The countdown to Euro 2016 has well and truly begun, as many of the participants have named their provisional squads. In this 12-part series we take an in-depth look at each team within each group in the build up to this summer’s championship.
We begin with Group A, the home of the host nation, France, as well as Switzerland, Romania and surprise package Albania.
The hosts will be looking to emulate their outstanding achievement in the 1998 World Cup when they won the top accolade in football in their own back yard. France are faced with a small disadvantage of not having to qualify for the tournament, which will mean the team hasn’t played together competitively since the World Cup in Brazil.
They have, however, had several friendly games over the past two years to keep up with the other nations. They have played eight friendlies since July of last year, winning all but one, a loss to England. They have beaten top competition including the Netherlands, Germany and Russia along the way.
The tournament draw seems to be very favourable to a strong French squad, who will likely breeze through to the latter stages of the competition.
Player to watch: Paul Pogba
Switzerland qualified from the same group as England with relative ease, losing both games to England and the away match with Slovenia whilst winning the rest. They did have to come from two goals behind at home to Slovenia on match day seven to win, which proved enough to qualify automatically ahead of their closest rivals.
Having never progressed outside the group stages of the competition, Switzerland will be happy with the draw. While Albania are likely to provide tough competition for second place in the group, based on form, ‘La Nati’ will fancy their chances of gaining their best ever finish in the tournament.
Player to watch: Xherdan Shaqiri
Surprisingly Romania are only one of four teams to qualify for the tournament undefeated in the qualifying campaign. Romania had five wins and five draws, which saw them edge out Hungary to second spot behind Northern Ireland. In undoubtedly the weakest qualifying group Romania showed flashes of good form mixed with very average performances.
Romania have reached the quarter-finals of the competition before and in years gone by would have been very pleased with this draw but they are certainly not the team of the 1990s, however. This draw will prove to be a very tough task and Romania will hope not to see their tournament end before it begins as they play the hosts in the opening match.
Player to watch: Gabriel Torje
Prediction: group stages
Albania are the surprise package at this year’s competition, after sensationally qualifying ahead of both Denmark and Serbia in the group stages. They even picked up a win away to Portugal in the opening round of qualifying games. While they may have been underestimated in qualifying, they will not be underestimated in France.
In their first ever appearance in a major competition Albania will be afforded the luxury of playing pressure-free football and could provide stiff opposition for their opponents, especially the hosts who have slipped up against smaller sides in the group stages before.
Player to watch: Hamdi Salihi
Prediction: round of 16
Paul O’Dea, Pundit Arena