Things to know about every EURO 2016 Group
ABS-CBN Sports on Dec 13, 2015 12:34 PM
From left : Former French international soccer player Bixente Lizarazu, Former Dutch international soccer player Ruud Gullit, German national soccer team manager Oliver Bierhoff, Former French international soccer player David Trezeguet and Former Greek international soccer player Angelos Charisteas address the audience during the Euro 2016 soccer championships draw in Paris Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)
via Associated Press
Host France escaped with a relatively straightforward group in the 2016 European Championship after being drawn on Saturday with newcomer Albania, Romania, and Switzerland.
Here are other essential things to know about Group A:
THE BIG MATCH: In a relatively weak-looking group, the biggest match is the final game between Switzerland and France in Lille on June 19. The French will be the more confident side given recent form, having thrashed the Swiss 5-2 in the group stage at last year's World Cup — with Karim Benzema arguably having his best game for France.
PLAYER TO WATCH: With Benzema looking likely to miss the tournament due to an ongoing legal case in which he has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail, France looks like needing a new talisman. This is now Paul Pogba's big chance to match the hype. The Juventus star is the most sought-after midfielder in Europe, with his valuation in the 100-million euros bracket, but for France he can sometimes look out of sorts. His attacking panache means he loves to burst forward, but coach Didier Deschamps wants him to play a deeper role because of his dynamic tackling.
PROJECTED TOP TWO: France should win the group ahead of Switzerland, with Albania and Romania both lacking enough firepower to threaten.
It was the matchup England and Welsh fans would have wanted, although neither of the British sides will be particularly confident of getting a result against each other. Meanwhile, Russia and Slovakia complete a tough-looking Group B that is likely to go to the wire, and promises some thrilling games.
Here are other essential things to know about Group B:
THE BIG MATCH: The northern city of Lens will host the highly anticipated clash between England and Wales on June 16. Located roughly 180 kilometers (110 miles from Paris), the rough-and-tumble, working-class city is easily reachable for fans traveling from Britain, so there is likely to be a huge contingent of passionate fans from both countries.
PLAYER TO WATCH: With goals likely to be plentiful in an attack-minded group, there is plenty of talent to catch the eye with Russia striker Artem Dzyuba, Slovakia midfielder Marek Hamsik, and England's Wayne Rooney. But Wales winger Gareth Bale perhaps has the edge on them after scoring seven goals in qualifying.
PROJECTED TOP TWO: It's a tough call, but England is likely to come top with Russia likely to just get the better of Wales. Russia has more experience and knowhow than Wales and, although it does not have a player of Bale's outstanding ability, it has better technical ability overall and possesses the sharper center forward in Zenit St. Petersburg's Dzyuba.
While Germany coach Joachim Loew sounded confident that the world champions will top Group C, Poland has the firepower to spoil those plans. Co-hosts of Euro 2012, the Poles were the top scoring team, with 33 goals, in qualifying for Euro 2016, thanks to the superb Robert Lewandowski.
Ukraine, the other co-host of Euro 2012, and Northern Ireland, playing its first European Championship, will bring up the rear in Group C.
Here are other essential things to know about the group:
THE BIG MATCH: Without question, Germany vs. Poland on June 16 at the Stade de France. Poland proved a handful for the World Cup holder in qualifying, winning 2-0 in Warsaw in October 2014. Germany got its own back, winning 3-1, when they met again in Frankfurt this September.
PLAYER TO WATCH: With 13 goals in 10 matches, Lewandowski was the top scorer in qualifying and will be one of the most-watched stars in France next June.
PROJECTED TOP TWO: That's easy — Germany and Poland should top this group. Far harder is guessing their order. The runner-up of Group C will play the second-place team of Group A, likely Switzerland, in the last 16.
After the failure in Brazil, Spain wants to bounce back in style in France. After what should be an easy Euro 2016 opening match against the Czech Republic, the reigning European champion faces trickier Group D opponents in Turkey and Croatia.
Here are other essential things to know about Group D:
THE BIG MATCH: Spain vs. Czech Republic on June 13 in Toulouse. Spain can't afford to lose its opening game: It was the humiliating 5-1 loss to the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup that set the tone for the team's dismal display in Brazil. A loss to the Czechs would give Spain no room for more mistakes in its next match against Turkey.
"It's going to be very difficult for us," coach Vicente del Bosque said.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Turkey captain Arda Turan, who joined Barcelona this season from Atletico Madrid. Turan has had more time for the national side since his high-profile summer move to Barcelona, having to sit out of Spanish matches for the rest of 2015 due to transfer rules.
PROJECTED TOP TWO: Spain and Turkey. By winning nine of 10 games and finishing top of its group in qualifying, Spain showed it has recovered from its World Cup humiliation. Spain also has pedigree, as the only team to have won the European Championship twice in a row.
Turkey overcame a poor start in qualifying and posted convincing wins against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic to reach the Euros for the first time in eight years.
Former winner Italy landed in arguably the toughest group for Euro 2016, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic's Sweden and a rejuvenated Belgium currently top of FIFA's rankings.
Ireland completes the group.
"It couldn't get tougher," Ireland manager Martin O'Neill said.
Here are other essential things to know about Group E:
THE BIG MATCH: Italy vs. Belgium on June 13 in Lyon. Although Italy's performances over the past two years have not been so impressive, the Azzurri remain perennial contenders at big tournaments. The contrast between Italy's efficiency and the free-flowing football from Belgium's new crop of players promises one of the most interesting games of the tournament.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Marco Verratti. The Paris Saint-Germain player has become a beating heart of the French champions' midfield since joining from Pescara in 2012. At just 23, Verratti impresses not only with his exceptional physical qualities but also his leadership.
PROJECTED TOP TWO: Belgium, Italy. With English Premier League stars Eden Hazard and Vincent Kompany, Belgium is expected to go deep in the tournament, while Italy will count on its traditional stubbornness to advance despite some aging players.
"Belgium are a great team with outstanding players," Italy coach Antonio Conte said.
Belgium coach Marc Wilmots was equally wary, saying: "It's the most difficult opponents we could have."
With Cristiano Ronaldo in some of the best form his career, Portugal coach Fernando Santos must be quietly confident of topping a Group F containing newcomer Iceland and playoff winner Hungary. But he will be very wary of a resurgent Austria side.
Here are other essential things to know about Group F:
THE BIG MATCH: The game between Austria and Portugal on June 18 is likely to decide who tops the group, and it should be an exciting atmosphere at Parc des Princes — home of Paris Saint-Germain — with a large Portuguese population in Paris. Furthermore, it could give Ronaldo a glimpse of his future home, with PSG reportedly keen to sign him from Real Madrid for next season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ronaldo is the obvious big name in the group, but Austria's fans will be investing high hopes in Bayern Munich midfielder David Alaba. He plays in a more attacking role for his country, and his brilliant performance in Austria's 4-1 win away to Sweden in qualifying really caught the eye. The speedy, skillful 23-year-old Alaba could be one of the players of the tournament.
PROJECTED TOP TWO: This is Portugal's and Austria's group to lose, and they really should be confident of taking the top two spots, although Iceland showed its credentials by beating the Netherlands home and away in qualifying.