EURO 2016 Group A by DamirJ
Few days before the start of EURO 2016 in France, we will try to present overview of the national teams playing it, starting with the breakdown of the first group where the national teams of France who are hosts, but also Switzerland, Romania and Albania will be playing. Might not be the most quality group, but surely one of more interesting this time.
It's been ten years since last success of French national team when the side took the second position at World Cup 2006 losing their finals against Italy. During last two big events, they got eliminated from champions in these competitions later on, suffering defeats to Spain and Germany. They didn't particularly impress during these events, so the European champions in 1984 and 2000 and World Cup champions in 1998, will try to repeat the success as hosts this time.
As a host nation, French national team didn't play qualifiers, so the team only played friendly games for last two years after exclusion from World Cup 2014 in Brazil. They had overall of twenty friendly matches, with different quality of opponents, but one thing is sure. They have present a positive performance in last four matches played, winning all four of them and showing that the team is ready for EURO. Their manager Dechamps tried many players and formations, but the last one he was choosing would probably be the ones he will use the most at such a big event.
Goalkeepers: Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille), Benoit Costil (Rennes)
Defenders: Samuel Umtiti (Lyon), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Patrice Evra (Juventus), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Christophe Jallet (Lyon), Lucas Digne (Roma), Adil Rami (Sevilla)
Midfielders: Paul Pogba (Juventus), Blaise Matuidi (PSG), N'Golo Kante (Leicester), Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle), Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United)
Forwards: Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Dimitri Payet (West Ham), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Kingsley Coman (Bayer Munich), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Tigres).
Big target for the French national side wasn't either the previous EURO, nor the World Cup competition played in Brazil. Everything was planned for this competition as the team now has the highest possible aims, while the federation and manager Dechamps didn't want to challenge the atmosphere and invite Karim Benzema, even though the player has just lifted the Champions League title and surely did look in-form.
The depth in their national team looks amazing in all areas and there's no doubt that the manager will be having a permanent headache when speaking about selecting the starting lineup. It's enough to say that players like Hatem Ben Arga, Kevin Gameiro or Mathieu Valbuena didn't have the position inside the roster.
French coach is almost always insisting on 4-3-3 formation with two variants. As for the goalkeeper position, he will have Lloris as first option and Mandanda as his substitute, both players being completely stable and both would probably be the first option in many other national teams.
As for the position of full backs, things look completely sure there since Sagna and Evra are quite irreplaceable unless they show really poor condition during the tournament. In the center of defense, Laurent Koscielny looks also sure and it will be difficult to get out from the lineup. Biggest question mark would be his partner, since both Rami and Mangala aim for the position, with the player from Sevilla probably having a bit of advantage, at least for the first game.
Midfield should be consisting of a trio and there's no doubt that the most sure player in the center of the field will be Paul Pogba. Player who is obviously at the peak of his career and is surely one of the guys to watch during the competition. Blaise Matuidi should also be starting, while it won't be much of a surprise if we see current champions of English Premier League N'Golo Kante starting as the third midfielder. Schneiderlin and Sissoko are surely players who could give extra depth from the bench and can easily replace someone if needed.
As for the attack, there should be two scenarios. Either Dechamps will opt for classical trio with two wingers, either he will choose maybe a bit more flexible formation without classic number nine, with Grizmann using as a "false" nine. Their game plan will probably be based on stability in the midfield section, while their attacking trio will surely be very mobile one way or another.
Manager Didier Deschamps:
He came in the position of national head coach after EURO 2012 and is surely one of the guys to blame for their performance in Brazil 2014 which was without much success. Anyway, their primary target was making selection for this competition, however in case the team fails here, it's almost sure he won't continue as a head coach. He has shown he doesn't want to play defensive football and has given his own character to the team. Also that he won't tolerate bizarre behaviors, so for this and other reasons, stars like Benzema and Valbuena weren't called.
The big momentum has arrived for France and all eyes are set on them. They are now having a good roster, maybe even more important very deep, while being host nation should only give them extra boost. Fairly they are set as one of the first favorites to win the tournament. As for the group stage, they are clear favorites to win the group and odds of around 1.35 justify that. Odds of around 2.60 to win all three matches might be worth considering, since their games against Albania and Romania shouldn't be problematic.
Team didn't have much of success in recent times, since they were eliminated during the group stage in 2008, while they missed from the competition four years ago. However, the team showed their quality in the previous World Cup edition when they progressed the group stage and were eliminated by later finalists from Argentina, only after a goal scored in the last phase of extra-time.
Switzerland qualified for EURO without much difficulties, easily being second placed side behind England. In previous few friendly matches, coach Petkovic made several changes and the formation was a puzzling one, but everyone remained calm and expressed belief in the team.
Goalkeepers: Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach), Roman Burki (Borussia Dortmund), Marwin Hitz (Augsburg)
Defenders: Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Lang (Basel), Johan Djourou (Hamburg), Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), Fabian Schaer (Hoffenheim), Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg)
Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Watford), Blerim Dzemaili (Genoa), Gelson Fernandes (Rennes), Fabian Frei (Mainz), Granit Xhaka (Arsenal), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke), Denis Zakaria (Young Boys)
Forwards: Breel Embolo (Basel), Haris Seferovic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Admir Mehmedi (Bayer Leverkusen), Eren Derdiyok (Kasimpasa), Shani Tarashaj (Everton).
Switzerland goes into this competition with a really good chance to perform positive and this feeling comes from their rather easy qualifications and good performance back in 2014 at the World Cup.
Yann Sommer will be sure between the posts and shouldn't lose his position in case he remains healthy. In the defense, duo of Lichsteiner and Rodriguez will play important role and surely will be the key of their defense, but also adding some important width in attack.
Midfield should have Xhaka as one of the stars of the team and we can say that offensive quality of players are dominating in their midfield. Players such as Behrami, Shaqiri, Gelson Fernandes or Dzemaili are all somehow oriented on attack and will surely give the side plenty of offensive choices. Behrami and Xhaka look sure, so probably either Fernandez, either Dzemaili will not be playing.
The team will probably be using two wingers and classic striker in their formation and it's something that they will hardly change. Seferovic will be that number nine, even though Derdiyok surely has his chance to take the opportunity during the competition. Shaqiri will be at the one flank, as the team's natural leader and a really big star of the team. The other position might be taken by Embolo as a next big player for Switzerland, either the coach will opt for more experienced Mehmedi from Leverkusen.
Manager Vladimir Petkovic:
Bosnian technician took over control over the national team aright after their performance at World Cup 2015 and brought the nation to France with ease. This is his first job as a head coach of some national team and it seems that he is doing the job correctly. However, first serious test will be in France. He prefers 4-3-3 formation and play offensive football usually with entertaining games.
Bosnian technician has undertaken the national Switzerland after the World Cup in 2014 and brought in the courts of France with ease. This is the first job in the national team and seems to be doing extremely, although the first serious test is the final stage of Euro stadiums in France. Prefers the 4-3-3 and the team plays attacking football usually with quite good results and good football.
Switzerland is in one of their best phases, having also a very good atmosphere and coming from a comfortable qualifications. The team has shown enough quality and qualifying from the group stage with odds of around 1.25 seem reasonable. I can't expect from Romania or Albania to make the problems to France and Switzerland here. Over 4.5 points in group stage with odds of around 2.30 could be a good betting option.
Romania has reached the European championship final event for four times, with the best result being in 2000 when they reached the quarter-finals stage and suffered 2:0 defeat to Italy, side that later on lost in the finals.
Side was undefeated during the qualifying stage with five victories and five draws and relatively easily qualified for the final event. They exploited in the best possible manner that Greece was in terrible condition, while the performance of Northern Ireland didn't surprise them a lot. In the last friendly match, they won over Georgia 5:1, showing that they are in a good condition.
Goalkeepers: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Fiorentina), Costel Pantilimon (Watford), Silviu Lung (Astra Giurgiu)
Defenders: Cristian Sapunaru (Pandurii Targu Jiu), Alexandru Matel (Dinamo Zagreb), Vlad Chiriches (Napoli), Valerica Gaman (Astra Giurgiu), Dragos Grigore (Al Sailiya), Cosmin Moti (Ludogorets Razgrad), Razvan Rat (Rayo Vallecano), Steliano Filip (Dinamo Bucharest)
Midfielders: Mihai Pintilii (Steaua Bucharest), Ovidiu Hoban (Hapoel Be'er Sheva), Andrei Prepelita (Ludogorets Razgrad), Adrian Popa (Steaua Bucharest), Gabriel Torje (Osmanlispor), Alexandru Chipciu (Steaua Bucharest), Nicolae Stanciu (Steaua Bucharest), Lucian Sanmartean (Al Ittihad)
Forwards: Claudiu Keseru (Ludogorets Razgrad), Bogdan Stancu (Genclerbirligi), Florin Andone (Cordoba), Denis Alibec (Astra Giurgiu).
Romania will be playing here with quite an experienced with some touches of youth. Their manager Iordanescu has created a group that gives priority to the defensive tasks and it seems that they are working in a positive way, since the team doesn't concede that easily. As for attack, that part of the game is mainly based on inspiration of individuals and aren't that organized through a system.
Goalkeeper Tatarsanu is sure in the starting lineup, with Pantilimon from Watford being his substitute, but will hardly play. Their duo of central defenders will be Chiriches from Napoli and Dragos Grigore. That part of the team shouldn't be questionable unless there is an injury. Rat as a full back seems sure, as he was used for several months as a integral part of the team without losing the position. Sapunaru either Matel will be used as a right back.
As for the midfielders, Pintilii and Hoban are both over 30 years old, both without a great season in recent years. However, players such as Torje or Stanciu for sure can give attacking options. Younger Nicolae Stanciu might be a player to watch since he comes from a good season and might be the next big player in the country.
As for the attack, it seems that Cordoba's striker Florin Andone will have the starting position, at least at the beginning. Romanians doesn't have a big striker anymore that can do the damage out of nowhere, however Keseru from Ludogorets also isn't naive and might be used as one of the options. Third alternative would be Alibec from Astra after having a good season in Romania.
Manager Anghel Iordanescu:
Iordanescu is serving his third spell as a national team coach, with previous two being from 1993 to 1998 and from 2002 to 2004, after he spent couple of season serving in Saudi Arabia. Romania reached the final event of EURO 2016 mostly thanks to great organization in the defense. They are expected to play fairly conservatively taking only few risks. Formation should be either 4-5-1, either 4-2-3-1.
Romania is a side that is used to play very tight in the defense and not to concede goals, just as every team of Iordanescu. They do have talented players, but with the exception in the center of midfield. Their games might all end as under 2.5 goals, however the team has very little chances to progress the group since France and Switzerland do look way more stronger. This position should be exactly the right outcome and the price seems to be valuable as you can find this option with odds around 2.50.
This will be the first appearance for Albania at any bigger event, since the team never qualified for the World Cup, making a debut at European championship here.
They made a great job during the qualifiers stage and got the second position in a group with overall record of 4-2-2, surely getting some extra push during the qualifiers with the Serbian side being punished after serious incidents in Belgrade against the Albanian side and staying away from the chances to reach the final event. The team looked as one unit during the qualifiers and simply showed great fighting spirit, while the team suffered 1:3 defeat to Ukraine in the last friendly match. Team showed two different faces during the game, being serious opponent in the first halftime and disappointing in the repetition making too many mistakes.
Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani), Orges Shehi (Skenderbeu)
Defenders: Lorik Cana (Nantes), Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone), Mergim Mavraj (Koln), Amir Rrahmani (Split), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Ansi Agolli (Qarabag), Frederic Veseli (Lugano), Naser Aliji (Basel)
Midfielders: Ledjan Memushaj (Pescara), Ergys Kace (PAOK), Andi Lila (Giannina), Migjen Basha (Como), Odise Roshi (Rijeka), Burim Kukeli (Zurich), Taulant Xhaka (Basel), Armir Abrashi (Freiburg)
Forwards: Bekim Balaj (Rijeka), Sokol Cikalleshi (Medipol Baksasehir), Armando Sadiku (Vaduz), Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids).
Whole national team is based mainly on their great fighting spirit and defensive reliability they have. Their quality is minimal for this level and it's hard to see them impressing this time.
Berisha will be sure between the posts as a goalkeeper in comparison to two domestic players, especially after he got the experience for three years being in Lazio and is not expected to lose the position whatsoever. Cana and Mavraj are their defensive duo in the heart of defense, playing for many years in quality European Leagues. No doubt that the coach will be relying on them when defensive tasks are in question. Full back Hysaj will be getting offensive tasks also, with Agolli probably being on the other side, but without much of quality for this level.
As for the midfielders, Kukeli should be playing in front of defensive duo and he will surely be given only defensive tasks. Xhaka and Abrashi will be their options in midfield, after both played in good championships also, German and Swiss and they are the players to give some quality to their side. Gashi and Lila might be the players to watch on the flanks.
As for the top of attack, Sokol Cikalleshi will probably get the first position to start, after his decent season with Turkish side Istanbul Basaksehir. Other options could be Balaj from Croatian champions and Sadiku from Vaduz.
Manager Gianni de Biasi:
Italian technician is a head coach of Albanian team for more than four years as he previously served in smaller clubs of Italian first and second division. However, he is doing quite fine job here, as the Italian managed to raise the level of performances and reached something that the generations couldn't. He made himself a national hero, as he even received Albanian citizenship after success and is considered to be the man who changed football in the country.
Their opponents are quite strong in the group and even Albanian defense will probably prove to be of a weaker quality. All the team needs to do here is to avoid being a boxing bag in comparison to other three. Odds of around 3.20 for Albanians to get zero points might have some value, but goes with a relative risk. They will surely fight in every single game, like they always too, but fourth position looks so realistic this time.