The European Championship returns after the 4-year wait, and this time it boasts to better than ever before. 16 teams have turned to 24, and the fun only promises to multiply. But with the tournament only a day away, here are some audacious predictions for the Championships to set the ball rolling.
1. Hosts France to lose before the semis
France are the bookmakers’ favourites to lift the crown on July 10, and rightly so, with some of the best midfielders in the world among their ranks, and the home support playing 12th man. But Pogba and co. could come across either Germany or Poland in their first knockout match of the tournament, and even if they manage to survive there, they may find themselves up against either Croatia, Portugal, Sweden or Belgium. In short, they will not reach the last four of their home tournament, and this is greatly due to their defence.
Having lost Raphael Varane and Mahammadou Sakho before the tournament, France might be starting with Koscielny and Mangala in central defence. Add to that, they have an ageing fullback combo of Evra and Sagna. Robert Lewandowski or Thomas Muller would be hoping to face France at the earliest, and when that happens, the French dream would end right in front of the their teary-eyed home fans.
Boldness Meter: 8.5/10 (France are the favourites for a reason, and might as well go on to lift the trophy, making this one an extremely bold prediction)
2. No Spain or Germany in the finals
The last 2 finals have been contested and won by Spain, while Germany have been semi-finalists and runners up in the previous 2 editions. Spain are the defending European champions, Germany are the World Champions, and they are the second and third favourites going into the tournament. But things haven’t looked as bright and sunny for either of the 2 sides recently. Germany, after winning their 4th world crown, have mellowed down in the last 2 years, with their defence looking shaky and the attack not gelling as it did in Brazil. Spain, on the other hand, saw their downward spiral start with a 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands. The same—well almost—Netherlands side that couldn’t even qualify for this 24-team tournament.
Autumn has turned to winter for many in both the German and Spanish camps, and the effects have started to show. With neither team having a straight-forward group, it will hardly be a surprise to see neither team top their group, and thus complicate matters in the ensuing knockouts.
Boldness Meter: 9/10 (Germany and Spain are serial finalists, teams that have tons of talent, and are always involved in the business end of tournaments. Also if not France, Germany or Spain, who on earth will make the finals?)
3. At least one of Poland, Switzerland, Austria to reach the semi-finals
And one of them to definitely make the final—there I said it. In fact I have gone on and said this for some time now, and it makes me wonder whyis this such a surprise? Austria are 11th in the world, the 6th highest ranked team in the tournament. Switzerland are 14th, 8th highest ranked side in the tournament. Poland, meanwhile, ranked 27th, find themselves with Germany in their group, and they would like to get one over their neighbours--for once in a match which holds importance. Similarly, watch out for Switzerland and Austria to qualify alongside France and Portugal from their groups, and then causing multiple upsets en-route to a semi-final, and even the final.
Boldness Meter: 8/10 (Austria and Switzerland look certain for the quarters, unless they come across some exceptional team they were not ready for. Poland will need a little more luck to go the distance)
4. Belgium to win the whole thing
Belgium have been rising and bubbling, almost in mutiny, to get themselves counted among the big boys. But alas, despite the big names they have on board, not many consider them real heavyweights. That is exactly what could play to their advantage—the scope to sail under the radar.
For instance even England are being considered among the so-called favourites for the tournament. Belgium? Naye, not so much. With Eden Hazard looking like his former best at the perfect time, and a solid backline, Marc Wilmots’ men can cause more than one upset. But will it actually be an upset considering they are #2 in the rankings?
Boldness Meter: 6/10 (Belgium are in a tricky group with Sweden and Italy, but they are widely expected to top that and reach the fag end of the tournament)
5. Italy to be the surprise package
No, not by getting knocked out at the group stages. Antonio Conte’s Italy side are probably one of the weakest Italian teams to ever take the field in a major tournament. But Italy somehow always turn up when the big prizes are up for grabs, and with the lack of expectations this time they can make it to the quarters without much trouble. Also this being Conte’s last assignment with the Italian national side, the former Juventus manager would like to leave the international stage with a grand performance. Only if they can find goals from somewhere.
Boldness Meter: 7/10 (Italy may have been runners-up four years back, but the present squad is really thin on international experience. Anything more than a Ro16 finish will be a bonus)
6. England to finally do well
There are at least 4 teams better than England at the Euros this summer, so reaching the final 4 of the competition would require some exceptional performances from them. Not to mention their so-called golden generation failed to reach the semis of any major, with the 96 Euros being England’s last involvement in a semi-final. Every tournament since has been looked upon at as England’s chance to go the distance, and every tournament they have found a way to disappoint. But this year Roy Hodgson’s men have reason to believe.
Firstly, they are in a relatively easy group. and should have no problems qualifying from it. Secondly, they have two of the best/ most in-form strikers in Europe among their ranks, and that should ensure sufficient goals.
Hodgson’s biggest headache though, would be to fit them along with Wayne Rooney in a proper set-up. Then there is the small matter of fitting in England’s best player at the 2014 World Cup—Raheem Sterling.
Boldness Meter: 7.5/10 (The problem with England is that they are just too malleable a side, and probably don’t believe enough in themselves after constant failures over the years)
7. Lewandowski or de Bruyne to win both the golden boot and player of the tournament awards
The obvious conclusion drawn from that would be that one of Belgium or Poland will have to reach the final. While I think that will happen(as mentioned above), the myth of the best player needing to play the final needs to be busted. Even if Belgium fail to make the final, and fail at the semis, Kevin de Bruyne would still be in a great position to win the POTT. Similarly, Lewandowski, who is arguably the best marksman in the tournament, will carry Poland’s weight on his back, and if they go as far as I expect them to, he will be a strong contender for the big individual awards.
Boldness Meter: 10/10 (The most obvious contenders would be Griezmann, Pogba or Muller even, but that only happens if France/ Germany do well)