Friday, 10 June 2016

Euro 2016 Group F preview




Michael: Will Griggs on fire, nanananananan....goddamit, Jon!


Jon: My work here is done.   






Group F



Michael: The Guardian hates that there is 24 teams in the tournament.


Jon: It would. 


Michael: It’s funny, really. On paper, this group should look as potentially dull as Group A does. It has a perennial underachieving big gun, a middle ranking nation which hipsters like me tip to do well, and two “keep it tight” underdogs. And yet..


It has one of the under the radar dark horses to win the whole tournament.


A country who built the foundations of the European game, back at any tournament after a thirty year absence.


Jon: We’ve already done Northern Ireland you know...


Michael: And the smallest country to ever qualify for the Euros, and who did it by trouncing the Dutch.


Gav: Georgia? I assume they did after beating Scotland.


Michael: *grumbles*


It might be less glamourous, but I’m pretty sure it’ll get more leeway for that.


Also, we might see Ronaldo crying at some point.


Jon: What’s Portuguese for schadenfreude?




Portugal






Gav: For the first time, I’m feeling sort of OK for Estonia not qualifying for the Euros. Portugal beat them 7-0!


Michael: I was going to say, I’m not the sort of person to rub that in, but I’m bet you’re glad you stopped watching.


Gav: Yes!


Michael: Mind you, I suppose with two Saints in the squad, Estonia never stood a chance.


Gav: ‘mon Portugal.


Michael: Portugal went for the all important Gav vote this time round, picking Cedric and Jose Fonte.


Joao: Portugal won its group with 21 points, seven points above second placed Albania and nine points above third placed Denmark. It was the first time since the 2006 World Cup qualifiers that Portugal won its qualifying group. For Euro 2008 they were second behind Poland, for the 2010 World Cup they were second behind Denmark and had to play a playoff against Bosnia, for Euro 2012 they were once again second behind Denmark and had to play a playoff against Bosnia, and for the 2014 World Cup they were second behind Russia and had to play a playoff against Sweden. This time it seemed that things wouldn’t be any different when they started with a home defeat against Albania, but then a new manager arrived and things changed completely.


Michael: Ah, Portugal. They really lived up to their pantomime villains of European football moniker I have just this second imposed on them at the last few international tournaments. At the 2010 World Cup, they produced three dull games, seemingly conspired to draw with Brazil to knock out the Cote D’ivoire (not that the Ivorians need much help in screwing up tournaments), and managed to knock seven past the North Koreans in true flat-track bully style. At the 2012 Euros, they produced little football of note, but managed to knock out the exciting but defensively suspect Danes and the inferior but grafting Czechs on the way to losing a Semifinal penalty shootout when Ronaldo decided to take the last penalty, and it never got to him.


Jon: Worked in the Champions League final though. Second time lucky there.


Michael: In 2014, they lost 4-0 to Germany. That was great fun.


Jon: Did the Germans have some grudge against Portuguese speakers in 2014? Every other language they were happy just to take draws or wins by the odd goal but if you spoke Portuguese…


Michael: What to expect from Portugal this time?


Jon: The usual nine men behind the ball and hope Ronaldo can do something nonsense?


Michael: Well, three loses would be fun, but extremely unrealistic in this group.


If they go to a penalty shootout, you can be assured Ronaldo will take the 5th penalty. To be the hero. 

How amusing a repeat of 2012 would be then, when he did just that against Spain in the Semifinals, only for Portugal to miss two penalties and crash out before he could take it!


Jon: Yeah, but there’s also the possibility of another shirt off celebration like he’s won the game single handed even if he’s done nothing else in the game. See also: meaningless last minute penalty to cap things off in the Champions League final against Atletico and then the last penalty this year when he’d been a non-factor.


Joao: There are eleven players left from their 2014 World Cup squad: goalkeepers Rui Patrício and Eduardo, defenders Vieirinha, Pepe and Bruno Alves, midfielders William and João Moutinho, and forwards Ronaldo, Nani, Rafa Silva and Éder.  Others like Ricardo Carvalho and Quaresma missed the 2014 World Cup but were in previous Euro squads (2004-2008 and 2008-2012 respectively).
Portugal’s first opponent will be Iceland that they defeated twice in the Euro 2012 qualifiers. The second opponent will be Austria that they’ve faced for the last time in Euro 1996 qualifiers, with a 1-0 home win and a 1-1 away draw. The third opponent will be Hungary that they’ve faced in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers and won twice, 1-0 away and 3-0 at home.



Michael: And yet, I look at the Portugal side and see a large smattering of unknown qualities on the largest stage. People like Rafa Silva, a midfield lynchpin who helped Braga win the Portuguese Cup this season. Or Renato Sanches, who broke the Bayern transfer record, but will probably get cameos at this tournament, like Ronaldo in 2004.  Or Andre Gomes, who had a lot of huge press coming during his breakthrough at Benfica (where he helped them win the treble in no small part), but his time at Valencia has been troubled like everyone else at that club this season.  Or Sporting CP’s Joao Mario, formerly of the Portugal U21s, or Danilo Pereira, FIFA U-20 World Cup runner up. The latter’s performances in a disappointing Porto side had Arsenal attempting bids to prise him away from the two time European Cup winners. Even William Carvalho and Eder (whose appearance in the squad brought criticism back home, only for him to play well and score in their 3-0 friendly win over  Norway) who both played in the 2014 World Cup, feel like new players on the scene.
If Portugal get all this attacking potential together, and take on the tournament, perhaps they’ll shed their reputation in recent years, aided by Pepe and other scoundrels, of being pantomime villains at the major tournaments.  The Portugal up to 2008 might have had ego and conceit and the “dark arts” (sounds more like Harry Potter than football, commentators saying that), but they had verve and panache and creative juices too. The Portugal of 2010, 2012, and 2014 were dourer than a speech on Scottish Presbyterianism given by Gordon Brown. If we’re going to have Ronaldo strutting around like the prize peacock, can we no have some entertaining games at the same time?


Hang on, their manager is Santos now. Who was I kidding?


Jon: They will be exciting though.


Michael: Really?


Jon: Yes. When they get a deserved sound thrashing from the team we’re about to come to…



What the Experts Say




“Sanches showed on his first start at the Estádio da Luz, in early December, just what he can do. He demanded the ball, looked up and fired a missile-like shot into Académica’s net. The fans went crazy. It summed up Sanches’s character. Bulo, to use the nickname his grandmother gave him, likes to take risks. He doesn’t mind missing a few passes or failing with a dribble because he believes he has the talent to decide matches. In that regard he is like Paul Pogba. “This has been a dream come true and sometimes I still pinch myself to see if this is really happening,” Sanches has said. The midfielder is famous now but has not forgotten his roots. After scoring against Académica, he went back to his neighbourhood and did what he had always done. He met his friends in the bar of his former club and asked for a sandwich at the counter. In his mind, nothing had changed.” Vitor Hugo Alvarenga, Renato Sanches: midfield prodigy known as Bulo who has taken Portugal by storm, The Guardian 9 June 2016



“As it was in 2014, so it will be in 2016: So much depends on the condition of Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid star looked well short of fitness in the Champions League final and manager Fernando Santos will be praying that he recovers in time. Without him, Portugal are worryingly light on goals, though a 3-0 victory over Norway will settle a few nerves on that front. But this will probably be the 30-year-old Ronaldo's last tournament at the peak of his powers, so don't expect him to offer any less than everything he has. And that should be enough to see off this group.” Iain Macintosh, ESPN 5 June 2016




Previous – Final, 2004
Recent – Semis, 2012
Don’t mention – World Cup disaster
Do mention – 7 straight wins in qualifying
Self-Destruction Capability Rating – 8.



Michael: They reached the Semifinals in three of the last four Euros. They must be favourites to make it four in five.


Though if The Budgie gets sent off in the first half hour of the tournament again...



Austria






Michael: Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you, the winners of the 2016 European Championships...



Jon: *mentally writes off Austria*



Joao: Austria won its group with 28 points, eight points above second placed Russia and ten points above third placed Sweden. They were the second best team in Euro 2016 qualifiers, with nine wins and one draw, only surpassed by England’s ten wins in ten matches.


Michael: Austria are one of my three darkhorse picks to win the Euros. Hopefully this is more along the lines of Russia 2008, Uruguay 2010, and Colombia 2014, and not, err, Russia 2012. They have a side which played some astonishing football in the qualifiers – a 4-1 win in Sweden comes to mind – and yet, despite 28 points from 30, they floated into the tournament nearly entirely under the radar. Whilst the Belgians have expectation issues, which might produce performance jitters, no one expects the Austrians to do much. And with so much talent in their team, and playing like a team, that could prove crucial.


Jon: A bold prediction there for a nation whose only qualification for a tournament this century came through hosting it. Sadly for those hoping for a big barney about this though I’m going to agree with Michael on this; if the Austrians bring their qualifying form they’re going to be one of the delights of the tournament. That said, they’re one of the top 20 nations in the world. Can they really be counted a dark horse?


Joao: There are only five players left from their Euro 2008 squad: goalkeeper Ozcan, defenders Garics, Prodl and Fuchs, and midfielder Harnik. The remaining eighteen players will be having their debuts in a major tournament.


Michael: The Austrians reappearance on the world stage comes from two main factors. Firstly, like the Belgians, they took stock of multiple qualification disappointments, and invested heavily in the youth game, including tutoring bursaries to exceptionally talented 14 to 16 year olds. Secondly, they opened up their recruitment into the second, third, fourth and so on immigrant populations of Austria. Both of these combined led to players like David Alaba appearing on the scene, and swiftly moving from the Austria Wien reserves to the Bayern Munich first team. 


Jon: Much as I’m one for the long term theories and firmly choose to believe that Zhou Enlai was talking about the eighteenth century French revolution rather than the 1968 uprisings when asked about a French Revolution, I think you’re doing a disservice to Marcel Koller there. Who can’t love a man who turned up to a press conference the day after securing qualification wearing a beret and bearing a baguette? Kudos to the OFB for appointing one of their great rivals next door.


Michael: Third main factor, the manager.


Jon: Well said.


Good signs were there in the 2014 World Cup qualifying; they were narrowly denied by a late Swedish comeback. It was that 4-1 win in Sweden which really opened everyone’s eyes; almost certainly the single finest performance of any side in the qualifiers. I mean, even Zlatan admitted they were the better team! And a win away in Moscow too? I know the Russians had a troubled campaign but it’s still an awkward place to win.


Michael: Where once the Austrians couldn’t score for toffee, or relied on the aging Ivica Vastic (the fomer Championship Manager legend is now long retired and the manager of Mattersburg, incidentally), now they have a free scoring side led by Martin Harnik of Stuttgart, and the remarkable Marko Arnautovic of Stoke City.


Jon: Arnautovic still being at Stoke is a minor miracle; a couple of friends of mine have opined that he really should have been picked up by a bigger club.


Michael: Where once the Austrians had a leaking defence, now they can look to a backline comprised entirely of Bundesliga and Premier League players. Their captain, Christian Fuchs, has just won the Premier League with Leicester. Sebastian Prodl and Kevin Wimmer are also competent players fighting to get into Premiership first teams, and Aleksandar Dragovic has been a defensive lynchpin in Dinamo Kiev’s title victory in 2015, and then their advancement to the Champions League last 16.  Hinteregger is younger but has been getting game time in the national team recently, and had a loan spell at Gladbach this season.


Jon: This should theoretically be Zlatko Junuzovic’s tournament to shine; at 28 Bremen’s midfield linchpin is theoretically at his peak. Worth keeping an eye out for his free kicks too.


Michael: They have some of the finer players in Europe this season, and they’ve been pretty effective as a team so far. The sky’s the limit for this Austrian side if they keep at it.


Jon: Nostradamus Collins effectively dooming the Austrians there. Dammit.


Michael: They could face England in the last sixteen, which would be curtains for Roy.


Jon: Nah, I think they’d beat Austria, improved as they are.


Michael: Not. A. Chance.


Joao: Austria’s first opponent will be Hungary. The last time that Austria faced them was in the 1986 World Cup qualifiers, and they lost twice, 1-3 away and 0-3 at home. The second opponent will be Portugal. The last time that Austria faced them was in Euro 1996 qualifiers, Austria lost 0-1 away and got a 1-1 draw at home. The third opponent will be Iceland. The last time that Austria faced them was in the 1990 World Cup qualifiers, and Austria got a 0-0 draw away and won 2-1 at home. These results are ancient history. Much more important that what past Austrian teams did in the past 20-30 years ago, is what the current Austria did in the qualifiers against teams like Russia and Sweden.




What the Experts Say




“Should Austria’s opponents adopt more of a long-ball strategy, meanwhile, Koller’s side will exert pressure in midfield. The greatest concern comes when Baumgartlinger and Alaba find themselves too far advanced and the back four becomes exposed. Nonetheless there are genuine reasons for optimism for Austria, who have been drawn in the same group as their neighbours and arch rivals Hungary, but while Koller’s first XI will pose a test for anyone at the tournament, the same can perhaps not be said about the rest of the squad.” Florian Vetter, The Guardian 8 June 2016


Previous – Group stage 2008
Recent – See above
Don’t mention – A match in 1982 in Gijon.
Do mention – Blistering qualification record. Or merely OK if you’re Glendenning..
Self-destruction Capability Rating – 5.


Michael: Apparently they're the hipsters picks to do well now, but sod it, I'm not changing my mind at this late stage. #trendsetterCollins



Iceland







Michael: When Iceland failed in the World Cup playoffs, I thought that was their generation chance come and gone, much like Estonia had in the last Euros. What a fool I was! Iceland took on a tough qualifying group -  Czechs, Holland, Turkey, trips to Kazakhstan and Latvia -  and qualified with such a canter that the only reason they didn’t win the group was because they’d de facto qualified so early they could put their feet up. They beat every other team in the group, and the Dutch twice!


Joao: Iceland finished second in its group with 20 points, two points behind group winners Czech Republic, and two points above third placed Turkey. They could have won their group, with six wins and one defeat in the first seven matches. However, once they secured their spot in Euro 2016, in the eighth match with a 0-0 home draw against Kazakhstan, they only managed to get another point in the remaining two matches, while Czech Republic got six in its last three matches and caught them.


Jon: Reversed the Turkish form in the group but then it’s probably better to qualify early rather than scramble in at the last minute. Saves on all sorts of stress.


Michael: Eidur Gudjohnsen, 37 years old, once one of Europe’s most feared strikers, is in the squad. He’s at Molde now, and in his twilight, but after carrying Icelandic football on his shoulders for so long (I remember a game at Hampden where he terrified Scotland back in 2003) there seemed no question of him going, even in a ceremonial role, if he was still playing regular football.


Jon: I swear he’s hanging on so he can play in the same international team as his son (who’s on Barca’s books). Might have to go on a good few years yet though as his lad’s only 12. Infamously he never got to be on the pitch at the same time as his dad thanks to a well-intentioned FA order and an ill-timed injury.


Michael: Iceland have a good team who have played together well. They have made a reputation out of beating and denting the pride of larger and “better” countries. To say they’ll just be happy to be here is to overlook the last three years entirely. With a shrewd manager in the retiring Lars Lagerback (his retirement announcement was  “Sadly I was born too soon”), and a talented side with nothing to lose, perhaps the Icelanders can be the true surprise package of the tournament?


Jon: They’ll largely be relying on the talents of Gylfi Sigurdsson to make an impression; perhaps being at Swansea means he’s underrated but he’s quietly one of the best creative midfielders in the Premier League. I half suspect that a team which can mark him out of the game will see off Iceland comfortably.


Michael: They have some talent up front too – Kolbeinn Sigthorsson averages to a goal every other game for his national side, even if he hasn’t done so well for Nantes this season. Midfielder Halfredsson has scored in Serie A, and striker Finnbogasson in La Liga and rather well in the Bundesliga. In Football Manager 2010, Finnbogasson went directly to the Bundesliga, and while it took a bit longer to get there, on loan, it clearly saw his spell at Heerenveen coming, where it seemed like he scored goals every single week. (Wiki tells me he got 53 league goals in 65 league games, and say all you want about the Dutch league defences, but that’s still remarkable for a player from a smaller nation.)


Joao: Iceland’s first match will be against Portugal. The last time that they’ve faced each other was in Euro 2012 qualifiers, and Iceland lost twice, 1-3 at home and 3-5 away. The second opponent will be Hungary. The last time that Iceland faced them was in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and Iceland lost twice, two 2-3 defeats. The third opponent will be Austria. The last time that they’ve faced each other was in the 1990 World Cup qualifiers, and Iceland got a 0-0 draw at home and lost 1-2 away.


Michael: Did you know Lars Lagerback was turned down for the Welsh job before he went to Iceland?



What the Experts Say



“Signing a manager with Lagerbäck’s experience in football has made the Icelandic national team advance in all areas – and at some pace too. “I think hiring him has been a key point for KSÍ (the Icelandic FA). Lars came in and told people that Iceland is really light-years behind other nations,” Alexandersson says. That brutal honesty regarding the nation’s development was embraced, understood and challenged. A key aspect of growth in recent years for the national team – often unseen and unheralded – is the number of backroom staff, a hugely important factor according to Alexandersson. “They made the physiotherapy team bigger, they now have two physiotherapists, a masseuse and a very experienced doctor. They also have a cameraman who records every game with a wide lens to make analysing games much easier.” It’s these changes, along with the intensity in training, that have enabled the national team to prepare better, recover quicker and learn more during their short stints together.” Johann Olafur Sigurdsson, Lars Lagerback and Iceland’s managerial revolution, These Football Times 13 October 2015



Previous – N/A
Recent – N/A
Don’t mention – volcanoes, because cliché.
Do mention – The fine work of the management team.
Self-destruction Capability Rating – 5.




Hungary






Michael: Ah, Hungary.


The weakest team in the tournament by far, and yet, possibly the one team to qualify to make the old marks of European football so very happy. Will the Magyars sing again?


Probably not.


Joao: Hungary finished third in its group with 16 points, five points behind group winners Northern Ireland and four points behind second placed Romania, and four points above fourth placed Finland. Then they had to play a playoff against another third placed team, Norway, and they defeated them twice, 1-0 away and 2-1 at home.


Jon: Well… they weren’t bad at all in qualifying – only two losses, a late comeback by the Northern irish and a pretty meaningless game away to Greece. The Northern Irish also only sneaked a draw with a goal deep into injury time too.


Michael: And yet, Hungary are not without their talents. The Ferencvaros striker Daniel Bode has proved a late bloomer, much like the English Jamie Vardy, and his goals have led Ferencvaros to the Hungarian league title. He also got away with a curious tackle on Even Hovland in the playoffs when Norway were on the counter, and seconds later scored the killer blow for his country.


There’s also some young players from the Puskas Academy and other lower sides who, if they get any game time, will be interesting to see. (And no less than an hour after I wrote this, they were all axed from the final team. Timing, me!)


Jon: And Zoltan Gera! If he dropped any deeper these days he’d be playing at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. A lot of pressure on Dzsudzsak to line up the bullets for Bode, Priskin and (gladdening this old Liverpool fan’s heart) one time golden boy Krisztian Nemeth.  


Michael: Hungary feel like one of the weaker sides, but they are in a good group. Who’s to say they can’t catch one of their opponents on the hop? In the last group too, they might go into the Portugal game knowing that a win will secure a last 16 spot for them, and that would be a remarkable achievement for the team.


My more modest expectations are for Hungary to go out in the groups, but to do so with honour and with more modern fans than they had going into the tournament.


Joao: The last time that Hungary was in a major tournament was in 1986; even 40-years old Király was only 10 back then. The entire squad will be having its debut in a major tournament.
Hungary’s first opponent will be Austria. The last time that they faced each other was in the 1996 World Cup qualifiers, and Hungary won twice, 3-1 at home and 3-0 away. The second opponent will be Iceland. The last time that Hungary faced Iceland was in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers, and Hungary defeated them twice, two 3-2 wins. The last opponent will be Portugal. The last time that Hungary faced Portugal was in the 2010 World Cup qualifiers, and they lost twice, 0-1 at home and 0-3 away. Hungary’s glorious history hasn’t helped them to qualify to a single tournament between 1986 and 2016, and it won’t help them now.



Jon: Obviously the key game for them will be the second one against Iceland; both teams will feel that they’ll have a good shot of at least a third spot winning that one. History buffs will be looking forward to what should be called the Habsburg derby though; I’m desperate for ITV to soundtrack it with Franz Ferdinand (maximum points for Take Me Out).  Come on ITV, you know the BBC would be on the case! I think they’ve got goals in them and wouldn’t be surprised to see them sneak through in third place.


Sorry, I’m raising your hopes again aren’t I?


Michael:  I could see ways that all 24 sides win the Euros. Even if some cases would involve more luck than a Faustian pact could feasibly achieve.


Jon: I’m not sure on the likes of Albania but hence that Faustian pact statement.


Michael: Oh, its Hungary I’m least sure of. Them and the Republic of Ireland.


Jon: It’s purely lack of goals that sound alarm bells to me in these tournaments.


Michael: Ireland at the 1990 World Cup suggests lack of goals aren’t fatal, as I was reminded watching the BBC review of said tournament on YouTube just the other day.


Jon: See also Greece 2004. If England had drawn that Egypt game, the 1990 group would’ve been decided by lots. Nothing’s fatal but certain factors stack odds in your favour.


Michael: And of course, Greece and Denmark will be the outliers giving every one of our underdogs, minnows and no hopers some food for thought. Twenty four years ago, Denmark shocked the world. Twelve, Greece. Why not Hungary or Iceland, or Northern Ireland, or Albania shock the world now?


Jon: Or Wales?


Michael: Let’s not delve too far into fantasy land.


Jon: *Paddington Bear stare*



What the Experts Say



“Hungary are most dangerous from set pieces. Of the 14 goals scored in qualifying, five came from corners, one direct from a free-kick and two after free-kicks were mishandled by the goalkeeper or not cleared properly. Possession is one aspect Storck has been trying to work on. You will not see Hungary playing tiki-taka but the aim is to control games a bit more to take pressure off a defence likely to be tested more than in qualifying. Storck is not afraid to take risky decisions. He overhauled his backroom staff roughly two weeks before the play-off against Norway, causing uproar. His critics said it was too close to the games and that the players had a good relationship with the departing staff. He argued that the personnel he was replacing had other jobs and he needed people who could work with the national team every minute of every day. Among those brought in was the German World Cup and European Championship winner Andreas Möller.”
Matyas Szeli, The Guardian, 9 June 2016



Recent – N/A
Best – 3rd place, 1964
Don’t mention – Much of the last 30 years.
Do mention – The Mighty Magyars. But not enough so as to dilute the current side’s achievement.
Self-Destruction Capability Rating – 4.



Managers



Joao: Marcel Koller became Austria’s coach after they failed to qualify to Euro 2012. It couldn’t even be considered a failure, since Austria had never qualified to a Euro before, except in 2008 when they co-hosted it, and also missed the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups. He couldn’t qualify them to the 2014 World Cup too, finishing third in the qualifying group, with 17 points, behind future World Champions Germany and also Sweden. But two years later he qualified Austria to Euro 2012. And he could have done it with 17 points and a third place again, but he managed to do a lot more than that, 28 points!


Bernd Storck was Hungary’s third coach in Euro 2016 qualifiers. They started with Attila Pintér that was fired after losing the first match, at home against Northern Ireland. Pál Dárdai was in charge for the next five matches, where he got three wins and two draws. Bernd Storck had similar results to his predecessor, with three wins, two draws and one defeat. Qualifying Hungary to a major tournament 30 years later isn’t as big as it could be for him because he was only in charge for half of the matches, and also because with eight extra spots that didn’t use to exist, qualifying became a lot easier.


Lars Lagerback became Iceland’s manager after they finished fourth in their Euro 2012 qualifying group, with only four points in eight matches. In the 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign, already with him in charge, there was a huge improvement, and Iceland was second in its group, with 17 points in 10 matches, and qualified to the playoffs, where they were eliminated by Croatia. They were close, but it wasn’t enough. Two years later, now with Heimir Hallgrímsson as joint manager, he was even better and got 20 points in 10 matches, finished second, but this time qualified directly, there was no need for a playoff. It will be his fourth Euro, after 2000, 2004 and 2008 with Sweden, which would make him the most experienced manager in Euro 2016... Although if we only count half a Euro for every time he was a joint manager, he only has two and a half.


After the Albania defeat, Fernando Santos arrived and won the next seven matches. Before joining Portugal he had four good years with Greece, qualifying them to Euro 2012 and then taking them to the quarter finals (second best result after the Euro 2004 triumph), and then qualifying them to the 2014 World Cup and taking them to the last 16 round (best ever result in a World Cup). Will he also break Portugal’s records, where the stakes are higher? Portugal reached two quarter finals, two semifinals and one final in the last five Euros. The only thing missing is the Euro title.




Game to Watch



Michael: Austria/Iceland as it could be crucial.


Jon: As the qualifying system from the groups makes it unlikely that we’ll see an early Portuguese exit I’m maintaining that pick of the Habsburg derby. For the potential of the soundtrack and the potential arrival of a side as fun as the Czechs of 2004.


Gav: No idea, sorry.



Players to Watch:



Michael: Eder, Finnbogasson, Nagy, Arnautovic


Jon: Junuzovic could be a real star for Austria buzzing around behind Janko. Traustason has emerged as an intriguing prospect since Iceland qualified. While Hungary will depend on Dzsudzsak Kleinheisler’s possible emergence is one to keep an eye on in midfield. And Renato Sanches, who’s just picked the Allianz Arena over Old Trafford might be Portugal’s next superstar. Alternatively you could play the Pepe cardwatch game for just about the only player whose over/under in time of first card betting is measured in seconds rather than minutes.


Joao: Goalkeeper Király, defender Kádár and winger Dzsudzsák were the most used players during the qualifiers. Defender Ragnar Sigurdsson, and midfielders Gylfi Sigurdsson (top scorer with six goals) and Birkir Bjarnason were the most used players in the qualifiers. Defender Pepe, midfielder João Moutinho and forward Ronaldo were among Euro 2012’s best players, and four years later they may repeat it. Goalkeeper Almer only conceded 5 goals in 10 matches. Midfielder Alaba was the team’s second top scorer, with four goals (and three assists), and forward Janko was the top scorer with seven goals.








Predictions



Michael:



1. Portugal

2. Austria

3. Iceland

4. Hungary




Gav:



1. Portugal

2. Iceland

3. Austria

4. Hungary



Jon

1. Austria

2. Portugal

3. Iceland

4. Hungary



Michael: I can’t believe I told you Austria were my team to watch for, and you’ve stolen the bloody march by having them finish top!



Jon: *smug*

Michael: Can’t help but feel we’ve been too conservative though. In 2012, we all thought the Irish would be the worst team there. Did anyone have Holland down as the second worst side? None of us did, I’ve seen the notes, they’re published.


Jon: Well, no, but then we wouldn’t have called them not to qualify this time either.



Michael: So I suspect someone who does really badly is someone no one is talking about now – say Italy (sadly) or Belgium or Spain or (hopefully) Portugal or the like.



Joao:



1. Portugal

2. Austria

3. Iceland

4. Hungary



Portugal was never eliminated in a Euro group stage, and now won’t be the first time... Unless the qualifying brilliance comes with a price. They should win the group. Austria seems to be the second strongest team in its group. Iceland may be a Euro debutant, but they won as many Euro matches as Austria or Hungary over the last 50 years. They have a good chance to advance from this group, perhaps as one of the best four third placed teams. Hungary should be the weakest team in its group, so they should finish in the fourth place.













Gav: Eh, we’ve forgotten someone!


Michael: Who?



Gav: Holland!



Michael: They didn’t qualify?



Gav: What, really?



Michael: Yeah, lost out to the Czechs, Iceland and Turkey.



Gav: What?



Michael: This actually happened.



Gav: Ok. Did the Netherlands make it? 



Michael: Nope, none of the Dutch made it.



Gav: The Dutch? What have they got to do with it?



Michael’s note – Gav isn’t playing dumb, he’s a Rik Mayall fan. 



(random appearance from Sadie’s godfather)



Seumas: You’re getting to Scotland eventually, right?



Michael: Maybe in 2020. We’re co-hosting! 



(quieter voice)
With a dozen other countries.



There’s only two sides missing I’m sad about.



Jon: Scotland obviously.



Michael: Yes, as a football fan, I’ve never seen my country qualify for a major tournament.

And Serbia too.



And that’s the group stage preview. We’ll be back with our team report cards as they crash out of the Euros. Or don’t, as someone will win. Presumably.





Happy Euro 2016 Day.