The second international tournament out of 3 this summer will begin in France, which is EURO 2016. This tournament generally is considered one of the best tournaments around the world, on par with the World Cup in the eyes of many, as it has most of the top teams in the world. UEFA wanted to have more countries develop their football, so they have extended this years competition to 24 teams as compared to 16 historically, which should make for some great viewing.
Belgium have come into this tournament as the highest FIFA ranked team an the 2nd highest team in the world. They boast a whose who of great talent who are playing in some of the biggest clubs in the world and are now ripe and prime to be in control for the next 8 years. The key players that Belgium will look to rely on to take them through to the next round include Lukaku, Hazard, De Bruyne, Witsel, Vertonghen and Courtois, They have developed well over the years and completely dominated their group, losing just 1 game against Wales, but winning the rest. They only leaked 5 goals during that time, but that has become a challenge as they conceded in all 3 friendlies played now. The momentum coming into the tournament is good, winning 2 and drawing 1 of their warm up games, and with players like Hazard, Lukaku and De Bruyne finding form at the right time, you can expect Belgium to qualify and probably win the group.
Italy and Conte will rely on the typical Italian way of keeping a tight defence with the experience that he carries with the Juventus back 4 of Buffon, Bonucci, Barzagli and Chellini. Italy’s biggest worry is up front where they have a lack of international experience with Pelle, Zaza, el Sharaawy, Immobile and Insigne to deliver the goods. Their form on the club level has been worrisome; and that could translate into some struggle on the international stage. In their warm up games they just played 2 against lowly teams in Scotland and Finland scoring 3 goals only, with just Pelle finding the back of the net of the strikers. Italy have the defence strength along with Danielle de Rossi supporting from midfield, which should help them qualify, but doesn’t look like they will progress further then the round of 16.
Sweden managed to squeeze through the Euros via the playoff route and will be looking to try and make the most of this advantage they have in what could be the last international tournament for their talismanic captain Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan has been over-relied on scoring 11 out of the 18 goals the team has managed in qualifying. His fitness will be a concern for the Swedes due to an on going calf problem. The Swedes will need to rely on Guidetti, Forsberg, Larsson in order to help them deliver strong performances if they want to get out of the group. The good thing for Sweden is they kept 2 clean sheets in their 2 friendly games against Slovenia and Wales, which could go in their favor in this group. A lot will rely on how Sweden can upset one of Belgium or Italy to have a chance of qualifying, but I see it difficult if they continue to rely on just one man to help them.
Ireland have done well to qualify to this tournament and did so by taking 4 points of Germany and finishing 3rd in their group. Age does not help the Irish with an older crew compared to most other teams. They struggled in their warm up games, drawing against Holland while losing to lowly Belarus to showcase some of those struggles. Their biggest star Robbie Keane will be the one that they will rely on to deliver the goods, as long as there is enough service from midfielders Hoolahan, McClean, McCarthy and McGeady. Defensively is where they will continue to struggle with either Given, Westwood or Randolph in goal; which will not threaten anyone. The Irish won’t have enough firepower to threaten, nor enough defensive stability to see them through and I don’t expect them to qualify.
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