With Euro 2016 just a few days away it’s time to look at the teams that have managed to avoid the tag of favourites going in to the tournament, but at the same time they have the quality to upset some of the bigger nations if they are not given enough respect and we always love an underdog to surprise us.
Austria seems to have a golden generation of players currently with them being spearheaded by David Alaba, who is one of the most complete footballers in the world, after many years of disappointment and mediocrity. The Austrian team had a fantastic qualification campaign with them finishing in top place above Russia and Sweden with 28 points, and a 4-1 thumping of Sweden in Stockholm along the way which emphasised their quality. They are also benefiting from the fact that they have been placed in Group F which is a pretty nice group because Hungary are a team that Austria should brush aside, and Iceland are very similar to Austria, but lack a world-class player such as David Alaba although they are an unknown quantity. This could be the tournament for Austria to finally show the rest of Europe that they are a strong footballing nation because once you get past the group stages anything can happen.
Croatia are a strong team with a good mix of talented young individuals such as Marko Pjaca and experienced older players such as Darijo Srna, and this balance is important because of their difficult group. Group D is hard because it contains: the defending champions Spain, Turkey, Czech Republic and of course Croatia, so there is no ‘easy’ team to gain points from with every match being a struggle. This team has the ability to rise up to this challenge though as long as the manager Ante Cacic gets the best out of them because they have a really strong midfield which can control games. They also have a lot of depth to the midfield because Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic, Mateo Kovacic, Ivan Rakitic and Marcelo Brozovic are all vying for positions in it. The only worry for this team is their striking options because none of them are none of them are exceptionally prolific for the national team, so they may struggle to see their domination in matches count, but it would be wrong for any team to go in to a match underestimating the quality that this team has.
The country of Iceland will already be celebrating because this is the first time that the national football team has qualified for a major tournament, so they have already exceeded expectations and therefore have nothing to lose in this tournament which makes them a dangerous side. Iceland did well to advance out of their qualifying group because Netherlands, Turkey and the Czech Republic are certainly not easy opponents by any means. They are also benefiting from a relatively easy group as mentioned above with Austria, so they stand a good chance of qualifying for the next round, and the unpredictability of them due to them being relatively unknown until recently could allow them to have a great tournament. The work ethic and togetherness of the team combined with the quality of individuals such as Gylfi Sigurdsson and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson means that this team is a danger for anyone with Netherlands learning this a bit too late.
This team seems to have gone under the radar due to the amount of attention that has been focused on their three nearby neighbours as well as the fact that on paper it looks like they have a really difficult group which means that a lot of people have instantly written off their chances of getting through to the knock out rounds. However, this team seems to have built up momentum for the tournament at the right time because they are going in on a 12 match unbeaten streak which has boosted the confidence of the team as a whole. Northern Ireland did well to come top of their qualifying group above Romania and Hungary with their success being built on a resolute defence with them only losing once which was against Romania and that ended 2-0. This proves that this team is hard to beat, and if they are able to nullify the attacking threats of Robert Lewandowki for Poland, as well as Yevken Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko of Ukraine then they may be able to obtain a much-needed victory that could help see them through to the next round. Either way, this team isn’t going down without a fight, and could spring a true underdog story.
The Welsh team has been in the media spotlight ever since they managed to beat Belgium in their qualifying group with the added focus recently because it is their first international tournament since the 1958 World Cup. The team seems to have embraced the added attention rather than seeing it as extra pressure, and they seem to be emphasising their togetherness as a team in any interview they have with the media. The close nature of the team as well as the ability to call upon world-class players such as Gareth Bale means that this team will be hard to break down, and will be a constant threat on the counter-attack. The team will also be buoyed by the fact that they have been given quite a nice group with Russia and Slovakia being teams that they are capable of beating although England will probably be a lot harder, and there is also the fact that the top 4 third place finishes will go through to the next round which gives them another way of getting out of the group if they need it. If they get to the next round then they could definitely spring a surprise on a bigger nation, so watch out for them at the Euros.
If we examine the history of the Euros closely then it looks like it could be the time for another underdog fairy-tale due to it being 24 years since Denmark won, and 12 years since Greece won it which suggests a pattern of an underdog winning once every 12 years or one of the favourites may dominate the tournament such as France who have a history of winning tournaments on home soil. We just don’t know what is going to happen, but at the end of the day that is why we love football.