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rabbidogg from SoccerPulse - Archive Video Collection
rabbidogg - Jul 10 2016 09:05 AM
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The smile still hadn’t left Chris Coleman’s face two days after a place at Euro 2016 had been sealed. “It’s not often you spell Wales with a ‘Q’,” the manager beamed. But there it was, the capital Q, for “Qualification”, solidly next to the name of a country whose last experience of tournament football was more than half a century earlier, at the 1958 World Cup.
Before that exile from major finals was ended, Wales had the dubious claim of boasting some of the best players never to grace International football’s greatest stages. Ian Rush, Neville Southall and Ryan Giggs were all left at home rather than competing, with qualification campaigns often ending in final-hurdle heartbreak.
Bobby Robson knew a thing or two about home advantage and the former England manager hit the nail on the head when he said: “If we’re sitting together in my house, who’s more comfortable: you or me?” France are on home turf for Euro 2016, so that automatically gives them an advantage over the other 23 teams taking part.
Yes, the pressure of expectation is perhaps greater on the hosts, but being at home, with the sense of comfort and familiarity that brings, far outweighs any negatives. If France get off to a good start when the tournament kicks off on June 10, then being “chez eux” will surely help them in their bid to become European champions for a third time.
With a number of world-class players, backed by others who are arguably among the Premier League’s finest, Belgium topped FIFA’s world rankings for five months earlier this year. Yet Marc Wilmots’ men have yet to win a trophy and have hardly ever beaten a top team in a competitive match.
Frustratingly for their followers, Belgium have regularly failed to impress in games, while their coach is frequently accused of lacking tactical nous. Back in 2014, ahead of the World Cup, observers looked at players such as Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku and asked why they didn’t perform for their country as they did for their clubs. To an extent, Hazard has nullified that question, but the fact remains that Wilmots rarely elicits top performances from his charges.
And the Reds go marching in! An ecstatic Wembley Stadium celebrated as Manchester United won the FA Cup in style, with Jesse Lingard coming off the bench and scoring the cup winner in extra-time. It was Juan Mata’s goal that cancelled out Jason Puncheon’s goal in regulation time, and despite being down to ten men, the Red Devils held their nerve and performed magnificently well to win the oldest club tournament in the world: The FA Cup. It was yet another trophy added to the gloriou...
The game in Sweden orbits around one man, so it is no wonder that the hopes of the country start and end with his name. And it is not just that the public adores him; the team is also completely reliant on Zlatan Ibrahimovic. This will probably be his last major tournament and Swedes hope that he will inspire this side to scale new heights. In reality, these heights are still far from the top. Ten years have passed since Sweden last reached the knockout stage of a major tournament; in the meantime, they’ve missed two World Cups and disappointed in a group stage in Austria (2008) and Ukraine (2012). And this is why their only goal this year will be to end that jinx and reach the last 16.
Roy Hodgson’s England were the only team to win all 10 games in qualifying for Euro 2016 and, although they were only really tested by closest challengers Switzerland, there is optimism about their chances. They have the talent to go a long way – but there is also an awareness that things could go very wrong, very quickly, as in Brazil two years ago.
The mood is best summed up by the reaction to two recent friendlies. A 3-2 victory over world champions Germany in Berlin was celebrated as a sign of England’s new potency; four days later, the reality check of a Wembley defeat by an experimental Holland side brought expectations back to more manageable levels. Inevitably, the same old weaknesses could come back to haunt England. There are still defensive frailties and a lack of comfort on the ball – problems that are only exposed in a competitive environment against the very best opposition.
At first glance, it is not difficult to find reasons why Italy’s Euro 2016 campaign could go badly wrong. For a start, there is the continuing decline and fall of Serie A in European club competition. This season, for the first time since 2001, no Italian club qualified for a continental quarter-final.
On top of that, the national side has bombed out in the first round of the last two World Cups, in South Africa and Brazil. And a 4-1 drubbing in a March friendly by Germany hardly augurs well, either. Yet despite all that, Italy will be expected to give a good account of themselves in France. Two considerations justify a cautious optimism: the nature of the coach Antonio Conte, and the solid if not spectacular progress that his side has made since he took over from Cesare Prandelli in August 2014.
“It’s not so bad,” Vicente Del Bosque said. Spain had just played their last two friendlies before the coach named his squad for France and he was keen to calm people down. But the very fact that he felt he had to was telling. It was telling, too, that in an interview a few days before, he had reminded people that Spain are the defending European champions.
If Spain were to win this summer, they would complete an historic hat-trick of consecutive European titles – but there is little optimism that they will. As world champions, they were the first team to be knocked out of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Del Bosque talked about the need to carry out a “soft transition”, while others saw things in more dramatic terms: an era had ended at the Maracana and it is not
Portugal have an impressive European Championship record, reaching the semi-finals three times and the Final once in six appearances. They also have the outstanding player at the tournament, a core of experienced, solid performers and an exciting crop of young talents. After taking over in September 2014, coach Fernando Santos won all seven of the remaining Euro 2016 qualification games, setting a record winning streak of competitive games for Portugal. And while his team is far from perfect, it is these sort of facts that give Selecao fans plenty of grounds for optimism.