Euro 2016 is here! Dave Tindall looks at current form and past records to pick out the teams worth backing, with Germany tipped to dominate.
History points to Germany
The cyclical nature of sporting dominance suggests world champions Germany are the bet at 5/1 to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup in Paris on July 10th.
Flick back through recent history and the evidence is clear to see. Hosts France won the 1998 World Cup and then triumphed in the Euros two years later. Spain’s golden generation pulled off a sensation Euros-World Cup-Euros treble from 2008 to 2012, and now it’s Germany’s turn to become the third team in recent times to follow up a World Cup victory with a triumph at the European Championships.
Germany, of course, have always been a superb tournament team. They too have performed the same victory sequence, albeit in reverse, when following their win at the 1972 Euros by lifting the World Cup in 1974. They nearly did it again the following decade when emerging triumphant at the 1980 European Championships before losing to Italy in the 1982 World Cup final.
So forget a few iffy performances in qualifiers and recent friendlies because this German team looks primed for more success. The glow of victory in Brazil – an even more impressive feat given that no European team had won a World Cup in South America – is still with them and this is their time right now.
The signs that Spain were handing the baton over came at that last World Cup when they crashed out in the group stage while France look to be starting their journey towards another era of success. To make the leap straight away will be hard even though they have a wonderful record as tournament hosts, winning this event in 1984 thanks to the inspirational Michel Platini (9 goals, 2 hat-tricks!) and the 1998 World Cup.
They’ve reached the last eight of both the 2012 Euros and 2014 World Cup so have a foundation but Germany have a swagger and a belief that the French will find hard to find despite playing in front of their home fans.
Germany play bright and clean football (they had more attempts than anyone in qualifying and also committed the fewest fouls) and, having masterminded their success in Brazil, coach Joachim Low and his staff have the perfect template for further glory.
Everywhere you look they ooze quality, starting from goalkeeper Manuel Neuer through to tournament goalgetter supreme Thomas Muller. But it’s the been there, done that philosophy of the current Nationalmannschaft that, quite simply, makes them the team to beat in France this summer.
Portugal – the underrated tournament specialists
In six appearances at the European Championships, Portugal have made a final and three semi-finals. In the last five (1996-2012) their record reads: Quarters, Semis, Final, Quarters, Semis.
While they’ve struggled in World Cups, the Portuguese have thrived amongst their fellow Europeans and that’s why they have to be taken seriously again.
Here’s a comparison to make the eyes widen. In the entire history of the European Championships, England have only outperformed Portugal once when both teams made the finals. And, yes, that was on home soil in 1996 when the Portuguese went out in the quarters and England reached the semis.
Now take a look at the odds – England are 9/1, Portugal are twice the price at 18/1 – and decide which team is the best value. It’s a no-brainer.
England edged the recent friendly 1-0 but that with a certain Cristiano Ronaldo playing no part. CR7 returned in their warm-up game with Estonia on Wednesday night. The result? A 7-0 win for Portugal, Ronaldo scored twice and then got to put his feet up for the second half.
It’s silly to read too much into friendlies but that 7-0 send-off hardly hurts and Portugal do appear to have one of the easiest groups with Iceland, Austria and Hungary in opposition.
Even if Ronaldo isn’t at his physical peak, he’s a cleverer player now, knows how to pace himself through tournaments better and just has so many ways to score – right foot, left, foot, headers, tap-ins, volleys, penalties.
The supporting cast may not be as familiar as recent years but there is some impressive attacking talent around him and coach Fernando Santos is a pragmatist who knows how to keep it tight at the back. Witness his work with Greece when, against the odds, he guided them out of the group stages of Euro 2012 and World Cup 2014.
Having the class to keep possession, not letting many in and boasting the tournament’s best player looks a great combination and one which could take them all the way.
The outsiders ready to scratch the 12-year itch
The World Cup is a closed shop, the preserve of the elite. Some surprise names sometimes make it to the semis but then the door is firmly shut. Check the list of recent finals. 2014 Argentina v Germany, 2010 Spain v Holland, 2006 Italy v France, 2002 Brazil v Germany, 1998 France v Brazil, 1994 Brazil v Italy, 1990 Germany v Argentina, 1986 Argentina. You get the idea.
But it’s different in this tournament. Not only do the surprise packages make the final, they actually go on and win it! Intriguingly it appears to be on a 12-year cycle so after Denmark’s shock win in 1992 and Greece’s even more outlandish success in 2004, are we due another unexpected name on the trophy?
It would certainly raise eyebrows if the likes of Croatia, Austria or Poland won but at respective odds of 25/1, 40/1 and 50/1 they wouldn’t rank in the Denmark or Greece category.
What we need is something between 80/1 (Denmark 1992) and 150/1 (Greece 2004) and that would bring into play Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Wales, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Iceland, Romania and the Republic of Ireland.
The ones with some pedigree are 80/1 Turkey. The Turks made the World Cup semi-finals in 2002 and also the last four of this competition in 2008. They have a strong domestic league compared to most of the other dark horse nations listed above and perhaps fate is with them too.
Only an 89th minute in their final qualifier got Turkey to the finals in France so that free-kick from Selcuk Inan could be one we look back on as dramatically chasing the course of history.
They have an iconic figure at the helm in the form of Fatih Terim (this is his third spell in charge) and some exciting talents such as Hakan Calhanoglu and Oguzhan Ozyakup while, of course, there’s Barcelona’s Arda Turan.
The feeling in Turkey is that they could be the tournament’s surprise packages and that carries some credence when you look at their results since November 2014 – P16, W12, D3, L1.
Their only defeat in the last 17 months was the recent 2-1 loss to England but there was no disgrace in that. They played well and only conceded the winner seven minutes from time.
If the creative players shine and some luck goes their way, Turkey are this year’s shock makers.
Back Germany to win Euro 2016 at 9/2 (General)
Back Portugal each-way at 18/1 (General)
Back Turkey each-way at 80/1 (General)
Back Portugal to reach the semis at 10/3 (Stan James)
Back Turkey to reach the semis at 12/1 (bwin)