While the Euro 2016’s expanded field and easy-enough advancement makes a Group of Death a bit less scary, nations will still be stung by their bad fortunes in Saturday’s draw in France.
[ MORE: Recapping the draw ]
Here are three nations who love their chances, and three who wish they had extra fingers to cross.
Three happy bunches
1. France — One of those draws that has your cynical FIFA mind wondering where Michel Platini sent his last check. The hosts get Albania, Romania, and Switzerland in a Group A where everyone likes their chances to advance to the knockout rounds.
2. Spain — There isn’t a true weak side in the group between Turkey, Czech Republic and Croatia, Vicente Del Bosque will like his chances to enter the driver’s seat for a third-straight title. If the favorites all win their groups, Spain will face Portugal or England as the main rivals toward a final. Not bad.
3. Group F — Okay, so there are four sides here, but would you be surprised to see anyone, excluding Hungary, win this group. Portugal has Cristiano Ronaldo but was underwhelming at World Cup and was not challenged in qualifying. Iceland is a promising side but lacks big game (winning) experience. And Austria, while dominant in qualifying, is largely untested on the global stage.
Three groups of sad faces
1. Belgium — An emerging power, Belgium not only has to escape Italy, Ireland and Sweden, but even in winning the group would find itself on the same side of the knockout bracket as two of the tournament favorites in expected group winners France and Germany. Woof.
2. England — When the Three Lions drew the U.S., Slovenia and Algeria in 2010, a newspaper famously used an acronym to call the group E.A.S.Y. That’s far from the case here. England will face a tricky Russia side to open the tournament before getting an amped-up Gareth Bale and Wales. If they need points at the end, the Three Lions will like seeing Slovakia, but it could be over by then.
That said, England ran riot in qualifying and probably fancies its chances against anyone that wasn’t named Italy. I’m assuming my inclusion of England and the Wales point will have some Three Lions supporters scratching their heads.
3. Republic of Ireland — While perhaps there is a bit of “Hey we’re happy to be here” to the Irish stock this go-round, there are match-up nightmares a-plenty between Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden, a speedy and creative Belgian side, and miserly Italy. Don’t punch me, Roy Keane, but I’m scared for your chances.