Thursday, June 30, 2016

Euro 2016 - Belgium have too much firepower

Belgium have been getting better and better as the matches have progressed in these Euros. How to beat them? By playing extreme defence like Italy did in their first match. This is the problem for Wales. They cannot match them toe to toe even with their superstar player Gareth Bale. So relying on their defence to hold on the wave of Belgian attacks is their only way to lead the match to penalties where they would have a level chance to go through. That most probably won't happen because their defence is nowhere as good as the Italians. Belgium to power through to the semi-finals and well-done to the Welsh, they had a great tourney but the buck stops here.

To qualify: Belgium

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Euro 2016 - Portugal's Ronaldo needs to step up

Portugal survived Croatia and have an arguably easier task as they face Poland for a spot in the semi-finals. The Portuguese were second best for much of the match against the Croats but good old Quaresma delivered at an opportunistic time to send his country through. Superstar Ronaldo is on an erratic form and without his magic, Portugal will probably not overcome the likes of Belgium, Germany or Italy, but Poland is an entirely different matter; the Poles also have a superstar missing in action with Lewandowski yet to find the net in the tournament. He's hustling and bustling in front though, so he's definitely not a surplus to requirements even when drawing blanks.

This is bound to be another tight game but I see Portugal just edging this one; Ronaldo needs to step up and on their best day, he, Nani, and Quaresma, are capable of lighting up the Polish defence.

To qualify: Portugal

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Euro 2016 - England's great opportunity

England were the ones with the big smiles when Iceland secured qualification in the dying stages of their match against Austria. That leaves them with a great chance to reach the next round because it's hard to see Iceland troubling the English at any level. Sure they have had a compact defence during the group stages and certainly exceeded all expectations. But the buck stops here. Ball possession will be outrageously in favor of the Lions and there are so many ways that they will be able to break down the opposition; Sturridge, Kane, Rooney and possibly Sterling will find ways to open up Iceland's defence. It might take a while but the floodgates are bound to open. I believe this is going to be a firm English win that will enable Hodgson to try various things as he continues his search for his best team in view of the next round match.

Spain and Italy are bound to play a close match and I will give the Spaniards the edge here because they are simply the better team and have the greater chance of making the breakthrough. They can score anytime with a moment of magic from Iniesta, Silva or Fabregas; that is why they are so tough to beat. Mind you, Italy will relish this clash as they like being the underdog types and coach Conte is a master at prevailing at these kinds of encounters; just ask Belgium. I think this is going to end beyond the normal 90 minutes and if it goes to penalties, it really is the luck of the lottery as which team will go through. I see Spain winning by the minimum score if the match is decided before penalties.

To qualify: England, Spain

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Euro 2016 - Strolls for Germany and Belgium

France host a tricky encounter against the plucky Irish in the round of last 16. On talent, there is no comparison as the French have the best names on paper. But it seems certain they will be made to struggle to get a positive result; O'Neil's men are buoyed by a qualification that rested on beating Italy in the dying stages of their last match and they indeed have nothing to lose going in this match which they are not expected to win. This match is reminiscent of their last major encounter where Thierry Henry's cheat of a handball gave the French the edge in a notorious World Cup playoff. Be it at the end of 90 minutes, extra time or penalties, I see the French outlasting the Irish but it won't be a stroll for the hosts.

I expect both Germany and Belgium to have easier matches against the likes of Slovakia and Hungary. It's true the Slovaks shocked the Germans in one of their last friendly matches but the chances of this happening in a knockout stage are very remote. The Belgians have been granted the Hungarians whose best chance is to make the match go to penalties; I think Belgium should have made the difference by then; they are a team that seems to be getting better as the matches go by and have a lot of match winners in them.

To qualify: France, Germany, Belgium

Friday, June 24, 2016

Euro 2016 - Croatia can tame Ronaldo and Portugal

The round of last 16 start on Saturday with 3 seemingly even matches on offer.

Switzerland and Poland have not shown great brilliance in the group stages and it would not surprising if this match ends up in a drab goal-less draw to be decided on penalties. Those 2 teams should not go far down the line. The Swiss kept hosts France to a draw in their last match and they seem to lack that killer instinct in front of goal; they simply don't have an out-and-out striker that can make a difference at this level. The Poles do have one in Lewandowski but the Bayern striker has yet to make an impact in the tournament. They labored to beat the weak Ukrainians by the strict minimum in their last match, which is a worrying sign against stronger opposition. A low scoring result seems on offer here and I will side with the Poles to make the difference in extra time or penalties.

Wales against Northern Ireland is an intriguing battle of British sides. I give the edge to the Welsh because of Bale who's scored in the 3 group matches. The Irish are a very homogeneous team though and will give Coleman's team all they can handle.

Finally, I see Croatia overcoming Portugal on the basis of what they have shown in the group stages. The Croats were arguably lucky to beat Spain as they were second best for most of the match and survived a penalty before scoring on a counter in the dying stages. Still, they impressed in their matches with their composure and organization and they are a threat to any other team. Portugal had to come behind 3 times against Hungary and without Ronaldo, they would simply have been out of it by now. If Hungary can rock them 3 times, one has to wonder what Croatia will do Pepe and his defence. I think the Ronaldo factor is overplayed here and he will be sent packing for holidays for a well-deserved rest after this match.

To qualify: Poland, Wales, Croatia

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Euro 2016 - Ronaldo to the fore

It is not a surprise that Portugal are struggling at these Euros; they've been relying heavily on Ronaldo and when he's not on firing terms, so do they. Portugal has been blessed by great players over the past years, have had their "golden generation" but have never brought home the bacon. The way they are playing, I don't expect this to change. However, they are talented enough to see through this rather mediocre Group F. I expect them to overcome Hungary and it would be no surprise to anyone that Ronaldo finally makes his breakthrough. The superstar has been very quiet in the first 2 matches, much evidently in the last match against Austria where he missed a string of good chances and a penalty on top of that. The fact that they created good enough opportunities against a decent Austrian team makes me think that they just need adjustments in a few areas and some luck to turn things around. Hungary beat Austria against the run of play in their first match but their fortuitous draw against Iceland shows that they are for the taking. Portugal should win this match and go through.

In the other Group F match, I expect the Austrians to narrowly edge the valiant Icelanders.

Italy must rue their bad luck; having won their first 2 matches, they are playing for nothing against Ireland before meeting mighty Spain in the next round. Manager Conte will definitely ring the changes for the match against the Irish and preserve some legs for the Spaniards. Ireland face a do-or-die situation here but I don't think they are at a level to beat an even under-par Italy. This match could very well end in a draw.

Sweden meet Belgium in what could very well be Zlatan's last match for the Swedes. Belgium came up all firing against the Irish and if they keep the momentum, they should have no trouble dispatching the Swedes. I think that is the likeliest outcome and the Red Devils should sail through the next round with renewed confidence.

Win: Portugal, Belgium, Austria

Monday, June 20, 2016

Euro 2016 - Germany to step up

As much Northern Ireland were brilliant in defeating Ukraine, Germany were disappointing when held to a draw goalless draw against Poland. It is arguable that Ukraine are one of the weakest teams in the tournament but the Irish really put them to the sword with some nifty plays and combative spirit. It will be different against the Germans though as they will be starved of the ball for much of the match. Their compact organization will allow them to contain the multiple waves of German attack but the question is whether they can keep all of them at bay for the entire 90 mins.

Germany could have easily lost the match against the Poles if the latter had taken one of several good opportunities to score. It seems to me from the first 2 matches that Germany are not only doing some soul-searching, but more importantly are lacking that extra motivation that makes players overachieve and produce that touch of magic that makes a difference at this level. Against Poland, the players controlled possession, huffed and puffed but seem to lack that desire in the final third to fight over the ball.

Germany being Germany, I expect a better match from Low's men; they might be made to wait but should finally find the ignition switch that makes the difference in the end.

In the other match, Poland should be too much for Ukraine and I expect Lewandowski to have a big match.

In Group D, Spain and Croatia will probably battle to a draw that suits both teams and I fancy another draw in the match between the Czech and the woeful Turks, both teams really being in the lower echelon all the teams in France.

Win: Germany, Poland
Draw: Spain/Croatia. Czech Rep v/s Turkey

Euro 2016 - Bale to the rescue

England will probably be resting some first-team players like Rooney for their last match against Slovakia but their squad is big enough to win the match. Given that the Lions are already through to the next round , it will be a perfect opportunity to check upon the dispositions of bench players like Wilshere and Vardy etc to start the match. The Slovaks will aim for a draw to at least secure the third and qualifying spot.

The other match between Russia and Wales with the Welsh looking the likelier to get something out of the match. The Russians have been disappointing so far, having won a fortuitous point against England before succumbing to the Slovaks. They don't seem to have any team chemistry and the chances of their play improving seems very suspect. Wales flinched to England in extra time but were deserving losers as they were under pressure for most of the match. It seems some moments of magic in dead-ball situations from Bale offer their best chances to score. He will need better support from what he's received so far from the likes of Ramsey and Allen in the middle of the park if they are to test the Russians. Russia needs to win this match to go through and if the Welsh defence can keep as tight and compact as they have been, then Bale can certainly exploit the looming gaps at the other end. I see Wales either tying or winning this and thus securely make it through the next stage.

Win: England
Win or Draw: Wales

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Euro 2016 - Romania up for runner-up spot

The final matches of Group A should see France claim first place of the group as they host Switzerland. A draw would be enough for the hosts to finish in top spot. I just can't see them getting beaten at home and can easily see them winning this match. This does not bode well for the Swiss as the Romanians are almost certain to beat Albania in the other match, to guarantee themselves second spot. The Albanians deserve respect after having played with a lot of merit in their first 2 matches but they will have to get out of their defensive shell and open up their game to realistically claim the third spot of the group. This will give ample opportunities for the Romanians to exploit the gaps at the back. A win for Romania beckons.

Win: Romania

Friday, June 17, 2016

Euro 2016 - Belgium at the crossroads

After their debacle against Italy, a win against Ireland is imperative for the Belgians if they are to sail through to the next round. I would call their defeat on the tactical resilience of the Italians; I don't think it had anything to do with their attacking aptitude or motivation. As I was mentioning prior to the match, the Italians have been doing it to many a big team over the years and that's how they've built their reputations and characters. Think Espana WC 1982 against mighty Brazil...

Ireland will be someone a different matter for Belgium; this is a team without much pedigree, a little bit like them. But one with a big heart and resilience that is well coached by the likes of O'Neill and Keane. The Irish were unlucky not to beat Sweden in their first match; they created enough chances to win and only conceded on an own-goal. On its best day, this team will cause trouble to any other team.

Belgium go in the match as favourites, fair enough. But I think the Irish will make them work for it. They will let the Red Devils the benefit of play but will rely on their dangerous counter-attacks to cause an upset. The confidence will be on their side and it will only grow if Belgium gets frustrated in failing to score. I like the draw prospects of this match.

For the Group F matches, Hungary should at least get a point against the plucky Icelanders, and long punters might fancy the chances and attractive odds of Austria against Portugal.

Draw: Ireland v/s Belgium

Euro 2016 - The Swedes can hold Italy

Italy shocked a few by defeating the heavily-favored Belgians in their first match. There's this thing with the Italians who regularly manage to get a result when you least expect them. But much of it has to do with the tactical prowess of coach Conte who's doing wonders with a squad widely regarded as the least talented from Italy in the past 25 years.

With the hardest match of its group won, it would be a mistake of the Italians to be overly confident against Sweden. The latter got a fortuitous equalizer against the Republic of Ireland and could have easily lost the match had the Irish been less profligate in front of goal. Striker Ibrahimovic is familiar with quite a few of his Italian counterparts and it would be no surprise if he found the net. Who actually does not remember the exquisite goal he score against the same Italy in Euro 2004? I think this will again end in a draw just like 12 years back.

In the Group D matches, the Czech and the Croats are evenly-balanced and could yet settle for another draw while Spain are expected to double their tally by beating the Turks.

Draw: Italy/Sweden

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Euro 2016 - Lions will slay the Dragons

Gareth Bale will be by far the best player on the pitch as Wales battle England. However, it looks impossible that his 1-man show can overcome an England team that sent good vibes in their last match against Russia. The Lions were unlucky to concede during extra-time in a match they fully deserved to win. A repeat of this form will put them in good stead against the Welsh who labored to edge Slovakia. England to win.

Ukraine and Northern Ireland both lost their first match against the 2 favored teams of Group C notably Germany and Poland. This match will be the decider as to who can snatch 3rd place. I give the Irish the edge here because they are better organized and they look mentally stronger but the result could easily swing to the more technically-gifted Ukrainians. Whoever will score the first crucial goal will hold the advantage here.

Germany were alright and not spectacular in overcoming Ukraine in their first match. However, I don't anticipate them to have any problem containing the stronger Poles. The most Lewandowski and co can hope for is a draw point but the Germans have the necessary experience to make the difference before the final whistle.

Win: England, Germany, Northern Ireland

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Euro 2016 - France with serenity

It is with an enhanced confidence that France will tackle their second match of these Euros after having seen out the resilient Romanians in the first match. Albania should provide good food for fodder for Pogba and company; it is quite conceivable that coach Deschamps will use this match to rest some first-team players or try a new system for better things to come. The Albanians were only undone in their first match by the Swiss after playing with 10 men for a majority of the match. They are almost certain to crumble after only a few days rest against the host nation.

Romania and Switzerland look set to play out a close affair in the other Group A match. The former need a win after their tough loss against the French. The Swiss were not convincing against Albania, so Romania could well edge this one. I see this match ending as a Romanian win or a draw.

Russia look to be in deep trouble; their match against the Slovaks could have no significance if they are booted out of the Euros not because of their team performance but because of their supporters. The Russians ran their luck against England but are sure to find the Slovaks a better proposition; the latter were downed by Wales quite convincingly and look more likely to finish last of the group. Provided the off-field disturbances do not alter the spirit of this Russia side, they should win this match.

Win: France, Russia 

Euro 2016 - No slip allowed for Portugal

If logic is to be respected, Portugal and Austria should finish in the first 2 places of Group F. Hungary and Iceland should be vying for the third place spot.

Portugal cannot afford to lose any points against lowly Iceland. They will probably be made to wait to make the difference but should be able to do so in the end. Obviously, much will depend on Christiano Ronaldo's imprint on the match; the Real Madrid striker relishes bullying this type of weak opposition.

Austria were impressive in qualifying but less convincing in their recent matches, notably being thoroughly beaten by the Netherlands in a warm-up match. They have a solid squad with some notable names such as Arnatautic and Janko. I cannot see Hungary upsetting the odds here and Austria should sail to a more or less comfortable win.

Win: Portugal, Austria

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Euro 2016 - Belgium in the big leagues

The first heavyweight clash of the Euros pits the always dangerous Italians against the uber-talented Belgians in the Group E of Death. Belgium beware; Italy don't have a superstar player, yet they always make it difficult for any team to overcome them. The classic Italian scenario relies on their solid defence to demoralize the opposition and wait for the opportune moment to deliver the knock-out blow at the other end.

Belgium are among the favourites in these Euros because of their golden generation of players. On paper, this team has no rival in Europe, let alone in the world. They don't  have 1 maestro but 2 in the form of Hazard and de Bruyne. The only blip for this team is that they will miss their defensive rock and captain Kompany at the back.

If this is going to be a tactical affair, then the Italians have the edge, no doubt. It is inevitable that Belgium will hold much of the ball possession but the question will be whether they can open up the Italian defence and translate that into goals.Italy usually relish these types of encounters where they are not expected to run the play, sit back and soak the pressure and wait for the wave of attacks to crumble one after the other. Counter-attacks will present themselves for them to make the difference at the other end.

These 2 teams are very balanced and I like the idea of a draw here that would leave intact the chances of both teams to go through. Ireland and Sweden will present better opportunities for both teams to bag full points and they will probably play this one out with the utmost caution.

Ireland and Sweden look evenly-matched and even though Ibrahimovic looms large for the Scandinavians, Ireland are very well guided by coach O'Neill and look more on the upside; they can very well bag the 3 points against a yellow team that looks well past its best.

In Group D, the Czech Republic definitely present a clear danger to a Spanish team in search of some form. Spain are no certainties like a few years back. Tiki-taka football no longer reigns supreme.

Draw: Belgium v/s Italy.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Euro 2016 - Germany to set the tempo

Big guns Germany will start as deserved heavy favourites against Ukraine and it would be a major surprise if they don't win this encounter. Coach Low has been tinkering with his formations of late, which might very well explain the not-so-sparkling recent results. However, the Germans take no prisoners once the major hostilities start and it will be shocking if they don't finish first of Group C. Ukraine don't have Germany's pedigree or the beat to beat them. I expect a strong showing and easy win for Muller and company.

The match between Poland and Northern Ireland looks tight and it would be no surprise if this match were settled by the odd goal. Same for evenly-matched Turkey and Croatia and I have a small preference for the Turks.

Win: Germany

Friday, June 10, 2016

Euro 2016 - England to the test

England need to make a strong showing against Russia to show that they are real contenders for the overall win. So often they have looked dominant in the qualifying stages only to peter out when during the tournament. Russia are no push-overs but if the Lions play to their potential, they should have enough fire power to win this match. The cause for concern for England is really their defence which lacks a real world-class rock. The Russians might not have a striker to worry them but the other major teams definitely will. Unless they produce a dismal showing (which by the way is not entirely impossible), England should beat the Russians.

Finally Wales are in a major tournament. Thanks to Bale. Wales' chances all rely on the Real Madrid star; if he performs, they can win. Without him, they are nothing. Slovakia is certainly within their grasp if Bale can run the circus. The Slovaks have shown their intent by shocking the world in beating Germany in a friendly a couple of weeks back; they lack a true star but they can hold their own against the Welsh. Possibly a draw in the offing in this one.

Switzerland against Albania is an interesting one as the origin of many in the Albanian team come from Switzerland. History will be made by pitching the Xhaka brothers playing for opposing teams. On paper, the Swiss should prevail but it actually won't be a shock if Albania, the minnows of the tournament, get something out of this match.

Win: England

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Euro 2016 - France in a sweet spot

Here we go, Euro 2016 is here! This is a wide-open affair with several teams particularly aspiring to the trophy. But if we are to be cynical, we could look at things through different angles; England are fancied again but will flop as usual, probably in a penalty shoot-out yet again! France will probably win because they've won the last 2 times they hosted a big tournament (Euro 1984, WC 1998). But as others would say, everyone plays football, and in the end it's the Germans who win. Add to the mix the uber-talented Belgians and the complex Spaniards, this tournament promises to be well worth the look.

France has seemingly inherited an easy group with the likes of Romania, Switzerland and Albania. The French have flattered to deceive and disappoint in recent Euros and World Cups amidst so-called easy groups as well, but this squad looks an entirely different matter. For one, it is very talented with the likes of Griezman, Pogba, Payet and Martial to name a few. They are a strong and well-guided team under coach Deschamps. They will pass the group stage for sure. The first match against the Romanians will give a clue as to the health and potential of this team and I think they will pass it with flying colors.

Romania will battle Switzerland for second place. The Romanians are not in particularly great form having only won 2 of their last 6 matches. They have a poor historical record against the French and it's hard to see them causing an upset in the first match. Although they are a coherent team, they certainly miss a great playmakter a la Hagi to make a difference at this level.

The hosts should comfortably take this first match and get the cobwebs off.

Win: France