One of the first posts on this blog two years was my reaction to the 2014 World Cup draw, and it’s fair to say I wasn’t happy with England’s group of Italy, Uruguay and Costa Rica and predicted that we would indeed crash out at the group stages.
Having just sat through the Euro 2016 draw, I am a lot happier this time around, so have a read of my instant thoughts on all six groups for next summer’s tournament.
Group A – France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland
In my opinion, the hosts France have to be one of the favourites to win the entire tournament next summer. They’ve got an exciting young squad that also has some experienced faces such as Hugo Lloris and Patrice Evra. For that reason, I expect them to win all three games in this group. The fight for second place is more intriguing. As much as Albania’s surprising qualification is impressive, I don’t think they stand much of a chance. Romania and Switzerland are both countries with relatively high FIFA rankings but rarely show why they are deserving of that. My money would be on Switzerland to also qualify due to the quality of players such as Xherdan Shaqiri and Josip Drmic.
Group B – England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
Overall, this is an excellent draw for England. The Three Lions face three teams who are all beatable, meaning that we should qualify. But as always with England, I say that with caution, and it’s rare that I’m optimistic about our national team. Much like in Group A, I think that who finishes second comes down to two teams – Russia and Wales. Both are of pretty much equal quality, but the hunger and determination that earned Wales qualification could well see them in the knockout stages, and in Gareth Bale they have one of the best players at the tournament. Slovakia aren’t terrible by any means (they beat Spain in qualifying), but look to be the worst team in this group.
Group C – Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
I think that the top two in this group are fairly easy to predict. Germany and Poland were in the same group in qualifying and had a tight battle at the top, with the World Champions coming out on top by one point. I think that that will be the same again, and Germany are another team I am tipping for big things next summer. As much as I’d like to give Northern Ireland a chance, great team spirit will only get you so far and I think unfortunately they won’t qualify. Having said that, they are probably of equal quality as Ukraine, and could finish third.
- Northern Ireland
Group D – Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
Although reigning champions Spain aren’t as good as they were four years ago, they have been handed a kind draw, and should qualify with ease from this group and avoid embarrassment. Behind them it’s anyone’s guess, and I think any one of the three remaining teams could finish in second. My prediction would be Croatia, with the likes of Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric putting them slightly higher in the ‘world class’ stakes. Don’t rule out the Czech Republic or Turkey though, both have the potential to be dark horses and which ever one of them finishes third is likely to qualify as well.
- Czech Republic
Group E – Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
This group has to be one that is the ‘group of death’, as there’s an argument for all four teams to qualify, perhaps even as group winners. But at the same time, there’s questions surrounding all of them. How far can a young Belgian side go? What side of Italy will we see: that of Euro 2012 or World Cup 2014? Is the Republic of Ireland team too old? Can Sweden rely on Zlatan Ibrahimovic? The only one of those I can try to answer close to correctly is the first, as I think that Belgium could set the tournament alight with an impressive all round team – they are ranked first in the world after all.
- Republic of Ireland
Group F – Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
Portugal were probably the weakest top seed, but with their group also containing so called ‘lesser’ sides, they are likely to qualify with relative ease – thanks in no small part to Ballon D’Or contender Cristiano Ronaldo. The qualification stories of Iceland, Austria and Hungary are incredible, but it’s even more incredible that at least one of them will qualify for the knockout stages. If I had to pick a second place it would be Austria, but it’s unlikely that whoever goes through will get past the round of 16. I would rule Hungary out completely, but Iceland might be in with a chance.
As four third placed teams also qualify for the knockout stages, my bets for those spots would be Russia (Group B), Ukraine (Group C), Czech Republic (Group D), Sweden (Group E).
My coverage of Euro 2016 starts now! Opinion pieces will continue in the run up to the tournament and throughout it, whilst I’ll of course preview all 24 teams in depth when there’s a couple of weeks to go. Let me know in the comments or on Twitter what your initial thoughts are to the draw. I think England could have had a lot harder draw and minimum expectations should be to qualify for the group, and perhaps even to reach the quarter-finals.