By Antony Jordan
With the European Championships kicking off at the end of this week we complete our look at the six groups that contain the 24 sides who will be battling to reach the knockout stages and then take the title in Paris on July 10th. Group F features the Cristiano Ronaldo powered Portugal as well as three very equal sides in Austria, Iceland and Hungary so we feel that there will be plenty of close games and the possibility of upsets.
Who will make the last 16 stage in France this summer though? We preview Group F with online sportsbook WilliamHill.com and provide our best Euro 2016 picks from this final group of four nations.
14/06/2016 – Austria v Hungary
14/06/2016 – Portugal v Iceland
18/06/2016 – Iceland v Hungary
18/06/2016 – Portugal v Austria
22/06/2016 – Iceland v Austria
22/06/2016 – Hungary v Portugal
Group F Winner (To Qualify KO) Odds with William Hill:
The Portuguese national side has been one of the most consistence football sides in the European Championships over the last two decades as they have reached the Quarter Finals in all of the last five competitions, going on to reach the final four stage in 2000 and last time around in 2012 while they also made the final on home soil in 2004. They were beaten in that decider by Greece in what was a massive shock. However, they have not always performed well on the international stage as they exited the World Cup at the group stage two years ago but they did bounce back well to qualify for this tournament with relative ease as they finished seven points clear of Albania in their qualification group.
How they perform in France this summer will depend on just one man and he is the man who has bagged 56 goals in 125 appearances for his country over the last 13 years – Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid man did not shine as usual during the qualification campaign with just five goals in eight games and the 31 year old attacker looked to be suffering from a long season just recently. He has not played in any warm up games for Portugal so far and was exhausted during the 120 minute Champions League Final at the end of May, so if they’re to progress he’ll need to hit the ground running.
Other issues for the Portuguese are an inconsistent support case for CR7, an aging defence that sees five of the seven players picked 32 or older and an a very young midfield as six of the nine slots occupied by players aged 24 or younger. However, they do have the best squad in the group so they will feel that as long as everything goes well for them that they’ll ease into the knockout stages.
The 2016 European Championships sees the Austrians qualify for the first time following their only appearance eight years ago when they qualified as hosts of the tournament and exited at the group stage after failing to win a match. This will be their first international competition since that tournament as they have not reached the World Cup since 1998, but they certainly showed that they have come a long way since 2008 in the qualifying rounds by winning nine in a row, including beating Russia home and away, after drawing their only game with Sweden to top their group by eight points. They are certainly the dark horses for this tournament, but can they deliver when the pressure is on?
They bring a youthful squad to this competition with only five of their 23 players aged 30 or older, but there is still plenty of experience and quality amongst the ranks of the Austrian players. Captain of the side is Christian Fuchs who had a fine season with Leicester in the Premier League as he won the title while Sebastian Prödl had an excellent season for Watford too. Striker Marko Arnautović also thrived in the EPL this season with some impressive and important goals for Stoke and this trio of players will be joined by the imposing figure of top scorer Marc Janko who has 26 goals in 54 games for his country and Bayern Munich midfielder David Alaba who is the star player for Austria.
This gives them a good spine of a team and if they can show their qualifying form in France this summer they look guaranteed to secure a spot in the knockout stages but they will have to improve on their recent form that has seen losses to the Netherlands and Turkey plus narrow wins over Albania and Malta. Can they step up their game when the tournament is underway?
With the tiny island nation of Iceland having a population of just 323,000 inhabitants it is a shock to see the country at this summer’s tournament at all, especially considering that they were grouped with the Czech Republic, Turkey and the Netherlands for the qualification campaign. This will be their debut at any major international event as they have never qualified for the World Cup or Euros previously but a balanced and harmonious squad peppered youth and experience that is bound a tremendous team spirit will see the small nation believing that they can do good things in France this summer.
The key player for this side is Swansea City’s free floating play maker Gylfi Sigurðsson who netted ten goals for the Premier League team in the second half of this season and he brings his excellent form to this competition this summer. He has scored 12 in 37 for Iceland in his career and with the 26 year old capable of running the show while taking free kicks and penalties plus having an eye for goal from range he’s score to both score and assist enough goals to see the team into the last 16 stage. Hoping to get on the end of some of these assists will be Icelandic hero and former Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eiður Guðjohnsen who, at 37, will be looking to bow out of international football with at least one more goal.
The Hungarians make their first appearance at an major international tournament in three decades following their failure to reach a World Cup since 1986 and their last appearance at the European Championships in 1972. They had a great early record at these competitions as they reached the World Cup Finals in 1938 and 1954 as well as finishing third and fourth at the 1964 and 1972 European Championships, but those days are long gone for Hungary. They qualified via the Play Offs after winning four and drawing four of their ten group games as they finished four and five points behind Romania and Northern Ireland before upsetting the odds to beat Norway home and away to secure their place in France this summer. They’ll need to upset the odds if they’re to turn back the clock to their previous results, but are they good enough to do so?
They went through three different managers during their campaign to reach France, scored more than a single goal on just two occasions in their ten qualification matches in the group and were beaten by Greece so the omens do not look good for Hungary. After an awful season with Liverpool former number one goalkeeper Adam Bogdan has been dropped and replaced by the oldest player in the tournament, 40 year old former Crystal Palace and Burnley goalkeeper Gábor Király, while five of their seven defenders are play in the Hungarian league so they are sure to be short of quality defensively.
There are known players in the midfield and up front with Zoltán Gera and Tamás Priskin, formerly of West Brom and Watford respectively, being the most well-known but with German manager Bernd Storck most likely going to play just a single striker things could be very difficult for Hungary to find the net against other sides in this group.
For us, the most important match in Group F comes on the final day of the group as Iceland and Austria clash at the Stade de France in Paris as, assuming that Cristiano Ronaldo is on form, we see Portugal topping the group and the winner of this final match seeing the side go through automatically. The odds suggest Austria and they certainly deserve to be thought of as the dark horses for this competition, but Iceland have some top quality players and are difficult to break down so if they can get at least a draw then we can see all three of Portugal, Austria and Iceland progressing to the knockout stages in France. Backing Iceland is our favourite pick from Group F.