European Championship 2016 Preview
by Ben Nadeau, Danny Moon, Terrell Brown, and Daniel McGuinness
editing by Katie Curtis
We're back! You didn't think we'd preview Copa America Centenario and then just completely sleep on the European Championship, didn't you? CoachUp has assembled the same great team to bring you another preview, full of predictions, thoughts, and players to watch. If you're as pumped as we are for this major tournament hosted by France, then kick back, learn something, take a few weeks off from work, and soak up the amazing once-every-four-years experience!
Last time this tournament was held, Spain destroyed Italy 4-0 in the Final and lifted the trophy with Fernando Torres as the competition's top scorer. Is a rematch still in play? With powers like Germany, France, and Portugal, getting to the last match is never easy -- just ask the Netherlands, who didn't make the tournament at all! Who will be this year's top scorer? The biggest flop? Here we go!
Group A -- France, Albania, Switzerland, Romania
The hosts are undeniably one of the strongest teams in the tournament -- and there's a good reason why. Stars Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, and Dimitri Payet form a dynamic, rock-solid midfield. The only foreseen weakness in this squad is their backline, as aging Bacary Sagna and Patrice Evra will struggle against opposition with fast forwards.
Therefore, all eyes will rest on forwards Olivier Giroud, Antoine Griezmann, and the young talent Anthony Martial to be effective up top for France. The host nation will have overwhelming support and pressure from fans heading into Friday’s match, so if they can put it all together, they're a threat to go all the way.
Key Player: Paul Pogba, the coolest player on the pitch is also the most influential and he'll have to rise to the occasion for his home country.
This hardworking team will not be taken lightly in Group A. Their defense has only conceded a remarkable two times in ten qualifying matches. The backline is led by Dragos Grigore, a gritty, strong center back that represents Al-Sailiya SC. The pressure will be on star Florin Andone to put away goals up top for the Romanians if they want to grab one of the top two spots in upset.
Key Player: Florin Andone, whose effectiveness as striker will either make or break Romania in Group A.
In their first-ever International tournament, Albania has nothing to lose heading into group play. Defensively, Albania has held strong with solid play from captain Lorik Cana. However, offensively, they have been much less effective. In order for Albania to make a name for themselves in this tournament, they are going to need to score goals, and likely a lot of them to offset potentially poor goal differentials against France and Switzerland. Forward Odise “Rocket” Roshi is the most likely man to make this happen.
Key Player: Odise Roshi, duh, his nickname is “Rocket” for a reason -- his relentless pace up the wing will cause trouble for Group A foes.
The Swiss enter tournament play as one of the more experienced squads in the field. With the help of Arsenal's newest signing, Granit Xhaka, and current Premier League force Xherdan Shaqiri innovating in the midfield, Switzerland should be fluid and fresh offensively.
Their weakness comes with their backline as they lack the speed of many European teams, so they must stay vigilant against strong shooting teams like France. If they can contain Pogba, Giroud, and Payet, it'll go a far way to prove their worth in the knockout rounds.
Key Player: Xherdan Shaqiri, although he's struggled at times for Stoke, he's Switzerland's most creative player by far.
Predictions: France, Switzerland
Group B -- England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
As one of the most storied countries when it comes to soccer, the Three Lions look to make a splash at this year’s Euros. With their strength on the attacking end (Kane, Rooney, Rashford, Vardy, etc), look for some high scoring and energetic play with this squad.
The danger lies in their defense, having liabilities both on the back line and in goal with Joe Hart. While he has had some of his best play this past season, the Manchester City keeper is often a disappointment in major tournaments.
Key Player: Harry Kane, the Tottenham striker that pegged the Spurs for a historic second-place finish before their collapse in the season's last game.
Looking to improve after a disappointing 2015, which saw Russia nearly miss qualifying for this Euros, the team got rid of their manager and devised a new man-to-man method of play. The Russians will use their speed on the flanks to put their opposing defenses on the ropes.
Watch out for Alexander Kokorin to execute on some of those crosses as well. Russia could finish as high as first in the group, or as low as last -- they're that big of a wildcard.
Key Player: Roman Shirokov will use his speed to break down the defenses and push Russia back out of disappointing, familiar territory.
With some great victories under their belt during qualifying, one of which includes beating a great Belgian team at home, Wales looks to build on their one-man show of Gareth Bale. Bale scored 7 and set up 2 of their 11 goals in qualifying, so saying Wales will depend on him would be an understatement. But, in order to advance, they will also need to see some good performances from Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey and Hal Robson-Kanu, as well as no shockers from keeper Wayne Hennessey.
Key Player: Gareth Bale, with his speed, finishing, and good looks, will need to share so Wales can move onto significant glory for the first time in a long while.
After beating Spain in qualifying, and then finishing ahead of Ukraine as well, Slovakia looks continue their assault on the FIFA World Rankings. Look for Slovakia to run everything through their lead playmaker, Marek Hamsik. Given this, defenses will will work to shut him down early. Slovakia has big hopes of advancing, but they'll have to make sure they take care of the ball against these other talented opponents.
Key Player: Marek Hamsik because, without his success, Slovakia will fail to advance.
Predictions: England, Wales, Slovakia
Group C - Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine
The Germans have lost some key players from their 2014 World Cup winning team, including former stalwart Per Mertesacker. Despite these losses, though, the Germans are still regarded as one of the best teams in the world. With a powerful defense, a well-structured midfield, and a potent attack, the Germans are a well-oiled machine that should chug through this group with relative ease.
Key Player: Thomas Müller, the 26 year old forward who was third in the German Bundesliga in scoring this year.
These ragtag underdogs will look to grind down their opponents with a jam-packed midfield if they want to capitalize on their slim hopes of advancing. With some Premier League talent like Jonny Evans and Steven Davis, they have the capacity to shock any sleepwalking foe. The Northern Irish are not a relatively deep team, so if one or two key players go down, they may be in trouble quickly.
Key Player: Steven Davis, the Southampton midfielder who will captain the center of the park and hope to lead his nation past the more powerful teams in this group.
The Poles come into Euro 2016 as a potential dark horse. If Bayern Munich superstar Robert Lewandowski continues his unbelievable run of form and catches fire, there is no telling how far the Poles may go. While Lewandowski is undoubtedly the superstar of the team, hardened veterans such as Lukasz Piszczek and Grzegorz Krychowiak are unsung heroes that allow Lewandowski to shine.
Key Player: Grzegorz Krychowiak -- while striker Robert Lewandowski may be the sexy pick, Krychowiak's importance in the midfield cannot be underestimated.
Many of today’s modern teams have adopted the quick-hitting style of soccer known as the counter-attack -- Ukraine, of course, is no exception. In the back, Ukraine will rely on center back Yevhen Khacheridi to hold down the fort and keep the powerful German machine out of their net.
Once chances are cleared, they'll rely on pacy wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka to pounce on their limited chances. If the Ukrainians are to move on, they must capitalize on the few chances they produce.
Key Player: Yevhen Konoplyanka, the Sevilla attacker that must carry the load if Ukraine wants to snag one of the elusive third place berths into the knockout stage.
Predictions: Germany, Poland, Ukraine
Group D - Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain, Turkey
From top to bottom, the Croatians are a deep team filled with veterans. Starting from the back, Croatia will rely upon 34 year-old legend Darijo Srna and the rest of the defense to deter attacking opponents. While the defense will be crucial, the engine that makes the Croatians run is their star-studded midfield.
Real Madrid man Luka Modrić will receive help from his fellow veterans, Ivan Rakitić and Ivan Perišić, in hopes of dominating the center of the park. Finally, up front, the Croatians will look for Mario Mandžukić to pour in the goals. Ultimately, if the Croatians are to move forward in the tournament, they must play to their strengths and go toe-to-toe with the giants of Spain.
Key Player: Luka Modrić, the diminutive midfielder that plays much larger than his size and is the heart of the Croatian team.
Coming off a disappointing 2-1 loss against South Korea, the Czechs must start fast at Euro 2016 and regain their form. Similar to the Croatians, the Czechs will rely upon their older, more experienced players to carry their team. With veterans such as Petr Čech and Tomáš Rosický headlining, the Czechs are hoping that their knowledge and organization will make up for their discrepancy in talent. In the end, if the Czechs are to move on, they must defeat Turkey -- lose that and any shot of glory is gone.
Key Player: Petr Čech, the Arsenal goalkeeper who led the Premier League in clean sheets in 2015-2016.
In 2012, Spain absolutely dominated Italy in the Final of this tournament. After a 4-0 drubbing, many people hailed the 2012 Spanish team as one of the best teams in soccer history. Fast forward four years and much has changed. In 2014, the Spanish National Team did not even make it out of the group stages of the World Cup.
With many key players of the epic 2012 team gone, the Spaniards have yet to find a new identity. Although many doubts have surrounded the Spain since 2012, they are still one of the deepest and most talented teams in the world. At Euro 2016, they will look to return to international dominance with a mix of new, Álvaro Morata, Hector Bellerin, Isco, and old, Andrès Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Cesc Fabregas, faces.
Key Player: Andrès Iniesta, the midfielder from Barcelona has been a mainstay for Spain and will look to captain his nation in this time of transition.
In Euro 2016, the Turks will have no choice but to follow the phrase: “the best defense is a good offense.” Without a doubt, the strength of the Turks lies in their attacking options. Veterans Arda Turan and Burak Yilmaz will pair up with youngsters Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Ozan Tufan to provide the goals.
While the Turks have a potent attack, their defensive options are a bit lacking. Without center back Omer Toprak available, Turkish manager Fatih Terim has converted defensive midfielder Mehmet Topal to a center back role. Topal may be more than fit for the challenge, but it may be a rough transition for the Turkish defense as they are pitted against the powerful Croatians in their first match.
Key Player: Arda Turan, the midfielder from Barcelona will look to shine on the international stage after playing very little this season for his club.
Predictions: Croatia, Spain, Czech Republic
Group E -- Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
You want goals? Here, have Everton's Romelu Lukaku. You want style? Here's Chelsea's Eden Hazard. You want dominant goalkeeping? Look no further than Thibaut Courtois. There's a reason why this young side look poised to take control of the European hierarchy. Many casual American fans will remember Belgium from their epic escape against the United States in 2014's Round of 16 -- but make no mistake, they're even better now.
Key Player: Romelu Lukaku, the 23 year-old will use this tournament to spring to a top club and there are few players more unstoppable than he once the striker gets rolling.
After an unpredictable World Cup that saw Italy bow out behind Uruguay and (surprise!) Costa Rica (but ahead of perennial tournament disappointments England), they'll look to regain their status as a world power. Although Andrea Pirlo was left in New York and Gigi Buffon is now an unreal 38 years-old, it's tough to sleep on Italy again. With the 3rd place moving on here in all likelihood, the Azzurri have some reassurance if they get Zlatan'd.
Key Player: Daniele De Rossi, the motorbug maestro that will need to control the pace against wrecking balls like Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard.
Everybody loves an underdog, we're just sorry you got stuck in the Group of Death. See you in 2020! Ireland boasts the tournament's oldest side and expectations are likely very low. But led by Irish legend Roy Keane off the pitch and Southampton's Shane Long on it, I suppose anything can happen at Euros -- just don't count on it.
Key Player: Shane Long, one of the Premier League's most underrated, will need to play of his mind in order to help Ireland sniff a single-elimination birth.
After a one-game playoff against Portugal for the right to attend the 2014 World Cup, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic will do whatever it takes to ensure his side's advancement. Zlatan, also the only man in this article to be on a first-name basis, is one of the game's most audacious goal-scorers, so look for him to light it up on the big stage.
Key Player: Zlatan, Zlatan, Zlatan, Zlatan, Zlatan.
Predictions: Belgium, Sweden, Italy
Group F -- Austria, Iceland, Hungary, Portugal
The Austrians enter the tournament with little expectation. Led by midfield star David Alaba, they have nothing to lose this summer -- no, really. Their defense has proven unpredictable in qualifying matches, however, goal-scorer Marc Janko is in quality form as of late. If center back captain Christian Fuchs can limit defensive errors, Austria can pull some upsets this summer.
Key Player: David Alaba, his experience in the middle of the field will make all the difference for Austria.
After a strong qualifying campaign, Hungary looks to continue their strong play through June and July. Scoring a total of 14 goals in qualifying, they have proven their effectiveness up top. Offensive threats László Kleinheisler and Balázs Dzsudzsák will look to carry Hungary at least through the tournament's weakest group and into primetime play.
Key Player: László Kleinheisler, the 22 year-old attacking midfielder that will be given a lot of opportunity to prove himself.
Iceland has been hot and cold in international play the past few years, but recent form has propelled them into this summer’s tournament. Captain Aron Gunnarsson and teammate Arnór Ingvi Traustason have kept possession in the midfield for Iceland against some talented sides in the past. Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, Iceland’s second all-time leading scorer, averaged a goal a game in qualifying, but is currently overcoming injuries. Unfortunately, his health in the tournament will make or break Iceland’s campaign.
Key Player: Aron Gunnarsson, with their leading scorer potentially limited this summer, he'll need to push his team to victory in France.
The Portuguese have dominated qualifying play and enter the tournament as possible darkhorse favorites to win. Superstar Cristiano Ronaldo, a man who does not need introduction, continues to perform as one the best to ever play the game. He will be accompanied by winger Nani to add more offensive threat up top, but there's only one star for this show. Veteran center back Pépe will hold down the defensive unit for Portugal -- but can they shake their disappointing 2014 out at World Cup?
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo, duh; if he shines, there is no limit to how far Portugal can go this summer.
Predictions: Portugal, Iceland