With Group’s A-D covered, we are down to the last two. The penultimate group is E, which contains Belgium, Italy, Sweden and Republic of Ireland. This should be the most one-sided group, with Sweden likely to struggle, and Ireland in a similar boat. Belgium have struggled to find decent fullbacks, but now have a couple that could really help their overall play!
Goalkeepers: Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea), Simon Mignolet (Liverpool), Jean-Francois Gillet (Mechelen).
Defenders: Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham), Jan Vertonghen (Tottenham, Thomas Vermaelen (Barcelona), Jason Denayer (Galatasaray), Jordan Lukaku (Oostende), Thomas Meunier (Club Brugges), Laurent Ciman (Montreal Impact), Christian Kabasele (Genk).
Midfielders: Moussa Dembele (Tottenham), Radja Nainggolan (Roma), Marouane Fellaini (Manchester United), Axel Witsel (Zenit St Petersburg), Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Dries Mertens (Napoli), Yannick Carrasco (Atletico Madrid).
Forwards: Mitchy Batshuayi (Marseille), Romelu Lukaku (Everton), Christian Benteke (Liverpool), Divock Origi (Liverpool).
Coach: Marc Wilmots
Qualifying: Top of Group B
Belgium, for a few years at least now have had a great squad of players, but just struggled to fit them all into one team. With Kompany missing and Vermaelen getting little game time at Barcelona – it means that Vertonghen and Alderweireld are likely to get the nod at centre half, and with two proper fullbacks in the squad in Jordan Lukaku and Thomas Meunier, they are likely to play with more width – something that they struggled with at the last World Cup. An big headache lies ahead for Marc Wilmots, who has to choose between Batshuayi, Lukaku, Benteke and Origi! A tough call indeed, though I expect Batshuayi to get the nod as he is the form striker of the four. They should go far in this competition, with one of the best squads!
Goalkeepers: Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus), Federico Marchetti (Lazio), Salvatore Sirigu (PSG)
Defenders: Mattia De Sciglio (Milan), Giorgio Chiellini (Juventus), Matteo Darmian (Manchester United), Angelo Ogbonna (West Ham United), Andrea Barzagli (Juventus), Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus)
Midfielders: Antonio Candreva (Lazio), Alessandro Florenzi (Roma), Tiago Motta (PSG), Stefano Sturaro (Juventus), Daniele De Rossi (Roma), Marco Parolo (Lazio), Federico Bernadeschi (Fiorentina), Stephan El Shaarwy (Roma), Emanuele Giaccherini (Bologna)
Forwards: Simone Zaza (Juventus), Graziano Pelle (Southampton), Ciro Immobile (Torino), Eder (Internazionale), Lorenzo Insigne (Napoli)
Coach: Antonio Conte
Qualifying: Winner of Group H
Italy have a good starting lineup – but outside of that they worry me from a neutral point of view. The likes of De Sciglio, Ogbonna, El Shaarawy, Immobile etc have not been in good form. The squad is also ageing, with 9 of the 23 being 30 or older, while a further 4 are 29. Add into this that the top scoring player in the squad is Daniele De Rossi with 18, and then Chiellini with 6. All 5 strikers in the squad have 56 caps and 11 goals between them, with Graziano Pelle with 5 goals being the top scorer. No doubt that the likes of Insigne could do some real damage, but a good deal of the squad, as well as manager Antonio Conte – are on their last tour with the national team. I’d say that for the likes of Buffon, Barzagli, De Rossi and maybe even Motta! I think they will get through the groups, but not a lot further.
Republic of Ireland
Goalkeepers: Shay Given (Stoke), Darren Randolph (West Ham), Keiren Westwood (Sheffield Wednesday).
Defenders: Seamus Coleman (Everton), Cyrus Christie (Derby), Ciaran Clark (Aston Villa), Richard Keogh (Derby), John O’Shea (Sunderland), Shane Duffy (Blackburn), Stephen Ward (Burnley)
Midfielders: Aiden McGeady (Everton), James McClean (West Brom), Glenn Whelan (Stoke), James McCarthy (Everton), Jeff Hendrick (Derby), David Meyler (Hull), Stephen Quinn (Reading), Wes Hoolahan (Norwich), Robbie Brady (Norwich), Jonathan Walters (Stoke)
Forwards: Robbie Keane (LA Galaxy), Shane Long (Southampton), Daryl Murphy (Ipswich)
Coach: Martin O’Neill
Qualifying: Playoff Winners vs Bosnia, 3rd Place in Group C behind Germany and Poland
Ireland will have a tough job getting through this group – in Sweden one side they should beat. However they beat Germany in the group qualifying, and have a decent squad. They really won’t get too far in this competition – Belgium and Italy should be too strong both offensively and defensively, but for me it’s Ireland’s back four/five that could cost them. In Aiden McGeady and Shane Long there is enough skill/pace to bother them, but I believe they will struggle to get anything more than a point. Best case scenario is 3rd place and to qualify via that.
Goalkeepers: Andreas Isaksson (Kasimpasa), Robin Olsen (Copenhagen), Patrik Carlgren (AIK).
Defenders: Ludwig Augustinsson (Copenhagen), Erik Johansson (Copenhagen), Pontus Jansson (Torino), Victor Lindelof (Benfica) Andreas Granqvist (Krasnodar), Mikael Lustig (Celtic), Martin Olsson (Norwich).
Midfielders: Jimmy Durmaz (Olympiakos), Albin Ekdal (Hamburg), Oscar Hiljemark (Palermo), Sebastian Larsson (Sunderland), Pontus Wernbloom (CSKA Moscow), Erkan Zengin (Trabzonspor), Oscar Lewicki (Malmo), Emil Forsberg (Leipzig), Kim Kallstrom (Grasshoppers).
Forwards: Marcus Berg (Panathinaikos), John Guidetti (Celta Vigo), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Paris), Emir Kujovic (Norrkoping)
Coach: Erik Hamren
Qualifying: Playoff Winner vs Denmark
Sweden have quite a few individually good players, but as a team they are fairly poor – struggling to beat minnows during qualifying. They seem overly reliant on Ibrahimovic. I’d actually fancy them to beat Ireland and finish 3rd in the group – but weather that’s enough to get them through to the last 16 is in doubt.
It looks very likely that Belgium and Italy will come 1st and 2nd with both Ireland and Sweden questionable teams. Italy’s ageing squad could have an impact on their chances, but equally the experience could play out in their favour. I can’t see anything other than a Belgium/Italy top two and that is decent odds at the moment!
Top tip for Group E – Dual Forecast: Belgium/Italy @ 1/1