CRAIGE: EURO 2016 Groups A and B Preview
The Beautiful Game

After four years of waiting, the beauty that is the European Championship tournament of soccer is upon us once more. Before we all get swept up in Euro Cup fever though, I would like to remind everyone that the Copa América Centenario, the major tournament of the Americas, is under way, and the United States men’s national team is still alive.

The next three weeks are critical for every team hoping to make it to the next round, as the group stages will get under way. During this time, every team will play the other three members of its group once. At the end of the three weeks, the top two teams from every group will advance to the Round of 16, along with the next four-best third place finishers.

As you can see, this makes it very possible that some of the smaller teams could advance in the tournament, even if they do not perform that well. In fact, it is quite possible that a single win is enough to guarantee a place in the Round of 16.

As the host, France will play the very first game of the tournament this afternoon. The French national team did not have to go through the qualifying rounds for the tournament, as they automatically qualified as hosts, so it is quite possible that they will be less prepared than other teams.

France has also been plagued by a scandal involving striker Karim Benzema — who was notably left off of the squad as a result — and midfielder Mathieu Valbuena. For those of you who missed this scandal, it involved Benzema blackmailing Valbuena over an explicit tape. Missing its star striker could spell trouble for France, but fortunately France kicks off the tournament against Romania, a game that should be a win for the French.

Rounding out Group A, Albania and Switzerland will face off against each other Saturday. Like a few other teams in this year’s Euro Cup, this is Albania’s first ever appearance in a major tournament. During the qualifying stages, Albania had the fewest number of shots out of all the teams that qualified for the Euro Cup. It will be quite surprising if the Albanians manage to make it out of their group. While I hope they do, as I do love a good underdog story, I find it very doubtful.

Xherdan Shaqiri — who currently plays for Stoke City — and Granit Xhaka — who just signed for Arsenal — are two of Switzerland’s most important players. Thanks to a relatively easy group, Switzerland should make it to the next round with no problems.

Also playing on Saturday are the four teams that make up Group B: Wales against Slovakia and England against Russia. This is a group that I think is one of the most exciting to watch. England, of course, was the only team to make it through the qualifying rounds with a perfect record. With the likes of Jamie Vardy, Harry Kane and Manchester United youngster Marcus Rashford, this is an English team that many will expect to go far.

It certainly seems like a more talented England team than we have seen in past years, and perhaps this could be the year that England does not disappoint. While England will certainly make it through Group B, I am not yet confident that England will win its first major tournament since 1966.

The English squad spends the entire year playing against each other in the Premier League. Even with a large number of Manchester United and Liverpool players — both with six each — it is very difficult to perform together as team when most of the players are not teammates ordinarily.

Slovakia is a team that I think will do better than many people think. Slovakia recently beat the world champion Germany in a friendly, and the Slovaks did very well during the qualifying rounds, even beating eventual group-winner Spain.

While there is not a specific player that jumps out at you — indeed, I think captain Martin Škrtel is the only Slovak footballer that many people could name — the Slovakians are a very good team and I think that people often underestimate them.

Wales is one of the teams that will be playing in its first ever Euro Cup. Of course, it helps that star striker Gareth Bale is Welsh, although he has had several injuries lately. Aaron Ramsey is another key contributor to the Welsh side, and under manager Chris Coleman, Wales has been playing very well. In fact, I will be absolutely shocked if Wales does not make it past the group stage.

Russia is the final team in Group B. The Russians finished second in their qualifying group, behind Austria. While Russia almost always qualifies for the major tournaments, they often fail to advance past the group stage. Coupled with the coaching troubles that the Russians had earlier last year and a shaky confidence that the team always seems to have, I would not be surprised if Russia does not go far in this year’s tournament.

So there you have it, a more in depth analysis of Groups A and B, with more still to come. I encourage you all to tune in at some point during the tournament and just enjoy the beauty that is the European Championship. I know I certainly will.

VanessaCraige-150x150Vanessa Craige is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. The Beautiful Game appears every Tuesday and Friday.

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