The World Cup might still be two years away, but that doesn’t mean that the summer of 2016 is going to be anything other than magical. With the Copa America happening right now within the United States, there’s plenty of footy to satiate any fanatic. However, crossing the Atlantic ocean during June and July will see you crash headlong into the European Championships. A tournament comprised of the best footballing nations of Europe, and a tournament plunged deep into the mirth of quality seen from European soccer. A chance to shine in your continent and be remembered as legends of the game; it’s a crown for an area that proudly proclaims to be the birthplace of the world’s game. In 2016, one country will rise and be proclaimed as king…bring it on!
While most of us might still have our heads buried in the sand after the recent USMNT result (why do we ever get our hopes up?), it’s almost time to turn our focus to France and the 2016 European Championships. With that in mind, we here at the Center Circle have decided to give you a group-by-group breakdown of what we can expect, what to watch for, and who we see moving on from the group stage. It’s Europe, it’s for a major title, and it’s going to be amazing!
Group A houses the host nation, France, as well as Albania, Romania, and Switzerland. While most would quickly proclaim France as the obvious favorite from this group, it’s going to take a bit more than home-field advantage to take Les Bleus out of the group stage. However, let’s look at the French team first…
France is still working hard to cover up what feels like near constant scandal from 2010 until now. Add in the pressure of being a host nation, and you get a fair bit of pressure for this squad. It also isn’t going to make any fans of the French national team happy that two of the other teams in Group A are actually ranked (according to FIFA rankings) in the top 15 teams in the entirety of the European Championships.
If France is going to accomplish anything, then it’s going to have to be on the back of their young stars while getting serious support from their outgoing, aging players. Paul Pogba will be hoping that this can be his tournament to take another step in his growth towards superstardom, Antoine Griezmann still feels underrated despite being the best attacking part of Atletico, and players like Giroud, Payet, Matuidi, Sagna, and Koscielny will be looking to prove that they’ll be impossible to leave at home once 2018 and the World Cup in Russia comes calling…no matter how old they are at the time.
PREDICTION: 2nd in the group
WHY: Too much pressure, too many players thinking this is their turn, and just a tinge of scandal nipping at their heels…but they get through and on to the “important” rounds.
Switzerland has a feel about them, much like Belgium experienced at the last World Cup. Nobody is really thinking too much about them, but a simple glance over their roster shows a young, but experienced squad capable of surprising anyone during their European run. Add in the exuberance of youth coupled with a “nothing to lose” attitude (they’re currently pegged as a 66/1 favorite to lift the title), and you’ve got a giant killer on your hands.
You want attacking? The Switzerland squad has you covered. Xherdan Shaqiri wanting to prove that his career hasn’t been a downward slope, Xhaka wanting to show the red side of London his worth, and Stephan Lichtsteiner wanting to remind Dani Alves that, if the Brazilian wants to come to Juventus, the starting job will be anything but automatic. Expect half the names you hear while watching this club to be names of players you see in the Champions League over the next few years.
PREDICTION: Win the group.
WHY: Zero pressure and the brash nature of youth. Add in a squad full of players wanting to make that next big move in their careers, and you’ve got serious potential.
For Albania and Romania, there is certainly the chance for an upset. Albania is a relatively unknown entity, but that always makes for a dangerous fixture. Expect the Albanians to play games very close until late, then spring for a late winner. If only they had France in their first fixture, they might have a chance to pounce on shaky nerves. For Romania, the disappointment of snagging this group might be obvious from the first whistle. Snagging Switzerland and France, plus playing in the first fixture of the tournament is always tough. The Romanians had the best defense in qualifying, but they’ll find it too tough to score in the group stage. Florin Andone might emerge as a star and get a ticket out of Spain’s second tier, but it won’t be enough.
PREDICTION: Romania 3rd, Albania 4th
WHY: Romania has no proven scorer and Albania is going to get beaten up every time they take the pitch.
There you have our Center Circle guide to group A. We hope that something in here helps you sound a bit more intelligent than your mates, but, a bit more selfishly, we just hope we get our predictions right. Keep an eye out for the other group predictions and enjoy the Euros!
Euro 2016 Group Previews: