So – 5 days to go until the big kick off in France next Friday. Rather than do a team by team preview (which would take forever), we have decided to do group previews. A quick overview of each team, and a look at some of the odds and ending with a group overview of what potentially could happen in my opinion!
Goalkeepers: Etrit Berisha (Lazio), Alban Hoxha (Partizani), Orges Shehi (Skenderbeu).
Defenders: Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), Lorik Cana (Nantes), Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone), Mergim Mavraj (Koeln), Naser Aliji (Basel), Ansi Agolli (Karabag), Frederik Veseli (Lugano).
Midfielders: Ermir Lenjani (Nantes), Andi Lila (Giannina), Migjen Basha (Como), Ledian Memushaj (Pescara), Burim Kukeli (Zurich), Taulant Xhaka (Basel), Ergys Kace (Paok), Amir Abrashi (Freiburg), Odise Roshi (Rijeka).
Forwards: Bekim Balaj (Rijeka), Sokol Cikalleshi (Medipol Basaksehir), Armando Sadiku (Vaduz), Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids)
Coach: Gianni De Biasi
Qualifying: 2nd – among Portugal, Denmark, Serbia and Armenia.
Qualifying’s lowest scorers with just 10 goals – Albania were the shock side to qualify in the first expanded tournament. They are there on merit though, having beaten the likes of Portugal and Denmark, while making the most of the Serbia/Armenia squabble to qualify for their maiden appearance. They have a largely unknown squad, but three players that stand out are Taulent Xhaka (brother of Granit), Elseid Hysaj (Napoli defender) and Shkelzen Gashi, a striker for Basel, and who had scored 57 goals in 126 games in Switzerland. All three are key to their chances of making an impression.
Goalkeepers: Benoit Costil (Rennes), Hugo Lloris (Tottenham), Steve Mandanda (Marseille).
Defenders: Lucas Digne (Roma), Patrice Evra (Juventus), Christophe Jallet (Lyon), Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), Adil Rami (Sevilla), Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), Samuel Umtiti (Lyon).
Midfielders: Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace), Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), N’Golo Kante (Leicester), Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle).
Forwards: Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), Andre-Pierre Gignac (Tigres), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Dimitri Payet (West Ham).
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Qualifying: Automatic as Hosts
So, here we have the hosts and the favourites to win @ 3/1. France have a star-studded squad, but as we know they have a tendancy to self destruct. Benzema has been left out after his incident with Valbuena, while Hatem Ben Arfa was unfortunate to miss out after such a great season. Defensively they are a little frail with Varane out – Evra, Jallet, Mangala, Rami and Sagna all ageing and Umtiti not the most experienced at international level. Bar that – very strong. Payet, Pogba and the newly capped N’golo Kante just 3 in great form, while Kingsley Coman could be an important impact sub after another impressive season, increasing his medal tally to 10 at just 19/20!
Goalkeepers: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Fiorentina), Costel Pantilimon (Watford), Silviu Lung (Astra)
Defenders: Cristian Sapunaru (Pandurii Targu-Jiu), Alexandru Matel (Dinamo Zagreb), Vlad Chiriches (Napoli), Valerica Gaman (Astra), Dragos Grigore (Al Sailiya), Cosmin Moti (Ludogorets), Razvan Rat (Rayo Vallecano), Steliano Filip (Dinamo Bucharest)
Midfielders: Mihai Pintilii (Steaua Bucharest), Ovidiu Hoban (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), Andrei Prepelita (Ludogorets), Adrian Popa (Steaua Bucharest), Gabriel Torje (Osmanlispor), Alexandru Chipciu (Steaua Bucharest), Nicolae Stanciu (Steaua Bucharest), Lucian Sanmartean (Al Ittihad)
Forwards: Claudiu Keseru (Ludogorets), Bogdan Stancu (Genclerbirligi), Florin Andone (Cordoba), Denis Alibec (Astra)
Coach: Anghel Iordanescu
Qualifying: 2nd in Group F, unbeaten however
So, Romania – for me one of the underrated teams at this competition. Yes, their qualifying group was described by myself as ‘The Group of Bored to Death’ – but still they conceded 2 goals in 10 games! Defence is key, and they have a solid keeper and back four, lead by ex-Spurs Vlad Chiriches, while Grigore, Rat and Sapunaru are the others likely to form a solid back four. Going forward they have the likes of Gabriel Torje (dubbed the Romanian Messi), Adrian Popa as well as forwards Claudiu Keseru, Florin Andone and Denis Alibec. I expect them to qualify as a best 3rd place team, and really cause France and Switzerland some problems, in both breaking them down and going forward!
Goalkeepers: Roman Buerki (Borussia Dortmund), Marwin Hitz (Augsburg), Yann Sommer (Borussia Moenchengladbach).
Defenders: Johan Djourou (Hamburg SV), Nico Elvedi (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Michael Lang (FC Basel), Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), Ricardo Rodriguez (VfL Wolfsburg), Fabian Schaer (Hoffenheim), Steve Von Bergen (Young Boys)
Midfielders: Valon Behrami (Watford), Blerim Dzemaili (Genoa), Gelson Fernandes (Rennes), Fabian Frei (Mainz 05), Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City), Granit Xhaka (Borussia Moenchengladbach), Denis Zakaria (Young Boys)
Forwards: Eren Derdiyok (Kasimpasa), Breel Embolo (FC Basel), Admir Mehmedi (Bayer Leverkusen), Haris Seferovic (Eintracht Frankfurt), Shani Tarashaj (Grasshoppers)
Coach: Vladimir Petkovic
Qualifying: 2nd, behind England
Switzerland are an interesting side. They just about fought off Slovenia to qualify in 2nd, but struggled at times and were easily beaten twice by Englnad. They have possibly the best set of keepers – with Sommer, Hitz and Burki, while their back four of Liechsteiner, Schar, Djourou and Rodriguez is one of immense talent. Granit Xhaka will be the centre piece of decent midfield, while Shaqiri will be a key figure, and Breel Embolo could really explode onto the scene. A certainty to qualify, and if they sort their issues out then a potential semi finalist!
It’s a funny old group. People are expecting Romania and Albania to roll over and let the French and Swiss win – but both are very good defensively, and have beaten the likes of both before (Albania actually did beat France last summer!). France are easily expected to qualify – but both games against the two mentioned above should be tough, and early goals are key. Odds wise, there’s nothing outstanding, as all but Albania are below evens to qualify as potentially three could go through. The best I can see is a group forecast of France (1st) and Switzerland (2nd) @ 11/8 with Bet365.
I can see both France and Switzerland struggling, but both gaining enough points against the others to get 1st and 2nd respectively. Their game will be the decider of the group, and I think France will do enough
Top tip for Group A: Group Forecast – France 1st/Switzerland 2nd @ 11/8