So, the dates for Euro 2016 have been set, qualification has been complete, and we are all ready for a great tournament. However, a lot can change between now and 10th June when the tournament commecnces. Ahead of the draw on 10th December, let’s consider some of the biggest storylines heading into the Euros and ponder just how these potential distractions could impact the tournament’s outcome.
The first storyline to focus on involves the security situation in the host nation following the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris. French President Francois Hollande has said that he will take drastic action against the terrorists responsible and has called the attacks “an act of war.” The recent scenes at the Stade de France were worrying considering it will be the venue of the Final in 8 months’ time, and the extension of the State of Emergency is also a concern. Security will undoubtedly be tight at next year’s European Championships and it will be interesting to see what actions the French government takes in order to ensure the safety of the players, media personnel, and fans.
The second headline to keep an eye on is the performance of Germany and whether or not last year’s World Cup champions can continue their success in international tournaments. Germany will come into the Euros with a much younger team compared with the one which lifted the World Cup trophy in 2014, with generational players Phillip Lahm, Miroslav Klose, and Per Metersacker all having retired from international football. Germany struggled at times during its European qualifying campaign, losing away at both Poland and the Republic of Ireland as well as drawing with the Irish at home. However, the Germans still boast some of the world’s best players and the experience they gained at the 2014 World Cup will serve them well at the Euros. Whether or not the Germans can repeat last year’s success and lift another trophy remains to be seen, but their road to glory will certainly not be an easy one.
A further story which will certainly dominate the headlines here at home is the English national team, which will head to France with high expectations after a spotless qualifying campaign which saw the Three Lions win all ten of their qualifying matches. England look to be in a strong position to challenge at the Euros but will have to contend with their recent poor performances at international tournaments, including a group stage exit at last year’s World Cup and a Quarter Final loss at the 2012 Euros. If England were to get knocked out in the group stage or even fail to make the semifinals, it could signal the end of Roy Hodgson’s tenure as England manager and spell disaster for a national team which has failed to perform on the big stage in recent years. Keeping our focus on the British Isles, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland have also qualified for Euro 2016, with Wales and Northern Ireland both making their first appearances at the tournament. It will be interesting to see whether or not these teams can capitalize on this opportunity and push for a place in the knockout stages or whether the stage will prove too overwhelming, leading them to be sent home in the group stage.
Finally, let’s consider which teams will overachieve and which will be sent packing earlier than expected. For my surprise team, I like Iceland to make it out of the group stage and into the knockout rounds. The tiny island nation of only 300,000 is making its first ever appearance at an international tournament after narrowly missing out on qualifying for last year’s World Cup but performed admirably to finish in a close second in qualifying Group A, an achievement which bodes well for their chances at the Euros. I also like first-time qualifiers Wales to qualify thanks in large part to the exploits of Real Madrid superstar Gareth Bale and Premier League mainstays Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams. Three other sides will make their European Championship debuts next summer, those being Northern Ireland, Albania, and Slovakia, but I predict that all three of these sides will narrowly miss out on qualification for the knockout stage and be sent home at the first time of asking. In terms of underachievers, I don’t like France’s chances of making it past the Quarter Finals. The French did not have to participate in qualifying by virtue of hosting the tournament and I believe that this lack of meaningful matches over the last year will hurt them next summer. The French have been lacking in drive and ambition during recent friendlies and do not see to have the motivation necessary to push for a European title. Being the hosts will certainly help their chances but it seems as if the team has fallen a long way since narrowly losing to Germany at last year’s World Cup. Another side I predict will struggle at the Euros is Russia. The country set to host the next World Cup will certainly want to prove their mettle as a footballing power but their squad simply does not have the talent to compete against some of the world’s best national sides. The Russians will try to show to the world why they deserve to host the 2018 World Cup, but I do not like their chances of advancing past the group stage.
Overall, Euro 2016 figures to be a fantastic tournament with plenty of juicy headlines for football fans to salivate over. We may not agree on which team we believe will win it all or which players we predict will shine brightest, but we can all agree on one thing.
Let’s pray that next year’s European Championships go off without a hitch, and that the action is found exclusively on the field of play rather than off of it.
PHOTO / Mike Carter