On the eve of Euro 2016, our writers predict their winners, how England will fare and which players will shine at this summer’s tournament.
Right then, who’s going to win the tournament?
James: I don’t think there’s an outstanding candidate to claim glory this summer, but everyone seems to have taken their eyes off two-time defending champions Spain. Yes, they lost to Georgia in their final warm-up game this week but if they top their group – and only Croatia can stop them from achieving that for me – then a potential route to the final looks fairly unchallenging. They’d face a third place side in last 16, possibly one of Switzerland or Poland in the quarters and then who knows, England or Portugal in the last four.
If they play to their best, gather a bit of momentum, then why not….
Mark: I can’t see past France making it three major trophies in a row on home soil. As hosts, their lack of competitive action over the last couple of years is a concern, as is their defence with the centre-back duo of Raphael Varane and Mamadou Sakho both missing. However, I think their weaknesses are offset by a easy group to help them get back into the swing of things and an abundance of attacking talent that will be the envy of many.
Ian: I also fancy France. They’ve made home advantage count twice before in 1984 and 1998 but more importantly, I don’t see any better or hungrier squads in the competition. They’ll cruise through the group into the last 16 where they’l face a third-place qualifier so they have a comfortable passage to the quarter-finals. Even without Karim Benzema, Les Bleus have an abundance of attacking riches. Didier Deschamps’ only concern is across the back but they have four games before the quarters to find the right formula and the hosts also have one of the finest goalkeepers in the competition.
Zach: I just don’t think you can look any further than Germany once again. Even with Phillip Lahm’s retirement from the international game there just seems to be too much quality within the German squad. The Germans midfield stands out so much for me, with a lot of creative players in the likes of Ozil, Kroos and Draxler at the helm. I also believe they have an exciting young player in Leroy Sane in their squad who I think will definitely be one to watch out for during the competition. Also with such a strong back-line, with Hummels, Howedes and Boateng there I think they will certainly make it difficult for other teams to score. You of course can’t forget about Thomas Muller either who always just seems to be amongst the goals whether its for either club or country.
Who will clinch the Golden Boot award?
Mark S: Thomas Muller is the bookies’ favourite and rightly so. He notched up 32 goals in 49 games for Bayern Munich last season and has added 10 to his tally for Germany since the 2014 World Cup (where he was also the top scorer). Poland’s Arkadiusz Milik is an exciting talent and has a decent outside chance.
Ian: There is no stand-out contender for the Golden Boot. I think Cristiano Ronaldo might sew it up quite early. Portugal won’t win the tournament and they could be out by the quarter-finals but Ronaldo will be looking to fill his boots against Iceland, Austria and Hungary in the group stage.
James: If I’m going with Spain, then I’ll also back Alvaro Morata. He’s widely available at 16/1 and a double on Morata and Spain pays 40/1. I’m really hoping he comes to the Premier League next season as I think he’d score goals for fun. A good tournament will no doubt add another £10m to his asking price though. As for an outside bet, Mark has stolen my thunder here – the Ajax striker is 50/1. Tempting….
Zach: I can certainly see Thomas Muller doing it once again and adding to his golden boot from the 2014 World Cup. He just seems to have a great eye for goal and keeps on scoring for club and country. However if he was going for an outside bet I think I would have to go for Spain’s Nolito.
Which player will be crowned UEFA’s Player of the Tournament?
Zach: There are so many players who could potentially win this. I think I would have to go with Mesut Ozil if I was to be honest. Although I think Muller could be top scorer, I see Ozil as the main catalyst in that midfield that can make things happen. Outside chance maybe Anthony Martial.
Ian: These awards tend to go to the big names and having backed France to win on home soil, I’ll say Pogba. The midfielder will be the driving force of the home nation and, having said recently that he hasn’t achieved anything yet in his career, he’ll be desperate to impress, especially since he’s in the shop window for Europe’s biggest clubs.
James: This market is stupidly wide open. If you want to continue on my Spanish theme and Morata then he’s 16/1. If I was a betting man, I quite like Sergio Ramos at 40/1.
Mark: Having picked France as the outright winner then the name that has to follow is Paul Pogba. There will be an awful lot of pressure on him to perform but he has all the attributes to follow in the footsteps of Michel Platini and Zinedine Zidane by guiding Les Bleus to glory.
How far can England go?
Ian: I think they have the potential to get to the semis but I don’t think they will. Roy Hodgson’s men don’t have the easiest group which means they do not have time to grow into the tournament. If they hit the ground running, then the last 16 should hold no fear but the Three Lions’ defensive weaknesses will be exploited by the first top team they face, which will likely be the quarter-finals.
Mark: Although I like the youthful, attacking nature of Roy Hodgson’s squad, I don’t trust him to get the best out of them. They should finish top of Group B and make life a bit easier in the last-16 but I think the quarter-finals are as far as we go.
Zach: With the way it looks I would expect England to finish top of their group. If that happens I still don’t think we will get to the final but a place in the semi-finals is certainly within their reach and I think as far as we will go at most.
James: Call it blind optimism or stupidity, but I actually don’t think England have much to fear. If we finish top of the group – which we should – then a route to the semis looks doable. I’m banking on us getting past an ageing Portugal in the quarters (we owe them one, after all) and before that a third-place side in the last 16.
Who are your dark horses?
James: Poland at 50/1 might do OK. They have Milik and Lewandowski up front and those two always give you a chance. If you want a middling affair, perhaps Italy at 16s?
Ian: No one is talking about Portugal and while they won’t win it, Ronaldo can certainly carry them to the last eight, which given the strength of the top nations, is as much as we can hope for from any outsiders in this tournament.
Mark: Austria for me. They have a solid defence, two brilliant players in David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic, and a striker in Marc Janko who averages one in two for the national side and bagged 16 in 20 for FC Basel last season. There is a feeling this tournament has come at exactly the right time for this squad and they definitely possess the collective ability to spring a surprise.
Zach: I think maybe Belgium could spring a surprise this time round. With so much young attacking talent in the likes of Michy Batshuayi, Kevin De Bruyne and Yannick Carrasco, I think they will be hard to ignore.