We are now just weeks away from another tournament that will take a strong hold on football fans in Europe and maybe globally: Euro 2016 in France. For the second time the tournament will be hosted by France; the last edition in 1984 saw Michel Platini guide his team to overall victory. On their way to the final, the French beat their nemesis from the previous World Cup, West Germany.
Only once before has the western hemisphere experienced a major sporting event in the wake of terrorist attacks: The Olympic Games of Salt Lake City in 2002. The mood in France after that annus horribilis 2015 is certainly one of concern, at least from the point of view of the organizers and security services. What to do if November 13 was just a test run for a much larger operation? The idea alone is terrifying.
These concerns notwithstanding, there are more than 60 games of football to be played before we have another European champion. Will it be Spain for a third consecutive time? Germany, the world champion? France, the hosts? Or will we see a dark horse running away with the title? Here is a brief look at the teams that are deemed favourites and dark horses. For convenience the limit is set at 6 teams altogether, 4 favourites and 2 dark horses, based on the Euro 2016 odds.
The Holders: Spain
Despite having suffered an abysmal World Cup, including a 5-1 defeat against Holland, Spain had 2 years to prepare during which most people switched their attention onto Germany or England and saw that Holland have not qualified at all for the tournament. This period of calm could have proved to be a vital lifeline and it should not surprise anyone if Spain will make the latter stages of the tournament or even another final.
The World Champions: Germany
Of course they are among the favourites; the Germans always are. Perhaps the defeat against Italy in the semi-final in the previous edition 2012 was THE crucial eye opener for Jogi Löw to turn this immensely talented squad into World Cup winners. Their qualification was a rocky road suggesting that all might not be well. A surprising defeat against England in March added fuel to the worst fears among German fans. However, this was rectified by a magnificent victory against Italy only a few days later. It is important to keep things in perspective. Both were friendlies and while one suggests that Germany switched off after 60 minutes, the other points that the team in fact can turn it on if they have to.
The Hosts: France
They are playing at home and their record under such circumstances speaks for itself: 1984 they won the European Championship in France and added a World Cup in 1998 also in France. They at their best when they play on home soil or nearby. A strong display in 2014 in Brazil saw them go out to Germany, who went on to win the tournament. Without any competitive match for two years, no one knows what could happen to France: will they rise to the occasion or will they crumble? Or something in between? There was unrest surrounding Karim Benzema but national coach Didier Deschamps has made it clear that such a personality has no place within the French squad. Who will be Zizou’s successor and lift another trophy?
Yes, Italy. The state of Italian football currently is not the best, but so it was in 2012 and they still managed to beat Germany comprehensively in the semis without giving them a chance to get into the game at all. The masters of minimalism could be the team no one has on their notebooks. Remember 2006 when everything seemed to be against them. They created a siege mentality that carried them through the tournament, gave them the edge over Germany in the semi-final and even held out against a superb France team that destroyed itself.
For a long time England look like a team again that actually knows what team play means. Previous England managers did not put the best team together but assembled the biggest names in English football and hoped for the best. Where this went, everyone is familiar with. The quarter-final stage has become the glass ceiling for England in recent years. If Jamie Vardy can use his speed to the team’s advantage and can pair up with Harry Kane, England possess the best attacking duo in Europe and should not fear anyone. This is the achievement of Roy Hodgson who has not been popular with the English press but who kept his head and could be in for a surprise in France.
There is a stir about Belgium; the team is young and they play very good football. If the axis Hazard-Fellaini-de Bruyne works well, no one knows what could happen in France during the tournament. Yes, qualification is one thing and a tournament another, especially with games every three to four days. Since Hazard et.al. play in England they are used to this rhythm and surely can perform at this level. However, league football is a different matter to a tournament where every game is important.
Whatever happens in France we will see while it happens. Surely, this will be an interesting tournament, the last in the traditional format before the 2020 edition will become a flying circus.