Euro 2016 Group E Preview
The Group E favourites are fairly hard to call with all four teams being capable of some brilliant performances. Is this the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’?
However, Belgium are considered to be up there with the favourites of the tournament and even more so after the FIFA World Rankings placed them as the highest ranked European team. Even so, I’m sure Italy will be following up close behind them with Sweden and Ireland causing some trouble. This Group will certainly bring us all kinds of action, drama and quality with each individual team bringing their own special qualities.
The biggest loss for Belgium is the fact their leader and captain Vincent Kompany will be out injured for the tournament. Although, they still have enough quality in their squad for the Belgian fans back home to be expecting big things. Two years on from their Quarter-final defeat to Argentina in the 2014 World Cup, the ‘Red Devils’ have certainly got the majority of football hipsters keeping a keen eye on them to go far this summer, with the bookies seeing them as an outsider at 11/1.
Belgium’s key players that will be looking to take their Premier League form into the competition are the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Toby Alderweireld, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard after he finished the season strongly.
Away from the English League, Radja Nainggolan and in particular Yannick Carrasco (the guy who kissed his girlfriend after he scored in the Champions League final) will both also provide the team with a lot of depth when it comes to top European players.
The big question is, will manager Marc Wilmots let his players off the leash?
Italy always do well in European competitions and they did well in Euro 2012, until the final, when even Pirlo couldn’t prevent a 4-0 loss to a Spain, who became the first team to win consecutive European Championships.
This time round they’re certainly a weaker team but that doesn’t mean we should underestimate the Italians. They’re third oldest team in the tournament, trailing behind Ireland and the Czech Republic with an average age of 28.57 years old and you can certainly see that this might hinder them in some ways, due to the lack of youthful teenage exuberance. They haven’t got a Marcus Rashford ;).
The key men for the Italians will obviously be within that experienced spine consisting of Gianluigi Buffon (who will be playing his last tournament), Giorgio Chiellini, Thiago Motta and Graziano Pelle. The Southampton striker has a keen eye for goal and I’m sure he’ll bag at least 3 goals in the competition. The Italians will be keen to finish at least second in the group stages and then see how far they can go from there.
Ireland have the oldest squad within the competition, with an average of 29.39 years old. However, I feel the Irish squad will make the most of their impressive qualification to the tournament, including that massive win over Germany, and will be looking to cause some more upsets. They’ll be aiming for a third place finish to take them into the knockout stages and I’m sure that’d be enough to satisfy the fans.
The key players within the Irish squad are the men that helped them qualify to the tournament in the first place; Shane Long, Robbie Brady and Jon Walters will all play key parts if they stay fit.
Their first game is probably the biggest out of them all as they will be facing up against underdog rivals Sweden on the 13th June. They’ll need a positive result from that one if they’ve got any chance of qualifying further.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s home nation are similar to the Irish due to the fact that they lack the sheer quality that the Italian and Belgium squads both possess. However, even though most of us won’t have heard of the majority of Sweden’s players, they will still prove hard to beat and won’t lie down for any of their group competitors.
The main focus for this team though will be on their use of the big ponytailed man up top – harnessing the Zlatan.
The 34-year-old still has it in his locker and that’s shows in Manchester United’s interest in him as a free transfer. Sweden’s main objective will be to try beat the Irish and grab a point against one of the other teams in the group, that should be enough for at least a best 3rd place route into the knockout-rounds. Then, who knows? The Swedes have pedigree when it comes to the later stages of tournaments – three World Cup semi-finals and a final, and a Semi-Final appearance in the Euros in 1992.
This could be toss-up between Ibrahimović and Romelu Lukaku, but I would probably favour Lukaku if he can replicate some of the scoring form he showed last season. Lukaku will be looking to fight off the other quality strikers Belgium have and seal his first team place up front for years to come.
Who will qualify?
Belgium and Italy will make the top two and qualify into the knockouts, hoping to do some damage in the further stages of the competition. However, as difficult as it is to predict who will make it into the 3rd place route, I’m going for Ireland after they impressed me in their fighting qualification for the tournament.
Villa connection to the group
Do you want the good or the bad first? We’ll start with the ‘bad’ so you have a better feeling at the end of reading this and I’ll quietly mention both Christian Benteke and Martin O’Neill who had fairly impressive spells for Villa in their roles in the last decade.
With Villa’s season going as terribly as it did, there isn’t much claret and blue player representation in this year’s Euros. However, never fear, Ciaran Clark is here to save the day and provide the ‘good’ as the only Villa player at the competition. Let’s hope he can kick on and become a top centre-half for Villa one day, just as Zlatan’s Swedish compatriot and dear friend Olof Mellberg was.
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