Featured Friday: The Pundits’ Favourites for EURO 2016

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With EURO 2016 only 7 days away, it is time for fans to start thinking about who might go on to win the European continental tournament in France.

If you’re a betting man, unlike myself, then you have likely done all the calculations already, if not, then stick around and see who The Pundits (www.thepundits.co.za) back as their four favourites to win the tournament.

After a very exciting and surprising, in many ways, club Football season, EURO 2016 have already dished up some surprises of itself. We’ve seen a couple of in-form players who have been left out of squads while others were unlucky in picking up injuries in the build-up to the showpiece in France.

Having had a look at the 22 teams taking part this year, I identified four teams, in no particular order, who I believe has what it takes to go on and win it.

Belgium

Belgium

Since the emergence of their young crop of players, I’ve really started to like the look of Belgium. They have done extremely well in unearthing talent like Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku, to mention only a few.

With a good string of results, Belgium recently shot to the pinnacle of the FIFA World Rankings but have recently been knocked down to second, with Argentina taking the number one spot.

Coming into this tournament, they are the best ranked team (According to the FIFA World Rankings) but I do feel there are two things that might catch them out in France.

This Belgium side don’t have a lot of international tournament experience and I felt that showed at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. Personally I believe that we will only see the very best of what this team has to offer at the 2018 FIFA World Cup when certain players have matured and gained more tournament experience.

The second hurdle they need to overcome is the string of injuries they picked up at the back – Captain, Vincent Kompany, won’t make the trip to France while coach, Marc Wilmots, also revealed that Bjorn Engels, Nicolas Lombaerts and Dedryck Boyata have all been added to the injury list.

It is going to be very interesting to see what they do with a make-shift defence as this will put a lot of pressure on their attackers to score plenty of goals.

Star Player: While he had a very slow start to the season, Eden Hazard remains a threat for any defence. His form in the last couple of games for Chelsea was as close to his best that he has been all season and I back him to shine in France.

France

FranceIt has been a while since we’ve seen a French side with some real quality. In-fighting, politics and all-round drama have plagued the 1998 FIFA World Cup winners for a very long time and I believe it all reached boiling point in South Africa during the 2010 FIFA World Cup.

Since then they seem to have sorted things out and have unearthed some very promising talent along the way.

I was quite surprised when I saw Didier Deschamps’ squad as I did not quite realise the amount of talent that France has at the moment. He can rely on some experience through the likes of Patrice Evra, Laurent Koscielny, Yohan Cabaye and Olivier Giroud while the younger crop of players like Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba are likely to shine.

I believe it will be very interesting to see what N’Golo Kante and Dimitri Payet have up their sleeves – both had very impressive seasons at club level and I look forward to see whether they can bring that form onto the international stage.

Star Player: I absolutely love Paul Pogba. After being snubbed by Manchester United, he’s shown great character in improving his game and has become an integral part of the league-winning Juventus setup. I believe he will play a very crucial part in this French team for years to come.

Germany

GermanyDie Mannschaft have become accustomed to be named among the favourites in any tournament they compete in.

Their list of superstar footballers is longer than most and right from Manuel Neuer and Mats Hummels at the back to Mesut Özil and Thomas Müller further up front, their entire team just screams ‘quality’.

The jury is still out on whether Marco Reus was left out of the EURO 2016 squad by Joachim Löw’s choice, or whether the coach’s hand was forced by injury, as he claimed. All in all, I don’t see his absence hurting the team that much.

With their all-round quality, excellent coaching staff and experience of not only competing, but winning major international tournament, I see no reason why Germany cannot go on to win the tournament.

Star Player: While the Germans have a host of attacking talent (Thomas Müller, especially) that could be named here, I believe Manuel Neuer to be an absolute rock in this team. On a lot of levels, he provides the stability and confidence at the back, that allows the players in front of him to be more expansive and to take more risks. One of the bravest goalkeepers I have ever seen, and always a pleasure to watch.

Spain

Spain

Another team that always seem to be on the list of favourites, the Spanish once again assembled a very talented squad for EURO 2016.

Spain probably provided the biggest shocks when their squad was announced with Vicente del Bosque deciding to leave Diego Costa and Juan Mata at home. Maybe more surprisingly, or to me at least, was Fernando Torres. The in-form striker has hit a rich vein of form after his well-documented slump since leaving Liverpool and I thought the coach might want to take advantage of that.

Interesting enough, a couple of England-based players made the squad – in the past it seemed like Del Bosque never quite trusted them to play his style of football.

While they have a cracking team on paper, it does feel like other teams have started picking Spain out and have found ways to stop their tiki-taka style of play. I thought they were brilliant up to EURO 2012, but with teams learning how to beat them, they might need to refine their style and bring something different to the table. Having said that, if Iniesta has a good tournament, anything is possible for this Spanish team.

Star Player: David de Gea has had two amazing seasons between the sticks at a struggling Manchester United – their defence has not been the best but De Gea almost always seems up to the task. Opposition strikers will no-doubt have a tricky time trying to find the net past him.

While these would be my teams to put money on, I always enjoy a good upset as well. If I had to pick one team to cause the upset, it would be Ireland. Maybe not on a tactical point of view, but more from an emotional one.

No matter who wins, I think we’re in for a cracking tournament – superstars will fall, big-name teams will crumble and hopefully, a couple of new stars are born!

Written by @thatWallace from www.thepundits.co.za

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