Many in Europe believe that the Uefa European Championship is the most difficult continental championship to win, even more difficult than the Fifa World Cup itself.
Who will succeed reigning champions Spain as European champions of EURO 2016 in France?
Will it be one of the favorites — holders Spain, hosts France, defending world champions Germany — or will the Italians surprise the world? Or will this be the year England finally win their first major footballing trophy since 1966?
This year’s showpiece is a special European championships for several reasons, one significant reason being that for the first time its format has changed to accommodate 24 countries from its traditional 16-team format.
It also has the peculiarity of not featuring the Netherlands, (current the third best world team from the last World Cup) as they failed to qualify and welcoming relatively unknown Albania, who will appear for the very first time, instead.
Here’s a look at some of the participating countries and their chances of claiming the spoils.
Here is a team that is blessed with so much talented, young and experienced players and when it comes to logistics have no problems as they share geographical borders with host nation France.
Accompanying fan support is definitely assured in thousands, but the Belgians have the crippling problem of star players having struggled this season at club level.
Match fitness, confidence and automatism could do them in, not to talk of internal problems rumored to be ailing the team’s core framework.
Eden Hazard and Marouane Fellaini, among others, have had seasons to forget with their club sides, while captain and defensive rock Vincent Kompany is out of the competition due to injuries. However, in Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne they have a star player on whose current form and talent they can build on.
One should also not forget Belgium is the world’s second-best ranked team behind Argentina and Europe’s number 1 ranked team at the moment.
The French have so many reasons to believe that this could be the year that they once again rule Europe.They seem to win it every 16 years! The first European championship won by the French was in 1984 in Spain, led by Michel Platini.
Sixteen years later, the French, led by current coach Didier Deschamp, were once again crowned champions of Europe in Belgium and the Netherlands.
However, if the performance by the French in their last friendly preparation game against Cameroon is anything to go by, it is a wake-up call to the French that on this form they are far from championship material. How they can get back together will be decisive as they have a very talented team and have the ability and manpower to go all the way.
The English were the only team that won all of its qualifying games — an impressive 10 wins out of 10.
This could (falsely) make them believe they are title material but in reality the caliber of the competition during the qualifiers wasn’t a sure barometer, and the seasonal form of the influential players at the club level, I feel, does not garner much optimism.
The defending world champions have not been at their very best ever since they conquered the world in Brazil 2014. They have been rudely criticised at home and have had some unusual losses, but still managed to qualify like they always do.
The Germans are at their best when the world counts them out and their club sides have been impressive at the continental championships with local players playing major roles.
I feel we should expect a difficult tournament for the Germans, especially at the beginning, but don’t be surprised to see them in the semifinals and/or finals. They could definitely lift the title.
Considering that most of their key players ply their trade in the local league, a league that is not as competitive in Europe and at international level as it used to be, I fear we should not be expecting too many great things from Italy.
When you have Cristiano Ronaldo in your team, arguably the best player in the world and a player who just won the Champions League and scoring once again over 50 individual goals in the season, you definitely must fancy your chances of being European champions.
I honestly believe if the Portuguese can build a well-knitted defensive network around Ronaldo and couple it with incessant support and runs around him, they have a very good shot at the title.
When defending champions Spain dominated the world from 2008 till 2012, they had most of their influential players coming from two teams: Real Madrid and Barcelona. In fact, Barcelona players made up 60 percent of the starting lineup and were simultaneously unbeatable at club and national team level.
Today these two teams, accompanied by the impressive Sevilla, have practically obliterated all other European club sides at the continental level, but the decisive actors to these achievements are not Spanish internationals as Barcelona and Real Madrid are now dominated by influential foreign players.
However, with a coach like Vicente Del Bosque in charge don’t be surprised if they get to the finals and do the unthinkable: win a third consecutive European Championship!
Get ready, it’s just days to kickoff.