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Sunday, 19 June 2016

Euro 2016 Group Stage Picks (June 19-22)


Euro 2016 Group Stage Update
The final round of Group games are going to be played in the next few days and a few teams might already have enough points in the bag to ensure they are going through to the Second Round.

For others winning the Group is an important factor and others still have 'must win' situations going into those games. The idea for a twenty-four team Euro 2016 tournament has certainly worked with only one team, the Ukraine, officially eliminated going into the final round of games.

It should be a good few days before we get into the beginning of the Knock Out Stage and the Second Round next Saturday.



Euro 2016 Group Stage Picks
The biggest disappointment of getting into the final round of Group games is that we have lost the three back to back games in one day until the Second Round begins, but there is still plenty of football to enjoy over the next few days.

Sunday 19th June
Romania v Albania PickThere is no doubt that at some point in this game that both Romania and Albania are likely to take risks with the draw meaning both teams will be heading home from the Euro 2016 tournament. Out of the two teams, it is Romania who would potentially have enough with two points, although extremely unlikely, and that might be good news for the neutrals.

You can't blame Albania for being a cautious side as they try to bridge the gap to teams with more quality, but the fact is that they have to play a little more expansive in this one if they want to play in the Second Round. There have been things to like about Albania as they have defended doggedly at times, while they did create chances in the loss to Switzerland, but it still looks a big task to beat Romania against whom they have historically struggled.

Like Albania, Romania might feel they should have more points on the board having also been undone by France very late in the game. They haven't defended as strongly as expected, but Romania have shown something going forward even if they are yet to score from anything other than a penalty.

I can see this game perhaps surprising the layers with goals at both ends and it producing at least three goals, but I have more of a feel backing Romania to win the game and move through. There should be more spaces to exploit with Albania likely to have to come out and play a bit more and Romania have shown they can be a dangerous team on the counter attack.

Their win over Northern Ireland in the Qualifiers should set up the team to know how to break down Albania if necessary and I think Romania will be a little too good in this final Group game. 4 points should be enough to move into the Second Round regardless of what happens in the other game in the Group and I will back Romania to earn those three points they need in this game.

I do think Albania will make history with their first goal at a major international tournament, but Romania look a big price at odds against to hand them a third straight Group game loss.


Switzerland v France PickLate goals have been a feature of the France Euro 2016 campaign so far with those goals helping turn two points into six and a place in the Second Round. Group A has yet to be won though and France still need a point in this game to win the section, although the talent in the squad suggests they are more than capable of doing that.

They can't expect Switzerland to roll over with a point helping secure a top two spot in the Group, while a little more belief could see them win the Group if they can beat the hosts. Switzerland have to show better composure in front of goal to do that, but they will get chances against this France defence which has looked far from comfortable through this tournament.

But France will also expect to create chances in this one as Switzerland have looked a little susceptible at the back with a high line not being held as well as they would have liked.

It should be entertaining, and I am expecting goals in this one.

However the overriding feeling is that France are going to be good enough to win this one and make it three wins in three games. It looks like Didier Deschamps won't be making wholesale changes to make sure the team wins the Group and the likes of Paul Pogba will be starting this one.

I will back France to earn the three points in this one at just under odds against.


Monday 20th June
Russia v Wales PickThere is a lot on the line when Russia play Wales in the final game in the Group and the authorities will be hoping that any battles will be contained to the twenty-two players on the pitch rather than the thousands in the stands and Toulouse in general.

Both teams have every chance of making it through to the Second Round without having to worry about the result in the other game in the Group and I expect plenty of attacking football from both. The draw doesn't really do a lot for Russia, even if Wales would likely take that now, and this could be a game where the Wales pace on the counter attack could be crucial in this game.

Gareth Bale has scored in both Group games already and his pace should be a big problem for an ageing Russia defence once they step forward. You do have to think Wales will look to defend in numbers, but Chris Coleman knows his side have already worked very hard on Thursday in the loss to England and Wales have to release some of that pressure on the defence with a more convincing attacking plan.

The counter attack will be crucial for Wales as they would have seen the spaces that Slovakia managed to find against Russia, but there are goals in this Russia team when forced to come forward. I am surprised that Russia are the favourites to win the game though as they have not looked like a good team for much of their first two Group games and only really shone late on when chasing the game.

That might make them more of a threat in this one as Russia know this is a 'must win' game for them and I do think we will see goals in this one. Russia have both scored and conceded in their last 5 games, while 4 of the last 6 Wales games have ended with at least three goals being shared out.

An early goal in this one should certainly liven things up as spaces open up with one of the teams beginning to chase the game. Backing at least three goals to be scored in yet another game in Group B at odds against certainly looks like it can give you a run for your money.


Slovakia v England PickThe other game in the Group could have a big impact in the way this one is being played, but on the face of things you have to think Slovakia and England can produce an entertaining game. The teams look well matched in styles of play as Slovakia will look to use a pacy counter attack against England's possession and I can see both teams having their chances.

For all of England's good play in the tournament, this is a defence that can look vulnerable and I think Slovakia have the quality to hurt them when they do go at them with pace. However I think Roy Hodgson has finally seen the light and the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Jamie Vardy will give England plenty of pace and, more importantly, confident players in the final third compared with Raheem Sterling and Harry Kane.

I am expecting a good game because England have played well going forwards, but have always looked a little shaky at the back. There is a situation where a 1-0 England win would suit both teams and perhaps stop either chasing anything more, but they won't know exactly what is happening in the other game in the Group until the final few moments.

Before that I expect attacking football as both teams have been better going forward than defending and there is enough to gain from the victory to motivate the players. With the way games in this Group have gone, I wouldn't be surprised if there are at least three goals in this game and at odds against that has to be worth chancing.

My feeling is that England will be too strong on the day, but I will back goals at the prices on offer.


Tuesday 21st June
Northern Ireland v Germany PickThis is a huge game for Northern Ireland, but they would have appreciated events in the other Groups which have put them in a strong position to Qualify as one of the four best third place finishers. Northern Ireland certainly helped themselves with a 2-0 win over the Ukraine following a slightly fortunate 1-0 defeat to Poland, and they might be in a position where even a narrow loss to Germany does not spell curtains for them.

Depending on what has happened in the Group B games played on Monday, Northern Ireland might already be able to book their place in the Second Round by the time they finish this one. The fact they likely could afford a narrow defeat suggests Michael O'Neill will be happy to play a defensive formation to contain Germany, although he will want the same attacking verve that we saw against Ukraine rather than against Poland.

It is dangerous to think Northern Ireland can afford to sit back and hope to move through to the Second Round, but it does make a lot of sense. Germany have shown they can struggle to break down teams with their own 'false nine' system and Northern Ireland will likely load up with two banks of four to make it difficult for the World Champions.

However you would have to think that Germany will find some chances as Poland created against Northern Ireland and even a 2-0 defeat should not be an issue for Northern Ireland. That looks the most likely result as it should confirm Germany as Group winners, barring Ukraine falling apart against Poland, and I don't think Northern Ireland will commit too many players forward chasing the game as a 3-0 defeat might leave them under pressure.

This might be a rare occasion in Euro 2016 when both teams settle towards the end of the game rather than pushing for late goals. Northern Ireland will be a threat from any set pieces as they showed against Ukraine and almost stole a point against Poland, but I think Germany will hold them out and I will back them to win with a clean sheet.


Ukraine v Poland PickThe Ukraine have been a difficult opponent for Poland to deal with in recent matches, but I have to wonder what the mentality is of the players who are already out of the Euro 2016 tournament. Of course they should want to finish with a flourish and they did beat Poland twice in the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers, but it has been a long season for many of the players and it can show up with nothing to play for.

On the other hand Ukraine have nothing to lose and they can challenge a Poland team that are still striving to win Group C ahead of Germany. Unlike the Northern Ireland game, Ukraine should have more space to operate when they have the ball going forward, but defensively they have been poor, especially from set pieces.

Poland will be looking to expose those vulnerabilities, but they will also be looking for a little more composure in front of goal. For all their dominance in the Northern Ireland game, Poland did only score one goal in that game and scoring goals might have been the biggest concern pre-tournament even with Robert Lewandowski to call upon.

At least Poland have shown they are perhaps better defensively than many expected, but the onus is on them to push forward in this one. That should lead to some gaps at the back, but I think Poland will be able to cover them up against this Ukraine team and perhaps they can secure their first win over this nation since September 2000.

It might not be enough for Poland to win the Group, but I will look for them to record a narrow victory which secures second place and a Second Round berth. At just under odds against the prices are just tempting enough for the Poland win in this one.


Croatia v Spain PickA lot of the focus in the last few days would have gone on the behaviour of the Croatia fans who seem intent on disgracing their Football Association on the biggest stage. It might not be the way that all the Croatian fans want to display their dissatisfaction, as shown in their in-fighting during the draw with the Czech Republic, but there is a fear the fans will get the team thrown out of the Euro 2016 tournament.

For now they will turn to matters on the pitch and trying to secure a top two finish in the Group. Croatia might be missing Luka Modric which is a huge blow as they try to win the possession statistics against Spain and I do think he was one player they couldn't afford to lose.

There is pace in the counter attack which is a threat against Spain, but losing the passing and control of Modric means Spain should be able to dictate the tempo and have much of the ball. Spain don't always look to get behind a defence which may aid this ageing Croatian defence, but Alvaro Morata showed what he can do when Spain do try to hit him in the box.

It looks a tough game which is going to see the teams try to prod their opponents with long spells of pressure and passing. However I think Spain are the team coming in with a lot more focus on the football rather than Croatia who are urging their fans not to ruin their tournament. That slight lack of focus or distraction might prove critical in this final game in the Group and I do like Spain to win this match at odds against.


Czech Republic v Turkey PickEverything has become clear to the Czech Republic and Turkey going into the final round of games in the Euro 2016 Group D. They both need the three points if they are going to make it through to the Second Round and the Turkey need for a significant win should make this an entertaining game for the neutrals to watch.

You have to think Turkey are going to show a lot more than they have in losses to Croatia and Spain, and they should have chances against a Czech Republic team they beat in the Qualifiers. The fact that the Czech Republic struggle for clean sheets should help Turkey try and score their first goal in the Euro 2016 Finals and either team scoring will force the other team to come forward.

The draw is no good to any of these nations and that should also mean we see an open game that produces at least three goals.

Historically this fixture has done that with at least three goals scored in 7 of their 9 previous games, although it also has to be remembered that the exceptions have come in the last 3 games. However there is so much on the line for both teams with the three points being imperative that I can see plenty of chances for both during the course of the ninety minutes.

Even a 2-0 lead for either team shouldn't prevent spaces opening up in the final twenty minutes as fatigue and chasing the game sets in. Backing at least three goals to be shared out at odds against looks a big price to me and that is what I am expecting in this one.


Wednesday 22nd June
Hungary v Portugal PickAll eyes in Portugal are going to be on Cristiano Ronaldo as they look for their star player to finally spark in Euro 2016 after two frustrating outings. Missing his penalty against Austria which would have turned a goalless draw into a win has left Portugal in a very difficult spot in the Group, but they do know a win will be enough to perhaps even win the section.

That will depend if they can win by a margin bigger than Iceland, who are no givens to beat Austria, and so Portugal know where they stand going into the game.

To be fair to Portugal, they haven't been all that bad in their first two games and on another night they would have won both of those games. The negativity around Cristiano Ronaldo has to be a concern, but he is the kind of player that can quickly rediscover his form and I am looking for something special from him.

Portugal do have to be careful though.

Hungary have shown they can be an effective defensive unit and they have some talented players in the wide areas that will threaten on the counter attack. My concern for Hungary is that they are in a funny position in the Group and might not know whether they want to defend deep or attack Portugal.

A draw wouldn't be the worst result for Hungary who are officially through to the Second Round even as one of the best third place finishers at worst. The point would likely be enough to top the Group, while an Iceland failure to beat Austria means Hungary are in the top two at worst so perhaps the 'nothing to lose' mentality will aid them.

However Portugal look like a team that could give someone a bit of a going over if they can take some of the chances they have been creating. They might not win too many competitive games easily, but I think Portugal win this one by a couple of goals and find a way to win this Group.


Iceland v Austria PickOn paper it might not sound the most exciting of games, but there could be plenty of spaces opening up as this match wears on with one of Iceland or Austria likely chasing the game.

For Austria matters couldn't be any simpler as they try to show the rest of Europe why there was so much hype in their squad going into the Euro 2016 Finals. After picking up just a single point from two games, Austria have to show why many expected them to be an attacking force in the Finals and come forward to score the goals to win the game.

A draw will mean an early exit for Austria so they have a very simple permutation if they want to make it through to the Second Round. A win will be enough regardless of what happens in the other Group game although their position in the Group can only be either second or third.

On the other side of the pitch, Iceland might feel a draw is enough to see them through with the way the other Groups have shaped up, but they haven't looked a team that will want to 'park the bus'. Yes they try and defend properly, but Iceland haven't struck me as a team that won't give away chances so it would be a surprise if they risk their place in the Second Round on earning a clean sheet in this one.

It does look a tough match to call, but Iceland might be trying to pick themselves up from two points dropped late in the game against Hungary. That coupled with the fact that I have been expecting a lot more from Austria and am not going to base my judgement on their first two games means I fancy the 'dark horses' to at least reach the Second Round with a victory.

I wouldn't be surprised if we see goals on the day too, but simply backing Austria to win is my call.


Italy v Republic of Ireland PickThere is little doubt that Antonio Conte will rotate his players, especially now Italy have a big Second Round clash with Spain to come on Monday. He won't want any suspensions and the older players, particularly the Juventus defence and goalkeeper, might need that additional time to recover from two tough games.

Defensively Italy have been excellent as they have used players who are well aware of what is expected of them at the back and they are marshalled perfectly by Gianluigi Buffon. However there could be an issue with new faces in those positions for this final Group game and that is where the Republic of Ireland have to look to take advantage.

The situation is clear for the Irish who have to win this game to help them through to the Second Round. Anything less would see them out of the Euro 2016 Finals in which the other nations from the United Kingdom and Ireland have made it through to the Knock Out Stage.

I am not sure how the Republic of Ireland will deal with the pressure of having to push the tempo and they have to be careful against the counter attacking quality Italy have shown in the tournament. Even a changed forward line will look to exploit any gaps Ireland will leave if they begin to chase the game and that has to be a concern for the Republic of Ireland while preparing for this game.

However the changed Italy team might not be as strong defensively without some of their more recognised back line and the Irish have to use the set pieces to make something happen in this one. I do think the Republic of Ireland will have their chances to beat this Italian team they face as Italy don't score that many goals when playing their full team.

They will give the Republic of Ireland some chances and, while Italy should have players motivated to show they are good enough to start in the coming matches, I am going to back them to avoid defeat in this one.


Sweden v Belgium PickThis is the end of Zlatan Ibrahimovic's international career so you can imagine the ego he has will mean he won't want to go away quietly. Unfortunately this isn't a vintage Sweden team and the struggles to create too many chances in their first couple of games has to be a concern for a team that needs to win this one.

All the pressure is on Sweden, but they have not really looked good enough in this tournament and now face a Belgium team who would have restored some confidence in their last game. They looked much better in front of goal in the win over the Republic of Ireland and Belgium can bide their time in this one knowing the spaces will open up as Sweden begin to chase the game.

Finishing second in the Group might open up the draw for Belgium thanks to the likes of England and Spain blowing their last games in the Group. The top half in which the Runner Up of Group E will be playing looks much weaker than the bottom half so the motivation for Belgium to play this one properly should make them very dangerous.

The talent level looks to give Belgium a clear edge and being able to play on the counter as Sweden begin to chase the game makes them a worthy favourite. I can't see Belgium losing this one and I think they are going to hand Sweden another defeat and maybe not provide the fairytale ending to his international career that Ibrahimovic would want.

A win here might also give Belgium the momentum to travel very far in this tournament, although they could face a Second Round clash with Portugal to open the draw. For now they can concentrate on winning this game and I will back Belgium to do that.

MY PICKS: Romania @ 2.20 Paddy Power (2 Units)
France @ 1.91 William Hill (2 Units)
Russia-Wales Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.50 William Hill (2 Units)
Slovakia-England Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Germany Win to Nil @ 1.85 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Poland @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Spain @ 2.05 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Czech Republic-Turkey Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Portugal - 1.25 Asian Handicap @ 2.05 Bet365 (2 Units)
Austria @ 2.15 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Republic of Ireland + 0.25 Asian Handicap @ 1.83 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Belgium @ 1.91 Bet Victor (2 Units)

Group Stage Match Day 3 Update: 5-7, - 3.92 Units
Group Stage Match Day 2 Final: 7-5, + 6.82 Units
Group Stage Match Day 1 Final: 4-8, - 8.20 Units

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