Euro 2016: Group F Preview

Next up, it’s Group F, also known as the ‘Dark Horse Hipster Group’ of Portugal, Iceland, Austria and Hungary.

 

Portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo

How Ronaldo performs will be one of the main talking points

Portugal have been called the weakest of the top seeds but they are not a team to be easily discounted when it comes to the European Championships. Sometimes flattering to deceive at World Cups, the Iberian side have reached two Euro semi-finals and a final this century, losing only on penalties in the semi-finals to Spain last time around.

Portugal finished second in the under-21 European Championship last year and the success of the underage team will have given an ageing side a fresh impetus. It means that there are places in the squad for players such as Renato Sanches, William Carvalho and Andre Gomes as well as Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and Nani.

Then there is Cristiano Ronaldo, who despite an illustrious career still has somewhat to prove when it comes to international tournaments. He played well as a youngster in Euro 2008 and did himself proud in Euro 2012 but he has never taken control of a tournament and raised the level of his team-mates like you might expect a truly great player to do in an international.

How Ronaldo performs will be one of the biggest talking points of the tournament and if he finally matches his goal scoring exploits for Real Madrid as a Portugal player then Portugal can go very far in this tournament.

One to watch: Aside from the obvious Ronaldo, 18-year-old Renato Sanches is worth keeping an eye on. The central midfielder has just signed for Bayern Munich for €35 million after much competition for his signature. The all-action midfielder has been compared with Edgar Davids.

Austria

David Alaba 2

Any midfield faces a tough battle against David Alaba

 

Many people’s dark horses, Austria have not been considered one of the best teams in Europe since the heady days of the Wunderteam in the 1930s, but this represents one of their best opportunities to make a mark on an international competition in some time. The Austrians were extremely impressive in qualifying and progressed with nine wins and one draw from a tough group which included Sweden, Russia and Montenegro. Among their highlights was a 4-1 win over Sweden, which showed their potential.

The side managed by Marcel Koller have only ever played in one European Championship so lack tournament experience but have a number of individuals with top level experience in club football. Austria have a solid defence that includes recent PFA Team of the Year left-back Christian Fuchs and Spurs’ Kevin Wimmer. In midfield, they are anchored by the fantastic David Alaba, Bayern Munich’s world-class left-back turned midfield general for Austria. He will feed an attack with Stoke’s unpredictable Marko Arnautovic and the clinical Marc Janko upfront.

At 40/1 odds, the central European side might be worth an each-way punt. Another interesting aside is the match-up between Austria and Hungary is the second most-played international in football (only Argentina vs Uruguay met each other in more matches).

One to watch: David Alaba is arguably the most complete player in the tournament and is equally capable in defence or midfield. Technically assured with fantastic awareness and a threat when shooting from distance, any side that faces Austria knows that they face a tough battle when against the Bayern Munich man.

Hungary

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Balazs Dzsudzsak need to be on top form for Hungary

Hungary, like Austria, were once the best football team in the world and trend-setters in how it was played at the highest level. It is still hard to think of Hungary from a football perspective and not immediately think of their Magical Magyar team led by Ferenc Puskas that should have won the 1954 World Cup. While much of that is down to the quality of a once in a generation team, it is also because recently Hungary have given their nation nothing to shout about. This is their first international competition since 1986.

A particular low-point in recent history was when they lost 8-1 to the Netherlands in 2013 (yes that is eight goals to a Louis Van Gaal side) but Hungary can have last laugh as they are in the competition while the Dutch sit at home. Hungary benefited from a soft group that Northern Ireland won as Greece capitulated but they still beat Norway in a playoff to get here. Hungary made the wise decision not to call up calamity-prone Adam Bogdan but include various former Premier League players in their squad that would be good Sporcle answers such as ex-Watford Tomas Priskin, ex-Liverpool Krisztián Németh and ex-Fulham and West Brom’s finest Zoltan Gera.

One to watch: If Hungary are to have any chance, then Balázs Dzsudzsák needs to be on top form. Mainly a left winger, he is the team’s most technically gifted player. Joined Bursaspor from Dynamo Moscow last year and much of their play goes through him.

Iceland

sigurdsson

Gylfi Sigurdsson is likely to be Iceland’s key player

Iceland with a population of only 323,002, less than the metropolitan area of Saint-Etienne, the city in which they play their first match, have already achieved the unthinkable by qualifying for the European Championship. Finishing ahead of Netherlands and Turkey in their group, this small north European country showed that they are not just here to take part.

Iceland have arguably the best coaching system relative to population in the world and the results are starting to show. Iceland made the under-21 European Championship in 2011 and include a number of young, technical players that will show off what can be achieved with limited resources.

Icelandic legend and former Chelsea and Barcelona striker Eidur Gudjohnsen has made an appearance in the squad aged 37, however Iceland also have a few good younger strikers in Kolbeinn Sigporsson and Alfred Finnbogason. Sigporsson has scored 20 goals in 39 games for Iceland, while Finnbogason once scored top scored the Eredivisie with 29 goals. The key man will certainly be Gylfi Sigurdsson however, the Swansea City playmaker who has been one of the Swans best players over the past few years. Iceland are likely to get a lot of neutral support and the opportunity they have been given can be used as a justification for an extended competition.

One to watch: Gylfi Sigurdsson is likely to be Iceland’s key player. He is a specialist on set-pieces and possesses great long-range shooting ability, which he has shown various times in the Premier League for Swansea and Spurs. In tight games, he can be the deciding factor.

Prediction:

Portugal should progress comfortably with Cristiano Ronaldo fancying a few goals against Iceland and Hungary especially. If Austria live up to their billing then they should qualify in second place, pushing Portugal for first. Hungary at 400/1 are the second biggest outsiders in the competition according to the bookies, so Iceland should finish third ahead of the Hungarians. Whether that will be enough to progress depends on the other groups.

David Gorman

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