The sixth and final group of Euro 2016 looks to be an open and potentially eye-catching affair, with the world’s best player (in some people’s opinions) strutting his stuff and three of the four teams likely to be in the shake-up for progression.
The runners and riders in Group F are:
The presence of Cristiano Ronaldo alone should be able to elevate what is an average Portugal side to the status of probable group winners. They have greater experience than their opposition here – Iceland have never qualified for a major tournament before and it’s been a long time since Hungary were seen in big competition – and that will surely count for something.
But they were completely ambition-less in their 0-1 friendly defeat to England on Thursday, and failing to fire a single shot on goal in 90 minutes against a muddled and befuddled Three Lions is a damning indictment of Portugal’s lack of enterprise. The sending off of Bruno Alves for a wild challenge – in a friendly no less – speaks volumes.
Luckily for them, they should be able to progress as group winners despite themselves, and that’s more because Austria lack the ability to punish them and Iceland, well, as impressive as they are we just don’t know how they’re going to get on in major tournament play.
But as soon as they come up against any side of merit, they will presumably perish. So, Portugal to exit Euro 2016 in the round of 16 is the real smart bet here, but 17/20 on them to win Group F is just about value enough.
Here’s a team with bags of big tournament experience but few performances of note to speak of in recent times; they will be hoping Euro 2016 puts an end to that run.
There is talent here: Marc Janko is as prolific as frontmen come, and while he may not be a household name he has scored religiously for the likes of Porto, Basel and Salzburg throughout his career. Marko Arnautovic is a name perhaps more familiar to English football fans thanks to hi spell at Stoke City, and he will provide craft and guile on the left flank.
Qualification was straightforward enough for the Austrians; they won nine of their ten matches, conceding just five goals – they have the likes of Leicester’s Christian Fuchs and Aleksandar Dragovic to thank for that.
Fun fact: all four of Austria’s most recent friendlies have ended 2-1 (they’ve on two, lost two), so correct score punters have something of an in for their Euro 2016 matches! But as we’ve seen, there is plenty to promote the hopes of the Austrians here, so backing them to finish second – with Portugal first – in a double pays at 5/2.
The undoubted surprise package of Euro 2016 qualifying, Iceland powered through a group containing the likes of Czech Republic, Turkey and the Netherlands to book their place in France with a very respectable second-place finish. This is the first major tournament that Iceland have qualified for, and they did so with gusto.
Many in this Iceland squad will be unfamiliar to the masses, although their main man is Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson. The rest of their roster is largely made up of up-and-coming hopefuls and rock solid pros plying their trade across Europe. But they are well organised, determined and consistent, and with Sigurdsson’s prowess from set pieces you just never know how far they can progress.
The downside is that they have played eight friendlies since November; losing six of them. Let’s hope they haven’t started believing their own hype….
But knowing that they could take four points from their three group matches – which is likely to be enough to go through as a third-placed finisher – means that backing Iceland to go qualify for the last 16 at 6/5 looks a jolly worth backing.
Sorry Hungary fans, but we just can’t see you making inroads in France. You qualified in third from a group containing the woeful Faroe Islands and the even worse Greece (before impressively beating Norway in the play-offs, it has to be said), and with your squad of players largely based domestically and in the lower reaches of Turkish football we can’t make any bold statements as to your progress here.