With the 2016 UEFA European Championship right around the corner, all eyes will be on France starting June 10, 2016, through July 10, 2016.
At first glance, many people would assume that this is Portugal's group to walk away with. However, after digging a little deeper, this group may provide us with the dullest soccer of the tournament and an interesting race for passage. Portugal is essentially a one-man team with an mediocre back line. Austria has a little momentum on their side since they've won nine consecutive qualifying games. Hungary and Iceland surely lack in quality, but they have the ability to give Portugal and Austria fits with strong performances.
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Here are your four nations comprising Group F. Futures provided by Bovada.
There is no denying that Portugal is weaker this year compared to tournaments past. They will be hoping that Cristiano Ronaldo is 100 percent fit and can lead them to glory for the first time in their country's history. The Portuguese hosted the 2004 Euro Finals, where they were shockingly beaten 1-0 by Greece. They did nothing worth noting in the 2014 World Cup, which has dampened expectations for this squad. Winning the group is likely (-140), but winning the tournament is a Hail Mary (+1600) at best.
How they got here
Portugal was able to finish atop their qualifying group, which shouldn't be a surprise to anybody. They played only eight games due to having only five teams instead of six and comfortably finished ahead of Albania by seven points. All seven of their wins came via one-goal margins, and Ronaldo led the way scoring five of their 11 goals.
Portugal will play a 4-3-3 formation, and most of the play will go through Ronaldo, who likes to start himself on the left wing and work his way inward. This Portuguese squad is a mix of unproven youngsters and older players, which will prove either fruitful or disastrous. There will be tons of pace and energy, but Portugal has always been a possession type team, which could cancel that out. The center-back pairing of Pepe and Ricardo Carvalho are a solid tandem, even if Pepe likes to make a mockery of the game.
It's hard to envision Portugal making a deep run in this tournament given that their path would see them have to beat Belgium or Italy and possibly England in the QF. I don't think they have the consistency to do so, which means another early exit is likely for a nation full of hope. Ronaldo can't carry the weight of the country on his own, and unfortunately there looks to be no help arriving soon.
This will be Austria's first Euro tournament outside of their own country since 1998. They last qualified as co-hosts in 2008 and failed to deliver anything to cheer about. The Austrians qualified for this tournament in fine fashion and should secure passage at the expense of Hungary and Iceland. They have a few players worth watching, and a punt on Austria to win the group (+190) wouldn't be the worst bet in the world. However, winning the tournament (+4500) might be pushing it.
How they got here
Austria was in fine form during qualifying, rattling off nine consecutive wins to secure top spot ahead of Russia and Sweden. The Austrians were able to net 22 goals and only concede five, which bodes well for them considering they will be going up opponents who aren't exactly offensive juggernauts. Recent friendly defeats to Switzerland and Turkey will temper the excitement, but passage to the knockout stage should enable the nation to dream big once again.
Austria is expected to play a 4-3-2-1 formation where Basel striker Marc Janko is expected to lead the team and produce timely goals. The striker tallied seven goals in qualifying, which is a great achievement. He will have a decent support system around him with the likes of Bayern Munich starter David Alaba and Stoke City creator Marko Arnautovic. Defensively, this team doesn't pass the eye test, so it will be up to them to play above their abilities to get the job done.
Right now expectations for Austria are to qualify for the knockout round and then hope for the best against a better opponent. Anything after the Round of 16 would be gravy, but they will only go as far as their goal-scoring striker will take them. Should he struggle, Austria will struggle to score goals and it will ultimately lead to disastrous group-stage exit.
Euro 2016 will mark only the third major tournament for Hungary since 1972, and I am willing to bet that their visit to France will be brief. Nobody is expecting Hungary to be anything but a doormat for the other three teams in this group. They are priced at +1400 to top the group and +25,000 to win the entire tournament. I suppose if Leicester City can pull off a shocking upset, Hungary can too. Just kidding.
Hungary was one of the teams that benefitted from the new 24-team format that was implemented this year. They finished third in one of the weaker qualifying groups but were able to defeat Norway 3-1 on aggregate. Hungary suffered qualifying defeats to Northern Ireland and Greece, which puts their progression at Euro 2016 about as far fetched as you can get.
I would assume the Hungarians line up in a 4-4-2 formation that will allow them to pressure all over the pitch and leave no openings to exploit. However, they managed only 11 goals in 10 qualifying games, which means offensively they are not a threat and opponents can push bodies forward without fear of the counter attack.
Expectations for Hungary are very low. They are the weakest squad on paper with no real star players. Any fixture in which they earn points would be a shocking result, and anything other than a last-place finish would be considered a success. They have good fighting spits, but technically they do not match up to superior teams.
Iceland is competing in their first major tournament and is absolutely thrilled to be here. Home to only 330,000 people and considered minnows as recently as 2011, they overcame the odds and finished second in qualifying. Making any noise in this tournament would be a shock, and given the odds the bookies have no faith in Iceland. They are listed at +10,000 to win the tournament and +700 to top the group.
How they got here
Iceland secured their ticket to France by finishing second in their qualifying group. Their big moments came in the form of famous victories over Holland, both home and away. However, Holland is in complete shambles, so while that is a nice story, too much stock shouldn't be put into those results. They were able to score 17 goals and conceded only six.
This is the most defensive team in the group and they love to play on the counter attack. They will likely line up in a 4-5-1 formation and put the hopes of success on Swansea creator Gylfi Sigurdsson. Outside of him the squad is full of relatively unknown players, and their downfall is lack of depth. Should any first-team member pick up an injury or suspension, the drop off may be too much for Iceland to overcome.
Iceland is expected to contend for second or third place and to secure passage to the knockout round, and they will be content with that. The key matchup is against Hungary. Anything short of three points against them will make qualifying for the knockout stage a long shot. Unfortunately for Iceland, the end of the road should come in the Round of 16 should they qualify.
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