It’s finally here!!! The European Championships start today in France and it should be a fantastic tournament. I probably won’t speak to my wife for just over a month now which she’s probably happy about! On a personal note I’m really excited as my son is now 8 and loves his football and this is the first tournament that he’ll be really into which I’m excited about.
With UEFA extending the number of teams from 16 to 24 we as fans get more games but will it be to the detriment of the Euros quality wise? It could be. I always thought the Euros were actually better than the World Cup as you had 8 then 16 outstanding European teams competing whereas now with 24 there are some “lesser” teams involved which is great for those countries fans but might mean there are one or 2 heavier defeats for teams and more predictable results than in previous Euros.
With the tournament being held in France, security is a concern. Following the terrorist attacks in Paris last year there has always been a concern that something might happen during this football tournament. The French security authorities are doing everything they can to minimize the risk but unfortunately the risk factor can never be zero so the fans travelling to France need to be vigilant. French authorities have told local restaurants and bars not to show games on TV so that they get all the fans in one place within the designated Fanzones which will then be easier to secure. My concern, especially with some of the idiotic England fans is that they get drunk and think they can take on 10 men even with machine guns and so end up in very vulnerable situations. Surely even the football dunces can grasp the fact that its not other football hooligans they need to worry about but potential terrorists who won’t just sing songs back at them! If the fans listen to the Authorities they will be ok.
Back to football matters and I don’t really feel there is an outstanding team in the tournament. There are some very good sides but not one you could say was in the class of France 2000 or Spain 2012.
I personally believe only 3 teams have a chance of winning it though. France, Germany and Belgium. I don’t think Spain or Italy can win it despite being great tournament teams.
France being at home are my favorites for the title. I don’t think they are a fantastic side but in Pogba, Griezmann and Lloris they have 3 world class players and a bunch of very very good players. They aren’t the greatest defensively but with the home support I believe they will be lifting the trophy in Paris in July.
If France and Germany avoid each other in the knock out stages then they would be my 2 finalists.
Germany are obviously the World Champions and have some fantastic players but they haven’t been great since the world cup. Having said that the Germans are one of the greatest tournament teams in football history so regardless of qualifying or friendly results I think we’ll see a strong German showing again.
Belgium are a strange outfit. They probably have on paper the strongest squad in European football but they appear to find it difficult to gel as a team. I was disappointed with them in the last World Cup and they have been a bit iffy in the friendlies leading up to this tournament. Vincent Kompany will be a big miss for them but the squad is still pretty formidable. If they can click as a team then they have a real chance of winning it. In Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne they have 2 match winning talents. I think they’ll make at least the semi finals.
The holders, Spain, are nowhere near what they were 4 years ago when they were hailed as the greatest international team the world has ever seen. I always believed that Xavi was the main man and now he has retired there is a big hole to fill. Del Bosque has left some big names out of the squad and selected some young up and coming talent especially in midfield but I think this tournament will come 4 years too soon for them and I see them making the semi finals at best.
Of the others, I don’t think Italy and Portugal are as strong as they used to be but will still make the knock out stages.
England? Quarter finals at best again I’m afraid. I see a lot of pundits getting excited about England’s chances of winning it. Yes they have some exciting players especially up front but with a dodgy defense and a so so midfield I don’t think they have a chance of lifting the trophy. If Roy Hodgson gives up on his obsession with accommodating Wayne Rooney then England may have a chance of the semi finals. The formation he selected against Portugal was just bizarre and at one point Kane and Vardy were playing like wing backs just to be able to play Rooney as the striker. I would leave Rooney out. Kane or/and Vardy have to be the main strikers this tournament. I don’t think Rooney is good enough to play midfield at an international tournament and is only slightly better in the number 10 role just behind a striker. Rooney for me is a striker and that’s the only position he can play and we have better options in that position. Do I think he will leave Rooney out? Not a chance and that’s why I don’t see England going beyond the quarters, in fact I can see a last 16 exit if the team revolves around Rooney.
It’s great to see Wales and Northern Ireland back in there and with the Republic of Ireland qualifying it was almost a full house of UK and Irish teams but unfortunately (I say that with a massive tongue in my cheek!) Scotland let the side down and bombed out!
Surprise package? I’m going for Slovakia, they have some solid players and added into that is the brilliant Marek Hamsik who can change a game. Not saying they are going to win it but I think they could produce a shock result or 2 which might be bad news for England and Wales. Having said that if Wales can keep it tight then I also see them producing a shock due to the magic of Gareth Bale. What at first glance seemed a pretty easy group for England I suddenly see as slightly “iffy”.
Star players? I see 3 guys who could well light up the tournament. Antoine Griezmann, Kevin De Bruyne and Anthony Martial. I think the best player in the tournament is Gareth Bale and if he clicks for Wales then anything can happen provided they keep it tight at the back but that might prove difficult.
Cristiano Ronaldo is obviously in the Portugal squad but he’s been struggling with injuries lately and even though he scored the winning penalty, he didn’t look himself during last months Champions League final. He still scores lots of goals but is becoming less of a threat outside the box. He’s an all time great and if he’s 100% fit then he might do something special as I think this will be the last major tournament we will see him in at anything like his peak.
All in all I think it promises to be a tournament to remember for all the right reasons. Football really is the beautiful game and these major tournaments are so special that I feel like a kid again waiting for it to kick off.