Full 2016 European Championship Preview

This Friday marks the beginning of the UEFA European Championship as the host nation, France, plays Romania and kicks off the month long, twenty-four team tournament. Follow along as we grow group by group and predict the unpredictable and figure out who will be the champion of Europe.

THE GROUPS

Group A: A French Fancy

Pogba and Giroud
Paul Pogba and Olivier Giroud look to lead the host French to their first European Championship since 2000.

The Teams: Albania, France, Romania, Switzerland.

Players to Watch: Paul Pogba, France. Anthony Martial, France. Ricardo Rodriguez, Switzerland.

How the Group will Finish:

  1. France
  2. Switzerland
  3. Romania
  4. Albania

This group seems pretty cut and dry with the heavily favored French to not only take the group, but the whole tournament. Led by the troubled Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud, the French have a strong attack and midfield with headliners such Antoine Greizmann, Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi. The exciting Manchester United forward Anthony Martial will also hope to contribute for the French and could be one of the breakout stars of the tournament. The lingering question for the French will be their defense with only three defenders under the age of thirty. The other team to come out of the group will be the Swiss who impressed at the 2014 World Cup, but ran into the runner-ups of the tournament, Argentina, in the knockout stage. The neutral side boasts a strong midfield led by Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka and defense that includes the impressive Wolfsburg left back Ricardo Rodriguez.

Matchup to Watch: Switzerland-France, Sunday June 19.

By the time these two meet in the final game of the group stage it should be clear that both will advance. Therefore, it will be interesting to see how this game shakes out as the two head into the knockout stage.

 

Group B: An English and Russian Question Mark

Jamie Vardy.jpg
How will England use the Leicester City star Jamie Vardy?

The Teams: England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales.

Players to Watch: Jamie Vardy, England. Raheem Sterling, England. Gareth Bale, Wales.

How the Group will Finish:

  1. England
  2. Russia
  3. Slovakia
  4. Wales

This group is probably the most confusing and interesting group of the entire tournament because of the inconsistency but greatness that each of these teams can produce. First off, the English will always create division in world football, especially after their inconsistent play at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago. The interesting thing for the English going into the tournament will be how they utilize the Leicester wonder Jamie Vardy after his magical run in this past Premier League season. Russia hopes to improve on its rather disappointing finish from Brazil where they saw a far-lesser Algeria side take their spot in the knockout round. It is always unfortunate to see Gareth Bale and think that there is no way that the Welsh superstar will never be able to get into the knockout round of a major tournament due to the weak side around him, which is where he finds himself yet again. The same could be said about Hamsik of Slovakia who is far and away the best player on a Slovakian side that doesn’t boast any other real talent that will get them out of Group B.

Matchup to Watch: Russia-England, June 11.

The first match of the group stage will also set the stage for how the entire group will end up as the two favorites of the group face-off. It will be interesting to see how the English rebound if they tie, or god forbid, lose to the Russians.

 

Group C: Utter German Domination

Gotze and Muller
Mario Gotze and Thomas Muller hope to lead Germany to the second straight major tournament victory after winning the World Cup two years ago.

The Teams: Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine.

 

Players to Watch: Mario Gotze, Germany. Robert Lewandowski, Poland. Mesut Ozil, Arsenal.

How the Group will Finish:

  1. Germany
  2. Poland
  3. Ukraine
  4. Northern Ireland

This is Germany’s group to lose. The World Cup champs are still loaded going into the tournament with the likes of Mario Gotze, Manuel Neuer and Thomas Muller. There is no question that this team will make the knockout round and is one of the heavy favorites to win the tournament. After that I have Poland coming out of this group as well. The star of the team is clearly Robert Lewandowski the Bayern Munich striker. Outside of their star forward, Poland has a solid team with Jakub Blaszczykowski in the midfield, Lukasz Piszcek in the defense, and Lukasz Fabianski in net could allow for the Poles to turn heads in the tournament.

Matchup to Watch: Germany-Poland, June 16.

One of the bigger rivalries in European soccer has been overshadowed by the dominance of Germany over Poland on the world stage. With that the case, I feel that this game could produce one of the more interesting outcomes of the entire tournaments. Look to see how Poland plays Germany and, if they play well enough, they very well could tie or steal a win from Germany.

 

Group D: What will Spain Do?

spain.jpg
How will Spain respond to their disappointing finish at the World Cup in Brazil two years ago?

The Teams: Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain, Turkey.

Players to Watch: David De Gea, Spain. Arda Turan, Turkey. Ivan Rakitic, Croatia.

How the Group will Finish:

  1. Spain
  2. Croatia
  3. Turkey
  4. Czech Republic

Similar to Group B, this group has some question marks going into the tournament. The biggest question of this group, and for that matter the whole tournament, will be how Spain fares after a disaster of a performance in Brazil after winning the World Cup in 2010. While there is no question that the golden age of Spanish soccer is either just about over, Spain is still a very strong side with David de Gea in net, Gerard Pique on defense, and a solid midfield led by Andres Iniesta from Barcelona. After Spain, things get interesting and I have Croatia edging out Turkey and the Czech Republic and advancing to the knockout round thanks to one of the better midfields in the tournament led by Ivan Rakitic from Real Madrid.

Matchup to Watch: Turkey-Croatia, June 12.

Right from the get-go the second team that comes out of this group could be decided. While the Turkish side is a little underrated, Croatia comes out on top in this matchup and puts itself in good position to advance to the knockout stage.

 

Group E: Belgium: A Dark Horse or Favorite?

hazard.jpg
Is Eden Hazard ready to lead Belgium to even greater heights on the world soccer stage?

The Teams: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden.

Players to Watch: Eden Hazard, Belgium. Gianlugi Buffon, Italy, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden.

How the Group will Finish:

  1. Belgium
  2. Italy
  3. Sweden
  4. Republic of Ireland

This group seems pretty simple to predict, but the question is, is Belgium the next, big power in European soccer? They have one of the best goalkeepers in the world in Thibaut Courtois, a solid defense with Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, a decent attack with Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke and finally one of the best players in the world in Eden Hazard. After running into the runner-ups, Argentina, in the 2014 World Cup, I feel that this is the breakout tournament for the Belgians where they establish themselves in Europe. After that, it will be interesting to see how Italy and Sweden battle it out to decide the second side to come out of this group with a slight edge going to the Italians.

Matchup to Watch: Sweden-Italy, June 17.

Will Zlatan be able to carry a weaker Swedish side to the knockout stage? How will the Italians fare with an old Buffon in net and an interesting side going into France? This game could be the deciding game for who comes out of this group and is one the more intriguing matches of the group stage.

 

Group F: Ronaldo’s Group to Lose

Cristiano-Ronaldo_8.jpg
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal got a favorable draw in Group F, how will that translate to Portugal’s performance in the rest of the tournament?

The Teams: Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Portugal.

Players to Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal. David Alaba, Austria. Nani, Portugal.

How the Group will Finish:

  1. Portugal
  2. Austria
  3. Hungary
  4. Iceland

After Portugal, this group is kind of awful. No, it is awful and Portugal is thanking its lucky stars after drawing the Group of Death and not making it to the knockout stage of the 2014 World Cup. Literally impossible to think who will be the other side that comes out of this group and it really doesn’t matter because they will lose in the first round of the knockout stage, so congrats I guess Austria.

Matchup to Watch: Any match with Portugal in it.

Watch the best player in the world be the best player in the world against inferior competition.

 

Who will be the Champion of Europe?

The Final: Germany-France, July 10, Stade de France, Saint-Denis

1996 german team
Germany will look to add its record fourth European Championship and first since 1996.

Champion: Germany

While I would not be surprised if France wins the matchup most people want to see, I cannot go against the Germans. They are loaded at every position group in their starting eleven along  with the players they have coming off the bench. Their midfield is the best midfield in all of world football and they unquestionably have the best keeper in the world with Manuel Neuer. It is hard to go against a side that stacked and that is why I am going with the 2014 World Cup champions.

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