On the 10th June, the 15th edition of the UEFA European Championships will commence in France (for the third time following inaugural tournament in 1960 and 1984 respectively). The matches will be played in ten stadia in ten cities including Bordeaux,Lens, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris, Saint-Denis, Saint-Étienne, and Toulouse. Safety concerns following the Paris terror attacks of November 2016, Wales’ first major tournament qualification since 1958, and England’s inclusion of 18-year old striker Marcus Rashford all dominate the pre-tournament headlines. However it is the nation’s squad dissection that is the most significant topic at this stage.
The countries’ first major tournament in their footballing history. The lowest scorers out of all the euro qualifiers do not possess a natural goal-threat and are certainly not fancied to progress from the group stages. They have relied on a stable defence throughout qualification so opposition may find them a tough nut to crack.
Player to watch– Lorik Cana (Nantes)
Paddy Power odds- 500/1
The hosts and favourites for the competition. An emergence of first-class talent into the national team has given Les Bleus real hope going into the tournament. A dynamic midfield up of Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi, Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante is a quartet of real envy other tournament favourites. Potential weakness may prove to be the full-back areas in the ageing Bacary Sagna (33) and Patrice Evra (35).
Player to watch- Anthony Martial (Man Utd)
Paddy Power odds- 3/1
Possess an organised and tough defence, with only two goals conceded during qualification. Anghel Iordanescu’s side may not have some of the creative talents from previous Romanian football generations but will still be a difficult team to overcome for anyone.
Player to watch- Vlad Chiriches (Napoli)
Paddy Power odds- 150/1
Expected to progress from the group. The Swiss have an exciting balance to their team of young and old with a settled defence and real creativity in their midfield ranks. Arsenal’s new signing Granit Xhaka will typically play a deep midfield anchor role with Xherdan Shaqiri being utilised either in the hole behind the striker or on either wing.
Player to watch- Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City)
Paddy Power odds-50/1
Roy Hodgson’s outfit is younger and more versatile than in previous recent tournaments. A smooth qualification campaign and the emergence of Tottenham’s fledgling quartet of Dele Alli, Eric Dier, Danny Rose and Harry Kane gives great reason for optimism. However, the real problem still remains in that Hodgson does know not his best X11. Constant experimentation and rotation is proving unfruitful. Wayne Rooney’s role within the side appears as unclear as it has ever been.
Player to watch– Harry Kane (Tottenham)
Paddy Power odds-8/1
Since Fabio Capello’s departure in July 2015, the Russian national side appear to be enjoying their football more. In Aleksandr Kerzhakov, Artyom Dzyuba and Fyodor Smolov they have speed on the flanks and goals up front. The age of the squad may prove a real concern however; the majority of their first-choice defenders and midfielders are over or nearing 30.
Player to watch– Roman Shirokov (CSKA Moscow)
Paddy Power odds- 40/1
Will be no pushovers. This is the first time in Slovakia’s history they have qualified for the Euros. They possess real quality within the ranks but to tend to become over-reliant on star-man Marek Hamsik. They did hand Spain a 2-1 defeat in the qualifying period and on their day can prove a match for any top side.
Player to watch– Marek Hamsik (Napoli)
Paddy Power odds-150/1
Chris Coleman has performed miracles in guiding Wales to their first major tournament in 58 years. His unit are organised, disciplined and channel their game through Gareth Bale. They will be fired up and aiming to impress in France, determined to make the most of the long-awaited opportunity. The lack of goals from the forward-line is the main concern with the absence of a Premier League striker in the ranks.
Player to watch- Gareth Bale (Real Madrid)
Paddy Power odds-80/1
The World Champions (WC 2014) are second favourites for the competition having won qualifying Group D. The Germans possess a strong spine to their X11 with a healthy blend of young and old experience. The only worry for Joachim Low’s men may be the inexperienced full-backs with Philip Lahm out (Jonas Hector is expected to be his replacement) and the uncharacteristic recent qualifying defeat by the Republic of Ireland.
Player to watch-Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich)
Paddy Power odds-4/1
Another home-nation miracle. Michael O’Neil’s side topped their qualifying group to enter their first European Championship tournament in their history. They are dangerous from set-pieces, often out-run oppositions and are a difficult unit to break down. Inexperience is one of their key weaknesses in the side with only 4 out of the predicted first 11 playing top-flight domestic football.
Player to watch-Kyle Lafferty (Norwich City)
Paddy Power odds-300/1
Poland possess a far more potent attacking force these days than in tournaments gone by. In Robert Lewandowski, they have one of the most sought-after, clinical strikers in the continent; 13 goals in the qualifying campaign alone to back this. If the Poles can sharpen up their defensive frailties, they will certainly be a dark horse for the competition.
Player to watch- Arkadiusz Milik (Ajax)
Paddy Power odds-40/1
Mykhaylo Fomenko’s team are a pacy outfit that always place a real emphasis on counter-attacking play. The two wingers Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka are the gems of the team and will provide the majority of chances created. An organised defence compliments this to give them a good chance of progressing through the group but the lack of a general plan B or creative central midfielders/strikers is likely to limit their potential in the tournament.
Player to watch-Andriy Yarmolenko (Dynamo Kiev)
Paddy Power odds-90/1
Croatia find themselves in the toughest group in the competition. Their qualifying campaign certainly wasn’t smooth; finishing behind Italy, Niko Kovac being dismissed from position of head coach and crowd violence forcing a point deduction. World-class quality can be found in central-midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic but their backline is far from stable and do leak goals. Will have to perform to their maximum to qualify from the group.
Player to watch-Ivan Rakitic (Barcelona)
Paddy Power odds-25/1
Despite no longer having players like Pavel Nedved or Karel Poborsky from days gone by, the Czech Republic are a strong unity and have a never-say-die attitude. They tend to try and outscore teams which often proves their downfall as their defence is one of the most vulnerable in the competition; despite having a world-class, experienced goalkeeper in Petr Cech. An unpredictable outfit.
Player to watch-Borek Dockal (Sparta Prague)
Paddy Power odds-125/1
For a team aiming to seal their third consecutive European Championship, the Spanish squad are strangely doubted by many quarters. Manager Vincent Del Bosque stated that if his team made the semi-finals, he would regard the tournament as a success. A host of surprise exclusions from the squad selection include Diego Costa, Fernando Torres, Santi Carzola and Juan Mata. The inclusion of the lesser-experienced Saul Niguez and Lucas Vazquez may signal a transitional tournament for the Spanish squad. However, an abundance of world-class midfield creative talent still makes them one of the favourites.
Player to watch-David Silva (Man City)
Paddy Power odds-5/1
Managed to qualify as “third-placed team with best record”. Despite qualification not being a smooth campaign, Fatih Terim’s side possesses great attacking threat from midfield. Oghuzan Ozyukap is the playmaker and showed in qualifying what a talent he is, with dazzling runs and able to dictate midfield at all times. Barcelona’s Arda Turan has world-class talent on his day. Like many other sides in the competition, they lack a clinical, killer striker.
Player to watch- Arda Turan (Barcelona)
Paddy Power odds-75/1
Marc Wilmots arguably has one of the best squads in the championships. Their front line and choice of attacking midfielders is brimming with world-class options; including Romelu Lukaku, Michy Batshuayi, Eden Hazard and Yannick Carrasco. Centre-back Vincent Kompany’s absence through injury is a huge loss however and their lack of experience in latter knockout rounds of major tournaments may well prove significant.
Player to watch-Kevin De Bruyne (Man City)
Paddy Power odds-11/1
Recently-appointed Chelsea manager approaches his final swansong as national team manager as outsiders for the competition. He will feel confident that the Juventus back-line of goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, defenders Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini (West Ham’s Angelo Ogbonna may well also start) will give the team a firm defensive resoluteness for the tournament. However, his options are rather limited in attack with five of Italy’s seven wins in qualifying being by a one goal margin.
Player to watch-Antonio Candreva (Lazio)
Paddy Power odds-18/1
Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland qualified via the play-offs beating Bosnia-Herzegovina 3-1 on aggregate. Martin O’Neil’s side are a hard working outfit that will be likely to adapt to a 4-2-3-1 formation. The combination of the pressing and aerial power of Jon Walters and pace of Shane Long will prove a problem to any defence in the tournament. Do not rule the Irish out.
Player to watch-Shane Long(Southampton)
Paddy Power odds-100/1
An unpredictable team as ever. Manager Erik Hamren tends to stick to a fairly rigid formation of 4-4-2. In Zlatan Ibrahimovic, they possess a world superstar, a player who has the magic to turn any game in a split second. It is no understatement to say that the Swede’s hopes of progressing in the tournament are fully pinned on him staying fit. A worrying lack of pace is evident in the centre-backs which may hinder their chances.
Player to watch-Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG)
Paddy Power odds-100/1
The Austrians experienced a near perfect winning record in qualifying (28 points). They are certainly a nation seeming to be going under the radar as they are now up to 10th in the latest FIFA rankings, although they have never made it beyond the group stages of the euros in their history. A strong squad including Bayern Munich full-back David Alaba, Leicester City’s title-winning Christian Fuchs as well as Stoke City’s Marko Arnautovic- Watch this space.
Player to watch-Marko Arnautovic (Stoke City)
Paddy Power odds-40/1
Tipped to struggle. They are likely to play a 4-2-3-1 formation with an emphasis on possession to relieve some of the pressure off the defence. They are a strong on set-pieces and teams facing them will need to be wary of this. However, a real lack of pace and creativity in the final third means they are not being backed by many to cause any upsets.
Player to watch-Laszlo Kleinheisler (Werder Bremen)
Paddy Power odds-400/1
Iceland are entering their first ever major tournament in their history. They are managed by former Sweden manager Lars Lagerback who adopts a mix of attack and defend philosophy in his style of play. The central midfield area will be the key for them; with the duo of Aron Gunnarsson and Gylfi Sigurdsson having built up a promising chemistry during qualification.
Player to watch-Gylfi Sigurdsson (Swansea City)
Paddy Power odds-150/1
The 2004 runners-up are expected to progress into the knockout stages from one of the weaker groups in the competition. Manager Fernando Santos is expected to play Cristiano Ronaldo as a central striker with Nani behind in support. They will be relying on Ronaldo to adapt to the centre forward role (unlike his normal wing position) to make up for the lack of a natural striker of a world-class ilk since the days of Nuno Gomes.
Player to watch-Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid)
Paddy Power odds-14/1