As the dust settles on the domestic football season in England and across the continent, the temptation for punters is to come over all melancholic and resign themselves to endless trips to the garden centre on Saturday afternoons until August rolls around again.
Well, we’ve good news: this is a ‘football summer’, and the European Championships in France are shaping up to be a fantastic spectacle for spectators and those who enjoy a flutter alike.
So with the loose ends in club football being tied up, now seems as good a time as many to commence our countdown to Euro ’16 by first taking a look at the runners and riders in Group A:
They may have qualified for the European Championships by default as hosts, but it’s fair to say that this France squad is blessed with enough talent to make them one of the outright favourites for the tournament. Factor in that the last two times they have hosted a major tournament on home soil – Euro 2000 and World Cup ’84 – they’ve lifted the trophy. Food for thought for punters.
They should have no problems in progressing from Group A, and what we really like about Les Bleus is that if they win their first two matches and then decide to rest a few players, those who come in will be more than capable of doing a job.
Didier Deschamps has a stacked squad to choose from, and his starting eleven could look something like this: Hugo Lloris; Bacary Sagna, Raphael Varane, Jeremy Mathieu, Patrice Evra; N’Golo Kante, Blaise Matuidi; Dimitri Payet, Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann; Anthony Martial. Other than the full backs, it is hard to pick holes in that side.
Needless to say, backing France to win Group A is one of the smartest investments you will make today. There’s little value in the 2/5 on offer, but it is almost guaranteed profit, and you don’t get that often these days.
A smooth enough passage to France was secured by Switzerland after finishing runners-up to England in Group E of qualifying. Despite home-and-away defeats to the Three Lions, the Swiss would claim 21 points from a possible 24 in their other eight qualification campaign matches.
What we particularly like about this Swiss side is that the spine of their team plies their trade domestically for good teams. The keeper, Yann Sommer, plays for a Bayer Leverkusen side that has just qualified for the Champions League after finishing fourth in the Bundesliga; Johan Djourou will be no stranger to Arsenal fans, while his defensive partner Stefan Lichtsteiner turns out regularly for Juventus; in midfield the outstanding Gokhan Inler is joined by the metronomic Granit Xhaka and Watford’s Valon Behrami, while in attack the precocious Breel Embolo will dovetail with Xherdan Shaqiri and Haris Seferovic.
The weapons are there to progress to the knockout rounds then, and punters should be snapping the hands off bookies who are offering 6/4 on the Swiss finishing second in Group A.
Unbeaten and conceding just two goals in ten matches; that’s the story of Romania’s qualification campaign. On the face of it that’s hugely impressive, but those five wins, five draws were taken from a non-illustrious group including Northern Ireland, Hungary, Finland, Greece and the Faroe Islands. As draws go, that was as sweet as it gets.
Incredibly, in the last calendar year Romania have drawn six of the eight matches they have played, and if they can take a point off Switzerland then it might come down to who beats Albania by the biggest margin as to who qualifies in second place from Group A.
Even so, we’re still happy to back the Swiss. This Romanian squad features some talented players but most play their club football at a rung (at least) below their Swiss counterparts). Their top goalscorer in qualifying managed just two goals too.
We’re not going to dwell too long on Albania, who did immensely well to qualify for Euro ’16 but who are here to make up the numbers.
Harsh words, but the most familiar name in their squad is Lorik Cana, who played for Sunderland for a while, and who qualified partially by default after their match against Serbia was abandoned due to crowd trouble and the Albanians handed three points.
They have some decent scalps on their record in this past year or so, but in big tournament play they should be found wanting.