In Part One, Patrick previewed groups A and B, containing the likes of favourites France, as well as Home Nations England and Wales. Here he previews groups C-F as well as picking his overall winners for the tournament.
Germany will likely cruise it, even if they do plump for faux hard man Emre Can at full-back and only have Mario Gomez as an out-and-out centre-forward. False nines are out of fashion tactically, but any side that contains Thomas Muller will carry significant threat going forward. There’s quality all over the park, in the form of Champions League winner Toni Kroos and new Bayern signing Mats Hummels, amongst others, and this will see the Germans into the latter stages.
Welcome, Northern Ireland while we’re at it! Michael O’Neill’s combative outfit will no doubt fancy their chances of making it out of a group without a second seed of the quality of Italy.
Robert Lewandowski’s Poland and Ukraine’s gifted litany of wingers lie in wait. Key for NI will be stifling the duo’s star men. Can they do it, while also troubling opposition defences? Kyle Lafferty’s their best forward, so probably not.
Soooo, Germany and Poland. Just.
2012 winners Spain are the best Group D has to offer. Again shorn of a top striker in the David Villa mould, La Roja’s core nevertheless remains strong. De Gea, Ramos, Pique, Busques, Iniesta, Morata is just about as good as it gets this time around and is enough to make Spaniards dream of a run to the latter stages of the competition. I’m also looking forward to seeing Celta Vigo winger Nolito finally get his chance to impress after putting together two excellent La Liga seasons back-t0-back, but that’s probably of less interest to you good folk.
Czech Republic? Meh. My advice would be to steer clear of their games unless you’re putting a bet on below 2.5 goals.
That leaves Turkey and Croatia. I’m currently in the habit of talking up the latter on the basis that their midfield axis of Modric and Rakitic- with Kovacic waiting in reserve- could/should well be a joy to behold; a dual metronomic device that toys with the opposition in a manner not seen since Xavi and Iniesta ruled Europe with Pep. Count me in, whenever they play.
Turkey also have real quality, though. Free-kick extraordinaire Hakan Çalhanoğlu (thanks for the spelling tip, Google) is a playmaker of bona fide quality, while Barca’s Arda Turan can also mix it with the best on his day.
Could three teams progress from Group D, then? You bet.
Belgium and Italy are favourites to make it out of Group E, and rightly so.
The Belgians have a golden crop of talent capable of troubling Europe’s traditional powers. From De Bruyne and Hazard to Lukaku and Carrasco, Marc Wilmots’ options in the attacking are plentiful- as are his defensive ones too, to be fair.
This strength in depth may well work to the Diables Rouges advantage as they look to make an impact on the tournament, however, the team can often lack balance in wide positions, with Wilmots accused of playing square pegs in round holes. Excellent Spurs central pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen at full-back. No ta. Resolve this, though, and a semi-final place is up for grabs for Belgium, as far as I’m concerned.
The Italians are more difficult to pin down, despite being an established powerhouse. Fans of the Azzurri head into the tournament bemoaning their worst side in decades, despite a defence containing Buffon, Chiellini and Bonucci. In the grand scheme of things they do have a point, even if they’ll always remain difficult to beat. Think of it this way: when you’ve gone from Del Piero to Graziano Pelle in the space of just over a decade you’re right to question what’s gone wrong. Either way, they should at least make it out of the group. Beyond that? Who knows.
Sweden and Ireland also harbour realistic hopes of progressing. Expect Zlatan to tip the expected third-place play-off in favour of the Swedes. Au revoir, Ireland?
Last, but by no means least: Group F.
Portugal of Cristiano Ronaldo fame- or maybe it’s the other way round- are the top seeds and will count on their star man to edge tight games in their favour. I’m expecting a few of them, as the Portuguese are a solid, no frills side on the whole.
Away from star men who go around scoring penalties and then posing topless in a manner befitting an early stage Dorian Gray, teenager Renato Sanches is a real midfield prospect and could form an attractive partnership with schemer Joao Moutinho.
Elsewhere, newcomers Hungary and Iceland will surely battle it out to secure the points needed to qualify for the last 16. Will we see Gylfi Sigurdsson beyond the group stages? Let’s hope so. We all need one Leicester City-style underdog to cling to, after all…
Winner: Spain, France or Germany. Cop out, I know, but there’s little to separate the three. Belgium could do well, too.
Top Scorer: Thomas Muller to pip a host of strikers, including Griezmann, Giroud and Ronaldo, to the post if the Portuguese attacker hasn’t already racked up double figures in the group stages…
Dark horses: Croatia. Who’s going to get the ball off Modric, Rakitic, Kovavic and co?
Flop: One of Italy or Belgium. Basically, whoever draws the short straw in finishing second in their group. Both are favoured, however there may only be room for one to make a real impact.