Portugal, Austria, Hungary, Iceland
The Portuguese with super star Cristiano Ronaldo are not only hot favourites to win the group, they are also considered almost traditionally to be among the extended circle of title contenders. Naturally nobody is so impudent in Austria, but for the talented team coached by Marcel Koller second place behind the highly rated Portuguese should be a probability. Possibly only European Championship debutants Iceland, who helped to oust the Dutch in the qualifying group, could be dangerous for them. Group F is completed by outsiders Hungary. Thanks to the increase to 24 teams, the Magyars will compete at their first European Championship since 1972, and have already achieved their target by qualifying.
When Cristiano Ronaldo appeared on the international stage at the 2004 Europeans on home soil, he was a promise. The now 31-year-old has long been a super star of international football and much decorated since then – three times World Footballer, Champions League winner, Spanish and English national champion. CR7 is a brand and a legend. Only with the often highly praised Portuguese national team has he never gained a title. He came very close to glory when as a 19-year-old debutant the 2004 hosts sensationally lost the final to Greece. But the Portuguese are real European Championship specialists. Portugal is the only country to have reached at least the knock-out stage at the last five European Championship finals. At EURO 2012 Portugal were ousted by European champions Spain on penalties in the semi-final. The skeleton of the team coached by Fernando Santos, around the defensive players Pepe, Ricardo Carvalho and Bruno Alves and attackers Nani and Ricardo Quaresma are clearly getting a bit long in the tooth, but they have great international experience. Additionally a new star could begin to shine at this European Championship, Renato Sanches. The 18-year-old has just been transferred from Benfica Lisbon to FC Bayern Munich for 35 million Euros and is considered one of the most promising talents in European football. He will make his debut on the big stage in France.
Though the Austrians competed at the 2008 European Championship, which they co-hosted, the tournament in France is the first European finals the Alpine Republic competitively qualified for. A Swiss of all people led the tradition-conscious Austrians there. Coach Marcel Koller is well known in Germany after coaching 1. FC Cologne and VfL Bochum. The qualification resembled a triumphal procession: The Koller team finished top in their group without a defeat beating Russia and Sweden into second and third place. After the 1-1 draw with Sweden in their opening match Austria won the following nine games. Former Schalke player Christian Fuchs, recently crowned English champion with Leicester City, captains the team. But Bayern Munich professional David Alaba, playing in the defensive midfield in the Austrian shirt, is undoubtedly the most famous name. The 23-year-old is assisted by many Bundesliga colleagues: 15 of the 24 players in the tentative squad earn their money in Germany, among them well-known names such as Zlatko Junuzovic, Julian Baumgartlinger, Alessandro Schoepf and Martin Harnik. They are complemented by the legionnaires from the Premier League, Marko Arnautovic, Kevin Wimmer and Sebastian Proedl, who once also played in the Bundesliga. Koller has formed them into a team performing football without frills with a preference for pressing.
Prognosis: Round of 16 is compulsory, quarter finals the icing on the cake
It is popular history that the great era of Hungarian football dates far back. In the 1950s the Magyars boasted a “Wonder Team” with Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti, were 1954 World Cup finalists and 1952 Olympic champions. In the 1980s Hungary still qualified for World Cup finals and in 1982 made history with the highest ever World Cup victory by defeating El Salvador 10-1. But since 1986 Hungary have been simply spectators at all major tournaments. They achieved qualification for EURO 2016 via the play-offs with two victories over Norway, after finishing third in their group behind Northern Ireland and Romania. The team consists almost exclusively of players from the national league, only Adam Szalai (TSG Hoffenheim), Zoltan Stieber (Hamburger SV) and Laszlo Kleinheisler (Werder Bremen) play in a European top league. However, a famous Hungarian could make history between the goalposts. Should the former Hertha Berlin goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly, now 40 years old, play one match, he would become the oldest player ever to line up at a European Championship finals. The decision will be up to two Germans: Coach Bernd Storck and his assistant Andreas Moeller. The 1996 European champion is undisputedly the most famous face of the Hungarian delegation.
Prognosis: Elimination in the first round
Iceland’s successful qualification for the European Championship finals was probably the biggest surprise. The selection of the coaching duo Lars Lagerbaeck and Heimir Hallgrimsson even qualified early in the very tough group with the Netherlands, Czech Republic and Turkey. It is the first ever participation by the country, with just 330,000 inhabitants, at a major football tournament. The self-styled Vikings may be awkward opponents for their competitors. They are strong fighters and runners, who also like to rely on set pieces. The now 37-year-old Eidur Gudjohnsen is the head, heart and soul of the team. The allegedly best ever Icelandic footballer won the Champions League with FC Barcelona in 2009 and gained several national English titles with Chelsea FC. And Gudjohnsen, who is currently playing with Norwegian first division club Molde, made further history. On April 24, 1996, he replaced his own father Arnor during the international match against Estonia. A first!
Prognosis: The knock-out stage would be a great success.
Tuesday, 14 June, 18.00 hrs in Bordeaux: Austria vs Hungary
Tuesday, 14 June, 21.00 hrs in Saint Etienne: Portugal vs Iceland
Saturday, 18 June, 18.00 hrs in Marseille: Iceland vs Hungary
Saturday, 18 June, 21.00 hrs in Paris: Portugal vs Austria
Wednesday, 22 June, 18.00 hrs in Lyon: Hungary vs Portugal
Wednesday, 22 June, 18.00 hrs in St. Denis: Iceland vs Austria