clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Euro 2016: The Viola Nation guide, part 1

We're going to tackle Groups A, B, and C in this one, with a special emphasis on the Viola players involved.

I'm not sure why, but I can't stop laughing at this picture.
I'm not sure why, but I can't stop laughing at this picture.
Handout/Getty Images

Group A

Albania

The Shqiponjat are making their first-ever major tournament appearance, and are one of the longest of shots to progress. Italian coach Gianni del Biase has been the boss since 2011, and has done a good job of building the team up to this point. They've got the talent to be troublesome, though, as they've got something of a golden generation just starting to break through top leagues across Europe, some of whom you may recognize: Lazio goalkeeper Etrit Berisha, Napoli leftback Elseid Hysaj, and Nantes centerback Lorik Cana are all familiar names; various media outlets have speculated that Basel rightback Taulant Xhaka is headed for a Fiorentina reunion with Paulo Sousa, although the club hasn't really seemed interested in pursuing that angle. Albania are likely to sit deep and try to counter with a group of fast and tricky players out wide. They'll hope for a result against Romania, but realistically, they're probably the 4th strongest team in this group.

Schedule: vs Switzerland (3 PM CET on June 11 at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens); vs France (9 PM CET on June 15 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille); vs Romania (9 PM CET on Jun 19 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon)

France

The hosts are the early favorites for the tournament, but the Karim Benzema/Jeremy Mathieu scandal certainly has the potential to launch them into a deeply French implosion. They do, though, have a tremendously talented team from front to back, with a terrifyingly powerful midfield led by Juventus star Paul Pogba. Losing Benzema is a blow, but manager Didier Deschamps can still call on Antoine Griezmann up top, and Dimitri Payet is maybe the most dangerous free kick taker in the world right now. Les Bleus should romp through this group without too much trouble.

Schedule: vs Romania (9 PM on June 10 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis); vs Albania (9 PM CET on June 15 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille); vs Switzerland (9 PM CET on June 19 at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille)

Romania

After a tumultuous 8 years in which they failed to qualify for a World Cup or a European tournament, the Tricolorii are back under Anghel Iordănescu (on his third tour of duty), maintaining an undefeated record in qualifying under his watch. Their recent form is a bit dodgier, though, and Iordănescu is probably nervous. He counts on an experienced, disciplined defense and a workmanlike midfield, but goals are the problem. Fiorentina number one Ciprian Tătărușanu is the goalkeeper, and Vlad Chiricheș, a former Viola target and current Napoli centerback, is the captain. Watch for veteran fullback Răzvan Raț, too, who's 35 but still a poor man's Roberto Carlos.

Schedule: vs France (9 PM on June 10 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis); vs Switzerland (6 PM on June 15 at Parc des Princes, Paris); vs Albania (9:00 PM CET on Jun 19 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon)

Switzerland

After a Round of 16 exit at the last World Cup, la Nati must feel as if they could do a bit better. With world-class players like Wolfsburg leftback Ricardo Rodríguez, recently-signed Arsenal midfielder Granit Xhaka, and Stoke winger Xherdan Shaqiri, as well as a hardworking supporting cast, they should be one of the better squads in the tournament, but they've spent the last couple of months underachieving, which should worry coach Vladimir Petković. Keep an eye out for former Fiorentina striker Haris Seferović, now with Eintracht Frankfurt; their captain is Juve stalwart Stephan Lichtsteiner. Expect them to play much as they did at the World Cup: two disciplined banks of four, with a pair of attackers tirelessly running the channels. On paper, they're the best side by far after France, but their recent form is a bit of a worry.

Schedule: vs Albania (3 PM CET on June 11 at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens); vs Romania (6 PM on June 15 at Parc des Princes, Paris); vs France (9 PM CET on June 19 at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille)

Group B

England

There's a lot of belief that this squad could actually be rather decent, but isn't that always the case for the Three Lions heading into a major tournament? With Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy up top, they've got some firepower, and they kept an impressive 8 clean sheets in qualifying. Although they fit manager Roy Hodgson's simple, direct 4-4-2 pretty well and they should do well in a weaker group, friendly defeats against Spain and the Netherlands indicate shortcomings against better, more technical sides, which could leave them in trouble. Also, for the absolute funniest team preview I think I've ever read, check out Joel Golby's squad analysis for Vice (yes, even though it's Vice). Anyways, they should win the group.

Schedule: vs Russia (9 PM CET on June 11 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille); vs Wales (3 PM CET on June 16 at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens); vs Slovakia (9 PM CET on June 20 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne)

Russia

Leonid Slutsky's squad has fallen on hard times. After edging Sweden to qualify for the tournament, they've looked old, slow, and out of ideas. They'll play either a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, but with a creaky defense and a midfield that's probably well past its prime, they simply don't have the quality to make a lot of noise in this one, given their predictable buildup play. Injuries to key midfielders Igor Dennisov and, more importantly, Alan Dzagoev certainly haven't helped either. They're likely to be drummed out of this one early, and should try to rebuild around youth; they're still relying on the same core that showed up to the Euros in 2008.

Schedule: vs England (9 PM CET on June 11 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille); vs Slovakia (9 PM CET on June 11 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille); vs Wales (9 PM on June 20 at Stadium Municipal, Toulouse)

Slovakia

The Slovenskí sokoli placed second to Spain in qualifying and come into the tournament on an excellent run of form. Manager Ján Kozák has Slovenia playing very well ahead of their first-ever Euros, and they've ended up being a popular dark horse pick. They've got a hard-working, technically gifted side that's strong through the middle. With Napoli playmaker Marek Hamšík and AC Milan midfielder Juraj Kucka, as well as a formidable backline, their only real weakness is at striker. They're a popular pick for second in the group.

Schedule: vs Wales (6 PM on June 11 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux); vs Russia (3 PM CET on June 15 at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille); vs Slovakia (9 PM CET on June 20 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne)

Wales

The Euro debutants are riding the crest of a golden generation. Manager Chris Coleman has done a good job of hiding his squad's weaknesses and playing to their strengths, instituting a hard-nosed defense led by captain (and former Stockport man) Ashley Williams with a disciplined and tireless midfield headlined by Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen. But really, this team is all about Gareth Bale, and they'll go as far as the Real Madrid man can carry them. If he can score a few goals, they've got a chance to make it out of the group stages; at the very least, the match against England should have a cracking atmosphere.

Schedule: vs Slovakia (6 PM on June 11 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux); vs England (3 PM CET on June 16 at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens); vs Russia (9 PM on June 20 at Stadium Municipal, Toulouse)

Group C

Germany

The reigning world champions have made qualifying a bit harder on themselves than they needed to, but won their group. With a hilariously deep squad, they should roll through the group stages without any great difficulty. They'll play in Jogi Löw's preferred 4-2-3-1, with their usual focus on quick transitions and high pressure, although they've evolved to be a bit more dangerous in possession as well. It's hard to pick a single key man out of this murderer's row, but it'd probably have to be Thomas Muller. Also watch for Fiorentina striker (Maybe? Seriously, nobody seems to know what's up with him) Mario Gómez, who's the only true number nine on the team and shoot get some minutes. After France, they're probably the favorites to win the whole thing.

Schedule: vs Ukraine (9 PM CET on June 12 at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille); vs Poland (9 PM CET on June 15 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis); vs Northern Ireland (6 PM at June 21 at Parc des Princes, Paris)

Northern Ireland

The Green and White Army are pretty much exactly what you'd expect: a hard-working, technically limited side that sit deep and narrow, look to soak up pressure, and then break quickly from deep. Their defensive record is impressive, and they come in having won their qualifying group over favorites Romania and Hungary, but they're still probably the rank outsiders at this entire tournament.

Schedule: vs Poland (6 PM CET on June 12 at Allianz Riviera, Nice); vs Ukraine (6 PM CET on June 16 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon); vs Germany (6 PM at June 21 at Parc des Princes, Paris)

Poland

This is a pretty dang strong squad for the Białe Orły, all things considered, and it's got a lot of Italian ties. Number one Wojciech Szczęsny is with Roma, and backup Artur Boruc (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA) spent several years with Fiorentina. Centerbacks Kamil Glik and Bartosz Salamon play for Torino and Sampdoria, respectively, and winger Jakub Błaszczykowski is going back to Borussia Dortmund after spending an underwhelming year on loan in Florence. Young midfielder Karol Linetty of Lech Poznań may also ring a bell for Viola fans from the Europa League. The main threat, though, is captain Robert Lewandowski, who's one of the best number nines in the world. This isn't a one-man squad by any means, though, and manager Adam Nawałka has forged a physically strong group that plays well as a unit. They're stronger through the middle than out wide, but have the talent to stroll into second, or even win the group outright if they really get up for the ever-contentious rivalry with Germany.

Schedule: vs Northern Ireland (6 PM CET on June 12 at Allianz Riviera, Nice); vs Germany (9 PM CET on June 15 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis); vs Ukraine Stade Vélodrome, Marseille

Ukraine

After squeaking in via playoff, the Ukrainians have started clicking at the right time, winning their past 4 friendlies. Manager Mykhaylo Fomenko has built a team that's pretty well equipped for international tournaments: a big, strong backline; a functional, tireless midfield; and pacey, direct wingers. Captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is 37 and holds 143 caps without showing signs of slowing down, but it's wingers Yevhen Konoplyanka of Sevilla and Andriy Yarmolenko of Dynamo Kyiv who will be expected to provide the goals and magic, including their set pieces. They're a tough nut to crack and should scrap with Poland for second place in the group.

Schedule: vs Germany (9 PM CET on June 12 at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille); vs Northern Ireland (6 PM CET on June 16 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon); vs Poland (9 PM CET on June 21 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille)