This is one of the most unpredictable sides in the tournament. Packed with quality in the middle but shaky at the back, you never know which Croatia is going to turn up. With Barcelona's Ivan Rakitić and Real Madrid pair Luka Modrić and Mateo Kovačić, Viola metronome Milan Badelj will have a situational role at best. Further forward, Juventus striker Mario Mandžukić will probably keep Fiorentina poacher Nikola Kalinić nailed to the bench as well. Even with their uneven form, though, they're just to strong going forward for most teams to withstand, and should take second in the group.
Schedule: vs Turkey (3 PM CET on June 12 at Parc des Princes, Paris); vs Czech Republic (6 PM CET on June 17 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne); vs Spain (9 PM CET on June 21 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux)
A hard-working and technically sound side that lacks star names is the standard descriptor for the Czechs. They've got a good team spirit under manager Pavel Vrba, as well as some experienced guys like Petr Čech and Tomáš Rosický. Watch for 23 year old Sparta Prague midfielder Ladislav Krejčí, too; with a good tournament, he could set himself up for a big move this summer. With a team that's greater than the sum of its parts, it wouldn't be a shock if they moved out of group stages.
Schedule: vs Spain (3 PM CET on June 13 at Stadium Municipal, Toulouse); vs Croatia (6 PM CET on June 17 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne); vs Turkey (9 PM CET on June 21 at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens)
After the abysmal display last World Cup and the international retirements of Xavi Hernandez and Xabi Alonso, manage Vicente del Bosque has been forced to evolve his squad a bit. La Furia Roja still look to keep the ball, but they're a bit more purposeful in possession now. The defense is well drilled and kept 8 clean sheets in qualifying, and the midfield possesses the skill you'd expect, even without Viola mayor-to-be Borja Valero. Up top, though, things are trickier. Juventus striker Álvaro Morata, with just 9 caps, is their best option, but the pickings are slim behind him. Even a rebuilding Spain, though, is the class of their group, and are one of the few teams with a realistic, albeit small, chance to win the tournament.
Schedule: vs Czech Republic (3 PM CET on June 13 at Stadium Municipal, Toulouse); vs Turkey (9 PM CET on June 17 at Allianz Riviera, Nice); vs Croatia (9 PM CET on June 21 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux)
Former Fiorentina manager Fatih Terim holds the reigns of his nation's team for the third time, and has them looking pretty good. As usual, he's still tinkering with his lineups and systems, and his defense is, frankly, not good, but Burak Yılmaz is a clinical striker, and Ay-Yıldızlılar boasts a midfield of outrageous technical quality, led by captain Arda Turan and filled out by Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Nuri Şahin. With their deficiencies at the back and desire to get the midfield forward, they should at least make for some entertaining viewing for the neutral while pushing to qualify for the knockout rounds.
Schedule: vs Croatia (3 PM CET on June 12 at Parc des Princes, Paris); vs Spain (9 PM CET on June 17 at Allianz Riviera, Nice); vs Czech Republic (9 PM CET on June 21 at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens)
The hip pick at the last World Cup, the Red Devils are no longer a surprise package. With their golden generation coming into its prime, though, manager Marc Wilmots knows the pressure is on it win now. Luckily for him, he has a big, fast, technically gifted side that plays with ruthless pressure and directness. With outrageous talent on the wings, at striker, and at centerback, they're a bit short on central midfielders (Roma's Radja Nainggolan will have to have a good tournament) and, more importantly, fullbacks. Still, they should qualify for the next round with ease, even though Marc Wilmots still doesn't seem to know what his best eleven is. That could limit them against better teams.
Schedule: vs Italy (9 PM CET on June 13 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon); vs Ireland (3 PM CET on June 18 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux); vs Sweden (9 PM CET on June 22 at Allianz Riviera, Nice)
Antonio Conte has constructed a rather curious side, and one that could well struggle for goals. Tactically, he'll switch between a 3- and 4-man defense, and has plenty of talent at the back, as well as some real gamebreakers on the wing. Even so, Fiorentina's Federico Bernardeschi, who's the youngest man on the team, should push for significant minutes, as his workrate, versatility, and knack for popping up in the right place are pretty useful qualities. The real question is at striker, where Graziano Pelle, Simone Zaza, Éder, and Ciro Immobile are a rather unconvincing bunch. Conte will probably try to slow the pace, then threaten on the break and through set pieces. Italy are likely to play in a lot of low-scoring matches, but should advance out of the group without too much trouble.
Schedule: vs Belgium (9 PM CET on June 13 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon); vs Sweden (3 PM CET on June 17 at Stadium Municipal, Toulouse); vs Ireland (9 PM CET on June 22 at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille)
Close your eyes and imagine a stereotypical Irish team. Now open them, and see that it's pretty much exactly the case. Martin O'Neill has to decide whether he wants to play a 4-4-2 or a 4-4-1-1, but it'll basically amount to the same thing either way: a deep and narrow defensive block, two disciplined banks of two, and a threat residing completely on the break or through set pieces. Although they're a rather limited side, don't count them out to frustrate more heralded opponents and maybe even sneak an upset; the Green Army seems to specialize in ambushes, and they're probably about due for another one. Even so, they're probably the weakest team in the group.
Schedule: vs Sweden (6 PM CET on June 13 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis); vs Belgium (3 PM CET on June 18 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux)); vs Italy (9 PM CET on June 22 at Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille)
While writing "Zlatan Ibrahimović" about forty times would be a slightly reductive description of this team, it's not that far off. The Manchester United-bound striker is 34 and probably winding down, but he's still an absolute force of nature and is going to score goals. The rest of the team, though, is comprised more of willing workers than real stars. Given, if you have to build around one player, Zlatan's not a bad bet, especially since he plays a bit deeper for Sweden than he does for his clubs, but Blågult will have to scrap to advance.
Schedule: vs Ireland (6 PM CET on June 13 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis); vs Italy (3 PM CET on June 17 at Stadium Municipal, Toulouse); vs Belgium (9 PM CET on June 22 at Allianz Riviera, Nice)
This is a well-drilled, efficient side that knows its identity and plays to it well. Manager Marcel Koller has done a very good job with this squad, which won their final 9 matches in qualifying. Bayern Munich's David Alaba is unquestionably the star man, although he's an all-action number 10 for the Burschen rather than a left back. Basel striker Marc Janko, whom Fiorentina fans will recall from their Europa tie, will serve as the (really, really) big man up front, and Austria will try to work the ball wide and ping crosses in to him. Especially in what is, on paper, the weakest group, Austria should advance.
Schedule: vs Hungary (6 PM CET on June 14 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux); vs Portugal (9 PM CET on June 18 at Parc des Princes, Paris); vs Iceland (6 PM CET on June 22 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis)
In their first European Championship since 1972, Hungary aren't expected to do a whole lot, frankly; the Magical Magyars this squad is not. Their star man is Bursaspor winger Balázs Dzsudzsák; he's a quick and tricky player, but probably not capable of carrying a team to glory. His teammates, most of whom play domestically, will engage in a physical brand of play, but even that probably won't save them from being the doormat of the group.
Schedule: vs Austria (6 PM CET on June 14 at Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux); vs Iceland (6 PM CET on June 18 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille); vs Portugal (6 PM CET on June 22 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon)
While most teams making their major tournament debut wouldn't be expected to do too much, a soft group could give the island nation a path into the knockout stages. Under co-managers Lars Lagerbäck and Heimir Hallgrímsson, Strákarnir okkar have built themselves into a 4-4-2 team that focuses on penalty box defending, wing play, and fitness. Nantes striker Kolbeinn Sigþórsson will score the goals, and Swansea playmaker Gylfi Sigurðsson will set them up; that's how simple their approach is. Keep an eye out for Udinese midfielder Emil Hallfreðsson, too. While it's amazing that a nation with a population of 330,000 has qualified, and even more impressive that they have a puncher's chance to advance, they generally leave themselves too open and will probably get smoked by stronger teams.
Schedule: vs Portugal (9 PM CET on June 14 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne); vs Hungary (6 PM CET on June 18 at Stade Vélodrome, Marseille); vs Austria (6 PM CET on June 22 at Stade de France, Saint-Denis)
After an early hiccup against Albania in qualifying, new manager Fernando Santos has turned the Selecção das Quinas into a sturdy bunch who want to grind out wins. Providing a good defensive platform for an exciting attack makes sense, of course, when you can deploy the planet-wrecking force of Cristiano Ronaldo up top. Interestingly, he frequently shows up as an out-and-out striker; when he's on the wing, Santos frequently moves a midfielder up top to play as a false nine. This isn't just Ronaldo plus ten, though, as the Portuguese midfield is packed full of stars, and they boast their usual array of excellent wide players. They should win the group without ever getting out of second gear, but after that, they'll go as far as Ronaldo wants to take them.
Schedule: vs Iceland (9 PM CET on June 14 at Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, Saint-Étienne); vs Austria (9 PM CET on June 18 at Parc des Princes, Paris); vs Hungary (6 PM CET on June 22 at Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon)