Dark Horses Can Shock Big Guns At Euros
With eight additional teams vying for glory at Euro 2016, this summer’s expanded European Championship look set to be more open than any in recent memory.
Having seen surprise champions Leicester pull off the greatest shock in Premier League history, even competition debutants such as Iceland, Albania and Slovakia will be optimistic of upsetting the big boys over the coming weeks.
Nevertheless, with home advantage on their side and a multi-talented squad to choose from, France are 3/1 favourites to lift the trophy for the third time in their history – and second as host nation following their 1984 triumph.
As ever with the hosts, a lack of competitive qualifiers makes it difficult to judge Les Bleus’ progress over the past couple of years, although impressive friendly wins over the likes of Spain, Portugal and Germany since the World Cup suggest they will definitely take some stopping.
However, Didier Deschamps has lost his best centre-half, defensive midfielder and forward in the past six months and it’s hard to have total faith in the current back-four heading into the competition.
Nevertheless, hosts (and co-hosts) tend to have an excellent record in the European Championships.
Only four hosts since 1980 have failed to reach at least the semi-finals – and France look well capable of continuing that trend this summer. But at 3/1 it’s best to look elsewhere.
Germany (10/3) are bidding to follow both France and Spain by lifting the European title after World Cup success two years earlier. Of the side that ousted Argentina in Rio back in 2014, seven are still Joachim Low’s first-choice starters.
Die Mannschaft haven’t completely convinced since claiming their world champions crown and were wasteful in front of goal during qualification. The Germans are your typical tournament team but their path to the final could be blocked by Belgium and France, according to the market.
Spain’s disastrous performances at the 2014 World Cup have left fans of La Roja pessimistic about the country’s chances of claiming a hat-trick of European Championship titles.
Still, Vicente del Bosque’s boys boast a galaxy of quality across the board and shouldn’t be ruled out at 11/2.
Persistent doubts over who will lead the line – and how effective they’ll be – have led pundits to write off the Spanish but it’s hard to find a more complete side on paper coming into the competition. A tough draw goes against La Roja but they’ll expect to feature in the latter stages.
England parachuted into fourth favouritism following their friendly victory in Berlin back in March. Roy Hodgson’s squad are the youngest at Euro 2016 and supporters look to be back on side after a dreadful World Cup campaign in Brazil.
The Three Lions have been gifted a dream draw and there are now realistic aspirations of a semi-final spot this summer. However, a lack of depth and order to the troubled centre-back and holding midfield role are likely to prove England’s undoing once they reach the business end.
Belgium were the World Cup’s hottest pre-tournament property two years ago but Marc Wilmots’ men failed to spark on the game’s biggest stage.
The Red Devils’ golden generation is back for another bash at major glory and can be backed at 10/1.
But like all nations at Euro 2016, Belgium have their faults. Injuries to skipper Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Lombaerts and Dedryck Boyata have left the backline looking short although Wilmots has now promised to partner Spurs centre-back duo Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen together.
With Kevin De Bruyne and Edin Hazard operating in fluent attacking midfield positions behind lone striker Romelu Lukaku, plus the likes of Axel Witsel and Radja Nainggolan providing protection in the middle, the Red Devils possess an excellent spine. Still, a tough knockout draw and the bland Wilmots are major negatives.
Italy (16/1) are turning up at a major tournament with arguably their weakest squad in generations, making the top six in the outright market easily avoidable. Considering Denmark upset the odds in 1992 and Greece repeated the feat 12 years later, could we be set for another surprise champion in 2016? It’s possible.
Austria (33/1) impressed in home and away World Cup 2014 qualifiers against Ireland and have continued their ascent towards the continent’s top table with a swashbuckling style that stood out en-route to France.
Marcel Koller’s charges collected 28 points from a possible 30 and looked every inch a potential candidate to down one of Europe’s biggest boys when sweeping Sweden aside 4-1 in Stockholm. David Alaba is the country’s biggest star but Das Team are built on the collective as opposed to individual talent.
Austria have been gifted a passable Group F and should the side steal top spot in the pool, the Alpine-outfit will enter the weaker top-half of the knockout stage draw. Of course, this is new territory for Koller’s troops but they’ve showed they possess the style and swagger to merit an each-way interest at the available odds.
Meanwhile, Group F rivals Portugal (18/1) appear unloved and unfancied by the punting public.
But Cristiano Ronaldo and co could easily find themselves in the quarter-finals thanks to a favourable path, like Austria.
The Selecao have progressed from their pool in each of their previous six European Championship appearances and although the defence is obviously getting on, in head coach Fernando Santos the Iberians boast a boss that’s well versed in drilling teams in the art of defensive stability.
Don’t expect Portugal to thrill. The team are built from the back but Joao Moutinho is a class act in the playmaking role and remember this is Ronaldo’s last shot at international glory. With the continent’s best player in attack and a resolute defence to call upon, the Selecao have the tools to win tight matches and are well worth an each-way wager.
Austria to win Euro 2016 @ 33/1 each-way
Portugal to win Euro 2016 @ 18/1 each-way
*Prices correct at time of publication.