With the 2016 UEFA European Championship right around the corner, all eyes will be on France starting June 10, 2016, through July 10, 2016.
Over the next week, I will be breaking down each group to help you understand how each team got into the 24-team tournament, what their expectations are, how they like to line up on the pitch, if they possibly have what it takes to get hot and go on a run (looking at you Italy) or if a nation can shock the world like Greece did in 2004.
Let's get started. Here are your four nations comprising Group A. Futures provided by Bovada.
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France, or "Les Bleus," as they are known, are the pre-tournament favorites (+325) to win their third European Cup. To do so, they will have to navigate a fairly straightforward group. Many pundits have them finishing top of the group, and I would agree with that assumption. However, -375 (to win the group) is a little too steep for my liking when it comes to anything soccer related.
How they got here:
Since France is the host nation - they were given automatic passage into the group stage. They played several tune-up friendlies and had two notable wins against Portugal. However, they were left scratching their heads with a draw and a defeat to lowly Albania. The lead up to Euro 2016 has been anything but smooth sailing for this French Squad. They had to deal with an off-field controversy surrounding two key players, and the end result was striker Karim Benzema getting left off the final squad. Should they need a goal, his absence will be felt.
Expect France to line up in a 4-3-3 system. They have good wingers who can link up nicely with a central striker and a midfield that includes budding superstar Paul Pogba and Premier League winner N'GoloKonte.
France usually enters every major tournament in the second tier of favorites. They are expected to reach at least the semi-finals but usually always fall short. They will always be behind Germany, Brazil, Argentina and Spain in World Cup odds, but playing on home soil in this year's Euro and with the strength of this team they are expected to reach the final and even hoist the trophy. Anything less than a spot in the final will be deemed a failure.
Romania comes into this tournament in great form. However, they are currently one of the longest shots on the board to lift the European trophy come July 10. If you are looking for a flyer, +15000 odds offer up more than enough value. If you are not crazy enough take them all the way, perhaps +1200 to win Group A could entice you?
How they got here:
Romania is a team void of star players, yet they qualified second in their qualifying group behind Northern Ireland. Surprisingly, Romania had the best defensive record out of all qualifying teams, having conceded only twice in 10 matches. Dating back to their last 22 matches, that record gets even better with only seven goals conceded while holding the likes of Spain and Argentina scoreless.
Defense, defense and more defense. The Romanians will likely line up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, which begs the question of where the goals will come from. While they might stymie their opponent, they will need to eventually grab a goal and capture all three points if they hope to progress to the knock-out stage. They are led defensively by former Tottenham Hotspur center-back Vlad Chiriches.
For a country that has only been as far as the quarterfinals of Euro 2000, anything beyond the group stage would be deemed a success for them. They will rely on their defensive strength and hope to steal a point from either France or Switzerland. Should they beat Albania in their last game then a knockout stage spot is not unthinkable as the third seed. After that, however, the run should come to an end against a group winner.
Switzerland comes into this tournament after qualifying second in their qualifying group behind England. The Swiss are currently listed at +6600 to win the tournament, but they will be hard pressed to do so considering they have not gotten out of the group stage in any previous Euro tournament. Should you like them to nip France for group winners, you can get them at +350.
How they got here:
Despite finishing with seven wins from 10 matches, Switzerland finished second in their qualifying group to England. They were beaten pretty handily (2-0 both times) against the Three Lions, and none of their wins were all that impressive. It was a very easy group to navigate. Switzerland has brought up its FIFA rankings to No. 14 in the world, which proves they can be dangerous at the right times.
Expect the Swiss to line up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They perform at their best when they are hitting opponents at full speed on the counter-attack. They will need their midfield duo of GokanInler and new Liverpool signing Granit Xhaka to link up nicely with forward "X" if they are to make any noise in this tournament. I say forward "X" because it really is a plug-and-play system they use with no real potent strikers on the roster.
Anything short of passage to the knockout stage as the No. 2 seed would be disappointing. Should they take care of business, they will likely find themselves in a knockout game against Ukraine or Poland - both would be a very winnable game. A quarter-final berth should be the main goal, but anything after that would be gravy.
It is Albania's first-ever Euro tournament, and I feel that they are in way over their heads. While it is not the toughest group of the tournament, the difference in quality will be seen instantly. Albania are the longest shots on the board to win the tournament at +35000 (don't waste your money) and are a huge +3300 to win Group A. Again, don't waste your money.
How they got here
Albania was lucky enough to get into a qualifying group with only four other teams. That means they had to outlast three teams and somehow did enough to qualify in second place behind Portugal. The feathers in their cap are victories against France in 2015 and Portugal in 2014. They are unlikely to repeat such a performance.
Albania will likely look to pressure teams and attack right from the get go. Their preferred formation is a 4-3-3, which allows them coverage all over the pitch. As a squad with no star players, they will need to perform well as a unit in order to secure anything worth celebrating.
One point would be nice. But where will it come from? France will be looking for all three points in this match up, same as Switzerland. The only hope for a point comes in the final group stage game against Romania, and I still think the quality difference is much to much for Albania to overcome. I expect Albania to enjoy the atmosphere but ultimately end up with nothing to show for their two and a half weeks in France.
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