By Niall Clarke
- Euro 2016 Group E preview and predictions
- Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
Arguably the group of death at Euro 2016, Belgium lead Italy, Republic of Ireland and Sweden in a very tasty looking Group E.
The Red Devils have amassed arguably their greatest ever team in recent years, but they have yet to prove themselves in a big tournament. The World Cup performance was considered a disappointment, but with a more experienced side they will look to make an impact.
The team is not short on talent with world renowned players such as Kevin De Bruyne, Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard leading the ranks. Coach Marc Wilmots has experienced big international tournaments as a player, but has often been criticised for not getting the best out of the current crop. Only a good result here will save him from the chop.
A centre back pairing of Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen, flanked by Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen sounds great on paper, but Kompany is injured and Vermaelen has hardly featured this year. That leaves Belgium using a makeshift back-line which could be problematic against the better teams.
Belgian expectations will be fairly high given their squad, and so they should be. The Red Devils should make the latter stages but there is a danger they could under-perform if their star players are not clicking.
Finalists four years ago, Italy come into Euro 2016 with little expectation, but with a solid squad their consistency might be key to making the latter stages.
What Italy lacks is world class talent. They are a good and solid team, but might lack the firepower to make it to the latter stages. Defensively they will be organised as always and that will be their best tactic towards qualification.
Antonio Conte will be under the spotlight because he is set to take over as Chelsea manager following the tournament. A good run here will heighten excitement at Stamford Bridge but a poor performance will make them pessimistic. The back-line will be the key with players such as Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. With key players in midfield missing they may lack the creative spark, but Italy have plenty of experience that could go a long way.
Republic of Ireland
The Irish have been dealt with a tough group, but they will come to Euro 2016 with plenty of spirit and hope that they can make the knockout stages.
Martin O’Neill has a tough job in trying to get a side lacking any major talents out of a group with Italy and Belgium, but with the Azzurri not looking like a big force, the last 16 could be a possible target. A lot will ride on the opening game against Sweden. A win will do wonders to confidence, a loss would more than likely see them out, and a draw will not do much better than a loss in that regard.
It might be a little short sighted to say that their fate might rest on one game, but Ireland are not expected to get anything from Belgium or Italy. They have plenty of good players, but a lack of a real superstar will hurt their chances.
Whilst on the topic of superstars, can Sweden with Zlatan Ibrahimovic go on to shock Belgium and Italy by making it directly to the knockout stages.
Many teams may lack a true match winner, but Sweden have that in Ibrahimovic. The Swedish superstar might be playing his last tournament as he is expected to retire from international football after the conclusion. The striker is truly a world class talent, but will Sweden be over reliant on him?
Sweden have a crop of promising young players who will play their first major tournament for the senior side. Six of them led the Under-21 side to European glory last summer, so they know how to play and win together, but this is a different kettle of fish.
Ibrahimovic is so vital to the sides success that it will literally come down to how well he performs as to whether they qualify from Group E or not. If he is firing then he is capable of producing the magic needed, but if not then Sweden will likely not stand a chance.
It is safe to say that Italy and Belgium are favourites to make it out of the group, but in which order? Belgium have more creativity and flair, but Italy’s organisation will make them difficult to break down. The Red Devils have the extra creativity that will most likely get them through the other two sides by a larger margin, and that could be a difference.
1st- Belgium, 2nd- Italy, 3rd- Sweden, 4th- Republic of Ireland
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