Euro 2016 Fan Guide
Authors: Felix Dalstein & Sean Bakhtiari
About the Euros
On June 10th the second most popular international soccer tournament, the UEFA European Championship known more simply as “The Euros” or Euro 2016”, will get under way when host nation France welcome Romania to Paris. Like the World Cup and the Olympic Games, the Euros are held every four years. France, who received more votes than Turkey and Italy in the bidding process, will host the tournament for a record third time and were actually the very first country to host the competition 56 years ago when it was first organized in 1960. For the first time ever, there will be 24 nations participating, an increase of 8 teams from 2012 when Spain were crowned champions over Italy. Euro 2016 will be the 15th edition of the competition. Two countries, Spain and Germany, have the opportunity to win the title for a record fourth time – Spain won in 2012, 2008 and 1964 while Germany were champions in 1996, 1980 and 1972. If either Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) or Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) score 3 goals this summer they will join Michel Platini (France) as the highest Euro goal scorers in the history of the competition with 9 goals each… The opening and final match will be played at Saint-Denis’ Stade de France.
Originally, the competition was called the UEFA European Nations Cup, before changing to the current name in 1968. Similar to the World Cup, all nations, except the host country, compete in a qualifying process. Henri Delaunay, former French Football Federation’s secretary-general, was the first to propose the idea of this tournament in 1927. However, it was not until 1958, three years after his death, that the tournament was started. Only four nations competed in the inaugural European Championship, which was won by the Soviet Union beating Yugoslavia 2–1 in a tense final in Paris. The past 14 European Championships have seen 9 different nations lift the trophy, which is appropriately named in honor of Delaunay. Germany and Spain have each won the competition 3 times, followed by France with 2, while the Soviet Union, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Netherlands, Denmark and Greece each have 1 title. Viktor Ponedelnik, second from the right in the picture above, scored the game-winner for the USSR against Yugoslavia in the tournament’s 1st edition.
During the qualifying process, 53 nations competed for 23 open spots. France, as the host country were granted an automatic bid. To the right are the 24 nations, split up into 6 groups who will battle for European supremacy. France, Germany and Spain will be the teams to beat this summer. Statisticians at the University of Innsbruck are giving France a 21.5% chance of being crowned champions, Germany a 20.1% chance and Spain 13.7%... France’s roster is littered with talent – Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Dimitri Payet (West Ham) and Paul Pogba (Juventus) will lead the attack for the host nation. After an embarrassing showing in the 2014 Brazil World Cup, Spain look to bounce back and win a third consecutive Euro title. Head coach Vicente del Bosque named his final 23-man roster on May 31st and has quality in all positions – Defenders Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Pique (Barcelona), Jordi Alba (Barcelona) and Juanfran (Atletico Madrid) are projected to anchor the back line with several star midfielders to choose from including Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Andres Iniesta (Barcelona), Thiago Alcantara (Bayern Munich), David Silva (Manchester City), Pedro (Chelsea), Cesc Fabregas (Chelsea) and Koke (Atletico Madrid). Germany, the reigning World Cup Champions, will be confident in having the best goalkeeper on the planet in Manuel Neuer. In front of Neuer will be a combination of top talent in the likes of Mats Hummels (Borussia Dortmund), Mario Gotze (Bayern Munich), Mesut Ozil (Arsenal), Sami Khedira (Juventus), Toni Kroos (Real Madrid), Thomas Muller (Bayern Munich) and Andre Schurrle (Wolfsburg)… But don’t sleep on England, Belgium, Italy or Portugal. As Greece showed the world in 2004, any team is capable of winning this competition…
The “Dark Horses”
There always seems to be a “Cinderella team” that produces moments of magic and deep runs in international tournaments. We witnessed this when Greece defeated Portugal 1-0 in the 2004 European Championship final, when Costa Rica advanced to the final 8 of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil (defeating Italy and Uruguay in group play while drawing with England) and when Denmark took down Germany 2-0 to win the 1992 European Championship title. The question is, which nation will mesmerize fans of the beautiful game this summer? Among them could be Austria. With Bayern Munich’s David Alaba as their frontrunner, they were the second best team out of all 53 during qualifying, winning 9 games and drawing 1. After hosting the 2008 tournament together with Switzerland, the 2016 Euros are the first European tournament that Austria has qualified for. Their first game is on June 14th against Hungary, a game they could surely win and use to set the tone.
Group F includes another team that could surprise many: Iceland. It is their first time ever participating in a major tournament. After finishing their qualifying group in 2nd place behind the Czech Republic, they could shock both favorites in their Euro 2016 group, Portugal and Austria; as they did to the Netherlands in qualifying. Defense is their strength, conceding only 6 goals in 10 qualifying matches. Certainly no longer a joke, can they perform more heroics at the finals?
There are countless players to watch out for at this year’s Euros including the big names of Cristiano Ronaldo (fresh off a Champions League title with Real Madrid), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who scored 38 goals for PSG in Ligue 1) and Mesut Özil (who led the Premier League in assists with 19). However, there are a few names that fans should pay particularly attention to. First, there is Gareth Bale who had one of his best seasons ever as he guided “Los Blancos” to Champions League glory in May. Now, after carrying Wales to the Euros with 7 goals in qualifying, everyone is anxious to see if he can lead his team past the group stage in their first major finals appearance since 1958. Another up-and-coming star to keep an eye on is Tottenham’s Dele Alli. The youngster scored on his England debut in a friendly win over France, and had an incredible season with the Spurs. He could be one of the unforeseen young stars of the tournament, like James Rodriguez was at the 2014 World Cup. Then, there is the leading goal scorer of the European qualifiers, Robert Lewandowski. Many do not expect Poland to be in contention down the stretch. However, they did defeat Germany 2-0 at home in qualifying and may be able to upset the World Cup champs again in the group stage. Paul Pogba is our final player to watch. Being named “Young Player of the Tournament” in the 2014 Brazil World Cup, Pogba will look to continue to develop into one of the top all-around midfielders in the world this summer.
Among the top storylines is the “mother of football”, England. It has been exactly 50 years since their last and only title, when they won the 1966 World Cup. Their best ever finish at a European Championship was a third place finish at both the 1996 and 1968 tournaments. This year though, they just might have all the ingredients to be competitive down the stretch, possibly winning it all. The Three Lions were the only perfect team in qualifying going 10-0-0. With the likes of Wayne Rooney, Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling and Daniel Sturridge the English certainly do not lack attaching options. Furthermore, history suggests the nations that claim the major prizes possess a world-class goalkeeper - Gianluigi Buffon (Italy: World Cup 2006), Iker Casillas (Spain: Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012) and Manuel Neuer (Germany: World Cup 2014) are prime examples. England’s Joe Hart could elevate himself into that elite bracket with a series of match-defining displays in France.
John Stones added that his side is "quietly confident" of going all the way at Euro 2016. "It's tough because you don't want to put pressure on it, but I'd like to think we're among the contenders," he told Everton's official website. "I've been saying we're quietly confident to people, but obviously all the big teams will feel the same. We've beaten France and Germany since we qualified, which is a big boost and something that will hopefully stand us in good stead if we come up against them at any point.”
Soccer fans around the globe have much to be excited about this summer with three major soccer tournaments taking place – The 2016 Copa America, 2016 Rio Olympics and Euro 2016… It’s the Euros though, that legends Xavi and Zinedine Zidane believe is the most difficult international soccer competition to win, more so than the World Cup due of the sheer number of quality nations involved. According to Zidane, you have time to get going at the World Cup but you cannot afford to make a single mistake at the Euros because you will be punished immediately. The wait is almost over. June 10th cannot come soon enough. Which nations and which players will rise to the occasion in France?...