By: Danny Shin
The draw for the 2016 UEFA European Championship took place last Saturday, and the tournament is set to kick off next June in France. Each of the 24 participating countries now know the path they must take to reach potential glory.
For some, just making out of the group will be an accomplishment. But with four third-place teams advancing to the Round of 16, anything can happen. Here is a full breakdown of the six groups:
Group A: France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland
The hosts could not have asked for a better draw as they seek to replicate their past success on home soil. Remember, France won both the 1984 European Championship and the 1998 World Cup on their home turf. Romania and Albania are solid, but both lack the game-changing talent of France. Switzerland should be the biggest threat to hosts, and although they have a quality star in Xherdan Shaqiri, they showed little in qualifying to indicate that they can give the top nations much trouble. Even with the ongoing saga between Mathieu Valbuena and Karim Benzema, France have more than enough to top the group
PREDICTION: 1. France, 2. Switzerland, 3. Romania, 4. Albania
Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
For England and Wales, there is only one match that catches their eye. The battle between the two British sides in the second match of Group B will be one of the biggest matches of the entire tournament. However, both still need to pay attention to Russia and Slovakia, who are not to be taken lightly. England is the team to beat after finishing with a perfect record in qualifying and should top the group. Wales are solid and have the star talent of Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey. Slovakia knocked off Spain in qualifying and have won 15 of their last 19 matches. Russia changed managers midway through qualifying and have one of the more experienced squads in the tournament.
PREDICTION: 1. England, 2. Wales, 3. Russia, 4. Slovakia
Group C: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
After qualifying for their first European Championship by winning their group in qualifying, Northern Ireland could not have gotten a worse draw. Germany does have some flaws, but they are champions for a reason. They still have one of the most talented squads in the world. Their biggest test will come in their second match against a Poland squad spearheaded by Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. Ukraine should grab one of the third-place spots with the help of Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yaromelenko, with Northern Ireland on the outside looking in.
PREDICTION: 1. Germany, 2. Poland, 3. Ukraine, 4. Northern Ireland
Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
Spain will be seeking a third straight European Championship, and although they are not at the level of 2008 and 2012, they still have enough talent to be considered a favorite to win it all. They still need to figure out the striker position if they plan on advancing far in the tournament. Croatia has one of the best midfields in the world lead by Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic, and can also count upon Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic to score goals. Czech Republic topped the same qualifying group in which Turkey finished third, eliminating the Netherlands in the process. The Czechs are solid, but Turkey seems to finding their form as of late and could shock some people come June. The Round of 16 is definitely possible.
PREDICTION: 1. Spain, 2. Croatia, 3. Turkey, 4. Czech Republic
Group E: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
Italy was the team from Pot 2 that no one wanted to see. Add in the Republic of Ireland and Sweden and this is another evenly matched group. Belgium will be the favorites to top the group and are the best team in the world, according to FIFA’s rankings. While they may possess the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne, they still need to put everything together under coach Mark Wilmots. Despite the lack of the talent up front, Italy is always competitive in major tournaments. For Sweden, their success completely rides on the performance of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ireland will need to pull off another upset like they did against Germany in qualifying to advance to the Round of 16.
PREDICTION: 1. Italy, 2. Belgium, 3. Sweden, 4. Republic of Ireland
Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
After an opening loss to Albania, Portugal won seven straight matches to qualify for the tournament. New coach Fernando Santos has organized this squad and made Portugal harder to break down. However, they still have some issues to sort out, particularly at striker and defending in the midfield. Austria could be the biggest dark horse in the entire tournament, having dropped just two points in qualifying. They already have a true star in Bayern Munich fullback David Alaba, who actually plays midfield for his country. Iceland should not taken lightly either, despite this being their first ever major tournament. Unfortunately, Hungary are not near the quality of any of their great teams in the past.
PREDICTION: 1. Portugal, 2. Austria, 3. Iceland, 4. Hungary