This summer sees the 15th running of the European Championships as France host the competition and for the first time in its history it will feature 24 teams all competing to become the champions of Europe. 2012 saw Spain become the first side to retain their title as they defeated Italy in the final, but after a poor time of things in the World Cup two years ago they are far from the favourites to win the competition with two months to go.
Last time the European Championships were held in France in 1984 it was the host nation that lifted the trophy as they defeated Spain 2-0 in the final, but can they repeat this feat on home soil this July? We take a look at the favourites to triumph this summer with online sportsbook WilliamHill.com.
The host nation of this summer’s football festivities may have slipped to 21st in the FIFA rankings (mainly due to their lack of competitive football) and last lifted the trophy 2016 years ago, when they defeated the Italians in the final to become only the second team after Germany to lift the trophy on more than one occasion, but home advantage and a squad bursting with quality is sure to see them impress at this competition.
To start off they have a comfortable group with Albania, Romania and Switzerland joining them and having one of the top midfields and forward line-ups in Europe, with N’Golo Kante of Leicester and Juventus’ Paul Pogba running the middle of the park while other EPL stars Dmitri Payet, Anthony Martial and Oliver Giroud coupled with Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann from Atlético Madrid are all more than capable of scoring goals.
A lack of quality at left and right back might cost them in the latter stages of the competition, but with them sure to win Group A and face one of the third placed sides to progress deeper into the tournament we can certainly see why the bookmakers have them at the top of the pile for this competition. Having their 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship winning captain Didier Deschamps in charge of the squad will only boost their chances too!
The current World Cup holders did not have the easiest of times to qualify for the Euros this summer as they collected just a single point from Ireland and were beaten away by Poland in the group phase. They were in one of the toughest groups as Poland’s Robert Lewandowski netted 13 times as his country booked their flights to France and were also drawn against the Germans, who had Thomas Muller score the second highest number qualifying goals in nine, in the group stage of the main competition.
Since booking their place at the competition, where they are aiming for a record fourth title, they have lost to France and England in friendly matches, and only defeated the Italians in this time. They will also miss Manchester United midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger who is out of this summer tournament with injury and with some of their performances being substandard for a side who sit fifth in the FIFA rankings following the retirement of a number of players after the World Cup two years ago, including Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Miroslav Klose, the question is are they still as good as that World Cup winning team?
The Spaniards are the only team outside the top two in the betting markets that have won more than a single European Championship title after winning the 1964 tournament on home soil before defeating the Germans and Italians in the last two competitions to make three. However, after their performances in Brazil two summers ago that saw them eliminated at the group stage – the first defending champions to fall at this stage – behind the Netherlands and Chile are they capable of claiming a third successive European Championship title?
The biggest problem that Spain seem to have is that there is very little new blood coming through the ranks to replace the players that won the European Championships in 2008 and 2012 as well as the 2010 World Cup. However, they did win their final eight qualifying games without conceding a goal so there is still plenty of quality available within the ranks for Vicente Del Bosque when it is needed but draws against Italy and Romania in March as well as a tough group featuring Czech Republic, Turkey and Croatia will not make progression easy for the defending champions.
England have always flattered to deceive in the build up to major competitions with the English media hyping up the chances of the Three Lions before the side crashes out at the early stages of the knockout phase of the competition. Will this time be different?
We think that it may be in manager Roy Hodgson places his faith in the English talent that has done so well in the EPL this season, especially the likes of Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier from Tottenham and Jamie Vardy of Leicester. Three of these four players scored in the two friendly matches just played as England defeated Germany 3-2 and lost 2-1 to the Netherlands, while the other player – Dele Alli – scored in England’s 2-0 win over France at the end of 2015.
They are clearly showing that they have improved under Hodgson and they breezed through to the competition this summer with ten straight group wins and eight clean sheets. Things will be tougher for the Three Lions in France, but with the country so close the conditions will match what many of the players are used to in the EPL, and they do have an easy group with Russia the toughest opponents, alongside Wales and Slovakia, so they’ll easily make the knockout phase and avoiding further injuries – goalkeeper Jack Butland is already out with injury – then the English could very well make the final four stage for the first time since they hosted the tournament two decades ago!
The Belgians are ranked second in the FIFA rankings and are the top European side in the world right now, but even though they finished ahead of Wales to qualify for this competition as the group’s top scorers everything is not looking good for the side that will be listed as The Dark Horses for this tournament.
The reason for this is that they have had a number of issues with some of their key players as captain and key defender Vincent Kompany has spent most of this season on the sidelines, while attackers Edin Hazard and Christian Benteke are injured and out of favour respectively. All of this will put a lot of pressure on the rest of the attacking talents in Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku for this tournament, especially as they will be not the strongest at the back if they cannot get, and keep, Kompany fit for this tournament.
We feel that at full strength they may stand a great chance at upsetting the odds and taking this title, but as things stand there are too many on-field injuries that will keep Belgium from performing at their best.
Many people will think that no matter the talent on display for Italy, they will stand a chance at lifting the trophy at the Euros and they have done well at this competition in the past, to be fair to them. They have won one tournament, in 1968, and reached the final four stage another four times and two of these competitions, in 2000 and last time out, saw them reach the final. They are certainly short on attacking players for this summer’s competition and with them drawn against Belgium, Ireland and Sweden in the group stage this could find themselves exiting early in France!
Portugal reached the final of this competition in 2004, losing to Greece on home soil, and the semi finals in 2012 as they were powered on both occasions by Cristiano Ronaldo and this summer’s tournament will be no different. They are likely to do better than the Italians with their group comprising of themselves, Iceland, Austria and Hungary so we can certainly see them getting into the knockout phase. Where they go from there will depend on how CR7 pushes the rest of the team onwards. We do not see them troubling the latter stages of the competition, but with such easy pickings in the group phase of this competition we would not be surprised to see Ronaldo trouble the top goalscorer charts.
We are generally going with the odds for Euro 2016 as we see home advantage and a talented squad that has won seven of their last eight matches pushing the French back towards their first title in 16 years.
However, we do also have other picks too as we feel that England will be one of the surprise packages of the competition too and we fancy them to go all the way to final this summer – although this will depend on Roy Hodgson’s squad selection and if he places his faith in players that are lighting up the EPL this season.
Our final one is the Cristiano Ronaldo to be the top scorer at Euro 2016 thanks to the Portuguese side having the easiest of all the groups and we see the Real Madrid man tearing up the group stages this summer.
Our Euro 2016 Picks are: