It’s that time for the second-biggest football tournament on the planet. The UEFA European Championships or EURO. The tournament returns to France, the host country of the very first Euro all the way back in 1960.
The Euro may not be the first continental championships but they are the biggest no doubt about that. The first Euro tournament was only a four-team tournament that consisted of two semifinals, a final and a third-place match. However qualifiers were held in the months leading up to determine the four as well as the host nation as hosting was relegated to one of the four semifinalists at that time. That would continue to be the play of the tournament until Italia 1980 when it was expanded into eight qualifying teams and the host nation decided years in advance. Group play was held for the first time with two groups of four to determine the four semifinalists. The Euro would really take off in 1996 when the number of teams in the tournament was expanded to 16 and have a quarterfinals added to the tournament for the first time.
Here in France, there is another expansion: to 24 teams. This tournament is also the first to feature a Round of 16 and ‘wildcard’ qualifiers as there will be six groups of four. There will be ten stadiums facilitating the matches in nine different cities. There was concern over security in the months leading up as Stade de France was one of the places bombed in the November 13 Paris bombings of ISIS. In fact there are videoclips of the match of France vs. Germany when the bombing took place. No one in the stadium was injured. France has made it clear that security will be a serious issue during the event and will use the maximum measured needed to facilitate.
Throughout the next two weeks, I will be focusing on the teams participating at the 2016 Euro group by group just like I do for most football tournaments. I will analyze each team per group and make my predictions on which two teams will advance as well as a third-place team. I think predicting the four wildcards who will advance will be too tricky. I’ll leave it at that. Also the number in brackets is the team’s FIFA ranking for May 2016. So here goes it for Euro 2016:
France (21): So France is host nation for the third time. Les Bleus even won it as host back in 1984. France has a reputation of going all the way or going nowhere in major tournaments. Very rarely are they an in-between team. At the 2014 World Cup, France made an investment in putting a lot of young talent on their team and it paid off as Paul Pogba won the Best Young Player award and Raphael Varane was third. A lot of France’s young players like Pogba and Antoine Griezmann have come of age since. The current team consists of a good mix of young and old including 35 year-old captain Patrice Evra.
France however has had a lot of inconsistent moments in the months since the World Cup. They’ve had some noticeable losses to Brazil 3-1, Belgium 4-3, England 2-0 and Albania 1-0. They’ve also had some noteworthy wins like the Netherlands 3-2, two wins against Denmark last year and a 2-0 win against Germany which occurred on the day of the Paris attacks. France could just come alive as host nation again.
Romania (19): Romania is a team whose success seems to come in waves. There’s usually a time when the team has what it takes to go far or a time when the team doesn’t have what it takes to even qualify. I still remember the period of time after the Romanian Revolution of 1989 when they had their best World Cup success and even made it past the Group Stage of Euro 2000 for the first time ever. The team is hoping to bring its success back here in France. However it won’t come without challenges. They did succeed in qualifying for Euro 2016 but drew in four of their last five matches. They have been able to bring both Italy and Spain to draws in the last 12 months so they are able to prove themselves to be tough opponents. We’ll see how they turn out here.
Albania (45): This is Albania’s first ever appearance not just at a Euro but at any major tournament. Albania may lack the past successes of the other three teams but they are very capable of pulling surprises. That was especially noteworthy during their first game of Euro 2016 qualifying against Portugal whom they beat 1-0. Portugal’s loss embarrassed the team enough to find a new head coach. They’ve delivered other surprise wins over the past two years like 3-0 to Serbia and 1-0 to France. Albania still has a ways to go to prove themselves further. They’ve lost to Austria and Italy and have drawn against Georgia and Kosovo. However Euro 2016 could prove to be the stage for another upset by the team. They’re in their best form ever so now’s the time.
Switzerland (14): Switzerland is a team that’s also either on or off. They’ve been on at the World Cup when people least expect it but they’ve also been off especially when they play at the Euro. In fact they’ve never made it past the Group Stage in the three previous Euros they’ve played in. The current team doesn’t have that consistent of a record right now. They may have had notable wins against Slovenia and Austria but they’ve also had notable losses against Belgium, England, Slovakia, Ireland and Bosnia-Hercegovina. The latter is a bit disheartening since current head coach Vladimir Petkovic is from Bosnia. However they will have to come alive in France if they want to develop their reputation.
Trivia: Switzerland’s first Euro game against Albania should be noteworthy since six members of Switzerland’s team are ethnic Albanians!
MY PREDICTION: As I said, I only plan on predicting first, second and third. I expect France to come out on top with Switzerland second. I’ll take a chance and say Albania will be third.
And there are my thoughts on the first Euro 2016 group. Five more group reviews to go.
Here are my other group predictions: