Jul. 28, 2020
Preview : What we can expect at EURO 2016 (Group D-F)
Croatia have their most talented squad since the split from Yugoslavia at their disposal. Most of their hopes will hinge on the form of star duo Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric. Both of who have had a stellar season with their clubs. The former had helped Barcelona retain the league title and the latter guided Real Madrid to Champions League glory. They proved in the qualifiers that they could go up against the so-called ‘big sides’, drawing 1-1 with Italy on two separate occasions. The manager has not settled on a formation. He has experimented various formations throughout his short reign as manager. Despite their underdogs tag, there is fear among Croatia fans that their side could collapse during this tournament. This comes from reports suggesting the players don’t trust their unproven manager. An exit before the quarter-finals would be regarded as failure for this highly talented squad.
Player to watch : Luka Modric. He does every little thing with such class. The little magician almost didn’t make it onto the big scene with professionals doubting his talent due to his small frame. However, his superior technical skills couldn’t be ignored. Ever since his move to England, Luka Modric’s career has skyrocketed.
Despite super performances in the Qualifiers, the Czech’s aren’t expected to get out of this group. Fairly odd considering they topped their qualifying group that included Netherlands, Turkey and Iceland. The Czech’s have a flexible squad capable of dictating the tempo of a game but are also able to sit back and wait for the counter against bigger oppositions. Having said that, the Czech Republic qualified for the Euro’s with the most goals conceded (14). Their weakness at the back could be their undoing considering they will be facing teams with higher attacking qualities in this group.
Player to watch : Petr Cech. Rarely do we have a goalkeeper as the player to watch. The highest capped Czech Republic player will be hoping his confidence rubs off onto his teammates. Taking into account their leaky defence, the veteran will need to be at his very best to deny opponents a clear way through goal.
Spain will be looking for their 3rd consecutive European Championship. With that being said, Spain are in the middle of a transitional period. Their manager has even said that reaching the semi finals will make him happy. This comes after their disastrous campaign at the 2014 World Cup. Key players have since left and there are plenty of young prospects coming through. Particularly, young Alvaro Morata and Lucas Vasquez. Both of who have surged onto the national team picture. Spain were criticized of being too tedious and predictable during the Qualifiers. They did however comfortably win their qualifying group. We will expect the usual possession based game with Spain but hopefully this time with greater penetration. Despite certain doubts, claims that Spain are no longer formidable are misguided.
Player to watch : Andreas Iniesta. With other key senior figures retiring, Iniesta will almost certainly be in the spotlight. Not like that will bother him. He’s had a brilliant season with Barcelona and at the age of 32 is showing no signs of deteriorating.
Turkey endured a horrific start to their qualifying campaign collecting just 5 points from their opening 5 games. Things improved drastically in their last 5 matches as they secured automatic qualification on the final day in the most staggering manner. A 89th minute stunner from Selcuk Inan saw them grab a ticket to France as one of the best 3rd place teams. Their ‘never say die’ attitude has been on show before. In 2008, Turkey incredibly made the semi finals of the European Championships having just lead for 14 minutes through out the tournament. Numerous last minute winners and remarkable comebacks got them there. This team looks even better than those heroes from 2008. A magnificently gifted team consisting of starlets Arda Turan and Hakan Çalhanoğlu will lead their fast paced football. On paper, Turkey have never looked more of a scintillating.
Player to watch : Oguzhan Ozyakup. Capable of playing anywhere in midfield, the Fenerbahçe headliner finished the season as the Turkey Super Lig Player of the Season. The former Arsenal youth player has developed into a regular for Fatih Terim’s side. He will be looking to show flashes of his creative talents, as he is most likely to be stationed as the highest attacking midfielder.
Belgium’s so called “golden generation” need to step up. Ranked 1st in the world for most of the year, Belgium can’t be considered dark horses any longer. Belgium have arguably the strongest squad in the Euro’s with a wealth of attacking options. Big things were expected of Belgium in the 2014 World Cup but they failed to impress with a number of underwhelming performances before they bowed out to eventual finalists, Argentina. The obvious weakness in this Belgium side is in defence. With Kompany ruled out due to injury, manager Mark Wilmost needs to decide whether he will pair up the Premier League’s most impressive defensive partnership in Alderweireld and Vertonghen.
Player to watch : Eden Hazard. Hazard had a horrid season with Chelsea but he did manage to finish with a flourish. He scored 4 goals in the last 5 games of the season and was appointed captain when Kompany was ruled out. Mark Wilmots will be hoping this decision inspires him to perform at his very best. The world knows of his talents. It’s time to showcase it on the biggest European stage.
Italy have to be the most unpredictable team in this year’s European Championship. Midfield duo Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio being ruled out with injury were devastating blows to their midfield but Antonio Conte still refused to call up the seemingly ageless Andrea Pirlo. The lack of inspiring options upfront may mean that Italy will have to rely on their dependable defenders and legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon to see them through the group stage. Italy may find it hard to bounce back from a disappointing World Cup outing but underestimate them at your own peril. Italy tend to show up when least expected.
Player to watch : Antonio Candreva. Italy will line up with a 3-5-2 formation with Candreva and Darmian as the wingbacks. Candreva is the more attacking full back of the two and will be looking to cause all sorts of problems upfront.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
After a shameful 2014 World Cup, the Irish will be looking for a massive improvement. Martin O’Neil has massively improved the squad simply by giving a chance to players in form and with a little tinkering of the formation. They may not be favorites to get out of this group but 1 win may be all it takes. Their fullbacks Seamus Coleman and Brady will be looking to bombard up the field every chance they get. Whelan and McCarthy will do the gritty work in midfield and Wes Hoolahan will be given the license to roam forward This Irish team is always up for a fight and can cause a problem to any side in the world.
Player to watch : Shane Long. Shane Long’s spectacular work rate and determination defines this Irish team. He capped a fine season with Southampton by helping them to the Europa League. He’s very well capable of causing a problem to any team in the world and he proved it by scoring the solitary goal in Ireland’s 1-0 win over Germany at the back end of last year.
Anything is possible with this hot and cold Swedish side. Zlatan Ibrahimovic will certainly be carrying the hopes of a nation but will need to be provided the right kind of service. The unpredictability of the other teams in this group gives Sweden a chance. Sweden are extremely labored in defense. They only managed to keep 2 clean sheet’s during the qualifiers and that came against minnows Moldova and Liechtenstein. There is a sense of hopefulness with the Sweden youngsters looking to make an impact. Just last year, Sweden were crowned under-21 European Champions.
Player to watch : Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who else? He will need to be on top form if Sweden were to qualify. Just his presence in the box will keep opposition defenders on their toes. The weight of the nation solely rests on his shoulders. That’s how reliant they are on the big man.
Austria are one of the emerging powerhouses in Europe and I’m expect them to have a solid campaign. They were simply breathtaking during the qualifiers, dropping only 2 points the entire campaign. Solid foundations have been built for the future but importantly, for now! This is the first time Austria have managed to qualify for a European Championship. An extremely mobile squad will see the versatile David Alaba in the middle. We can expect him to link up with Christian Fuchs and Marko Arnautovic on the left. There is genuine optimism in the Austrian camp and I wouldn’t rule them out of even making a run to the quarterfinals.
Player to watch : Marko Arnautovic. Arnautovic had to overcome a disruptive past to make it as a professional. He was often classed as a troublemaker. However, he’s had a dazzling couple of seasons for Stoke City and even finished as their top scorer this past season. He will be looking to reproduce some of his club form for his country.
I personally feel Hungary are one of if not the weakest team in France this year. Goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly (40) will be expected to start and break the record as the oldest player to feature in the European Championship. Despite a number of players approaching the 40-year mark, Hungary still lack big match experience. However, Hungary are a very well organized team with a marvelous team spirit. They will look to capitalize on set pieces. 8 of their 14 goals in qualifying came from set pieces.
Player to watch : Balasz Dzsudzsak. Dzsudzsak is an energetic left midfielder but will often swap flanks. His ability to decide games leave him as their standout player. He has a knack for creating goals with his pace and crossing a massive part of his game.
For a country with a population of less than 400,00 to qualify for the Euro’s is nothing short of remarkable. After a meteoric rise in recent years, Iceland built on a promising World Cup qualifying campaign by automatically qualifying for this years Championship in what many thought was the toughest qualifying group. They will set up with a straightforward 4-4-2. Sigurdsson has been given a centre midfielder role alongside Gunnarson. The former will roam forward while the latter will do most of the defensive work. Iceland have impressively stuck to this 4-4-2 formation even when coming up against bigger teams and will look to do so during the tournament. A knock out stage appearance may be on the cards for this attacking outfit.
Player to watch : Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Swansea playmaker is Iceland’s main man linking defense to attack. His précised technique and the ability to produce magic from a dead ball situation will be pivotal.
Portugal are personally my favorite underdogs for this European Championship. Often described as the ‘almost guys’, Portugal are due a Championship trophy. This Portuguese team is as strong as its been in recent years. With such a perfect combination of youth, talent and experience at their disposal, manager Fernando Santos will have no excuse to find the right balance. Ronaldo and Nani will be expected to start up front in an attacking line up. That could see Joao Mario or Ricardo Quaresma given a chance on the wings. Young starlets Andre Gomes and Renato Sanches will be looking for chances to impress in midfield. Raphael Guerreiro, Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and Veirinha will complete what looks a beautifully balanced team.
Player to watch : Cristiano Ronaldo. Yet to ever really show up at a major international tournament, Ronaldo will be desperate to obtain silverware for his country. It’s the only thing missing in his cabinet. Approaching 32, this may even be Ronaldo’s last chance to be Portugal’s main man at a major tournament. If Ronaldo is on song, Portugal may go as far as they wish.