So club football is done for a few months. But don’t fear, because we have some real international football (the Confederations Cup does not count as real international football) to ease the pain. From the tenth of June, we have a month of Euro 2016 action to sink our teeth into. It seems we will probably once again expect way too much from England and go away disappointed, so we might as well take a look at what the other teams have to offer.
The hosts France are the pre-tournament favourites, and for good reason. The likes of Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman give them an edge going forward, while Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante will give them some much needed power in the centre of midfield. Raphael Varane’s injury will be an issue though, as defenders like Jeremy Mathieu and Eliaquim Mangala are suspect at the back. Holders Spain will probably be up there, but they no longer carry the fear factor that they once did, especially after going out at the group stages in the 2014 World Cup. The current squad however may lack just one important aspect. Goals. Alvaro Morata may have done well at Juventus, but having left out Fernando Torres and Diego Costa, they may be lacking firepower. Defenders will not be quaking in their boots at the prospect of facing Lucas Vazquez and Nolito.
But what about the World Champions? The Germans certainly can’t be written off, despite their indifferent form in recent months. They still have a number of players who have shown their class in the past, notably Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Toni Kroos. However there are quite a few members of that squad who haven’t yet established themselves at the highest level. Leroy Sane and Julian Draxler in particular look set to become top players in the future, but they might not be ready to make their mark at the highest level just yet.
Another team in a pretty similar boat are Belgium, who have been rocked by yet another calf injury suffered by Vincent Kompany. Eden Hazard seems to have finally found what we think is his real self just at the right time which could be key, as is Kevin de Bruyne’s return to fitness. Much though will depend on whether their strikers can fire in a major tournament, unlike in Brazil two years ago. We know what Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke are capable of at club level, but they will have to bring their A-game to France if the Belgians are to have any sort of success.
England are down as the fourth or fifth favourites with many, but don’t expect them to pull up too many trees. The Three Lions are certainly short at the back, and the decision to leave out Danny Drinkwater is a bizarre one, especially given that neither Jack Wilshere nor Jordan Henderson are fully fit. For those of you who are looking for a Leicester-like underdog, both Albania and Northern Ireland are available at 500-1. This is probably a bit harsh on Ireland, because they’ve got Will Grigg, and Will Grigg’s on fire.
Golden Boot Winner
On sheer goal scoring ability alone, you would consider Robert Lewandowski as clear favourite to win this prize. However playing for Poland will be totally different to playing for Bayern Munich. He will certainly be able to take his chances when they come along, but you have to wonder how often they will come along. There is also a good chance that Poland won’t make it that far in the tournament, so there may only be a few games for him to score enough goals. When it comes to major tournaments, very few players have a record as good as that of Thomas Muller. Golden Boot winner in South Africa for the 2010 World Cup, then runner-up to James Rodriguez in Brazil four years later. The German is certainly an accomplished finisher, and with a Champions League final goal also to his name, he is definitely a big game player. You would be mad to write him off.
We do have to mention Cristiano Ronaldo. As we saw against England, Portugal aren’t the best team at the tournament, and Ronaldo’s record in tournaments is nothing special. There you go, I mentioned him. Antoine Griezmann is also a pretty good shout, especially after an excellent season with Atletico Madrid. He is a part of an excellent French team, so you can see him going a long way in the tournament. He is probably the favourite to take home the Golden Boot. The King of, well, the world, Zlatan Ibrahimovic will be seen as a clear favourite by, himself. In all honesty he will do well to get past the round of 16, but in this year of the underdog, you never really know. In terms of England, I would love to say Jamie Vardy can complete the fairytale by winning the Golden Boot, but while Roy Hodgson continues to play him on the left, that just isn’t going to happen. The Three Lions’ best hope is probably Harry Kane, especially after the excellent season he has had with Tottenham, so if England get far, he will certainly be up there.
But who knows? This has been a season where Leicester City won the Premier League and Jamie Vardy broke a Premier League record that stood for well over a decade. With no clear favourite emerging for the tournament, it could really be anyone’s for the taking.