The round robin portion of Euro 2016 was full of surprises. Yet, 36 games later, the favorites to win the tournament remain the same. Some stay near the top of the odds thanks to solid play (see Germany) while others benefitted from a great draw in the knockout phase (see Belgium).
Every game from now until the final (July 10) is do-or-die. Let’s take a closer look at the top contenders and try to sort out who will respond and who will buckle under the pressure.
France earned two wins and a draw in the round robin to top Group A. But there were ample issues, especially on the attack. While Dimitri Payet has been outstanding, the rest of the team has not. They now have a tough road to the finals, facing Ireland and then likely England. If they win both of those, either Germany, Spain, or Italy is going to be waiting in the semis. Ouch.
Just like France, the expectations were sky-high for Germany ahead of the tournament. The Germans likely aren’t content with how they played in the Group Stage, but they won their group without conceding a goal. Striker Thomas Muller is not at his best right now, and the team hasn’t found anyone to take his place. But they certainly showed enough in the round robin to keep them near the top, even though they’ll face either Italy or Spain after dealing with Slovakia in the Round of 16.
Spain’s loss to Croatia in the group stage could prove costly. Their first Euro loss since 2004 led to a second-place finish in their group and a matchup with Italy in the Round of 16. They are not the same team that won this tournament in 2008 and 2012, but they are still dangerous.
The only reason Belgium’s odds are this good is their draw. France, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, and England are all on the other side of the bracket. The top contenders on Belgium’s side are an overachieving Croatia and a sputtering Portugal. That said, they have improved as the tournament has gone on. After a thoroughly unimpressive 2-0 loss to Italy, they overwhelmed an overmatched Ireland (3-0) and nipped Sweden (1-0). Now they get surprise Hungary in the Round of 16 followed by the winner of Wales/Northern Ireland. It doesn’t get any easier than that.
Nobody has played better than Croatia so far. They played well in all three phases of the game. Apart from a mental collapse late in their game with the Czechs (which ended 2-2), they hardly put a foot wrong in the Group Stage. Their win over Spain should give them the confidence that they can win it all. Their draw (Portugal in the Round of 16 followed by the winner of Poland/Switzerland) should only boost morale.
Republic or Ireland: 100/1
Northern Ireland: 250/1
I’m leaning towards Croatia. Belgium’s path to the final is a bit easier, but Croatia are still on the weaker side of the bracket and they’re playing the best soccer. The win over Spain showed that they can not only hang with, but beat, Europe’s top teams, so they won’t be overwhelmed no matter who emerges from the other side of the draw.
(Photo Credit: Michael Kranewitter (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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