If this football season has taught us anything it’s this: Predictions and bookies odds have been thrown out the window.
Host nation France are the bookies favourites to win the Euros, and were my personal favourites as well. The attacking firepower of Griezemann, Pogba, Martial and Payet (just to name a few) shows the unbelievable strength in depth the French have, not to mention stars like Lacazette and Ben Arfa who have been left at home, who would comfortably walk in 75% of teams in the Euros. For months I had been screaming France will win and that Pogba will be the shining star. But over these last few months, my prediction has changed, for one reason only: Injuries. Zouma, Laporte, Varane and Mathieu, all who are some of the best young defenders in world football have been declared injured and are all ruled out of the competition. While Koscielny is a great defender with solid international experience (29 Caps), missing four great centre backs will unquestionably hurt France, particularly in the latter stages of the tournament, against opposition with ‘Killer Instinct’; that only need one chance or one defensive lapse to make you pay.
Then there are the holders; Spain. I believe they will have a solid tournament, but will reach the Semi Final at best. While they have a host of technically gifted players (Thiago, Silva and Iniesta are the first that spring to mind), football has changed vastly since Spain won the Euros in 2012. Tika Taka football is not the trend in football anymore; Pace, strength and counter attacking football is the new trend. Football fans know the 7-0 aggregate defeat of Barcelona by Bayern Munch in 2013 was the beginning of the end for Tika Taka. Then, Netherlands exposed Spain at the 2014 World Cup with the humiliating 5-1 defeat that we all remember. The Spainsh national team has not changed much since then and I believe teams will follow the blueprint set out by the Netherlands. Spain will comfortably exit the group stage, but in the latter stages, midfield players such as Pogba, De Bruyne and Ozil will run riot against a slower Spanish midfield.
I believe Belgium and England have a similar problem. Fantastic individual talent but you will always question if they can play together as a team. Belgium were far from great in the 2014 World Cup and we all remember that England were downright awful in it. A Quarter Final appearance or perhaps, with luck on their side, a Semi Final appearance is possible for these teams, but I do not imagine seeing them lift the trophy on July 10th.
There are a handful of teams which could be seen as ‘Dark Horses’. Teams like Portgual, Wales, Austria and Croatia could have deep runs in the tournament if their superstar players (Ronaldo, Bale, Alaba and Modric) have stand out tournaments and play like superstars. Don’t be too surprised to see one or two of these teams in the Quarter or Semi Final.
But alas, as Gary Linekar famously said; ‘Football is a simple game. Twenty-two men chase a ball for 90 minutes and at the end, the Germans always win.’ I believe this will be true again. While it might not be the most exciting or daring pick, fresh from winning the World Cup, with virtually the same squad, with even more experience, I cannot see anyone else other than Phillip Lahm or Bastian Schweinsteiger (dependant on who captains the team in the final) lifting the trophy. The mixture of youth and experience, pace, strength and passing not to mention the Midas Touch of Thomas Muller up front and the almost unbeatable Manuel Neuer in goal, the Germans have it all. In each and every position, they have a player considered to be top 3 in their position in the world. With the chemistry and confidence they possess, it’s hard to look past Germany.
But after the season we’ve had, it wouldn’t come as the biggest shock if 500-1 outsiders Albania lifted the trophy on July 10th. It might just be worth £1.