Millennium Post

Euro Cup 2016 curtain raiser

The European football fiesta is set to begin on June 11 and the top guns of the continent will be ready to shoot their way to the silverware of Euro Cup 2016.

 With the coveted trophy awaiting its conqueror, the teams have a long road to plan for. All the participating squads have already been divided into six groups with each group having four teams. Two teams will qualify from each group along with four best third-placed teams for the Round of 16. With an elaborate set-up like that, each team will have to be at their best in all games to emerge 
victorious and powerful.

Group A consists of France, Romania, Albania and Switzerland. France, being the host nation and one of the best performers in the qualifiers, will definitely advance to the next stage. Didier Deschamps led French squad boasts of names like Anthony Martial, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba, Hugo Lloris, Patrice Evra, Oliver Giroud and Blaise Matuidi. Anthony Martial, after performing well at Monaco, came to Manchester United this season and has proved his worth in the team.

 Antoine Griezmann has been a key man for Atletico Madrid this season with his pace and agility at the front and will remain a key man in the national team. Also, Paul Pogba is a huge asset for France in the midfield along with Giroud and Matuidi. France has also won eight of their last nine games which includes victories over Germany, Portugal and Netherlands. Despite having such promising names, a major setback for France would be their depleted back line. With clinical defenders like Kurt Zouma and Raphael Varane out of Euro, defending would be an issue for Deschamps to tackle.

 Romania would be another strong contender in the group considering its performance in the qualifiers. The team displayed the best defensive record conceding just two goals in 10 games in its qualifying games. Switzerland, on the other hand, would be depending heavily on Xherdan Shaqiri as the main man on the front. Interestingly, Switzerland stands just behind Germany on the list of most shots taken by a team in the qualifying stage with 155 attempted shots. Albania seems the weakest in the group with not much to offer. It was the team to score the fewest goals out of all the qualified ones.

England, Wales, Slovakia and Russia make up Group B. Despite the fact that England somehow manages to be a disappointment in all major tournaments, it should be the definite winner of the group. England has a lot of fire-power in their strike with Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane, both 
coming from a Premier League season where they fired their teams to the peak of the top English flight. Despite Danny Welbeck being injured, Roy Hodgson has enough options to replace him. 

England also has the experience of Wayne Rooney who was its highest scorer in the qualifiers with seven goals. With the speed of Raheem Sterling and the tackling skills of Michael Carrick and Chamberlain in the midfield, England might see strong possession numbers. England has also shown their prowess in the qualifying with a record 100 per cent success rate. 

 Slovakia, though do not gloat over any big name, may qualify as the dark horse since it very recently beat the world champions Germany 3-1. The first time Euro qualifiers has Martin Skrtel at the back to defend their post. Another first timer at the Euro would be Wales. Led by Real Madrid giant Gareth Bale, the team also has Arsenal star Aaron Ramsey and may stand a chance to reach the next stage given their group dynamics. 2008 semi-finalists Russia has a squad full of local club players. After having to appear in play-offs to make it to this stage, it seems like the weakest of the group.

 Group C is a soft group with Germany being the only giant. Poland, Northern Ireland and Ukraine will surely have a tight tussle for the Round of 16, though the Poles will have a major upper hand in the form of Bayern Munich goal machine Robert Lewandowski. Even during the qualifying stage, Lewandowski scored 13 goals equaling the record of David Healy in 2008 and has single-handedly powered the team to this stage. On the other side, Northern Ireland scored the most number of goals from set pieces in the qualifiers. 

It also has Steven Davis of Southampton to bring some skill in the midfield. Ukraine seems almost like a lost cause with a comparatively weaker performance in the qualifiers.

 Germany is of course the current world champion and displayed a formidable performance last year in the World Cup. They consist of a solid squad with Manuel Neuer at the post, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels at the back, Mario Gotze, Toni Kroos and Mesut Ozil in the middle and Thomas Muller and Lucas Podolski at the head. It also has the highest average possession in the qualifiers. Despite such strong names, Germany losing three of its last four friendlies might be a point of worry for Joachim Low.

 Group D might prove to be the death group of Euro 2016 with Turkey, Croatia, Spain and Czech Republic in it. Spain is on paper a promising team just like it was in the World Cup last year and adding to it, the Spanish clubs have yet again dominated Europe with their performances this season. 

With some of the biggest names of the footballing world in the squad, Spain is always a tough competitor. Spain will be aiming to win its third consecutive Euro after becoming the only team to have won the accolade twice in a row. What makes the Spanish team unpredictable in terms of its performance is the memory of its World Cup 2015 campaign. Spain’s lack-luster approach recently makes it a doubtful bet.

 Croatia has emerged as a strong team in recent times. It has world-class midfielders in Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic and a credible striker in the form of Mario Mandzukic to validate their claim. Turkey, on the other hand, is a known passionate side. With Arda Turan leading, it stands a chance to re-create its 2008 campaign. Also it has a free kick specialist and a young playmaker in Hakan Calhanoglu now. 

Although Czech was a strong competitor at some point of time, it has conceded 14 goals in the qualifiers and failed to keep a clean sheet despite havin Peter Cech at the post, which states a huge deal about the team’s defense.

Group E comprises of Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Republic of Ireland. Belgium is currently the highest ranked European team in FIFA world rankings at number two. Belgium has an elite goalkeeper in Thibaut Coutois who has been a gem for his club. Their football team is currently golden with the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Lukaku and Eden Hazard going forward. Though Belgium seems settled at the front, the defense is clearly hit by the loss of captain Vincent Kompany to an injury.

 The Italian team looks conventional with young players still not seeing the light of the day. Italy has tactical excellence with the kind of experience it has and is a defensive team. It has also been hit by injuries with Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio out of the competition. They don’t score many goals but might become a force based on their own strength. 

Sweden has Zlatan Ibrahimovic who scored 11 goals for the team in the qualifying phase but again, it has only Zlatan and it doesn’t seem likely that a one-man-army will be able to make it far. Republic of Ireland is a very old team. In fact it has players coming out of semi-retirement and that surely doesn’t make them a contender.

 Considering Austria’s performance in the qualifying, Group F might witness some serious battle. Along with it, the group has Portugal, Hungary and Iceland. It’s a no-brainer that Portugal and Austria will fight out to be the winner of the group. 

The current Austrian team is the first to qualify on merit. With the likes of David Alaba and Christian Fuchs, who has just won the EPL with Leicester City, Austria is coming with its best while Portugal is the usual team where its defense is decent having the veteran Pepe by its side but rest everything depends on Cristiano Ronaldo. Since Figo retired, the team has been resting on the shoulders of Cristiano and nothing much comes out of the squad, just like Sweden.

 Hungary has qualified for the first time after 1972 but it does not really have anyone to depend upon and hence, it looks far from qualifying for the Round of 16. Similarly, this Euro is Iceland’s first major tournament and more or less, the team will only be playing for experience.

Considering all the groups, the two teams qualifying for the next phase is almost clear but the race for the best third-placed teams is surely going to be a tiring one. 

The stage is set in France for the European football carnival, the first game being on June 11 at 12:30 am between France and Romania, the teams are ready to kick away their opponents in order to attain the alluring European title.

Pitch perfect

 * Since 1996, a total of 16 teams participating in Europe’s biggest football tournament. Finally 5 Euro’s later, we will finally witness 24 teams.

 * All 53 UEFA members (excluding France) qualified. Gibraltar is the only team that has never entered the qualification stage before.

 * This is the 3rd  time with France hosting the European Championship, after 1960 and 1984. It is the first country to host the tournament thrice.

  * The logo is always released within months, except during Euro 2012, where the logo was released a year later.

  * This years' mascot is half child and half superhero, sporting the French kit with a red cape.
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