France, Switzerland, Romania, Albania
France are not only considered to be the clear Group A favourites, the team coached by Didier Deschamps is also one of the main contenders for the European Championship title – especially as the “Les Bleus“ have a home advantage as hosts. It can be safely said that the three other teams in the group have no such aspirations. Switzerland can however, thanks to their growing experience at international tournaments, be viewed as the candidate with the best chances of finishing second in the group and therefore qualifying for the last 16. As for Romania, they will most likely be aiming to advance to the knock-out stages as one of the four best third-placed teams. In a way, Albania is in the best position of all. Nobody is expecting anything from the European Championships debutant but it is not uncommon for such teams to spring a major surprise. They will definitely not be totally without a chance of bagging third in the group.
The idea that hosts have a home advantage may be old hat, especially as for many it was a burden, but for the French though the thought of a tournament on home soil has a big psychological effect. At the 1984 European Championship, France triumphed as the hosts. At the 1998 World Cup, the triumphant team was, right, France. The French are the last team to win a European Championship or World Cup as hosts. At EURO 2016, Didier Deschamps’ side would also be one of the main aspirants to win the title even without home advantage. With Antoine Griezmann from Atletico Madrid, Anthony Martial (Manchester United), Olivier Giroud (Arsenal) or Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich), the team has a brilliant attack even though Karim Benzema has not been included in the squad after the alleged blackmail case. Behind the strikers, the Equipe Tricolore has an equally potent midfield with Paul Pogba (Juventus), Lassana Diarra (Marseille), N'Golo Kanté (Leicester) or Blaise Matuidi (PSG). The defence with Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) or Bacary Sagna (ManCity) is also top class. At the 2014 World Cup, France were knocked out in the quarterfinals by the eventual world champion Germany (1-0) but has since performed highly impressively in numerous friendlies. Russia was recently beaten 4-2.
Prospects: title favourite
For fans of the Bundesliga, Switzerland is a team full of well-known faces. The team coached by Vladimir Petkovic is - sorry, Swiss football lovers – basically “Germany II“. In goal will be one of Yann Sommer (M‘gladbach), Roman Bürki (Dortmund) and Marwin Hitz (Augsburg) and competing for a place in defence will be Johan Djourou (HSV), Nico Elvedi (M‘gladbach), Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg) and Fabian Schär (Hoffenheim) – four more players on the books of Bundesliga clubs. The team will be captained by Gladbach’s Granit Xhaka, who will be moving to Arsenal after the European Champs is over. Nicknamed the “Nati”, the side will have a lot of experience especially as Stefan Lichtsteiner (Juventus Turin) or Philippe Senderos (formerly Arsenal) have both appeared in the Champions League. At the 2014 World Cup, Switzerland , coached at the time by the German Ottmar Hitzfeld, unluckily exited in the last 16 after losing to the eventual runner-up Argentina (1-0 aet). Switzerland qualified comfortably for EURO 2016 when finishing second to England – a position they are likely to occupy at the end of the group stage in France. And the last 16 does not have to mark the end of the road for them.
Prospects: quarterfinal chances
The great times of Romanian football already lie ten years in the past. Captained by superstar Gheorghe Hagi who went by the nickname the “Carpathian Maradona“, Romania reached the knock-out stages three times in a row at the World Cup (1990 - 1998) and even progressed to the quarterfinals at EURO 2000. Afterwards the south-east Europeans – with the exception of the 2006 European Championship (no wins in the group matches) – failed to qualify for every World Cup and European Champs. Under coach Anghel Iordanescu, who also made his mark on the golden age in the 90s, the team is back at a major tournament. The team’s focus is however now a compact defence. It enabled them to survive the qualifying group as runners-up behind Northern Ireland and in doing so they only conceded two goals – the best record of all competing nations. The team is led by the 35-year old captain Razvan Rat. The defender on the books at the Spanish first division club Rayo Vallecano is one of the team’s king-pins as are Vlad Chriiches and goalkeeper Ciprian Tatarusanu who play in Italy in Napoli and Fiorentina respectively. Stuttgart’s Alexandru Maxim, a Bundesliga player, is also in the side.
Prospects: the journey will come to an by the last 16 at the latest
Alone qualifying for EURO 2016 is a big sensation for a country with a population of just 2.7 million. The little nation in south-east Europe has to date never taken part in a World Cup or European Championship finals. Therefore their biggest success in a competitive match was for many decades the 0-0 draw against the then World Cup runner-up Germany in 1967 – it meant the Germans failed to qualify for the European Championships. In EURO 2016 qualifying, the team coached by the Italian Giovanni de Biasi even finished ahead of established football nations like Denmark and Serbia to book their ticket to France by coming second behind Portugal with 14 points from eight matches. The highlight was the 1-0 win in the opening game in Portugal. It was a sensation but the team is not that inexperienced: the squad is led by Lorik Cana (Nantes) and he is joined by three others who earn a living playing in top foreign leagues - Mergim Mavraj (1. FC Cologne), goalkeeper Etrit Berisha (Lazio Rome) or Elseid Hysajfrom Napoli. And the Albanians are certainly not lightweights at their clubs. The 21-year old right back Hysaj was a member of the Napoli team that came second in the league championship last season – playing 37 of the 38 games.
Prospects: the last 16 would be a surprise
Friday, 10 June, 21.00 hrs, St. Denis: France – Romania
Saturday, 11 June, 15.00 hrs, Lens: Albania – Switzerland
Wednesday, 15 June, 18.00 hrs, Paris: Romania – Switzerland
Wednesday, 15 June, 21.00 hrs, Marseille: France – Albania
Sunday, 19 June, 21.00 hrs, Lyon: Romania – Albania
Sunday, 19 June, 21.00 hrs, Lille: Switzerland – France