With the Premier League race exploding to a spectacular conclusion in the coming weeks, stand by your wall charts, as there is no let up with Euro 2016 almost here. With England’s unblemished qualifying performance giving the nation hope, could we really be looking at something special when it all kicks off in Paris on 10th June? Certainly, the nation’s cricket and rugby union squads have inspired with performances at the top of their game in recent tournaments. Flanked by Northern Ireland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland, there’s rarely been so much excitement in this part of the world for a tournament.
Tips for the top
Hosts France, situated in Group A, will be among the favourites for the cup on home soil, with a talented young team looking to emulate the tournament-winning squads of 1984, 1998 and 2000. They should breeze their group, with only Romania, who managed recent creditable draws with Spain and Italy, likely to provide strong opposition.
A staggering amount of press focus and national tension will be generated in Group B, where England take on Wales, boasting the mercurial talents of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey among their ranks, Russia and Slovakia. Germany, as ever, are likely to crush Group C, but if Northern Ireland can pick off one of Poland or Ukraine, then who knows how high Michael O’Neill’s squad could fly?
After their World Cup slump, Spain should be in good form to conquer Group D, but it is all to play for in Group E with the Republic of Ireland, Italy, Belgium and Sweden all looking to make an impact on the tournament. Similarly, if Portugal are on form, and it’s a big if, as they remain the team most likely to explode, then they should breeze through Group F.
If you are looking for a dark horse in the tournament, then plump for Austria, who are also in Portugal’s group. With their squad gathered from most of Europe’s stronger leagues, while they may lack star names, they could profit from a wealth of experience and abundance of team spirit.
Rising stars to watch
With Premier League players featuring in most teams, and big names from La Liga and the Bundesliga on duty, lesser-known players will be few and far between, although scouts from all the biggest clubs will be present. Austria’s Valentino Lazaro only made his senior debut a couple of years ago and still plies his trade at home in Salzburg; a strong showing from him could see him courted by many big name clubs. Also in that group is Iceland’s leading scorer, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, who could be poached away from French side Nantes if he puts on a good show.
Contact: Janie Rabet