Tournament Winner

THE FAVOURITES
The general consensus amongst most pundits is that it is highly probable one of France, Germany or Spain will win Euro 2016. Recent history supports this argument - only Greece’s shock win in 2004 has come in the way of either Germany (1996), France (2000) or Spain (2008 and 2012) winning each of the past 5 European Championships.

Spain are being priced in at the highest odds of the three favourites ($6.50 Bet365) and most view them as a squad whose best days are behind them. A shocking 2014 World Cup campaign saw them bundled out in the group stages, and they haven’t exactly set the world on fire since. In recent friendlies against Italy (1-1) and Romania (0-0), they have had just three and four shots on target respectively – hardly the sort of numbers that will win you a European Championship. I wouldn't read too much into their 6-1 win over an underdone South Korean squad on June 1, as they will be facing far better opponents in France.

Despite the doom and gloom, it is undeniable that on paper, the Spanish squad is still capable of beating anyone. Further to this, even though many claim them to be an ageing squad, key players such as Silva, Fabregas, Busquets, Ramos, Pique and De Gea are all 30 or younger.

Will they make it three consecutive European Championships in France? Maybe, but I won’t be backing them at the $6.50.

Germany have made the semi-finals or better of every major tournament they’ve contested since being bundled out in the group stages of Euro 2004. A weight of expectation that they’d deliver their first major title since 1996 was lifted when they defeated Argentina in the final of the 2014 World Cup. They retain largely the same squad from that breakthrough triumph 2 years ago.

Surprisingly, their path to Euro 2016 qualification wasn’t all that rosy, with shock losses to Poland and the Republic of Ireland. Recently, they were dispatched 3-1 by lowly Slovakia in a warm-up game for this tournament. More cause for concern Is that key players, including Jerome Boateng, Mario Gotze and Bastian Schweinsteiger, have spent more time in the physio room than on the pitch in recent months.

Only two countries have ever claimed back-to-back World Cup and European Championships – France (1998, 2000) and Spain (2010, 2012). This German team is certainly capable of achieving this, and I wouldn’t begrudge anyone placing a bet on them to do so. However, I’m not sure the best odds on offer ($5 UNIBET) represents a good value wager.

France is a team riding the hopes of a nation at Euro 2016. After the tragic terror attacks in November of last year, a win for France on home-soil would also be the preferred result for most neutrals. The French squad consists of a number of players that are in the best form of their careers. The likes of Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), Paul Pogba (Juventus), Dimitri Payet (West Ham United), Blaise Matuidi (PSG) and N’Golo Kante (Leicester City), simply haven’t had better seasons than what they produced in 2015/16. Add to this the exciting young talents coming through, in particular Anthony Martial (Man United) and Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), and Les Bleus have a dynamic, in form squad with plenty of depth.

One area of weakness could be the French defence. recent friendly wins against Russia (4-2) and Holland (3-2) have shown some frailties in this area. However, with their attacking firepower, the occasional defensive lap may be inconsequential.

Yes, they are the shortest odds of any of the 24 teams, but I think the price of $4 (SportsBet) is more than justified. The last hosts to win the European Championships was France back in 1984, and I expect them to do so again 32 years on!
France - 1pt @ 4.00
THE CONTENDERS
These teams are a step down from the big 3, but each of them will still be quietly hopeful of lifting the trophy on July 10.

England are being priced at $9.50 (William Hill), and it is hard to get excited about those sort of odds. Despite cruising through their qualifying group with 10 wins from as many games, recent friendly results have been unconvincing. In their May 27 win over the Socceroos, they had fewer shots and corners than the world’s 59th best footballing nation, as well as just 45% of the possession – the 2-1 score line flattered the hosts. England have some exciting young players coming through (Kane (22), Sterling (21), Dier (21), Barkley (22), Alli (20) and Stones (21), and I honestly think the future is bright for The Three Lions. However, I think their chances for a first European Championship will be much better in 4 years’ time.

Belgium topped the FIFA world rankings up until March this year, and they are a team oozing talent. The likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard would waltz into all but a few of the world’s best national and club sides. Disappointingly, this golden generation of players are yet to perform on the world stage, having missed qualification for Euro 2012 and failing to progress past the quarter-finals at Brazil 2014. However, something tells me this is a stronger team than the one that was shaded 1-0 by eventual finalists Argentina two years ago. At double digit odds ($12 SportsBet), they will surely give you a good run for your money.

Portugal are still a team that are too heavily reliant on one player – Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo has never quite been able to translate his club form to dominant performances for his country, and at 31 years of age, it’s hard to see him ever lifting a major trophy at the international level. Portugal do have some decent young players coming through, in particular Rafa Silva (Braga), who could well have a breakout tournament in France. However, their squad simply doesn’t compare to the likes of France, Germany, Spain or even Belgium. Don’t be tempted by the $21 (Bet365) on offer, Portugal won’t be winning Euro 2016.

Italy are a proud footballing nation and there Is always an expectation they will perform admirably at any major tournament. There are no star players that jump off the page in the current squad, so this is an Italian team that will rely more on tactics, discipline and desire than individual brilliance. Italy are in perhaps the tournaments toughest group with Belgium, Sweden and Ireland, but should finish top 2 with minimal fuss. How much further they progress is questionable. Four years ago they were humbled 4-0 in the final to a far superior Spanish team, reaching the final again this year would be a massive achievement.
Belgium - 1pt @ 12.00
THE LONG SHOTS
There are a couple big outsiders in the betting markets who offer some value, particularly to reach the latter stages of the tournament, as opposed to actually lifting the trophy.

Austria are at quite juicy odds ($41 William Hill), and whilst they may be extremely unlikely to actually win the tournament, the option to back them to make the semi-finals ($6 UNIBET) is quite appealing. The Austrian Federation invested big dollars back in 2009, establishing the ‘Project 12’ programme – providing world class training for the nation’s most promising 15-21 year olds. Nine members of the current squad, including David Alaba (Bayern Munich), are products of ‘Project 12’. This is a team that is in red-hot form, having won their last 10 fixtures (although their highest ranked opponent in that bunch was Russia (FIFA Ranking: 27)). I am keen to see how they fair in their final warm-up game, against the Netherlands on June 4th, before placing my bets!

Wales have a first 11 made up almost entirely of premier league players, including the quality of Joe Allen (Liverpool) and Aaron Ramsay (Arsenal). Add the world’s most expensive player, Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) into the mix, and it’s hard to believe you can get $3.60 (Bet365) for Wales to reach the quarter finals. I’m confident they can finish second in group B (England, Wales, Russia, Slovakia), meaning they will likely face another 2nd place team in the round of 16, and have every chance to reach the final 8!
Austria Reach Semi-Final - 1pt @ 6.00
Wales Reach Quarter-Final - 1pt @ 3.60