EURO 2016 Teams are Set: But Who Will Actually Contend Next Summer in France?
The enduring qualification process for EURO 2016 has finally drawn to a close, and we now know which 24 teams will be partaking in Europe’s enticing tournament next summer in France. Since the field has been expanded from 16 teams to 24, many more European nations are participating and their fans are very excited. However, reality will strike very quickly once the games begin and most of these teams will be sent home in disappointment. Which European nations actually stand a chance at contending for this EURO 2016 tournament?
France – For obvious reasons the host country will be headed into the tournament with heavy hearts, but they also have one of the most talented squads on the planet. A veteran core consists of guys like Karim Benzema, Patrice Evra, Hugo Lloris, and Mathieu Valbuena, but it’s the youngsters that could lead the French to glory. Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial, and Antoine Griezmann bring excitement and true potential to the team. As hosts of France 1998 they won the World Cup, and following the terrible Paris tragedy I could very well see the French national team coming together for a run at the EURO tournament in 2016.
Germany – The reigning World Cup champions are loaded with talent, especially in the attacking positions with the likes of Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, Marco Reus, Toni Kroos, and Mario Gotze. They may be light at the back as both Philip Lahm and Per Mertesacker recently chose to retire from the national team, but with their goalkeeper Manuel Neuer arguably the world’s best, Germany will surely contend. Their incisive style of play mixed with the ability to physically dominate always keeps them in contention.
Spain – The Spanish were embarrassed in Brazil 2014, but not too long ago they were clearly the world’s best team. Many of those players are still around like Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, and Gerard Pique. Additionally, stars like Diego Costa, David de Gea, Santi Cazorla, and Sergio Busquets are widely heralded as among the best at their positions. There’s been a bit of turnover, but Spain still dominates possession like no other. If they can dictate the flow of games like they did in 2010, they will likely claim a third straight European Championship.
Belgium – You may be surprised to find that the Belgians sit atop the FIFA world rankings, but their roster is quite possibly the best anywhere. In each position they seem to have an ideal world-class player (as well as a few capable backups). Thibuat Courtois is an exceptional keeper. Vincent Kompany and Jan Vertonghen lead a sturdy backline. Midfield enforcers Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel are physically imposing. Wingers Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne are considered among the best in the world, and they have more than their fair share of prototypical strikers in Romelu Lukaku, Christian Benteke, and Divock Origi. The issue with Belgium is that despite their talent, they have yet to truly click as a team. Spectators always come away from games with the feeling that the team could have done more, even after a 3-1 victory. If manager Marc Wilmots can make these players click, they could win it all. However, as outsiders to the traditional elite nations of soccer, they’ll have to be up to the task.
England – Despite failing tremendously time and time again at major tournaments, England has performed very well in qualification and was the only team to win all of their games. While former superstars Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard are now gone, I say good riddance. Newcomers Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, and Ross Barkley are bringing a new generation of talent firmly into the fold. Also, Wayne Rooney is now 30 years old and is reaching the “make or break” period of his career. This could be one of the last chances for the English legend to truly make a mark at an international tournament. With a great cast of players including guys like Joe Hart, Theo Walcott, and Gary Cahill, the English will definitely have a chance at snagging EURO 2016. Let’s just hope I haven’t built them up too high with this kind of praise…
Italy – I’m going to be honest with you. There is no reason I could presume for the Italians to take EURO 2016. Their form this year has been quite average. Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon are now really old. Mario Balotelli’s once blossoming career has seemingly disappeared. There aren’t any youngsters emerging on the national stage. And yet, you can never count out Italy. They have the uncanny ability to suck the life out of any soccer game, lulling their opponents to a hypnotized dreary state before snatching a late goal off a deflected corner. It’s maddening, and one could accuse them of simply being lucky if it weren’t for the fact that they’ve done this time and time again. As the most disciplined and organized nation to ever play the game of soccer, they often raise their level of play to new heights at these tournaments. You never know when the Azzurri will strike.
One Man Armies
Every once in a while a lone man does the unthinkable. He rises up and puts the entire hopes of a nation on his back, urging his team forward to glory. He’s usually a striker or an offensive wizard of sorts, and he comes along but once in a generation. I’m talking Maradona of Argentina, Ronaldo and Pele of Brazil, Zidane of France. They don’t come around often, but when they do they put on a spectacle the likes of which few has ever seen. While their selfish ways usually disappoint in the end, if one of these guys catches fire (and perhaps gets just an inkling of help from some of the other 10 scrubs playing alongside him) anything is possible.
Sweden – Zlatan Ibrahimovic single-handedly brought Sweden to this EURO 2016 tournament. It will be his last. He surely wants to go out an unlikely champ.
Portugal – Cristiano Ronaldo can do it all. While it’s been nice to see what he’s capable of with a fully functional group at Real Madrid, his Portuguese support often leaves a lot to be desired. Ronaldo may just win EURO 2016 on sheer good looks alone.
Wales – Gareth Bale has brought Wales to the promise land of a first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup. Can he do the unthinkable and lift the trophy after a plethora of unstoppable runs straight at the hearts of his opponents?
Poland – Robert Lewandowski recently scored 5 goals in 9 minutes for his club Bayern Munich. It was incredible. He’s everything you want in a striker, and he’s in the form that suggests he could be the one to dominate EURO 2016.
And so there you have it. One of the aforementioned teams will win EURO 2016. If your country isn’t on the list, I’m sorry, but it’s just not going to be happening. Instead, relish in the success at reaching this tournament and enjoy the spectacle. Fortunately, there is some hope for you. EURO tournaments occasionally are one by teams completely out of nowhere. Denmark took it in 1992, and more recently Greece won the tournament in 2004. Anything is possible after all; it’s just highly unlikely. Either way, France 2016 figures to be an incredible tournament and will be a must-watch event next summer.