the midfield who will have to provide adequate support for Bale. And can we see some heroics from the Welsh Pirlo aka Joe Allen? Wales would surely hope for it.
How Far Will They Go? If Bale keeps firing, then Wales could probably see themselves in the quarter finals at least. Not bad for a first time appearance in the competition. But the realistic target should be a round of 16 appearance.
Why? The Euro 2012 joint hosts have one of the world’s best strikers leading the side and with that quality available in the arsenal, Poland should have nothing to fear and could easily surprise quite a few this summer in France. A relatively straight forward group should see them fighting Germany for the top 2 spots.
Key Players: It probably doesn’t have to be mentioned, but FC Bayern Munchen’s Robert Lewandowski will be hoping to lead his team to glory this year and he should be ably aided by Borussia Dortmund’s Lukasz Piszczek, Fiorentina’s Jakub Blaszykowski, Ajax’s Milik and two exceptional goal keepers in Szcesny and Fabianski.
How Far Will They Go? A semi final is not out of reach or over ambitious with the firepower, but the minimum should be a quarter final.
Why? Have always been the underdogs, Turkey have a reputation for not performing to their potential. With a tough group, they may have to take every game like a final. The talent is not in question and they can surely take advantage of the slip ups predicted for their opponents, in Spain and Croatia.
Key Players: The Bundesliga duo of Sahin and Calhanoglou will be eagerly waiting for the tournament to kick off. Barcelona’s Arda Turan is another key attacking member. Where they lack is, in the defense department but Galatasaray’s Kaya may be the answer for that.
How Far Will They Go? If they make it out of the group stages, then there is a good chance that they will build on the momentum and can reach the quarter finals at least.
Why? Having fallen into a tricky group with Spain and Turkey, is probably not what Croatia hoped for. But they have a squad of winners and should make it out easily and I would not be surprised if they even topped the group.
Key Players: Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic will be looking to show the world he can win even with the national side and he will hope to get all the required help from Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Juventus’s Mario Mandzukic.
How Far Will They Go? I am probably being biased but I am sure Croatia wont let me down. They should make it to the semi finals, if not a quarter final at least.
Why? Probably the last international tournament for Sweden’s best, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He will be looking to win something with the national side and that would be the best way to retire. A tricky group but Sweden could pip Conte’s Italy for the 2nd spot behind obvious group winners, Belgium.
Key Players: Zlatan. As some people say, Sweden needs 10 other players only for formality. But they do have a strong Centre back in Celtic’s Mikael Lustig who will be a crucial figure in Sweden’s run.
How Far Will They Go? Can and should target a quarter final. With Zlatan, they should get there as well.
Why? Probably the most open fight for the second spot in the whole tournament. Austria are surely going to come out better than their competitors, Iceland and Hungary to finish 2nd behind Portugal. Once in the knock out stages, they should target a quarter final.
Key Players: Versatile David Alaba has had one of his best seasons at Bayern Munich and Premier League winner, Christian Fuchs should carry forward his Leicester City form to the tournament.
How Far Will They Go? Realistically target a quarter final appearance.
Why? Again, one of the first teams to secure automatic qualification, yet find themselves in a dog chase for the 2nd spot finish in the group stages. Iceland will find it hard but they have the resources to enjoy a good campaign and surprise a few teams if not all.
Key Players: Swansea City’s freekick king, Gyfi Siggurdson would hope to weave the magic in France as well. He should be supported by Nantes’s Kolbein Sigthorsson for scoring the goals.
How Far Will They Go? Round of 16 is a realistic target but can surely surprise a lot of sides and reach the quarter finals and beyond.
Maybe a lot of fans won’t agree with the list, but that is the biggest advantage European domestic league football has given us. So many talented players will look to achieve the maximum with their national sides. Moreover, with financial power playing such a reduced role, we should have a wide open tournament with challenges coming from everywhere.