By Grady Bruch, Senior Sports Analyst
France not only will get to host the tournament but also have one of the softest groups. France has received the worst team in the whole tournament, Albania, who should be a walkover for every team in the group. Albania is only in the tournament because they played in such a poor qualification group. France’s biggest challenge will be the country southeast of them, Switzerland. Many wouldn’t even say this game is a challenge as Switzerland’s best player, Xherdan Shaqiri, wouldn’t be in the starting eleven for France. The final team that France will face is Romania. Romania didn’t make the 2012 Euro and barely slipped their way into this year's euro and couldn’t even beat out Northern Ireland in their qualification group. France will likely walk through the group stages with ease and win the group. A place in the round of 16 is theirs if they perform well.
Iceland grabbed a spot in debatably the easiest group in the European Cup, group F. Easily the softest team in pot 1, Portugal, grabbed group F also. Portugal is a very talented country, but for the huge amount of talent such as Pepe, Moutinho, and Nani, they seem to rely heavily on Cristiano Ronaldo. Portugal seems to be on the decline at the moment with at least 9 starters are 29 years or older and likely past their prime, including Ronaldo. Iceland could likely find a way to upset the Portuguese. Although Austria is highly rated by Fifa, they aren’t exactly the most dangerous team to play. David Alaba is the only Austrian who plays in the Champions League and most Austrians are on lower quality teams. Hungary will be a very fun team to watch especially against one of their biggest rivals, Austria. Although Hungary is a tough team they don’t seem to be a huge threat to the Icelandic squad. Even though Iceland isn’t a great team by any standard, a group like this could very easily see them into the final 16.
Having Robert Lewandowski is enough to win you a game against anyone. But these match-ups should have Polish fans jumping for joy. Germany is always a threat, but Poland is one of only 2 teams who have beaten the Germans in the last 5 years, the other being Ireland. Speaking of Ireland, Poland gets to take on the other Irish. Northern Ireland is likely the weakest team in group C. Northern Ireland topped the worst group in qualification including a country you’ve probably never heard of (Faroe Islands), a country you didn’t know played soccer (Finland), and a country with no money (Greece). Northern Ireland should be a simple push over, especially compared to their neighbors to the south. Poland's final challenge will be a battle against Ukraine. Ukraine is a very special team because most of their national team players only play club soccer in Ukraine and can mostly be found on Dynamo Kiev or Shakhtar Donetsk. The game against Ukraine will be the decider on who advances to the round of 16, but it is likely Poland pull off the win.
For a country known for their luck, their national soccer team can’t seem to catch any luck. The Irish have jumped out of the oven and landing straight in the frying pan. After facing off against the world champions Germany, the hottest player on the planet Robert Lewandowski, and arch-rivals Scotland all in the same qualifying group. Somehow they survived that challenge, but now they have managed to receive the worst situation imaginable. Their group contains the number 1 team in the world according to Fifa, Belgium. The group also has the best team out of pot 2, Italy. Lastly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is in their group, enough said. Ireland already had a very small chance of advancing to the knockout stage, but now the idea of them in the knockout stage is as unlikely as finding a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Wales didn’t quite see the unluckiness of Ireland but still didn’t exactly get what they were looking for. Wales head coach Chris Coleman didn’t want to play England. With a match against England, not only will Wales see talented players everywhere, but also extreme media attention. Media attention could be more deadly for Wales than any team they will play in the group. The Dragons will already be overwhelmed by their first major tournament in 57 years, and the extra media attention will not help the nerves of the players. Russia could also be problematic as Russia has grown better and better on the soccer pitch in recent years. Russia has also never lost to the Welsh in a major tournament. Slovakia will be a small test for Wales, but Wales must get all 3 points out of that match
The Turkish national team aren’t very fond of playing Croatia in the last couple of years. Croatia has knocked Turkey out of the previous 2 European Cups in 2008 and 2012. Turkey will also have to face off against the 2008 and 2012 champions of Europe, Spain. Spain is ranked 3rd in the world according to Fifa and 2nd in Europe. Spain also has won the most European Cups with 3. Lastly, Turkey will take on the Czech Republic who won the qualifying group over Turkey for the 2016 European Cup. Turkey has lost 4 of the 6 meetings and has only defeated the Czech’s once. With such a challenging group ahead, Turkey is going to need to squeeze the most points possible out of Spain and will need a win against the Czech Republic if they want to see the knockout rounds. Even if the Turks find their way into the knockout rounds it is likely they will see the World Cup winners Germany in their first game. Turkey has a tough road ahead if they want to compete well in this year's, Euro.