Group E Preview – EURO 2016

EURO 2016 is now just 2 weeks away. This week I preview Group E which will play host to a number of exciting games.

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The sides contesting Group E.

BELGIUM

Belgium

Belgium’s Red Devils have made an enormous amount of progress in recent years as their latest young generation of stars have gained in experience and confidence. Having suffered just a single defeat in qualifying and having reached No.1 in the FIFA World Rankings for the first time, coach Marc Wilmots will be taking a squad brimming with confidence to France this summer.Belgium won seven of their ten games in qualifying losing only once, scoring 24 goals and conceding only five. They topped Group B with a two point advantage over Wales and six ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina who ended up in the playoffs. The Red Devils got off to a comfortable start beating Andorra 6-0 but failed to build on it drawing with Bosnia and Wales. Only in March of last year did they pick up speed when they beat Cyprus 5-0. After that there was no looking back and Belgium ensured progress to the EUROs for the first time in 16 years. Belgium’s squad is full of talent goalkeeper Thibaud Courtois has established himself as one of the best keepers in the Premier League. Defenders Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertomghen and Nicolas Lombaerts have provided a defensive consistency that the nation as lacked. In midfield, coach Marc Wilmots has been spoiled for choice between Kevin Mirallas, Nacer Chadli,  Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel plus the highly talented Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard. At the apex of attack a further threat on goals comes from Liverpool duo Christian Benteke and Divock Origi.

eden

The Coach- Marc Wilmots

Marc Wilmots

Few men carry as much respect and status in modern Belgian football as Marc Wilmots. He was a combative midfielder who scored 28 goals for the national team while also playing club football in France and Germany. After retiring, Wilmots entered politics as a senator before his return to football. He has been building on Belgium’s young talent since May 2012 and which has seen the nation qualify for the 2014 World Cup and this summers EUROs.

Belgium at EURO finals:

  • 1960- Did not enter
  • 1964- Did not qualify
  • 1968- Did not enter
  • 1972- Third place
  • 1976- Did not qualify
  • 1980- Runners-up
  • 1984- Group stage
  • 1988- Did not qualify
  • 1992- Did not qualify
  • 1996- Did not qualify
  • 2000- Group stage
  • 2004- Did not qualify
  • 2008- Did not qualify
  • 2012- Did not qualify

ITALY

Italy

Italy finished as runners-up in both 2000 and 2012 and they are impatient to reclaim the crown they have not won since they hosted the competition back in 1968. The test for coach Antonio Conte is to recreate the success he achieved with Juventus at club level with the national team.  Italy will bring a traditional mixture of experience and style to France, exemplified in captain Gianluigi Buffon. In front of him in defence are Juventus rocks Girogio Chiellini, Andrea Barzagli and Leonardo Bonucci. The midfield also boasts plenty of talent such as Antonio Candreva and Riccardo Montolivo. Up front Italy have lacked the necessary killer instinct with Graziano Pele leading the scoring with just three goals. Italy had a smooth route through qualifying topping the group four points ahead of Croatia and five clear of Norway. Italy was one of three teams (along with England and Austria) to complete qualifying undefeated.

GIGI

The Coach – Antonio Conte

Antonio Conte took on the high-pressure role as the national coach of the Azzurri in place of Cesare Prandelli following Italy’s early exit from the 2014 World Cup. Conte’s qualifications were never in doubt. A decorated playing career is second only to his coaching credentials thanks to his time at Juventus. He led the Turin club to three straight Serie A titles, one Coppa Italia and one Supercoppa. He has been voted Italy’s coach of the year on three occasions and after this summer’s tournament he will take over Premier League side Chelsea.

Italy at the EURO finals:

  • 1960- Did not qualify
  • 1964- Did not qualify
  • 1968- Winners
  • 1972- Did not qualify
  • 1976- Did not qualify
  • 1980- Fourth place
  • 1984- Did not qualify
  • 1988- Fourth place
  • 1992- Did not qualify
  • 1996- Group stage
  • 2000- Runners-up
  • 2004- Group stage
  • 2008- Quarter-final
  • 2012- Runners-up

The Republic of Ireland

Ireland

The Republic of Ireland have proven their talent over the long qualifying campaign causing major upsets along the way to book their place in France. The Irish will feature at the EUROs for the third time in the nation’s history and will look to better their poor showing at the 2012 competition. Qualification got off to a perfect start with a 2-1 win away to Georgia before a demolition of Gibraltar. Next came one of the upsets, a 1-1 draw over World Cup winners Germany in Germany the goal coming from centurion John O’Shea. Their hopes suffered a knock after a defeat away to Scotland before Shane Long came off the bench to salvage a point at home to Poland.  A home draw with Scotland saw the side gain plenty of doubters but wins over Gibraltar and Georgia laid the path for a memorable night. The 8th of October will live long in the memory of Irish fans as the small nation defeated Germany 1-0 thanks to a stunning goal from now national hero Shane Long. A loss away to Poland saw the boys in green qualify via the playoffs. Drawn against Bosnia and Herzegovina the Irish fans traveled in force to Zenica where the visitors battled through the fog to earn a 1-1 draw thanks to a well taken goal by Robbie Brady. Another man cemented his name in Irish footballing history  in the return leg when Jonathan Walters scored a brace to book Ireland’s place at the Euros. The squad is very competitive even in-goal where legend Shay Given is fighting against Darren Randolph for the starting spot. The Irish defence is full of heart and courage lead by John O’Shea and Richard Keogh. Fullbacks Robbie Brady and Seamus Coleman are just as deadly in attack as they are in defence. The midfield is also competitive with players such as Wes Hoolahan, Jeff Hendrick, James McCarthy and Glen Whelan. Up front Shane Long and Jonathan Walters lead the line for the island nation. More experience can be found on the bench in the form of all time leading goalscorer Robbie Keane and the skillful wingers  James McClean and Aiden McGeady.

Shane

The Coach – Martin O’Neill

O Neill

Martin O’Neill’s glittering playing career peaked when he won the UEFA Champions Cup as a member of Brian Clough’s Nottingham Forrest side. He began his managerial career in the English non-league system before moving up the divisions to Norwich City and Leicester before earning a move to Scottish giants Celtic. He led The Bhoys to six trophies in five years. He returned to the Premier League coaching Aston Villa and Sunderland before taking over the Irish job in 2013 after the departure of Giovanni Trapattoni. He has reignited the Irish side who head to France with a real sense of belief.

Ireland at the EURO finals:

  • 1960- Did not qualify
  • 1964- Did not qualify
  • 1968- Did not qualify
  • 1972- Did not qualify
  • 1976- Did not qualify
  • 1980- Did not qualify
  • 1984- Did not qualify
  • 1988- Group stage
  • 1992- Did not qualify
  • 1996- Did not qualify
  • 2000- Did not qualify
  • 2004- Did not qualify
  • 2008- Did not qualify
  • 2012- Group stage

SWEDEN 

 

Sweden

Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s ability to mark the big occasions with big goals will make Sweden one of the great attractions at this summers competition. He should also feel at home not only because he plays his club football in France but also because he knows how to find the net at the Euros as seen in 2008 and 2012. Coach Erik Hamren has plenty of experience in his side with four players boasting over 80 caps; goalkeeper Andreas Isaksson, midfielders Kim Kallstrom, Sebastian Larsson and of course Zlatan. Defenders Andreas Granqvist and Mikael Lustig provided more experience as do midfielder Ponyus Wenbloom and forward Ova Tovionen. There is talent pushing through in the form of striker John Gudetti and goalkeeper Patrik Carlgren who won the under 21 European championship last summer. After steady progress through qualifying group G, Sweden slipped up when Austria defeated them 4-1.  Wins over Liechtenstein and Moldova were not enough to lift them into second place so they qualified via the playoffs defeating neighbours Denmark. Ibrahimovic scored three of Sweden’s four goals as they ran out 4-3 winners.

Zlatan

The Coach- Erik Hamren

ERIK

Erik Hamren built his reputation both in Sweden and abroad before he was finally appointed national team coach in 2009 succeeding Lars Lagerback. He won the Swedish cup twice at club level before coaching Danish side Aalborg to the league title. In 2008 he moved to Norway where he won the league title twice with Rosenborg.  He initially took up the role of Sweden coach in a part-time basis until 2010. Sweden missed out on qualification for the 2014 World Cup so France represents an opportunity to make up for lost time for Hamren’s Sweden.

Sweden at the EURO finals:

  • 1960- Did not enter
  • 1964- Did not qualify
  • 1968- Did not qualify
  • 1972- Did not qualify
  • 1976- Did not qualify
  • 1980- Did not qualify
  • 1984- Did not qualify
  • 1988- Did not qualify
  • 1992- Semi-finals
  • 1996- Did not qualify
  • 2000- Group stage
  • 2004- Quarter-finals
  • 2008- Group stage
  • 2012- Group stage

 

 

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