Back Albania, Northern Ireland, Czech Republic and Hungary not to qualify from their groups @ 4.89/1
For Albania just reaching the European Championships has been a heroic and monumental achievement. They won’t disgrace themselves, but getting out of Group A looks likely to be a step too far for a team lacking in any serious quality across the lines.
Northern Ireland have already majorly upset the odds by winning their qualification group to gain access to France. Whilst their fans will be relentlessly telling French locals about how a lad called Will Grigg is on fire, a Grigg inferno won’t be enough for them to progress ahead of Germany, Poland or Ukraine.
The Czech’s find themselves as the worst seeded team in Group D and face an uphill battle to gain enough points from Holders Spain, Croatia or Turkey to progress. The fact Thomas Rosicky is still a crucial component in their attacking make-up shows the lack of real depth to their squad.
Finally, I’m happy to write off Hungary’s chances of progression too. Portugal and Austria should be a class above them when they face off and whilst the Hungarians have shown capabilities to grind out the narrowest of wins, Iceland’s at times impenetrable team-spirit is likely to see them knockout the Eastern Europeans.
Back Spain/Croatia, Belgium/Italy and Portugal/Austria as a Dual Forecast Treble at 12.23/1
My confidence in all of these teams progressing from their respective groups is high and a dual forecast allows some leeway in terms of it doesn’t matter who finishes first or second – as long as they both finish in the top two it’s a winner.
In Group D this Croatian side is a match for any across Europe on its day but sadly the luck of the draw really hasn’t been kind to them. I do however expect them to progress thanks to the sheer brilliance of their midfield trio of Modric, Rakitic and Brozovic which will provide a platform for the likes of Perisic and Mandzukic to thrive. Along with them, Spain should feel confident enough in winning the Group.
In Group E Belgium and Italy should drag themselves over the line. As you can probably tell I don’t particularly think Belgium and Italy will cruise to the knockout stages, with Belgium notoriously unpredictable and Italy boasting one of their poorest squads in recent memory in terms of attacking flair. However both are capable of edgy wins over Ireland and Sweden respectively.
In Group F Iceland will be the threat to Portugal and Austria but their well-drilled approach to games is now well known, so any surprise factor really should have diminished by now.
Back Portugal to reach the Semi-Finals @ 7/2
The Portuguese tend to be unfancied by many, but having reached Semi-Finals in three of the past four European Championships back in 2000, 2004 and most recently in 2012, Portugal are developing a knack of being in and around the latter stages of this competition.
With Cristiano Ronaldo heading into France off the back of a winning Champions League penalty and Fernando Santos organising a tactically disciplined, well-balanced side behind him – Portugal look set to again slog their way to the Semi-Final’s in my book.
There’s an abundance of experience running throughout the spine of this team which will also be complemented by the youthfulness of the likes of Raphaël Guerreiro, Joao Mario, Andre Gomes, Renato Sanches and Rafa Silva. All of whom are now making some serious strides within the game.
Win Group F and they should be able to edge past an ultra-cautious looking Italian squad and then inevitably knockout England in the Quarters to set-up another showdown with Spain.
Back Spain @ 11/2 each-way
Knocked off their perch somewhat after a dismal 2014 World Cup campaign, some have since rejoiced and proclaimed “Tiki-Taka” is dead.
Such gleefulness was to be expected from some quarters when you factor in Spain’s utter dominance over the International scene in recent years, which at times felt like it was never going to end.
Del Bosque’s men however have bounced back. In qualifying just one loss blotched their route to France, with an impressive eight consecutive clean sheets racked up along the way.
With defensive frailties firmly put to bed and an ultra-talented squad at their disposal, 11/2 looks generous for a team still harbouring a core group of players who have already retained this trophy once before.
Should they top Group D – a feat which will be hard earned against talented Croatian and Turkish sides – Spain will fancy themselves in the knockout stages which could see them set-up a repeat of 2012’s Semi-Final against neighbours Portugal.
Should history repeat itself, Spain will land themselves a spot in the final which is where the beauty of an each-way punt kicks in – guaranteeing profits for punters whether they go on to win or lose the final in Saint-Denis.
Back Belgium @ 11/1 each-way
Only in England could the term “Golden Generation” immediately make you think of a wealth of pitiful failures. But another nation could be about to relate to such connotation.
I’m talking about Belgium here, who on the face of it have a core group of players who look destined for success and yet so often flatter to deceive.
The hype and expectations grew and grew during the build up to the 2014 World Cup, but ultimately Belgium served up a turgid display and looked a team bereft of any real chemistry or fluency throughout.
Marc Wilmots amazingly didn’t shoulder too much of the blame and whilst a ‘lack of experience’ for key players was a fair get-out clause – excuses should now be at a premium.
It’s difficult to comprehend a team potentially containing the attacking talents of Hazard, De Bruyne, Carrasco and Lukaku failing, especially when you then factor in the resilient midfield pairing of Witsel and Nainggolan protecting a back four which should, but won’t, contain Alderweireld and Vertonghen at it’s core; arguably the Premier League’s best central-defensive partnership last season.
This really is a punt on Wilmots allowing Belgium the freedom to express themselves with some sensible team selections and tactics in place. If such fanciful thinking comes to fruition however – we’ve found some outrageous value at 11/1.