Group F Preview

It’s the final preview for Euro 2016. The tournament is underway, so let’s look at Group F before their first matches start in a couple of days time…

Austria

The Austrians have endured a tough two decades of national football. Their last appearance came when co-hosting the 2008 tournament, in which they were ejected at the group stages. It has been underwhelming to say the least, but fans will be looking to the talents in the squad this year to hopefully push them a bit further through this summer’s process.

One of these is the fantastic David Alaba. We’re big fans of his; comfortable on the ball yet brilliant in defence, the versatile Bayern player can step in at left back, centre back, in centre midfield and even out on the left wing thanks to his devastating left foot. He’s a fantasy player’s dream: chipping in with goals from penalties and free kicks whilst ensuring clean sheets at the back. Thus Austria will be looking to their star man to be all over the pitch, contributing at both ends to hopefully secure his side progression to the next stage of the competition.

Another important player will be Marko Arnautovic, who comes off the back of a successful season at Stoke where he netted a career-best 11 in 34 games. Cutting in from the left-hand side onto his dangerous right foot, Arnautovic is a tricky yet pacey winger who has enough size to also be a threat in the air. If fans were to have any complaints, he can be a little inconsistent, going for several games without contributing much before going on a run of assists and goals. His nation will hope for the latter as the tournament gets underway this week.

An underrated player in our eyes is Julian Baumgartlinger. He’s the Busquets of the Austrian side, often lumbered with the hard ‘donkey’ work. But this is exactly why he’s on this list; it’s his hard work that allows Alaba the free reign to bomb box to box and to allow his team to benefit from his natural ability on the ball.

Hungary

The Hungarians are a team with low expectations. With no household names and a shaky defence, it will be hard to see them pushing Austria or group-favourites Portugal to qualification.

Balasz Dzsudzsák is the one player the hungarians will look to for a bit of magic. Currently at Bursaspor in Turkey after a stint in Russia, the winger has a goal-to-game ratio of around 1 in 4 for his country, and needs to embrace his role as the most talented of the hungarians should they wish to compete with the their group opponents.

Also important for Hungary will be the goalkeeper, Gabor Kiraly. A player with a wealth of top level experience but one who, at age 40, is in the twilight of his career. With the aforementioned shakiness of the Hungarian defence Kiraly will be all the more important, needing to use his experience to keep out what we can assume will be a fair few attempts on his goal as well as leading a relatively inexperienced team. In international tournaments like this, sometimes it isn’t just the talent that counts. It’s the experience too.

Portugal

Portugal will have been very pleased with their draw for the group stages; each of their three ties will be contested as favourites for the top qualification spot. Fernando Santos has decided on a slightly different tactical approach, and that’s to free up one man in particular.

Cristiano Ronaldo remains the focal point for this Portuguese side, with the switch to 4–4–2 designed to free up the Madrid record holder to attack freely. The midfield behind him will be set up to provide the Galactico with chances, but the question that will face the captain is this: have we seen the best of Cristiano Ronaldo? Despite his celebrations after scoring the winning penalty in the Champions League final, Ronaldo was largely a passenger during the game, overshadowed by Gareth Bale and Yannick Carrasco. There’s no doubt that he remains a top player, but whether he’s a player who will produce the required goals given the building of the team around him is something we will find out.

Another player with a big tournament ahead of him is Joao Moutinho. The Monaco midfielder has endured several injuries this term, which could make Euro 2016 a difficult prospect given the heavy competition for places in the Portugal team’s midfield. Capable of orchestrating from a deeper position or influencing in a more attacking role, Portugal will need him to confident and on form to be able to supply the two forwards in front of him.

Our one to watch in Group F is Renato Sanches. The 18-year old has just moved from Benfica to Bayern Munich in the past month, whilst his inclusion in the squad for Portugal makes him the youngest ever player to be taken to a major tournament since his captain, Ronaldo. With electric pace and superb dribbling abilities, Sanches is something of a wild card for Portugal; a relatively unknown quantity on the international stage, ‘Bulo’ is a risk taker who may just take a chance in play that could earn his side a victory.

Iceland

The last side in Group F is Iceland, the small scandinavian country with a couple of big names. Their biggest hope will come against Austria and Hungary, but they will consider the former a stern task indeed. If they want to push for the knockout stages, there’s one man in particular who will need to be electric.

That man is Gylfi Sigurdsson. The Swansea midfielder has shown his top-class ability in the Premier League for over three years now, and despite a disappointing move to Tottenham has found his feet once again in Wales. Potent in between the lines with a fantastic free kick, Sigurdsson is a player who would make most international sides, thanks to his vision and finish in front of goal. He’ll find it tough however, but don’t be surprised if he ends up with a goal or two in the group stages.

Aron Gunnarsson is another key player, leading the side from defensive midfield since the age of just 22. The Cardiff player enjoyed a solid season in the Championship but will need to up his game if he wants to contain the likes of Ronaldo and Alaba. His leadership will also be key not just now but going forward with a relatively young and inexperienced Icelandic team.

A player who goes against that grain is Eidur Gudjohnsen. Yes, the Chelsea and Barcelona one. How old? 37 now, but this talismanic figure for Iceland is more than just his on pitch contribution. The entire team will be looking to him for his wealth of top level experience, and whilst it’s unlikely he’ll be starting, he could well be a vital impact substitution from the bench to add size, experience and classy finishing to the fore. Fans will all be hoping he can find some form of old to roll back the years and lead Iceland to a few surprises.

We can’t see too many upsets here. We think quality should prevail and the group will play out predictably. We think the final group will end up looking like this:

  1. Portugal 2. Austria 3. Iceland 4. Hungary

But don’t be surprised if that all changes. We wouldn’t be surprised to see Iceland and Hungary using some Leicester spirit to fire them further through the competition.

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