Sunday, June 5, 2016

EURO 2016

EURO 2016: Tournament favourites, Dark Horses, Surprises and the Inevitable flop

By Pete Jaison


Favourites


FRANCE:

The host country, France starts the tournament as favourites in spite of an intense build-up to the competition. After weeks of agony amid the Paris terror attacks and the humiliating scandal involving influential striker, Karim Benzema, the French football team should be lacking no motivation to justify the expectations on their shoulders. Boasting of a star-studded line-up in Paul Pogba, Antoine Greizmann, Kinsley Coman, Anthony Martial, N’golo Kante, Dimitri Payet etc, France are in a modest group with only giant-killers Switzerland posing a stern test. Romania and Albania are the other countries in Group A. Oliver Giroud is likely to lead the line in attack after an impressive start to the season and coach Didier Deschamps will be hoping to emulate the 1998 World Cup and the 1984 Euros triumphs at home. They have one of the strongest squad in the competition and anything short of a final appearance will be considered as an underachievement.

Players to watch out for

Paul Pogba: One of the best young midfielders in football, Paul Pogba’s abilities has attracted suitors from all over Europe. From the likes of Real Madrid, F C Barcelona, Chelsea and Manchester City , the burly French midfielder is in high demand and what better way to justify this interest than by winning the competition?
Rated amongst the very best, Pogba will be eyeing the Euros as the perfect opportunity to cement his greatness for the years to come. Released for a song by Manchester United, Pogba went on to establish himself in the Serie A and is more than capable of leading his country to the summit.





Dimitri Payet : One of the best free-kick takers in this era, Payet’s meteoric rise from a second division French league player to one of the best midfielders in the Premier League has been nothing short of a miracle. He was one of the main reasons for West Ham’s surprising top-four challenge and has been involved in atleast 20 goals for his club, either by scoring or assisting. Don’t be surprised if Payet replicates this form in the Euros.



GERMANY:

The 2014 World Cup champions go into another tournament as favourites to clinch the trophy. Although Germany hasn’t been at their sublime best in the qualifiers and the friendlies, they have enough ammunition in their armoury to sweep the Euros this year. Midfielder Marco Reus misses out on yet another major tournament for the national team due to injury but the squad is definitely not devoid of match-winners. Bayern Munich stars like Thomas Mueller, Manuel Neur, Mario Goetze etc are in rich form following their domestic double and 3rd consecutive Bundesliga trophy. Perhaps a final with the host nation for the trophy is on the reckoning for the Germans.

Players to watch out for

Thomas Mueller: A quick and decisive forward, Mueller is arguably one of the most important players for Germany. The Bayern Munich star has an uncanny knack of scoring goals and is their best bet for winning the Golden boot award (awarded for scoring the most goals in a tournament).

Manuel Neur: Never has a goalkeeper been important to a team than how important Neur is to Germany. The Golden Glove winner in the 2014 World-cup has revolutionised goalkeeping and plays the role of a fifth defender. His excellent distribution and genius footballing brain makes him one of the most important players for Germany.

SPAIN:

Although ‘La Roja’ aren’t exactly firm favourites to retain the trophy they won in 2012, they remain a formidable force with enough firepower to rattle some of the best in the business. Spain won the last European Cup with more or less the same core players and it is a naked truth that the team has the required quality in their ranks to defend the crown they won four years ago. Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Pedro Rodriguez, Cesc Fabregas etc form the heart of the team with Alvaro Morata and Nolito leading the attack. Manchester United goalkeeper, David De Gea who is back after yet another career-defining season will be the man between the posts ahead of Real Madrid legend and World Cup winning captain, Iker Casilas.
 
Players to watch out for:

Andres Iniesta: The sole goal scorer in the victorious final at the 2010 World Cup is as influential as he ever was. Blessed with amazing vision and range, Iniesta who is considered to be one of the best attacking midfielders in Europe will have to be at his sublime best for Spain to have even a shot at defending their crown.

Sergio Ramos: The Real Madrid captain will be in a buoyant mood following his club’s UEFA Champions League win over Atletico Madrid in the final and will be hoping to carry the momentum and personal form into the Euros. For the much-talked about love-hate relationship with his club’s arch nemesis and fellow centre-back Gerad Pique, the two should be expected to maintain professionalism lest it seep through the team.

DARK HORSES

BELGIUM: Marc Wilmot’s side boasts of one of the most exciting squads in this year’s Euros. After exiting at the quarter-final stage at the World Cup to eventual finalists Argentina, Belgium will be eyeing to go full throttle to stake their claim in France. They qualified for the tournament scoring 24 goals with Premier League stars, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne scoring 5 a piece. One of Belgium’s major problems at the World Cup was the lack of fluidity on the ball but with De Bruyne and Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan at the heart of the midfield, it provides scope for more cheeky trickery out wide from Hazard and perhaps Mertens. Although captain Vincent Kompany is likely to miss out due to injury, Tottenham stars Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld will prove as able reinforcements as per the team’s requirement at the back.

Players to watch out for:

Kevin De Bruyne: There are a very few players in the world who can effortlessly string the midfield together like Kevin De Bruyne. With Eden Hazard woefully out of form, Premier League’s new golden boy will need to be at his best to carry his team to the knockout stages. Going by his talent, he will remain a contender for the Golden boot award too.

Romelu Lukaku: Whether we can see the best of Lukaku is unknown as the striker has not always been a snug fit in the national team, with Christian Benteke being preferred on many occasions. But when on fire, there is no striker that can physically impose himself in the box better than how Lukaku does. He will definitely be someone to keep a tab on.

ENGLAND: After the retirement of Steven Gerard, Frank Lampard, Paul Scholes, David Beckham etc, many argued that England’s chances of winning a title left with them. But this year’s English National team is no pushover either. Maintaining a 100% streak in the qualifiers, Roy Hodson’s youthful side has supporters daring to dream again. After failure to muster a single victory in their disappointing World Cup campaign, the Euros present them with an opportunity to make amends. The biggest dilemma Hodson faces will be whether to start captain and the country’s all time record goalscorer, Wayne Rooney who has very well passed his peak. With current form as an indicator, Rooney does not deserve a place in the Euros but Hodson believes that his captain brings more to the team that just goals. The Manchester United captain’s speed and mobility has greatly reduced over the years as years of professional football has taken a toll on his body, but with his vision and creativity Rooney still remains England’s go-to man. A semi-final finish is the least expected of England this year.






Players to watch out for:

Harry Kane: The Tottenham Hotspurs striker is in the form of his life after spearheading a surprising title challenge for his club this season. Having scored the most number of goals in this season’s Premier League, England will be banking on Kane to continue with the juggernaut as they prepare for the tournament. Harry Kane is another contender for the Golden Boot this year.

Jamie Vardy: From a fourth-division player to an English Premier League champion, Jamie Vardy’s rags to riches story have drawn admiration from all parts of the world. There are even rumours that a movie is set to be filmed on his meteoric rise to the top. A lethal finisher with raw pace, Jamie Vardy will be heading towards France as one of his country’s brightest hopes and his strike partnership with Kane will be a mouth-watering experience for the English fans.

SURPRISES

WALES:

The Gareth Bale led side is in their first major competition since 1958 and their form could not have peaked at a better time. In Gareth Bale they have a genuine star but there is top-flight level experience throughout the rest of the side too, and Wales have the talent and flexibility to exceed expectations further-with a place in the quarter finals a realistic target. If the Real Madrid forward is not on top form, Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, Sam Vokes and an unlikely hero may need to emerge in France. There is rich Premier League experience within their defensive ranks with Swansea City regular Ashley Williams set to play a crucial role at the backline.

Players to watch out for:

Gareth Bale: Scoring 7 out of their 11 goals and assisting a further two underlines Bale’s importance to the Welsh side. A powerful athlete and striker of the ball, Gareth Bale will need to continue his Champions League winning form in the Euros to progress Wales past the group stages.

Aaron Ramsey: The Arsenal midfielder has had a relatively quiet season vis-à-vis his qualities. But make no mistake, Ramsey’s form is bound to pick up sooner or later and on his day is capable of splitting open any defences. Once dubbed as the best midfielder in the Premier League by Steven Gerard, Ramsey along with Bale is one of Wales’ most important players.



POLAND:

They will certainly be expected to fare better than their group stage exit in 2008 and 2012- the latter of which they co-hosted- and it would be such a pity if Adam Nawalka’s side, who should face a favourable opposition in the round of 16 upon qualifying, do not make it to the last eight. If Robert Lewandowski, their one indisputably world-class player, dictates terms then there will be no stopping this Polish side upbeat after their shock maiden victory over their arch neighbours and football’s powerhouse Germany. Doing so this time would be a thing of dreams in itself but there will be pressure to do something bigger and a run of impressive results coming into the competition has added to their optimism.


Players to watch out for:

Robert Lewandowski: Lewandowski’ mere presence makes anything possible for Poland. Six of his 13 qualifying goals may have come against lowly Gibraltar but the Bayern Munich striker sits comfortably among Europe’s best and should give his country an edge against any quality opposition that comes their way.




POTENTIAL FLOP

PORTUGAL:

Gone are the days of Luis Figo and Eusebio when Portugal was near invincible. The present day Portuguese team is solely reliant on a certain Cristiano Ronaldo and with him having a bad day they are like fodder for the other big teams. Their 8th place FIFA ranking is an undeserving tag and any progress beyond the quarter final stage should be considered as an achievement for this side. However, when Cristiano Ronaldo is on song, his tireless energy rubs on his teammates and elevates their performance. But the past few World Cups as well as European competitions have seen an underwhelming Portuguese side that has often withered away when pushed against the wall.

Players to watch out for:

Cristiano Ronaldo: Portugal’s main threat will be unleashed in the form of Real Madrid star and Champions League winner, Cristiano Ronaldo. He is back from a successful season in which he hit his sixth consecutive 50+ goal per season tally and completed his third Champions League triumph. However, his Portugal teammates are not on the same competitive and quality level as his Real Madrid ones and only if he is at his ominous best, can they ensure themselves a lengthy competition.

Nani: Ex-Manchester United winger, Nani is a huge threat to any team when deployed in the wings. His work rate is phenomenal and his commitment to the job makes him one of the players to watch out for.





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