Razvan Rat

Photo by Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images

EURO 2016 preview, Group A: France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania

Leave a comment

France

Thrice the tournament has been held in France, and Les Bleus won it on two of those occasions (1984 and 2000). Semifinalists in 1996, France will be favored to win its group and make a deep run as hosts.

Game schedule:

June 10 — vs. Romania at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 15 — vs. Albania at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 19 — vs. Switzerland at Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

Star player: Paul Pogba (Juventus) — the in-demand Juventus star and Manchester United cast-off is a wizard with the ball at his feet, and capable of striking from anywhere.

Why France can thrive from being host nation: As stated above, they’ve won the tournament twice on home soil, and have lost just once since mid-June 2015. This is a team so deep its B-side would be expected to make the knockout rounds.

But most likely Deschamps youngsters will crumbled under pressure: It’s not that France can’t cope with the pressure, but their mettle as a unit is almost completely unknown given their automatic qualification. France hasn’t played in a meaningful match since the 2014 World Cup.


Switzerland

Just their fourth tournament after failing to qualify in 2012. Has not advanced past the group stage.

Granit Xhaka of Switzerland (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Albania at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 15 — vs. Romania at Parc des Princes in Paris
June 19 — vs. France, Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille

Star player: Granit Xhaka (Arsenal) — We’ll give the nod to the Premier League new boy, as ex-Borussia Monchengladbach standout Xhaka enters the tournament with 42 caps and six goals at the age of 23.

Why Switzerland can make a sneaky run: The Swiss have close to a golden generation of talent that may just be entering its prime. Watch for youngster Breel Embolo to ignite his star, and for Ricardo Rodriguez and a loaded defense to prove stingy.

But where’s the end product? Switzerland has a lot of players who can tempt the goal, but only Xherdan Shaqiri has a goal production rate of better than one in four matches. The lack of a “talisman” will cost the Swiss.


Romania

Romania has been three-and-out in all but one of their four tournaments, the outlier a quarterfinal appearance after both England and Germany flunked Group A in 2000. First Euro since 2008.

BUCHAREST, ROMANIA - OCTOBER 08: Razvan Rat of Romania in action during the UEFA EURO 2016 Qualifier between Romania and Finland on October 8, 2015 in Bucharest, Romania. (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
Razvan Rat of Romania (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 10 — vs. France at Stade de France in Saint-Denis
June 15 — vs. Switzerland at Parc des Princes in Paris
June 19 — vs. Albania at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon

Star player: Vlad Chiriches (Napoli) — The central defender and captain will be the main man holding everything together. Failed to shine at Spurs but has never let Romania down.

With experience in the back and in goal, Romania could just ride captain Chiriches and 111-cap man Razvan Rat into another unlikely knockout round appearance.

The schedule will cost them, though, as opening with the host nation before facing Switzerland should make the Albania match academic.


Albania

Have neither made a World Cup nor a Euro until this tournament.

ZURICH,SWITZERLAND - APRIL 26: Armando Sadiku of FC Zurich runs during the Swiss Super League football match between FC Zurich and FC Luzern held on April 26, 2014 at the Letzigrund Stadion in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Michael Buholzer/EuroFootball/Getty Images)
Armando Sadiku (Photo by Michael Buholzer/EuroFootball/Getty Images)

Game schedule:

June 11 — vs. Switzerland at Stade Bollaert-Delelis in Lens
June 15 — vs. France at Stade Velodrome in Marseille
June 19 — vs. Romania at Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon

Star player: Armando Sadiku (FC Lugano) — On loan to Vaduz in Liechtenstein, the Zurich striker has scored in each of Albania’s last three matches.

Shock the world? Albania gets Switzerland first, and might be able to hold down the fort and then hope France doesn’t find chemistry in match two before beating Romania.

Probably not, though. Everyone loves an underdog. Everyone should love Albania a ton.


Who’s going through, who’s going home: France and Switzerland advance, with Romania and Albania battling for third.

Marquee match: The finale between Switzerland and France should have the group “title” in the balance.

Top players to watch: 

  1. Paul Pogba, France
  2. Antoine Griezmann, France
  3. Dimitri Payet, France
  4. N'Golo Kante, France
  5. Granit Xhaka, Switzerland

Six Premier League players in Euro qualifying All-Star Team

David Davies/PA via AP
2 Comments

UEFA has named an All-Star Team from the group stage of Euro 2016 qualifying, and it’s predictably-loaded with Premier League aces.

Six of the 11 starters ply their trade in England’s top flight, while “bench” player Kevin De Bruyne is also in the mix.

Thibaut Courtois is one of two Chelsea players to fit into the XI, along with club back line mate Gary Cahill. Another club with two reps is Swansea, which sees Ashley Williams and Gylfi Sigurdsson in the fray.

[ MORE: What should Klinsmann be achieving with USMNT? ]

Steven Davis of Southampton and Matteo Darmian of Manchester United also make the list.

Serie A has a second-best four players in the squad, while La Liga and the Bundesliga each have three. Russia’s first division has one with Zenit Saint-Petersburg star Artyom Dzyuba.

Lineup

Goalkeeper: Thibaut Courtois (Belgium / Chelsea)

Defenders: Razvan Rat (Romania / Rayo Vallecano), Gary Cahill (England / Chelsea), Ashley Williams (Wales / Swansea), Matteo Darmian (Italy / Manchester United)

Midfielders: David Alaba (Austria / Bayern Munich), Steven Davis (Northern Ireland / Southampton), Gylfi Sigurdsson (Iceland / Swansea).

Forwards: Gareth Bale (Wales / Real Madrid), Robert Lewandowski (Poland / Bayern Munich), Thomas Muller (Germany / Bayern Munich)

Subs: Ciprian Tatarusanu (Romania / Fiorentina), Marek Hamsik (Slovakia / Napoli), Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium / Manchester City), Jordi Alba (Spain / Barcelona), Kamil Glik (Poland / Torino), Artyom Dzyuba (Russia / Zenit), Ivan Perisic (Croatia / Inter Milan)