UEFA held the draw in France over the weekend for the Euro 2016 tournament next summer. 24 teams qualified and were draw into 6 groups of 4 teams. The group winners and runners up will advance to the knockout stage, as usual, but the top 4 3rd place teams will also advance. With the expanded field, it will be interesting to see how the smaller nations are able to compete on the big stage. Let’s take a look at the groups and make some predictions.
Group A: France Romania, Albania, Switzerland
The hosts France got a very favorable draw. If they can defeat Romania and Albania in their first two matches, they won’t have to worry about a result against Switzerland in their final group match. The same goes for Switzerland with their matches. Romania and Albania will have to be on top of their games in order to compete.
Prediction: I like hosts France to go through top of the group, while Switzerland also go through in 2nd.
Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
In a group that is a little light on drama, the England-Wales matchup brings some fire to this group. The Russians are under immense pressure to perform well in a major tournament ahead of their World Cup. Slovakia are likely just happy to be here, although in this format, they have a decent shot at the knockout stage if they can pull an upset. Getting through the group is hardly ever the problem for the English, it is once they are through that is their downfall.
Prediction: England keep their perfect Euro 2016 campaign going and win the group. Wales finish runner ups, while Russia go through as one of the top 3rd placed teams.
Group C: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
Germany and Poland were in the same group through qualifying, matching up once again at the final tournament. Northern Ireland were a surprise group winner in qualifying, while the Ukraine had to do it the hard way through a playoff. Robert Lewandowski will be a key player in Poland’s hopes, while the Germans are looking to regain their dominance. Shouldn’t be much drama though with a clear top 2, and bottom 2.
Prediction: Germany top, Poland 2nd
Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
The two-time defending champions lead this group, although it is very difficult. Spain’s aging stars are looking for a third straight Euro title, while newer stars look to start their own legacy. The Czech Republic will be a challenge so long as Petr Cech is in goal. Turkey and Croatia each have the talent to beat anyone on their best days.
Prediction: Spain chug through this group, while Croatia finish a surprising 2nd in the group. Petr Cech keeps the Czech Republic alive with some critical stops while finishing 3rd.
Group E: Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Sweden
Just when you think Zlatan’s luck can’t get any worse, his team gets drawn into the Group of Death. This group is a meat grinder, with no easy points. Belgium’s golden generation are coming into their prime, Italy have some legit stars, and Ireland can be a thorn in anyone’s side. I have a feeling that this group will come down to the final minute with everyone in the group playing for a spot in the knockout round.
Prediction: Belgium’s golden generation stay golden to win the group. Zlatan puts the team on his back for the first two matches to get Sweden through as runner-ups. I feel confident saying that 3rd place in this group will also go through, with Italy getting the nod from me.
Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
This is an interesting group to say for sure, being a little light on traditional powers. Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal headline this group, with some upstarts looking to grab the bull by the horns. Iceland have a solid core of players who have been pretty successful given their limited history. Hungary and Austria are on the rise, with a chance to make a statement in a major way. This is the most wide open group of the tournament.
Prediction: Iceland win the group, while Austria goes through in 2nd. Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal scrape through in the last 3rd place slot.