I’m going to cut straight to the point…
I think France will be lifting the trophy come the end of Euro 2016. Not only because it’s on their own turf, but due to the ridiculous wealth of genuine footballing talent at the top end of the pitch mixed with the experienced professors of the game at the back.
They showed exactly this in last night’s opening battle against a dogged Romania, when they were able to leave out footballing geniuses in Martial, Coman and Cabaye whilst still able to name a starting XI featuring Payet, Pogba and Griezmann. Not to mention the likes of Lacazette and Benzema who didn’t even make the squad.
And then they have their Professors of Football at the back. Hugo Lloris – the French captain and one of the best ‘keepers in the world. Patrice Evra – consistently been there and done it at the very highest level for United and Juventus. Koscielny – one of the most underrated CBs in the Premier League. Again, this is without Varane and Sakho who would probably have been the starting duo had they made the final 23.
They say it’s the squad that wins a major tournament. I don’t really agree with this as I think it’s probably only 14 or 15 players that do – not the entire 23 – but when you look at the home nation’s squad, the mind boggles.
This isn’t to say England aren’t in with a shout.
In fact, I honestly think that we will bounce back from the utter embarrassment of the 2014 World Cup, where we failed to get out of the initial group stages, by reaching the semi-finals this time round. Who knows, maybe even beyond…
It’s only our own pessimism as English fans that’s holding us back from believing in something that could be really special. We’ve gone through a stellar qualifying campaign of 10 wins out of 10, 30+ goals scored and only 3 conceded. Being the negative and reluctant fans that is English are, many were quick to shoot down this accomplishment by stating we only played lesser opposition in the group.
Well, how do you overcome this?
How about by beating teams such as France, Germany and Portugal in the post-qualification friendlies? That’s exactly what England did, as well as victories against Turkey and Australia, with only a minor blip against the Dutch tarnishing a near-perfect post-World Cup record.
If any other team had posted the string of results that England has, not to mention boasting two in-form strikers who have scored 49 goals between them this season (unfortunately we can’t all have a Cristiano Ronaldo who scores that many on his own), then we’d be sitting back thinking ‘F*** me, they’re good’.
So why dare to dream?
I like Roy’s squad. Actually, scrap that. I love it. People who are moaning about the lack of defensive cover need to get over it. Dier can play CB, Milner can play RB, full backs can play either side. We will be fine. Earlier I spoke about the talent in the French squad in attack, but England aren’t without their own Footballing Masters. Wilshere is one of the most technically-gifted players England has produced in the past decade. On his day, Sterling can get any defender falling on their arse. Rooney can pick a pass from one end of the pitch to the over – not forgetting he’s scored over 50 international goals. We’ve got a great chance.
The best of the rest?
Germany and Spain are hard to look past when contemplating who will join the French and the English in the semi-final line-up. Neither of the aforementioned are in the scintillating form that England are in, but write them off at your peril. Even without Reus in the squad, Germany are the current World Champions and have had the the nucleus of that squad together for several years now. Then there’s Spain who couldn’t find room for Mata or Costa in their 23, and although losing to Georgia last time out, they will be right on it come their first game.
Btw, what a team you could make from those players missing out!
Ignoring these four favourites, you come to Portugal, Italy and Belgium who all boast some wonderful footballers, but I can’t see them causing too many problems. Ronaldo makes Portugal a very dangerous team, and when there’s someone as gifted as Moutinho supplying him, they will be a threat. This is probably one of the weakest Italy squads in a long time and although they’re going through a transition period having lost the likes of Pirlo, having 4 of Juventus’ defence in the starting line-up will certainly make them a hard team to beat. Finally we come to Belgium. Some unreal talent in Hazard, De Bruyne and Witsel, but they haven’t found a way of gelling as a unit.
So there you have it, my Euro 2016 preview and predictions. France to win. England, Spain and Germany to make up the semi-final line-up. As for the rest of the British teams: only Wales have a chance of getting out of their group but they’re very much a one-man band.
All that’s left for me to say is to encourage you to be more optimistic, support the boys throughout and enjoy the footie.
Three lions on the shirt…..