Euro 2016 – Group E preview

Two of the top-6 favourites for this event are in this Group E, Belgium and Italy. Sweden and Republic of Ireland are the other two that complete a very competitive group.

Belgium are slight favourites ahead of Italy to win the group, but you would expect them both to qualify, whilst Sweden and Republic of Ireland will try and qualify as 1/4 best 3rd placed teams.

Group E

Belgium

Qualifying record:

7 wins, 2 draws, 1 loss

Top scorer:

Eden Hazard & Kevin De Bruyne (5)

Projected top performer:

Eden Hazard – It was well-known and documented last season how poor Hazard was at club level, for the most part anyway.

He fell out with Jose Mourinho, that much is clear however since Guus Hiddink took over and Hazard had earned his trust, it was clear he is every bit as talented as he was last season.

Now he has found some form again, albeit at the tail-end of the season, it is time for him to do the business on the international stage, something I am convinced he will.

Hazard originally looked destined to leave Chelsea earlier this year, but it looks as though he may have reversed that decision and will give new coach, Antonio Conte a chance. If he is still interested in a move to either PSG or Real Madrid, the most obvious suitors, this is the place to impress.

Along with De Bruyne he impressed during qualifying and the pair of them can lead their country to glory. It was a toss-up between the two for which one I preferred as the top performer, but Hazard didn’t suffer an injury like De Bruyne’s and also has more to prove, which for me gives him the edge.

Expectations:

There is a lot of expectation on Belgium and rightly so. The squad is littered with talent in every position and the semi-finals may well be the minimum expectation.

If each player plays to their full potential they can beat the likes of Germany, France or Spain and now the once, young squad is slightly more experienced they might be ready to take a tournament by storm.

Anything less than the semi-finals will be considered a disappointment, as there is plenty of warranted optimism around this side.

Italy

Qualifying record:

7 wins & 3 draws

Top scorer:

Gratiano Pelle (3)

Projected top performer:

Gianluigi Buffon – Buffon is 38 years old and can still perform at the top-level, something that has to be admired.

Buffon equalled his best performance in a single season with Juventus last year, keeping 21 clean sheets and he will look to take similar form to France this summer.

Italy are not particularly efficient in the attacking department these days and it is their ability to keep it tight in defence that makes them the side that they are.

With Buffon still playing at a high level, he can still be the reason his team makes it as far as possible in this competition and he is most certainly still a match winner.

Expectations:

Italy don’t enter competitions without thinking they can win, that is what winning 4 World Cups and 1 European Championship will do to you, but honestly I do not think they have the squad to do it this year.

Up front, Graziano Pelle is their most prolific goalscorer with 5 international goals in 13 games. Eder, Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne and Simone Zaza only have a combined 6 goals in 43 games between them, with Immobile the most experienced, joining Pelle on 13 caps.

Whilst a good defence goes a long way, it is hard to envisage them getting into the semi-finals without an out-and-out goalscorer, although they have done before. There are probably 6 or 7 teams I would rather pick to win this tournament than them.

Republic of Ireland

Qualifying record:

5 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses (Qualified via play-offs)

Top scorer:

Robbie Keane (5)

Projected top performer:

Shane Long – Whilst Robbie Keane is the most prolific goalscorer and the most experienced player in the side also (67 goals in 143 games), Long is an exceptional player and he can be a huge part of any success.

Long is a very mobile, hard-working forward who creates as much as he does score and with his work ethic he should cause lots of problems for all the defences in this group.

He is a bright spark and whilst his side have very little chance of progressing, he can without a doubt put in some eye-catching performances.

After a successful season at club level for Southampton he may well be on the radar for a big summer move, with reports that Liverpool are interested. Like many others he will be keen to show what he can do on the biggest stage.

Expectations:

None. Irish coaches, players and fans will just be happy with being involved in the tournament and if they were to somehow sneak through the group, even in 3rd place it would be a massive over-achievement.

This is just Ireland’s 3rd appearance at the European Championships in the side’s history and they have never progressed from the group stage.

I cannot see that changing this time around and fully expect them to suffer a swift exit from the tournament.

Sweden

Qualifying record:

5 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses (Qualified via play-offs)

Top scorer:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (8)

Projected top performer:

Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Ibrahimovic is without the doubt the best player in this squad and if his team have any chance to progress from the group stage he will need to put them on his shoulders.

He has scored 62 goals in 113 games for his country, an exceptional record and I am sure he will add to that before he ends his international career.

Zlatan loves the attention to be on him and it is that sort of arrogance that makes him so good, which is why he will love the spotlight being on him.

An announcement is expected on 7th June on his future at club level and once that has been confirmed his attention will be solely in France, the place he has called home since 2012.

The former Paris St.Germain man is the only player in Sweden’s history to score at three consecutive European Championships (2004,2008,2012) and he has scored 6 goals in the competition in total.

Expectations:

I cannot see Sweden going far, there is only so far you can get when relying one man, especially when that man is ageing.

Ibrahimovic scored 11 goals in 10 international games last year and 50 goals in 51 games at club level in all competitions, so he is showing no signs of slowing down therefore will believe he can get them through to the last-16 at least on his own.

Sweden will probably be battling it out with Republic of Ireland for 1/4 best 3rd placed spots, which could go either way.

Veterans like Kim Kallstrom (128 caps) and Sebastian Larsson (84 caps) will hope to provide support for their superstar striker, but I think they will struggle as a unit.

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