Next summer’s European Championships drew a good deal closer with the draw for the group stages, and the tournament feels like it’s just around the corner. It also gives us a great chance to look at the early betting, with the bookies already pricing up each individual group.
The expansion of the competition to 24 teams means that the four best third placed sides will also qualify for the next round along with the top two in each group; but that doesn’t mean anyone can take it easy. The seeding for the second round will pitch group winners against second and third placed sides, so there is every incentive for the big nations to win their respective groups.
Hosts France were given a cracking draw for their own competition, and it’s difficult to see them failing to win this section. They’re a best price of -250 to top group A, and we wouldn’t put anyone off adding them to an accumulator.
Group B is a much more interesting proposition, but it’s still worth siding with England at -105 with Unibet
This won’t be an easy group for Roy Hodgson and his men, particularly with Wales keen to put on a good show in a rare tournament appearance. The likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey can cause the English problems, but the Three Lions have more strength in depth. They won all ten qualifying games comfortably, and it’s only against the very best teams that England tend to come unstuck. The Welsh have every chance of going through alongside them here too, with neither Russia nor Slovakia looking overly threatening.
Spare a thought for Northern Ireland, who after winning their qualifying group, wound up with this draw. Germany and Poland renew rivalries from their qualifying group, and Germany are priced at -250 to come out on top again and win this section.
Croatia and Czech Republic are decent sides and Turkey can be unpredictable, but there’s not enough to tempt us to back against the Spanish, who on their day are still one of the best in the world. The current European Champions are rated a -149 shot to win this group, and that seems fair enough.
Republic of Ireland
Group E offers a little more to get stuck into, with Italy priced as second favourites at +165 with 888Sport behind Belgium.
The Italians are worth backing to come out on top at that price, despite Belgium’s reputation as the up-and-coming footballing nation of Europe. They have a huge amount of talent at their disposal with the likes of Eden Hazard, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, and Romelu Lukaku to name a few, but this is a tricky group with four very good sides – all of whom are capable of taking points off each other.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic has almost single-handedly dragged Sweden to this tournament and he’ll be looking to make a mark as time begins to run out on his international career. They made their way past a play-off with Denmark to get to this stage, but could easily spring a shock or two. The same could be said of Ireland, who might not have an international superstar, but make up for it with team spirit. They will fancy their chances of squeezing through to the next round, despite the tough group.
Italy qualified with seven victories and three draws from ten games, finishing ahead of Croatia in the group. They haven’t always been at their best since going out of the World Cup in Brazil alongside England, but they often come alive in the finals of tournaments, and will make their presence felt here.
Austria have been installed as second favourites, and the manner of their qualifying campaign would justify that, but it remains to be seen how well they fair in France. They won nine and drew one of their ten qualifiers, but it would be reasonable to suggest that both Sweden and Russia under-performed in the group and it’s difficult to assess Austria’s success. They went down 2-1 at home to Switzerland in a friendly in November, and that might just bring a bit of realism to the Austrian’s prospects.
Iceland have created history by becoming the smallest nation (in terms of population) to qualify for a European Championship. Just 329,000 people make up the Icelandic population, but they’ve developed a generation of players who combined to finish 2nd in a group containing Holland, Czech Republic and Turkey. Home and away victories against the wretched Dutch gave them the platform to do that, and they will savour every minute of their appearances in France.
Hungary are surely up against it after finishing third behind Northern Ireland and Romania in qualifying, and getting past Norway in the play-offs. Portugal however, have an outstanding chance of coming out on top here, against three teams who they would expect to beat. Ronaldo has failed to truly shine on the international stage, and he’ll be desperate to drag his side to the latter stages of this competition and have a stab at winning it. Portugal coasted through qualifying with seven wins from eight games, and William Carvalho has added another dimension to Portugal’s otherwise workmanlike squad. If he starts matches alongside Ronaldo they could be a force to be reckoned with – certainly in the context of this group – and a price of evens on them winning it looks more than acceptable.
European Championships 10th June – 10th July 2016
England to win Group B
Italy to win Group E
Portugal to win Group F
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