By Niall Clarke
- Euro 2016 Group F preview and predictions
- Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
Portugal will hope to go far in Euro 2016, but first they must play their way through a Group F featuring Iceland, Austria and Hungary.
With a good mix of youth, experience, and the Cristiano Ronaldo factor, Portugal could be dark horse contenders for the Euro 2016 title.
The mood at home is optimistic. Portugal have gotten fairly lucky with their draw, and the fans feel that their campaign can echo that of Euro 2012 or Euro 2004 rather than the World Cup two years ago. The nice blend of youthful talent with international experience will leave Paulo Bento with a good dynamic to choose from.
Ronaldo will obviously be the key player that they will look to for inspiration. An international crown is one of the few things that is missing from his resumé. As a guy who strives to be the best, the Real Madrid forward will love nothing more than to lead his country to Euro 2016 success.
Despite plenty of positives, the side is without a reliable striker and that may force Ronaldo out of his natural position. The average age of the first choice back four is 33 which could leave them vulnerable to counter attacks, and the fitness of Ronaldo and Joao Moutinho could be an issue given their recent injury problems.
Iceland will be excited to just be at Euro 2016, but with a fairly close group ahead of them, they may fancy their chances to go further into the tournament.
Expectations are minimal, maybe even non existent. Most will expect them to be eliminated in the group stages, but that will not stop thousands of Icelandic fans from flocking to France to support their team.
Gylfi Sigurdsson is undoubtedly the star man of the team. The Swansea City midfielder scored six goals in qualifying and had an excellent second half to the Premier League season. Sigurdsson operates in a different role for his country and is very much the focal point of the team, pulling the strings from the centre of the park.
The lack of tournament experience in the side may be a detriment to their chances, but without any weight of expectation on their shoulders, Iceland can play freely and that makes them more dangerous.
Austria’s fantastic qualifying campaign led them to the top 10 in the FIFA world rankings, but with expectations creeping up, can they replicate that performance at Euro 2016?
The group is a kind one. Austria will be expecting to get a result against Hungary and Iceland with only Portugal being clearly the better side. The expectation amongst the home fans will be qualification from group, from there it will depend on who they face.
Marko Arnautovic has moved on from being ‘the diva’ to fulfilling his potential, and he will be a key player for Austria during the tournament. The Stoke City player will offer that creativity and magic capable of winning matches, whilst David Alaba will look to keep things ticking over at the other end of the field.
Austria have a solid squad full of experience, but their problem lies with depth as a whole. If one of their key players get injured then they do not have a replacement near that level, and that is where things could unravel.
This Hungarian side might not be of the same class as the 1950’s one, but with a fairly good draw they could spring a few surprises and make the knockout stages.
There might not be a superstar to turn to, but there is a real sense of togetherness with this team and a never say die attitude that poses a threat. The Hungarian’s have a sense of quiet optimism that was further enhanced after Bernd Storck won two games since taking charge in November.
A win will be expected against Iceland, and if they can grind out a result against Austria or Portugal, then the last 16 might be beckoning. However, the side does lack quality and have potential mistakes in them across the pitch.
Their only option will be to stay solid, stay as a unit and try grind out any results. They have belief, there is optimism surrounding them, and it is time to translate that on to the pitch.
Portugal, especially if Ronaldo is firing, look like a shoo-in for the knockout stages. That leaves the other three teams to battle it out for the second automatic spot. Austria have the best squad of the three, but Iceland and Hungary have this unity that has worked so well for many club sides this season. Portugal and Austria are the safe choices, but it would not be surprising to see a different result.
1st-Portugal, 2nd-Austria, 3rd-Hungary, 4th-Iceland
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