The Premier League is over, La Liga is over and, by and large, the club season in Europe's major leagues is over. There is still the small matter of the FA Cup final, Champions League final and play-off finals, but once those games have been and gone, Europe (and increasingly now the world) of football, will turn it's attention to this years European Championship's in France.
Euro 2016 is actually a landmark tournament for the second biggest competition in international football. For the first time, 24 teams will compete in the Euro's, as opposed to 16, the number that had been in use from 1996 up until 2012. This means an extra two groups at this years Euro's, as well as an additional knockout stage. So there will be more games, more players and more teams, but bizarrely no Netherlands, with the footballing powerhouse failing to qualify despite the generous new format.
This is a list of bold predictions, intended to speculate on a number of scenarios which could occur in France but are perhaps not the most obvious or expected. They range from the reasonably probable to the rather more obscure. Of course, given the nature of the list, many of the predictions may not come to pass, but all have been given a great deal of thought, and there could well be a few accurate prediction lying herein. Here are our top 15 bold predictions for Euro 2016:
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15 Spain to Flop Again
Having won three major tournaments in a row (Euro 2008, 2010 World Cup & Euro 2012), Spain's collapse at the 2014 World Cup was well-documented. Twenty-four months on and the Spanish will be looking to right some wrong's, but we're not convinced. It's hard to see the team capitulating like they did in Brazil, but a flop is on the cards once more. Spain have drawn their last two games against Italy and Romania, and despite having a supremely talented squad, their top scorer going into the competition is David Silva, with just 23 international goals.
14 Elsaid Hysaj to Make the Team of the Tournament
At every major international competition a 'less-fancied' player from a 'less-fancied' nation comes out the woodwork to have a fine competition. Our pick for this Euros is Elsaid Hysaj. Whilst Hysaj is by no means obscure, playing his club football for Napoli, he is not quite on the same level as the Cristiano Ronaldo's and Zlatan Ibrahimovic's who typically make up the body of such a prestigious tournament's 'Team of the Tournament'.
What's more, Hysaj is playing for the minnows of the tournament, Albania, but having had a fine season with Napoli, displacing Christian Maggio, we're predicting a big Euros for Hysaj.
13 3 Out of 5 Debutants to Progress
Due to the number of teams participating in the European Championships having gone up from 16 to 24 for this year's tournament, there are no fewer than five nations making their debut at the Euros this summer. These nations are Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Wales. It is our rather bold prediction that three of these countries; most likely Albania, Iceland and Wales, will all progress past the group stages in France.
12 Italy to Crumble Once More
Italy had a dreadful World Cup in 2014, failing to progress from the group stages as Costa Rica and Uruguay progressed. By contrast, the Azzurri actually reached the final of Euro 2012, albeit being thrashed 4-0 in the final against Spain. Heading to France, we suspect a repeat of 2014 is more likely than that of 2012. In their last four games, Italy have lost to Belgium, drawn with Romania, drawn with Spain and been battered by Germany. Their squad looks the worst it has ever been, and their top scorer has a laughable four international goals to his name.
11 England to Entertain
Expectations for England's Euro 2016 campaign are low, it is fair to say, but while the team went out with a whimper in Brazil, they are at least expected to put up a fight in France. In a complete reversal of the last generation, England's weakest areas are now central defence and midfield. In attack, conversely, England are very strong. Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy scored 49 Premier League goals between them this season, and England have a young, energetic and exciting team, who are unlikely to win but highly likely to entertain and score a few goals.
10 Ivan Rakitic to win Player of the Tournament
Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Manuel Neuer, Paul Pogba and Gareth Bale are just some of the star-studded line-up of players who will take to the field at this year's Euro in France. Those five are all among the favourites to win the award, plus more. Ivan Rakitic is not even offered as a bet, falling below the 50 favourites which go as far as the 500/1 odds offered on Kyle Lafferty. It's fair to see this is a pretty bold call then, but we're predicting a great tournament for Croatia and for the Barcelona man to be at the heart of that.
9 Portugal to Reach Semi-Final or Final
The Euro 2004 finalists, who lost at the final hurdle to underdogs Greece on that occasion, we believe are a good bet to reach at least the semi-final this year, and possibly further. Portugal's squad isn't looking its strongest, and for that reason they're 20/1 outsiders, less likely than France, Germany, Spain, Italy, England and Belgium, as far as the bookies are concerned.
However, in a group with Iceland, Austria and Hungary, Portugal have a relatively 'easy' route to the knockout stages, and with a great blend of youth and experience, particularly some very good young midfielders and the added bonus of arguably the world's best player, we think the Portuguese may be a force to be reckoned with.
8 Anthony Martial to Win the Golden Boot
Thirteen players are considered more likely than Anthony Martial to win the Euro 2016 Golden Boot this summer, by the betting companies at least, but we're not so sure. The Manchester United starlet has found form just at the right time, and in a France team blessed with creativity, chances should come his way. What's more, France have a very easy group stage, perfect for scoring some early round goals before tackling the big boys.
7 Mario Gomez to Run Martial Close
Even less fancied than Anthony Martial is Mario Gomez. The forgotten man for the last three seasons, Gomez has made a real impression this campaign. After one poor season at Bayern Munich and two more at Fiorentina, Gomez's career appeared to be tailing off very early, but the 30-year-old has reignited his career and become prolific once more in Turkey with Besiktas, scoring 26 goals in 33 league games. That form has seen him emerge as Germany's likely first choice striker, and we wouldn't be surprised if the former Champions League winner reminded Europe's finest of what he's really capable of in France.
6 France to Win
Just about the favourites, not much separating themselves and Germany, one could argue picking France to win the Euros isn't that bold. However, it is still stating an outright winner of an enormously unpredictable competition. What's more, up until two years ago, France had been utterly dreadful in recent major tournaments.
Their talent pool this year is incredible though, as shown by the calibre of player omitted from Didier Deschamps' provisional 26-man squad. They have a young, in-form and talented squad playing on home soil, and we fancy the French to claim the European Championships for the third time in the country's history.
5 Wales to Reach the Quarter-Finals
The Welsh squad is not a strong one. They seem to have garnered a bit of a reputation as a dark horse, but we don't expect Wales to get past the Quarter-Finals. A great team spirit and one world class player (no, not Joe Allen), should see Wales through a tough but not impossible group, and most likely whoever they face in their first knockout game. The next stage will probably be a step too far for the Welsh, who are playing in their first ever European Championship.
4 Czech Republic to Lose Every Game
Sorry, Czech Republic. This may seem a tad harsh, but it's a bold prediction, and one we believe may well come off, so it's included. Group D this summer is a tough one, and with Spain, Croatia and Turkey as opponents, we feel the Czech Republic may go home from France with 0 points to their name. Runners-up in 1996 and semi-finalists in 2004, Czech Republic have pedigree but not a great deal of quality. In their last three games they have lost to Poland and Scotland, and drawn against Sweden.
3 Albania to Advance Past Group Stage
Albania are the least fancied team at Euro 2016. With a population of under 3 million and making not only their Euro debut, but their first ever appearance at any major tournament. Albania are priced at around 250/1 with most bookies, either the longest odds or joint longest at least. They have a handful of good players though, and beat Portugal while qualifying for the Euros finishing ahead of solid teams in the forms of Serbia and Denmark.
Albania are in the weakest group at the tournament (A) and we fancy them to upset the odds and qualify from their group, even if its via a third place finish.
2 Croatia to Reach Semi-Finals
One could argue that Croatia have the strongest midfield in Europe right now, made up of Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic, who all star for Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Barcelona respectively. It's not just midfield where Croatia excel though, they have a good goalkeeper, a solid and experienced defence, some terrific youth and a quality striker in the form of Mario Mandzukic.
We're expecting them to breeze through a tough group (vs Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic) and more, a semi-final is what we're predicting but there'd be few raised eyebrows if they went one better.
1 Austria to Reach Quarter-Finals
Austria have only qualified for one European Championship prior to this summer's in their entire history, coming in 2008, when they failed to win a game and were knocked out in the group stages. Their squad boasts few 'stars', Bayern Munich's David Alaba arguably the only Austrian player who could be described as such, but it has at least good players all over the park.
They have five solid defenders, a couple of gifted midfielders, not least Stoke City's Marko Arnautovic, and a nuisance up front in Basel's giant of a striker Marco Janko, who has scored 16 goals in 17 league games this season. Having been drawn in Group F alongside Portugal, Iceland and Hungary, Austria have an excellent opportunity to progress, and we're quietly confident they could win their first knockout tie too.
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