Euro 2016 Group E by DamirJ
A day before the start of Group E, we'll try to make a breakdown of four teams playing in this group. National teams of Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Ireland will be playing here, making surely one of the strongest groups in this year's edition of European championship.
Belgium was unable to impress so far in the European championships, having one of their biggest success so far back in 1972, when the team reached semifinals as a host nation. However, top performance came back in 1980 when they managed to reach the finals in Italy, losing to West Germany 2:1. From then on, they were present only at two EUROs, back in 1984 and 2000, both times being eliminated in the group stage. This year, they are returning after being absent in last three events.
As expected, Belgium didn't face many problems in the qualifying phase, as their only significant opponent was Wales. They finished having two points more than Wales, ending the path with 7-2-1 record, being third best attacking side in all groups with twenty-three goals scored. The team didn't score only in one match, in Cardiff where they suffered narrow 1:0 defeat to Wales. As for the friendly matches later on, team had 3-1-1 record, losing only to Portugal. During the final phase of preparation, they recorded victories over Switzerland and Norway, drawing to Finland in between. The team created opportunities with ease, but at the same time, showed huge gaps at the back.
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jean-Francois Gillet (Mechelen)
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham, Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jason Denayer (Galatasaray), Jordan Lukaku (Oostende), Thomas Meunier (Club Brugges), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Christian Kabasele (Genk)
Midfielders: Moussa Dembele (Tottenham), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid)
Forwards: Mitchy Batshuayi (Marseille), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Divock Origi (Liverpool).
Many people would say that Belgium has very qualitative roster and one of the best at EURO< filled with many talent - probably one of the best in their history. Moreover, they are currently ranked at second position at the FIFA rankings, being at the top till March 2016. Quality in midfield and attack is obvious, while the team will need improve further in the defense after many players canceling due injuries. The side will miss Kompany, Lombaerts and Engels who had to cancel due injuries and such absentees will represent huge blow to their defense. This is a position for coach Wilmots where he will need to use Thomas Vermaelen who is coming from a season full of injuries, while even twenty years old Jason Denayer will need to be put on the field, still lacking experience at such level. Meanwhile, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld will be used as full backs, although they usually do play as central defenders in their clubs. Of course, position of goalkeeper will be sure for Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea, since he remains surely one class above Mignolet and Gillet, his substitutions. Belgium has plenty of superior players in the midfield, since Nainggolan and Witsel will be the duo in central midfield, while Fellaini and Dembele will bring valuable solutions as well. Their attackers can make damage out of nowhere, as Lukaku, Batshuayi, Benteke and Origi can all perform well out of nowhere. The team has now matured well and almost half of their players are playing in Premier League (eleven out of twenty-three), which speaks enough about their quality. Manager Marc Wilmots:
Marc Wilmots was well known players, mostly known for his spell at Standard Liege and Schalke during 1990s, who played 70 matches for the national team of Belgium. As a coach, he began as an interim manager for Schalke, completing the next season as a coach of St Truiden. He was assistant of Belgian national team from 2009 till 2012, taking over the position of a head coach in 2012. Belgium had a nice path at World Cup 2014 in Brazil, losing to Argentina after overtime.
There's no doubt that this team is one of the strongest at the tournament, however it still remains to be seen how the team will react during it. They have plenty of quality in midfield and attack, however the team showed many defensive gaps in friendly preparation. Absence of Kompany and other defenders are crucial and Wilmots will need to gable with making usually central defenders as full backs in order to have compatible defense.
These problems might be the reasons why Belgium won't go very far into this year's EURO. Easy or difficult, they should progress further in the group, but odds of around 2.10 for Belgium to be the first nation in group doesn't have plenty of value. The team will probably be playing in the knockout stage either against Portugal, either against Germany, so no doubt that they won't have an easy walk from then on. With Lukaku, Hazard and the rest of the stars, Belgium to score over 6.5 goals in the tournament seems very possible with odds of 1.83.
EURO is probably not the primary thing for Italians traditionally, especially when we compare their achievements in relation to the World Cup competition. They are fourth times champions of the World, while the team lifted only one European title. Their only title dates back in 1968 when the Italians also hosted the tournament. In recent times, they are finalists twice, in 2008 and 2012.
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Federico Marchetti (Lazio), Salvatore Sirigu (PSG)
Defenders: Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham United), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
Midfielders: Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Tiago Motta (PSG), Stefano Sturaro (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Federico Bernadeschi (Fiorentina), Stephan El Shaarwy (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Bologna)
Forwards: Simone Zaza (Juventus), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Eder (Internazionale), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli).
Italy was one of four teams in qualifiers that finished the path without defeat (with 7-3-0 record). Their group wasn't very difficult and the team didn't have many problems, even though it was obvious that the side wasn't going through the greatest period in history. They started with three victories, followed with three draws, but then finished the path with four consecutive victories. They only failed to get a victory against placed Croatia, but the team had no problems against Norway, Bulgary, Azerbaijan and Malta, losing only points in Sofia. As for the friendly matches, they had 0-2-2 record, but improved in most recent games with victories over Scotland and Finland, improving in the defense mostly.
Italy traditionally does well at big events, while they didn't look that reliable in qualifiers, but usually the side restores good performances at the biggest possible events. Buffon will once again be between the posts as his position remains unquestionable. Defensive lineup looks really sure and reliable, with trio of Bonucci, Chiellini and Barzagli all playing in Juventus.
Their coach prefers 3-5-2 formation, so the trio of central defenders is probably very well known. Full backs/midfielders should be Darmian at the left and Candreva on the right, both having a role in defense as well.
Probably the team will have bit of a problem when selecting the midfield area, since players like Piro, Montolivo and Marchisio didn't get invited due to different reasons. Only sure player in the midfield seems to be De Rossi, while Motta and Giaccherini seem sure as well. Alessandro Florenzi might be given a free role in front of them, while Jorginho and Bonaventura also stood without a position in national squad, despite being selected in the best Serie A team this season.
Most likely their lineup will consist of Eder from Inter and Pele from Southampton with the second one scoring eleven times this season in Premier League, while Eder scored only once from January on. Attackers like Zaza and Immobile will be sure substitutes, while Insigne had pretty decent season with Napoli, but usually plays as winger, a position that is not actually included in a 3-5-2 formation which is preferred by Conte.
Manager Antonio Conte:
Antonio Conte firstly made a great career as a football player, playing only in Lecce and Juventus, as he won everything while playing for the Italian most successful side. As a coach, he started in lowere leagues with Arezzo, Bari, Atalanta and Siena, while he took over Juventus back in 2011 and served there for three years, winning Scudetto for three times. He is one of the first coached to use 3-5-2 formation, making total success with it. It's well known now that Conte will step down as a national team coach after Euro, already signing a contract with Chelsea, finally making a move abroad Italy.
It's no doubt that Italy is a very big name in the group, however their roster seems significantly poorer than in previous big events. Their defensive lineup is big plus for the Italians, since the defense of Juventus is guarantee that there's plenty of stability. Big problem remains with midfield, as the absence of great names is obviously narrowing their chances. Atmosphere is also not at the highest possible level and the expectations are low this time, however that might be kind of a plus for them.
Italy to reach the quarter-finals might be an option with odds close to 2.00. As for the group stage, they should be able to quality easy or hard, especially if they stay undefeated in the first game against Belgium. Grazziano Pelle to be their first goalscorer might be considered, with odds of around 3.75 being valuable.
Sweden participated at EURO for the first time back in 1992, when the team also hosted the tournament and reached the semifinals losing to Germany. They didn't qualify for EURO back in 1996, but from the on, the team is constantly present. Their biggest achievement since then remains quarterfinals in Portugal in 2004. The Scandinavians are actually yet to win a knockout stage game for now.
Many people expected Sweden to have an easy task in the qualifiers for the European championship, since there were no really big names in their group, while Austria and Russia looked like most dangerous sides. However, the team didn't do particularly well, only finishing third in the group behind these two nations and above Montenegro, Liechtenstein and Moldova. The team played in additional barrage against Denmark, winning it 4:3 on aggregate result. As for the friendly matches, they had six of them, with 2-3-1 record. In most recent games, they had a goalless draw against Slovenia and a 3:0 victory over Wales.
Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (Kasimpasa), Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Patrik Carlgren (AIK)
Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (Copenhagen), Erik Johansson (Copenhagen), Pontus Jansson (Torino), Victor Lindelof (Benfica) Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Martin Olsson (Norwich)
Midfielders: Jimmy Durmaz (Olympiakos), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow), Erkan Zengin (Trabzonspor), Oscar Lewicki (Malmo), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig) , Kim Kallstrom (Grasshoppers)
Forwards: Marcus Berg (Panathinaikos), John Guidetti (Celta Vigo), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris), Emir Kujovic (Norrkoping).
Sweden now has a fairly experienced squad, but at least one player in every line to be over thirty years old and there's no debutant in their squad this time. Of course, all eyes will be set on striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic who is, without any doubt, their biggest star.
Formation used will surely be 4-4-2, with goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson being sure between the posts. Goalkeeper of Kasimpasa is a players with most caps int he roster, 129 till now. Lustig, Granquist, Lidelof and Olsson will be their defensive four with three of them having more than 30 caps for the team, while youngster Lindelof remains one of the most talented Swedes around.
Ekdal from Hamburg and Kallstrom from Grashoppers are sure duo in the midfield, while EKdal had some fitness problems and might be replaced by Hiljemark from Palermo in case he is not ready for the first game. Durmaz and Forsberg should be their options on the wings.
In attacking line, there's no question that leader and their most famous player Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be number nine, most likely attacking the opponent together with Marcus Berg from Panathinaikos.
Manager Erik Hamren:
He began his coaching career from lower leagues and made a leap in his career back in 1995 when he took charge of AIK, with which he won two Cup competitions, before moving to Orgryte in 1998. After some years, he moved to Aalborg, winning the title in 2008 and later on took charge of Rosenborg with which he won two championships, in 2009 and 2010. He is at the national team head coach position since 2009, now arriving at EURO for the second consecutive time, but is also announced that he will step down as a coach after EURO.
Their roster is pretty experienced, but surely lacks quality and only name that really stands out of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic to be their top goalscorer with odds of around 1.50 has no value at all, but does reflects the real image of a team. It will be difficult for them to break the defense of Italy and Belgium and for sure, their real chance stands with the first game against Ireland. Odds of around 2.80 for Sweden to end up third might be considered.
Ireland is having almost always poor present in the final events of big competitions. Only time when they reached the knockout stage was back in 1990 at the World Cup held in Italy. Regarding EURO, this will be their third time in the history, having 1-1-4 record so far in the group stage. Still, this will be their second consecutive presence at EURO, after the team failed to show something positive in a 0-0-3 record four years ago.
From the beginning of qualifiers, Ireland had to work hard for their position at EURO, since the nation got drawn in a really difficult group together with current World champions Germany, but also rising powers like Poland and Scotland and finally a bit modest sides Gibraltar and Georgia. Nevertheless, they finished third in the group with 5-3-2 record, taking the position that would lead them to additional play-offs against Bosnia and Herzegovina, the opponent that they won with a 3:1 aggregate result.
After that, the team played four friendly matches, with 1-2-1 record. Team showed many faces, with last two matches being a 1:1 draw against Netherlands and a 1:2 defeat to Belarus, both games played in last two weeks.
Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Stoke), Darren Randolph (West Ham), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday)
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Derby), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Richard Keogh (Derby), John O'Shea (Sunderland), Shane Duffy (Blackburn), Stephen Ward (Burnley), Robbie Brady (Norwich)
Averages: Aiden McGeady (Everton), James McClean (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke), James McCarthy (Everton), Jeff Hendrick (Derby), David Meyler (Hull), Stephen Quinn (Reading), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich), Jonathan Walters (Stoke)
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Shane Long (Southampton), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich).
Their roster seems quite stable and unchanged for many years, with Robbie Keane standing out as most known and experienced player. He is now already thirty-six years old, playing in America for last four years. At the same time, he is the only players who works outside England while other most experienced players surely being Shay Given (goalkeeper) and Joshn O'Shea and Wes Hoolahan, defender and midfielder.
Most likely only the latter two will be in real plans for original lineup, while their manager almost usually prefers 4-3-3 formation, something changing it to 4-3-1-2. This means he mostly cares of the development of midfield. Darren Randolph from West Ham should be between the posts, while the defense will need to rely on speed of their full backs, Coleman at the right and Brady at left. Central defensive duo should be O'Shea and most likely Clark.
Glenn Whelan is surely in the midfield, while Hendrick and McCarthy look sure in front of him. Their biggest name and biggest star, Robbie Keane is expected to be on the bench. Shane Long from Southampton and Jonathan Walters from Stoke will most likely be their attacking duo, first one scoring ten times this season in Premier League and the second once half less.
Manager Martin O'Neill:
Martin O'Neill had a great career as a football player, making his name in Nottingham and taking two European trophies as a player. Since 1987 he started coaching clubs and became widely known for three league title won with Celtic with five years of his guidance. He also set on the bench of Aston Villa and Sunderland, before he got promoted to the position of national head coach of Ireland back in 2013. Worth saying is that well known name Roy Keane is his assistant here.
The nation will be playing at EURO only for the third time in their history and overall, goes here with little expectations. It will be really difficult for them to qualify from the group, not only because their potential is limited, but also because they are drawn in a really difficult group. They can't be compared to Italy and Belgium, while Sweden also appears to be superior. Experience is not missing from their roster, but they are surely lacking quality.
I can't see them getting a victory in the group, so Ireland under 3 points with odds of 2.00 remain valuable option for me. Exclusion in the group stage with odds of 1.61 might also be worth taking.