_87153062_euro_draw_previewThe wait is over and the Euro 2016 will kick off tonight with an opening game between hosts, France and Ronania, which kicks off 8pm Nigerian time. This year’s tournament promises to be one of the best ever witnessed.  AUSTIN AKHILOMEN and DENZEL ALILIONWU preview the tournament for Newslegend.com.ng
Group A: France, Switzerland, Albania and Romania

An audible sigh of relief came over the Paris auditorium where the draw ceremony for Euro 2016 took place back in December 2015 when the host nation learnt its fate. France have a debutant, Albania, and a somewhat blunt attack, Romania’s, to deal with to ensure early qualification to the knockout phase.

Switzerland may be trickier, but they are the last group opponents for Didier Deschamps’ side and there seems a strong likelihood that match will be a scuffle about who ends up with top place in the pool.

The tournament needs a strong French start possibly with tonight’s game against Romania, to gain its traction with the public. And the relatively low-profile of the teams who share Group A with Les Bleus could be a double-edged sword.

Yes, France ought to rack up some wins, but if the matches are attritional, and low-scoring – and the Romanians and Albanians tend to be cautious – then the sort of buoyant support France knew at the 1998 World Cup, their last major tournament as
hosts, might be hard to recreate. The Swiss should be well supported, being near neighbours.

Newslegend.com.ng’s prediction: France and Switzerland to qualify from Group A.

Group B: England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales

A pool that offers opportunities for everyone, but potentially pitfalls, too. Certainly Groups C, D and E look tougher and while Slovakia are probably the minnows in this group, progress should be very possible for them, too.

The most eye-catching game is England’s meeting with Wales in Lens on June 16 which will be the first time the neighbours have met in a major tournament. Wales however seem to heavily rely on the guile of Gareth Bale and effervescence of Aaron Ramsey but it could turn out to be the case of a ‘dark horse’ emerging from Group B.

Indeed, it is both Wales’ and Slovakia’s first European Championship, giving a welcome air of novelty to a tournament that will feature plenty of new faces.

While Russia, as the Soviet Union, won the inaugural Euros, in 1960, and, in their current guise reached the semi-finals in 2008, they and England may represent the continent’s two major underachievers in the 21st century.

This is the chance to change that. Winning the group brings a fine prize, in the shape of a last-16 tie against a third-placed team.

Even the runners-up could plot a path to the quarter-finals. They would face the second side in Group F, potentially Austria, in the first knockout game.

Newslegend.com.ng’s prediction: England and Slovakia to qualify from Group B
Group C:  Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland and Ukraine

There tend to be two guarantees where Germany are concerned: They will always find themselves in a potentially awkward group and they will always get their way out of it.

Yet if the World Cup winners tend to be immune to shocks, Poland exacted a surprise defeat on them in qualifying.Both progressed to France and their reunion adds intrigue to this pool. So does the meeting of the Euro 2012 co-hosts.

Neither Poland nor Ukraine reached the knockout stages in their home countries four years ago. The Poles, in particular, are equipped to do better now and have the look of potential quarter-finalists, assuming they finish in the top two positions.

Northern Ireland represent the rank outsiders, a team who had not qualified for a tournament since 1986 and a country with less than one-twentieth of the population of each of the others. They will do well to finish anywhere other than fourth.

It would be a major surprise if Germany came anywhere below first. Robert Lewandowski is expected to shoot the Poles to the quarter finals though Northern Ireland will prove difficult customers after showing their mettle in the qualifying group that contained Romania and a disappointing Greece.
Newslegend.com.ng’s prediction: Germany and Poland to qualify from Group C
Group D: Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain and Turkey

Group D is undoubtedly one of the toughest of the six groups, with all four sides currently within the top 30 of the FIFA world rankings.

Spain are the favourites to progress as group winners, with Vicente del Bosque’s side aiming to win the competition for the third time in a row following their triumphs in 2008 and 2012.

The other three nations are all capable of taking second spot. Croatia have several talented players, particularly in midfield; Turkey have been tipped as potential dark horses; and Czech Republic impressively won one of the toughest qualifying groups to bounce back from the disappointment of missing the World Cup two years ago.

Topping Group D will result in a third-placed opponent in the last 16, providing a relatively favourable route into the quarter-finals.

By contrast, finishing as runner-up is likely to lead to a meeting with Belgium or Italy in the first knockout round, a tie that most teams would like to avoid so early in the competition.

Two victories could be enough to finish first in Group D, which looks set to be one of the most competitive of the first stage.
Newslegend.com.ng’s prediction: Spain and Turkey to qualify from Group D


Group E: Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Republic of Ireland

Belgium dominated their Euro 2016 qualifying group, after topping the group with only one defeat in 10 games. Their only defeat came to the hands of Wales, after Real Madrid star Gareth Bale, scored the only goal in the match.

Premier League midfielders Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard shined for their country, both scoring a combined 10 goals in the qualifying tournament.

Although, they faced countries such as Wales, Israel and Cyprus in the qualifiers, which for such a high quality squad Belgium posse, expectations weren’t high, as their country were already expecting their side to overcome these fellow European countries comfortably.

Belgium have one of the strongest squads on paper in the tournament, and manager Marc Wilmots’ only challenge seems to be picking the perfect starting eleven, when their opening game of Euro 2016 commences on 13th June.

After seven wins, three draws and no defeats, Italy eased their way to qualifying for Euro 2016, with an unbeaten run of 10 games.

They may have strolled through without losing, but with the likes of Azerbaijan, Malta and Bulgaria they faced, a 3-1 victory was surprisingly their biggest win of the qualifying stages. Other results included an opening 2-0 win in Oslo, against Norway, and they continued with three slender 1-0 victories over Bulgaria, and Malta home and away, with also 2-1 home wins over Norway and Azerbaijan. Italy have gone unusually under the radar in their chances to win this year’s Euro Championships.

Sweden have not had the luck of the draw. But they have the potential to succeed their countries expectations in this competition, Belgium and Italy just seem too strong for Sweden to beat. However, if Zlatan Ibrahimovic starts against Republic of Ireland, the 6ft 5ins leader could be the difference out of the two sides, which will place Sweden in third. This will happen if they are one of four out of six  strongest finished sides.

Similar to Sweden, Republic of Ireland qualified for Euro 2016 via the long route, by completing their qualifying group in third place. After finishing three points ahead of Scotland, they managed quite a successful campaign, including a shock 1-0 win over Germany. Ireland lost just twice throughout the 10 games, which was worthy of play-off match, against Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Newslegend.com.ng’s prediction: Belgium and Italy to qualify from Group E


Group F: Portugal, Austria, Iceland, Albania
The presence of Cristiano Ronaldo in Group F adds some much-needed glamour to one of the less appetising line-ups at Euro 2016, although the four teams battling it out do at least represent a cross section of Europe’s different cultures and geography – from frozen Iceland in the north, to sunny Portugal in the south and across to the heart of central Europe, where east and west collide.

This is the first time that Austria have qualified for the European Championships – their only previous appearance was as hosts in 2008 – but they could do better than some expect after a brilliant qualifying campaign.

The once-mighty Austria are vying with Albania for the title of least fancied team at Euro 2016. This is the first tournament they have qualified for since 1986 but they are unlikely to set the place on fire.

Newslegend.com.ng’s prediction: Portugal and Austria to qualify from Group F

The anticipation is building. France is the venue and all of Europe’s top talent will be on display but there are some
stars who have been left out for one reason or the other.

1.Danny Welbeck(Injury): Danny Welbeck had an injury plagued campaign but still had some decent games like the one where he scored against Leicester.

Although his playing time was limited he seemed a bright spark for the Gunners. His dreams of an Euro 2016 appearance for England’s Three Lions were cut short after he injured his knee against Manchester City in a Premier League game last season.

2.Karim Benzema(Suspension): Karim Benzema was relishing the chance to shine on home soil but instead he has been suspended as a result of a sex tape scandal.The scandal involed he and his teammate Mathieu Valbuena as he was allegedly ‘guilty’ of blackmailing his international team-mate.
As a result he will play no part in the Euro. A big miss considering the Real Madrid forward is one of the most rounded strikers on the planet.

3.Marco Reus(Snubbed): His omission shocked many.The man who was the left hand prong of the BVB trident along with Aubameyang and Henrick Mikirtaryan.

Joachim Low omitted him due to injury concerns and Reus is very distraught and shocked as a result. Marco Reus has scored 19 goals and assisted 5 in 40 appearances across all competitions.

4.Marco veratti(Injury): A thigh injury keeps the little maestro out of the Italian squad.
Veratti who has been a spark in the PSG midfied will miss the Euros along with Claudio Marchisio.
This leaves a gaping hole in Italy’s midfied which seems to lack a clear playmaker in the absence of the two playmakers.

5.Vincent Kompany(Injury):Man city’s captain. Belgium have a 61.54 win percentage with him and a 43.75 win percentage without him and it shows the importance of Kompany in the squad. Kompany limped off in the Champions League Semi-final against Man City after a reoccuring Calf problem. Belgium have suitable cover but would largely miss him.

6.Daniel Carvajal(Injury) while Madrid were celebrating Dani Carvajal was weeping.His face while limping off tells the story.In a matter of minutes his Champions League final and Euros were over simultaenously.

His injury opened the door for the inclusion of Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin. He suffered muscular injury to his
right leg.

7.Diego Costa(Snubbed):The big blue guy was snubbed By Vincent Del Bosque who preferred Aduriz and Alvaro Morata to him and Fernando Torres. Costa would feel he had a case after scoring 16 goals and setting up 7 in 41 appearances for Chelsea last season. Although the club dipped drastically, Costa’s form picked towards the end of the season.

8.Juan Mata(snubbed) Like costa he was snubbed by Del Bosque after being one of the key performers in Manchester United’s team. He had 6 goals and 5 assists in 34 Premier League appearances last season.He also boasts 85.2% passing accuracy. Juan mata feels highly aggrieved to be dropped after winning the FA Cup and scoring in the final.

9.Kay Gundogan(Injury): Although on the mend, the new Manchester City midfielder will play no part in Germany’s run (again). He has been plagued by injuries over the years and this year’s is painful as he will definitely play no part in the Euros

10.Mamadou Sakho(Ban):Sakho was tested positive for a banned substance by UEFA officials and was suspended for 30 days.

A painful one for Sakho as he was having a good season with Liverpool and he could have really cemented his place in the squad with Rapheal Varrane Injured

From the injured to the snubbed, these stars will all be watching the Euros with some resentment in their hearts and a huge feeling of deja vu.