All 24 Euro 2016 participants are separated into six groups as this will be the first European Championship with 51 matches and respectively 24 teams involved. After the previous expansions during UEFA Euro 1996 (from 8 to 16 teams) we used to watch the best national football teams in Europe and twenty years later, in the summer days of 2016, we have one marvelous opportunity to watch even more games with the top football nations in the continent. Fact that teams like Netherlands, Denmark, Greece, which are among the former champions in last few decades, will miss the Euro 2016 finals speaks that competition was huge and we definitely can expect some special excitement on all the 10 venues located in the different French cities.
The UEFA Euro 2016 group stage was marked with a draw back in December 2015, which awarded the current situation in all groups - starting from A to F. Six teams were drawn from each pot (four pots) as the seeding was made based on their UEFA coefficients. As a result of that we have 36 football matches that are waiting only in the groups and we're more from happy to meet you with the specifics and facts of each group.
Hosts from France were automatically put in Group A of the 2016 European Championship as they'll take part in the opening match when in Friday evening, 10th of June 2016, "Stade de France" near Paris will be stage of the game between "Les Blues" and Romania.
Champions of the last two Euros are in Group D as a top seeded side, as Spain will be keen to continue writing history, though "La Furia Roja" is situated in a very insidious group, but maybe the World Cup slap came right on time?
Other four teams which were seeded in Pot 1 of the UEFA Euro 2016 draw were some of the glorious football nations in "The Old Continent" - England, Germany, Portugal and Belgium, while finalists from the last European Championship in Poland and Ukraine were in Pot 2 - Italy was side by side to teams of Russia, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia and Ukraine.
These two sections are topping all of the groups and at least considering their national UEFA ranking and respectively coefficient, they should be favorites, but however, teams like The Czech Republic and Sweden are always up for surprises and they shouldn't be underestimated at all. Not that all other Euro 2016 teams should be, but most of them don't hold such an experience and we know that this can be crucial, especially in the later stages, since this time four of all six groups will produce three 1/8 finalists. We won't waste more of your time with explanations about the draw and the seeds, so we will move on towards detailed reviewing for each of the 2016 European Championship groups.
UEFA Euro 2016 – Group A
Group A of the 2016 UEFA European Championship gathers one big name - European Champions from 1984 and 2000, as well as host nation France, where Didier Deschamps' men are alongside teams of Romania, Switzerland and Albania. This looks like a place where France should easily cope with all other sides and "Les Blues" are surely the big name in Group A, while all other teams have their own ambitions for making it to the knockout phase, but obviously Switzerland are the team with more experience, wider roster and bigger expectations to occupy the second position, but as we already mentioned in the group phase introduction, third position can be pleasing as well, so all teams have their arguments for reaching the Round of 16.
France will participate on their 9th European Championship and this is also their third host competition, which is another reason why "The Blues" are pretty certain to win first position in Group A, as well as they're considered for one of both main contenders to lift the trophy one month after the opening Euro 2016 match, since all different bookies are offering various odds for France and Germany as Euro 2016 champions, and in some occasions France is the favorite, while in others Germany plays the favorite role. Nevertheless, one thing is sure and this simply comes from fact that France would been considered for major favorite not only because they're a host nation, but because Didier Deschamps is one from the luckiest national team managers, as he can pick his 23 men from perhaps the best national pool which all European teams have. Indeed, we can name three or even four French lineups based on completely different names, as all of them are filled with players from the best European leagues, except the Ligue 1 representatives.
Great fusion between experienced players and talented youngsters, combined with having some of the best players not only in Europe, but worldwide - undoubtedly one very serious roster, so Didier Deschamps can surely dream big and the 47-years-old French coach is dreaming to repeat his achievement from the 2000 UEFA European Football Championship, when Deschamps was in the winning French squad as a player. Sixteen years later he must show his managerial potential and after the quarter-final in Brazil from two years ago, Deschamps should fight for something more at home turf since he came exactly as a replacement of Laurent Blanc, who failed to propose something impressive in the last European Championship, as a result of which Deschamps was appointed as his successor in July 2012.
Another significant successor we have among the Group A coaches - Vladimir Petković was picked for Ottmar Hitzfeld's replacement after the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals, when meanwhile France and Switzerland were in one group once again, when both teams finished on top two positions in Group E, which marked the European hegemony out there. Two years later France and Switzerland will meet once again but this will happen in the last group phase round, so first of all Vladimir Petković's men must focus on the games against Switzerland and Romania, which can be enough to secure them Round of 16 football.
Switzerland is surely the second big name in Group A
, though this will be their only fourth European Championship participation, as the last one was at home turf - at UEFA Euro 2008, when "La Nati" achieved their first ever Euro success, but it wasn't enough for a quarter-final progress. Eight years later Switzerland are with their best chance to reach the elimination phases of the European Championships and Vladimir Petković can leave his name with golden letters into the Swiss football history, not without the help of the fantastic Swiss generation. Bosnian football coach isn't so experienced in international football as Switzerland is his first ever national team commitment, but we believe that "The Doctor" (Petkovic's nickname) don't have any trouble here, as except his Serie A stay as Lazio's coach, Vladimir Petković spend most of his career in Switzerland and he also owns a Swiss passport.
Except these two favorites, Group A takes on two "underdogs", but we've seen lot of surprises through the years, so we're sure that Romania and Albania will travel for France with hopes for a breakthrough.
Romania qualified for UEFA Euro 2016 as a qualifying Group F runner-up, despite being the team with best defense - only two goals conceded by Anghel Iordănescu's men (Spain and England were next - with 3). Pretty pragmatic but successful approach, as it seems, so now "The Tricolors" booked their tickets to France which will mark their fifth European Championship final, as the last time when Romania reached major football forum was exactly their last Euro participation - in 2008. Eight years ago Romania was in the "group of death", where squad led by Victor Piţurcă was with teams of Italy, Netherlands and France, as The Romanians lost only one of their matches after two draws vs France and Italy. However, Romania lost in the last round but they still finished over France and eight years later the Eastern European country will be involved in the opening Euro 2016 match. Surely result like in their last Euro clash will be accepted more than well by the Romanians, as the goalless draw from Zurich was vs France of Raymond Domenech, and Romania have opened their Euro 2008 campaign with a game vs France again.
Despite their good defending, it was obvious that Romania's main trouble was attack and team led by Anghel Iordănescu scored only 11 goals in 10 games. Now Romania must stay focused no matter what will happen in the opening game, since their second matchup in France will be vs Switzerland, so this game can be crucial for their 1/8 final hopes.
The National football team of Albania is perhaps the biggest surprise of the UEFA Euro 2016 finals
, since "The Eagles" from Western Balkans finished as Group I runner-ups, as they qualified for their first ever European Championship finals, at the expense of the 1992 champions from Denmark. Well, Albania will taste major international football led by their Italian coach Gianni De Biasi, who was appointed as Josip Kuže's successor in December 2011, while four years later he left his name as the first coach who managed to qualify Albania on the top football flight.
"The Red and Blacks" are squad with least experience, that's for sure, but through the years we have lot of examples for successful rookies and Albania can claim for such, especially when there aren't any particular expectations over them, which will drop off any possible pressure. That's why Albania should be considered very seriously and we don't have any doubts that anyone who shows bit of underestimation may suffer. Latest examples for Albania’s progress are from their qualifying campaign where “The Eagles” achieved a remarkable victory in Portugal (0:1), while their two friendlies vs France ended without a French win - 1:1 in France and the even more impressive narrow success in Elbasan (Albania), in June 2015. Certainly we have very serious claim by The Albanians when it comes to their Euro 2016 ambitions.
We don't expect that France will slip, not at all, we even believe that the French team
won't have much trouble to win the first position and as we all know this will be not only joy for the "Blues" supporters, but also a serious confidence boost before the final rounds. Their home advantage and amazing squad are securing some credits for sure and we do believe that it's out of question France will reach the next round, while Switzerland and Romania will most likely will compete for the second position in Group A of Euro 2016, but as we already mentioned Albania shows sudden progress and they shouldn't be left behind, despite the lack of serious background.
UEFA Euro 2016 – Group B
After the UEFA Euro 2016 final draw was made, all the attention fell on the upcoming British scuffle between England and Wales, but it's more than clear that these two sides will be involved in serious contention for top 16 positions, since teams of Russia and Slovakia keep their own arguments for possible breakthrough to the Europe's finest. Group B looks pretty balanced and if England is considered to play the favorite role and of the big name from Pot 1 which has to defend its position, then all other teams look very equal and this definitely promises some intriguing encounters here.
"The Three Lions" are always expecting and searching for their European Championship moment, but except the third place from 1968 and the semi-finals from their host event back in 1996
, England still fails to impress on the major continental scene. However, Roy Hodgson will have the opportunity to justify his huge salary (highest paid manager from all Euro 2016 national team coaches) and the credit he received after being appointed as Fabio Capello's replacement in the weeks before Euro 2012. It was followed by quarter-final reach and if this can be accepted somehow, since England lost to Italy after penalties, last World Cup finals were far from acceptable and despite the poor performance and group stage elimination, Roy Hodgson remained English manager, but we're sure that another failure won't be accepted, especially after the options he has.
Roy Hodgson and England were Group E winners as "The Three Lions" were more than effective in the qualifying, where they won all their fixtures - 10 out of 10, respectively 30 points and goal difference 31:3. Thus England looks inspired and we think that Roy Hodgson can be pleased not only by the qualifying campaign on national level, but from the club season in the English Premier League as he can rely on new generation of players who are hungry for success. Names like Daniel Drinkwater, Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Jamie Vardy and Harry Kane are only few of the players which deserve credit and they should help of the English rejuvenation, after the retirement of players like John Terry, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard, who were the leading figures of England in the first years of 21st century, but despite their strong reputation in club football, they failed to impress on national level and England must show more concentration and aggression in big games, if they want to leave a serious mark after all.
Russia is the second team in Group B as "Sbornaya" comes from Pot 2, where Leonid Slutsky's men were team with second highest coefficient
. Exactly Leonid Slutsky's name was the reason why Russia managed to qualify for the 2016 UEFA European Championship as his presence was crucial, since he completely turned the situation in Group G of the Euro 2016 qualifying, as Russia were very toothless until his appointment. Slutsky continue with his parallel work at CSKA Moscow and for the Russian national football team
, which appointment was as a result of Fabio Capello's poor results.
The host nation of the 2018 FIFA World Cup is set to kick-off their Euro 2016 quest with a clash against England in the second day of the competition, as that's surely one of the most awaited games in the group phase. Indeed, that game can be a real glimmer of hope for a Round of 16 positions, since if either Russia or England wins it, they'll play with fully different morale the next two rounds, which will be against sides that are coming to France to record their first ever participation at the European Championship finals.
Of course, Slovakia was part of Czechoslovakia in the period until its individual UEFA affiliation in 1993, when the Slovak Football Association became regular member in the European Qualifiers. However, after a successful campaign at the 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifiers and their first ever World Cup, six years later squad led by Ján Kozák comes as qualifying Group C runner-up, where Ján Kozák's men even won a game over the reigning champions from the last two Euros - Spain. Nevertheless, Spain finished on top in that group, but Slovakia can be very happy by their efforts and fact that they'll travel for France will improve the level of their belief and chance to reach the final 16.
Well, Wales is part of the United Kingdom but "The Dragons" are always individual on the football scene, though their best football teams are participating in the English football system. However, Wales finally made it and Chris Coleman's men will travel for France not without the inspiration of Real Madrid's star Gareth Bale
, who scored 7 of all 11 Welsh goals in the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying group B. Wales ended on second position with only two points behind the group winners Belgium, but Chris Coleman's men can be delighted with their football and fact they conceded only four goals in 10 games, which makes them one of the teams with best defensive lines - after Romania, Spain and England.
Regardless of the strong qualifying campaign, Wales was in Pot 4 of the Euro 2016 qualifying draw and this places them in the most difficult scenario, but however, we're sure that Wales are full of eager to prove on the major scene and we certainly expect maximum devotion by the Welsh Euro 2016 squad.
Group B surely promises some thrilling moments and charming French evenings as we can expect almost everything out there. Indeed, four motivated nations that realize their chance for further 1/8 final breakthrough - we surely believe they couldn't have bigger motivation and reason to play for, so we will once again stick to our conclusion that this group looks very unpredictable, though England should be reviewed as favorites as the team from Pot 1, with most expensive and famous players, with experience and with a squad fully based on players from the most followed football league in the world, which the English Premier League clearly is.
UEFA Euro 2016 – Group C
Group C of the UEFA Euro 2016 presents some intriguing matchups as we have the World Cup winners from Germany
, an absolute debutants from Northern Ireland and both hosts of the 2012 UEFA European Championship - Poland and Ukraine.
All fixtures in Group C of UEFA Euro 2016 will begin in day three of the tournament (12 June) and they'll meet Northern Ireland vs Poland and Germany vs Ukraine.
"Die Mannschaft" is the main favorite to occupy first position after all three group stage rounds as Germany are team which comes from Pot 1 of the UEFA Euro 2016 draw, they're the reigning FIFA World Cup from summer of 2014, as well as they're one of the most consistent European teams with 11 previous European Championship appearances. Three of them ended with final victories which makes Germany one of the most successful football nations not only in Europe, but worldwide, as the "Nationalelf" can be very delighted with the organization of their football federation (DFB), which works very well and Joachim Löw can be pleased with the squad depth he has. Despite some of the major names retired after the triumphal Brazilian summer - former captain Philipp Lahm, central defender Per Mertesacker and legendary World Cup goal scorer Miroslav Klose
are all out of contention. Now Germany is led by Bastian Schweinsteiger, but latest rumors report that Manchester United's midfielder will miss rest of season 2015-2016, thus German skipper is also a doubt for the upcoming European Championship. Surely not the best news for German head coach, but as we already mentioned, Jogi Löw can select his 23 men from a great range and fact that his team also represents one of the strongest football league in Europe, as German Bundesliga is surely such, makes Germany one of the top favorites for lifting the trophy on 10 July.
Poland and Ukraine lived with the disappointment
of their Euro 2012 failures, as their joint bid to host the competition was successful, but their performances on the field were far from satisfactory. Poland and Ukraine were both eliminated after the first stage (group phase) and they surely regret for the missed opportunities to achieve something notable on home turf.
This caused some rotations in both teams - Mykhaylo Fomenko was appointed as Oleh Blokhin's successor in December 2012 and after some months his contract was extended, so now the 67 years old coach will lead Ukraine at the upcoming Euro 2016, after he managed to qualify Ukraine via the play-offs as he broke the curse which Ukraine had in most of their previous playoff duels. Even more, Ukraine managed to qualify for the first time for the European Championship as an independent country, since last time "The Yellow-Blues" shouldn't participate in the qualifying as a host nation. Now Ukraine can hope to improve their record from Euro 2012 when they won only three points.
Poland's Euro 2012 path was even worse - after making their second consecutive European Championship appearance, which was their second at all, "The White Eagles" are still without a victory and despite their home advantage from four years ago, Poland couldn't won a game - two draws and one defeat. In combo with the draw and both defeats at Euro 2008, Poland remains without a victory in their European Championship history and Adam Nawałka must carry the expectations after his appointment in October 2013, after the unsuccessful World Cup campaign of his predecessor Waldemar Fornalik.
Northern Ireland are one of the most surprising national teams that managed to earn tickets for France, but their first ever European Championship participation is a major achievement by itself. However, we're sure that Michael O'Neill's men can be a dynamite if they are underrated by some of their oppositions, so the "Green and White Army" is heading to France with passion and hope to upset some of the favorites, or why not to achieve something more?
Northern Ireland's first ever European Championship came in a remarkable way as they were qualifying Group F winners, as Northern Ireland finished on top with only one defeat in 10 rounds. Impressive record, inspired by the seven goals of Kyle Lafferty. Thus Northern Ireland is back on the major scene for the first time after the 80's when they attended at the FIFA World Cups in Spain (1982) and Mexico (1986).
Germany is always the favorite, no matter what happens, as this time The Germans are heading towards their first ever European Championship trophy since Euro 96. Twenty years later they'll hope to repeat the success of France and Spain, as they managed to win the UEFA Euro trophy after their relevant World Cup triumphs, so you can see with how difficult quest Joachim Löw must deal, but as we wrote, he can't complain from the lack of top quality players.
Poland and Ukraine are coming for the second Round of 16 spot, no doubts, as Poland already played against Germany in Group D of the Euro 2016 qualifying, where Germany won the first position, while Poland won the second spot. It will be intriguing to follow that rivalry here as after the Polish Euro 2016 opener in Nice (vs Northern Ireland), "White Eagles" will fly to Paris and Marseille, where they'll respectively face vs Germany and Ukraine and these games may have crucial role for the situation in Group C of the 2016 European Championship.
Northern Ireland are the dark horse here, but they can also be the worst slip for all of the other contenders. They realize that they don't have anything to lose and we expect that "Green and White Army" of "general" Michael O'Neil can be the underwater rock for some of the continental oppositions they have.
UEFA Euro 2016 – Group D
Group D of the 2016 UEFA European Championship gathers title-holders from Spain and three other contenders which are remaining in their background - Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey. We can say that that's one really balanced group and we expect really fierce battle, as after two glorious European Championships, we can't be sure about Spain's capability to handle with the pressure.
Nevertheless, "La Furia Roja"
is the big favorite and they agreeably were situated in Pot 1 of the Euro 2016 draw, not only as winners from 2008 and 2012, but as qualifying Group C winners. Vicente Del Bosque's men are keen on third consecutive trophy which can mark an absolute Spanish hegemony in Europe and the big absence this time is related with Xavier "Xavi" Hernández's retirement. Except all remarkable achievements Xavi achieved with Barcelona on club level, he also made it in the UEFA Euro Team of the Tournament in both occasions - 2008 and 2012, as Xavi was selected for UEFA Euro 2008 Player of the Tournament. His midfield partnership with Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso played vital role for all accomplishments of Spain in period 2008-2012 (including the World Cup success in South Africa), but he's not the only one from that ultimate quartet who retired from national football - Xabi Alonso also retired from international football, as Bayern München's midfielder made that step after the World Cup in Brazil, as well as Xavi. That's not all - David Villa is another big name in Spanish football as the Spanish all-time top scorer opens another question, but however, his advanced football age requires it.
Croatia made it to their fourth successive European Championship as Group H runner-up
and they'll once again find Spain as the reigning champions in their Group. Indeed, Croatia and Spain were together in Group C of Euro 2012, while four years later "The Blazers" from Western Balkans will hope to avoid the same scenario - group stage elimination. Even more, Croatia will face vs Turkey once again after their Euro 2008 quarter-final tie, when Croatia of Slaven Bilic was eliminated by Turkey of Fatih Terim after penalty shootout, and after whopping drama in that game.
Eight years after the mentioned quarter-final between Croatia and Turkey, Turkey is once again led by "The Emperor", Fatih Terim's nickname, and they can be very satisfied from their qualifying campaign as Turkey reached Euro 2016 as the best third-placed team
, at the expense of Netherlands, who finished behind them in Group A.
Group A of the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying held another team we can find in Group D of the Euro 2016 finals, as the Czech Republic and Turkey were competitors in the same qualifying group, where The Czechs finished on first position and they are heading to their 9th ever European Championship, which is also their sixth consecutive. Pavel Vrba's men were the highest seeded nation in Pot 3 and their presence in Group D was maybe the worst possible for the opponents of the top two pots.
We surely have one of the most unpredictable groups here and we're pretty sure that Spain will have very serious challenge, since all other three nations are eager to accomplish something more than only participation. Important factor will be how Spain will deal with some of the "new names", mostly in midfield, where Vicente del Bosque has excellent options, but current Spanish style built by the late Luis Aragonés was pretty much influenced by names of Xavi, Xabi Alonso and the lethal finishing of David Villa.
Croatia looks like the main challenger and with excellent midfield formed by players who are part of Spanish La Liga hegemony - players like Mateo Kovačić, Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic are surely a cream every coach and their presence will be crucial for possible Croat aspirations.
Squads of Turkey and the Czech Republic are mostly based on domestic league players but their quality is doubtless. We can find potential in both sides especially after their success over one of the biggest names in European history - Netherlands.
UEFA Euro 2016 – Group E
Belgium and Italy were competitors for the last position in Pot 1 of the UEFA Euro 2016 draw, but however, the small gap in their national coefficients is absolutely irrelevant, since now both nations are together in the same group. Group E of the 2016 European Championship contains teams of Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Republic of Ireland, which virtually makes it one from the two groups who are without a debutant (other one is previously reviewed Group D).
We have a group that involves very strong names and the top two sees have won their qualifying groups, while Sweden and Republic of Ireland had to fight
for their Euro 2016 positions in the play-offs.
Belgium is the top seed here as "The Red Devils"
are maybe the most improving football nation in Europe for the last decade. Their progress and squad built by plenty of top quality names have won them position in Pot 1 and their opening game will be exactly against Italy - match which can tip the scales pretty much in its winner's favor. Stakes will be huge as a wrong step at the start can be very serious hit over the ambitions of both nations, as Belgium are eager to leave serious impact as that's their first European Championship after the host competition in 2000, when Belgium was eliminated in the group phase, while Marc Wilmots was part of that team, but sixteen years later he can boast with unity of the nation and fact that Belgium has massive potential with some big names in, mostly from English Premier League
and others top European football leagues.
Italy will defend their silver status from Euro 2012 when "The Azzurri" reached the final match in Kyiv, but they were demolished by strong Spanish formation. However, Antonio Conte will have to show that his managerial skills work in the national team, after the great results he achieved in Juventus. All rumors are suggesting that Conte will return in club football after Euro 2016 and that's another great reason why the 46-years-old Italian can play even bigger role here. Evidence for his impact on the team comes from Andrea Pirlo's reversed decision to quit from international football after the 2014 World Cup, as Pirlo was full member of the Italian Euro 2016 qualifying campaign. Despite the MLS switch, we're sure that player from Pirlo's class will be seriously taken in contention for the upcoming tournament and this will be his swan-song, like of Gianluigi Buffon, who's already 38-years-old and we're pretty sure that he may quit until Euro 2020, but who knows... We all know what Italy means and that they can present completely different effort in every game, so "The Blues" are always among the favorites, even if they're not top seeded...
Sweden largely means Zlatan Ibrahimovic these days, but fact that Sweden won the 2015 UEFA European Under-21 Championship squads shows that "The Blågult" have bright future and Ibrahimovic's presence is only one huge positive here... Indeed, Sweden of Erik Hamrén had to face vs Scandinavian rivals from Denmark in the Euro 2016 play-offs but all three goals (out of 4) scored by Ibrahimović have booked the tickets for France.
Sweden will begin their Euro 2016 quest with a clash against Republic of Ireland and a possible three point opportunity at the Group E
opening game can be crucial for their perspectives.
The same here goes for "The Boys in Green" - Ireland comes out from Pot 4 but we're all sure that Martin O'Neill's men are more experienced compared to four years ago, when Ireland was bashed in their second ever European Championship appearance. This time Ireland has shown maturity and they were pretty close to claim direct qualification for Euro 2016, but we can note that "The Green Army" was in the toughest qualifying group with teams like Germany, Poland, Scotland. However, Ireland were the side with best defense in qualifying Group D (with only 7 goals conceded, compared to 9 for Germany) and their maturity was once again shown in the play-offs where Ireland won over Bosnia.
Group E of the 2016 European Championship can be named as the group of death, a term which is usually used in such an events, as except the presence of the last Pot 1 and the first team of Pot 2, Group E looks even more balanced after the appearance of the other two nations. For us that's the most curious group and we expect some great scuffles. Of course, this doesn't mean high-scoring games, not at all. We won't be surprised if that group becomes one of those with least goals scored, which doesn't mean that it will be boring. All these teams hint for tactical discipline, thus we're sure they'll chase a Round of 16 position without any unmeasured risks or some extraordinary attacking efforts. Surely the most tied among all Euro 2016 groups.
UEFA Euro 2016 – Group F
Last remaining of all six groups is chronologically Group F where we have the last quartet coming out from the full number of 24 UEFA Euro 2016 nations - Portugal, Iceland, Austria and Hungary. These four sides will compete for Round of 16 positions and the bigger chance to reach it after top 3 finishing makes the European Championship even more intriguing, especially for teams which are less experienced than the Pot 1 representatives - Portugal national football team. Both Austro-Hungarian Empire members are with minimal experience on major continental level, while Iceland reaches such a tournament for the very first time and this makes Group F of UEFA Euro 2016 even more unpredictable.
Portugal qualified for their seventh European Championships final
and for sixth time in a row, as qualifying Group I winners. However, Fernando Santos' men were in a group with only 5 teams and their qualification wasn't particular issues, as everything went on plan, except the surprising home defeat by Albania. Portugal won in all other seven qualifiers but "A Selecção" scored only 11 goals in all round and that wasn't so convincing, though Portugal were the side with most goals scored in that group. Cristiano Ronaldo netted five of them and he looks like the most reliable attacker of "The Navigators". Indeed, attack is the biggest problem which Fernando Santos has as the Portuguese attacking line pretty much depends on Ronaldo's performances, while in different part of the season Nani reminds for his good days.
One of the latest examples for Portugal's dependence by Cristiano Ronaldo's effort was in the pre-Euro 2016 friendlies in March, when Portugal had a friendly match against Bulgaria, they created nearly all scoring chances but they missed all of them, or Bulgarian goalkeeper made some great saves, including a penalty missed by Cristiano Ronaldo. Surely a good test for Portugal which shows what can happen if team misses so much and if the other side show better efficiency.
Iceland will open brand new chapter in their football history as less than 2 years after the Nordic island country was very close to qualify for the FIFA World Cup, Iceland made it on European level by reaching their first ever European Championship promotion. Even more, Iceland were one of the first teams that qualified and they finished second in Group A, as the team led by coaching tandem Lars Lagerbäck & Heimir Hallgrímsson will taste from the Euro 2016 atmosphere at the expense of one of the glorious teams in European football - the Netherlands. Iceland were in one of the toughest qualifying groups with teams like Czech Republic, Turkey, Holland and even the underdogs were tricky - Kazakhstan and Latvia. However, Iceland booked their tickets to France and their team has nothing to lose from their Southern expansion.
Portugal and Iceland will be the last Euro 2016 competitors that will kick-off their campaign, as earlier in that day we have the Group opener between Austria and Hungary. Two nations which are far from the definition for experienced nations as we speak about European Championships, but they have their own arguments to believe that 2016 may be their year.
Hungary qualified to their first Euro since 1972, but the central European nation can boast with remarkable history as their previous appearances are marked by top 4 position - 3rd in 1964, 4th in 1972. Of course, we should have in mind that back in the years there were only teams at the European Championship finals, but fact that you reach top 4 deserves attention. Forty-four years after the last time when Hungary were on the big stage, "The Magical Magyars" have returned and Bernd Storck's men secured their tickets to France after very strong effort in the play-offs and two wins over Norway. Nevertheless, Hungary were pretty close to qualify for Euro 2016 as the best placed third team, but literally in the closing seconds of the group phase Turkey scored and replaced Hungary from that position. Anyway, Hungary showed character and they proved their place after these playoff duels, where we saw enough composure and intrepidity.
Austria have only one European Championship in their football history and that was back at Euro 2008, when "Das Team" were one of the host nations with Switzerland and their performance was pretty unmemorable - only one point won and respectively group stage elimination. Eight years later Austria looks like completely different team and from what we saw in the European Qualifiers, Marcel Koller's men were one of the best sides. Austria were nearly invincible as except the 1-1 draw vs Sweden in their opening qualifying Group G match, "Das Team" won in all remaining rounds and Austria ended on top with 28 points won, 22 goals scored against only 5 conceded. Their efforts were simply brilliant and this hints for huge potential looming from the central European country.
Another group where we find some balance and considering the lack of clearly stated attacking strength Portugal may struggle, or at least may feel serious challenge for meeting their Pot 1 position. However, Portugal remains the favorite but compared to some other Euro 2016 groups
, Group F looks very possible for unusual winner and we won't be surprised if Austria continues with their good games but on French turf. Iceland and Hungary shouldn't be underestimated at any point and we believe that their presence here forms very interesting situation.
Our thoughts are for a surprise but only time will show how accurate we are in our sixth sense for final Group F positioning. For some reason Austria looks very well-organized and they perfectly suit to our conception for solid improvement and international revival. We all know that Austria possess some previous experience from big competitions as they have seven World Cup participations, although last one of them was back in 1998.