he 2016 European championships promise to be full of drama, with this years 24 team expansion leaving the playing field wide open. Out of the 24 teams, I predict that four countries, France, Belgium, Germany and Spain have a strong shot at winning the coveted Henri Delaunay Trophy, although dark horses can never be completely ruled out.
Group play predictions:
For me this one is easy. The French are sharp on attack, and are playing on home soil. The last time France hosted the Euros in 1984, they won. French fans are resilient and the players will use that adrenaline to fuel their campaign. France's key weakness however, is their back line. Their defence needs to move as a unit, with more communication between them in order to keep out competitors. For France, this tournament is about so much more than football, this tournament is about unifying a nation in turmoil and if any team can do it, it's this French squad.
Final standings for group A: France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania
This group will definitely be one to watch. England is coming in with a well rounded squad and high expectations, but they are renowned for not showing up when it counts. That being said, if England arrive this year, they have the capability to go very far in this tournament. Russia have been building through the qualifying phase and will look to their strong midfielders to hold the play against their opponents. Slovakia have qualified for the Euros for the first time as an independent nation and although they are likely to be the weakest team in this pool, they have the entire nation behind them. Finally we have Wales. We have seen magic from the Welsh team in qualifying and in international friendlies. But that cannot take away from the fact that this is there first ever Euros as well, to play on a stage this big could be daunting for some of their players. Gareth Bale will lead the way for Wales, and if his team follows his example they could be very threatening.
Final group B standings: England, Wales, Russia, Slovakia
Group C also appears to be a no brainer. Germany, the reigning World Cup champions, are a force to be reckoned with. Although their recent games haven't gone as planned for the Germans, losing to England in March and Slovakia just over a week ago, unlike England, Germany always shows up to a tournament. For me, it is a toss up between Northern Ireland, Poland and Ukraine. All three of these countries have proven that they can compete with the big guns, but their inexperience could hurt them.
Final group C standings: Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland, Ukraine
Spain are my favourite to win the Euros this year. The two time reigning champs have a roster that is a head above the competition. The majority of the Spanish squad play in La Liga, which dominated club soccer this year - just look at the number of their teams that made it to the late stages of the Champions League. Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey are all exciting teams, but the have yet to be truly tested. That being said, with 16 teams advancing to the next round, one of these countries could still surprise me.
Final group D standings: Spain, Turkey, Czech Republic, Croatia
Republic of Ireland
Okay, I'll be honest. ANYTHING could happen in this group. Belgium have been building since a strong first World Cup appearance in 2014 and are also a favourite to win this tournament. Italy are coming off a much weaker streak, but we have seen the Italians come back time and time again. The Republic of Ireland competed at the European championships in 2012 but lost all three of their group games. This year, they face the group of death, but if any dark horse country can defy the odds, it's Ireland. They proved that when they beat Germany 1-0 in qualifying. Finally we have Sweden... No, sorry, we have Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Sweden has a good roster that completely revolves around this man, and rightfully so. He is a class act and one of the best football players of all time. Winning this group is still any of these country's game.
Final group E standings: Belgium, Sweden, Republic of Ireland, Italy
The final group is going to come down to Portugal's ability to score goals. Similar to Wales and Sweden who revolve around their big name players, Portugal needs Ronaldo to deliver goals if they hope to be a contender this year. That being said, they should win this group despite the three dark horse teams that they will compete against. Iceland is my dark horse team pick to watch this year, they have a lot of talented players and a lot of speed up front. An upset would not be beyond their capabilities.
Final group F standings: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
The 2016 Euros will have their favourites and expectations, but if nothing else, this year is a year for upsets.