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Friday, 10 June 2016

Euro 2016 Picks (June 10-14)

European Championships 2016- Opening Group Game Picks
The Euro 2016 tournament has come around and there should be plenty of excitement surrounding an event that looks to have a number of teams who could win the tournament.

In saying that, only France, Germany and Spain are single digits in the outright winners market and that isn't much of a surprise. France are the hosts and have won the two previous major international tournaments they have hosted in 1984 and 1998; Spain have won the European Championships twice in a row and will go for an unprecedented third straight win; And Germany are the defending World Champions who have reached the business end of the last two European Championships with losses in the Final in 2008 and Semi Final in 2012.

It is difficult to look beyond those three teams when it comes to picking potential winners, but there are plenty of teams heading to France who will feel they can have an impact.

I can't have England as the fourth favourites though, even if they were impressive in Qualifiers. At the end of the day, this is a team that went out in the Group Stage at the World Cup two years ago and have made one Semi Final in a major international tournament that is played outside of England.

Belgium and Austria will have plenty of backers, but neither looks to have the kindest draw and I do think the eventual winner will come out of the three teams that lead the market.

Out of those, I think France might be the most 'complete' team and have history as the hosts, but the Seeding suggests they play Germany in the Semi Final which might be the decider as to which of those teams go on and win the competition.

If you take away the herculean Greece effort in 2004, four of the last five winners of the Euro 2016 competition have been priced up as single figures. Only two other Finalists aside from Greece have been double digits in the outright markets so the potential for a Spain versus Germany/France Final looks very much to be on the cards.

That hasn't been the case for the 'top goalscorer' market which will be decided by number of assists if there are more than a single player leading with actual goals scored. There have been some huge priced outright winners in the last few major international tournaments and this remains one of the most difficult markets to predict.

Before Euro 2012 we have Milan Baros (50-1) at Euro 2004 and David Villa (20-1) at Euro 2008 while James Rodriguez (150-1) top scored at the World Cup in Brazil.

There are some disparity between teams in the Groups so it may pay to pick someone who can make hay early in the competition and then hope his team make at least the Quarter Finals to have a chance in this market.

I think Olivier Giroud could give people a run for their money as the likely number nine for France with a Group containing Romania, Albania and Switzerland. As I also expect France to go deep into the tournament Giroud might have the games to score the goals to win in this market.

Cristiano Ronaldo is only one of two players being quoted at single digits which has to be respected considering the Group Portugal have been given and history pointing to a solid run here.

Picking an outsider is tough in such a volatile market, but I think Giroud looks a decent shout to get close to the four or five goals that has previously been needed to win in this market.

Group Game Picks (Friday 10th-Tuesday 14th June)
I am going to split the picks in the Group games in a similar manner to how I have for the Copa America tournament and that is putting the first round of games in this one thread.

I will then have a thread for the second round of Group games, the third round of Group games, the Second Round, the Quarter Final, Semi Final and Final.

I find that it will make for easier reading over the next few weeks as the Euro 2016 gets underway. The first round of games is played from Friday to Tuesday next week, the second round of games will be played on the Wednesday 15th June until Saturday 18th June and the final Group games will be played on Sunday 19th June until Wednesday 22nd June.

Friday 10th June
The opening game of the Euro 2016 tournament will be played by the hosts France against Romania in the same Stadium that the Final will be played a month later.

Only eight teams will be exiting the Euro 2016 tournament at the Group Stage so there is a little more room for teams to give their opening games a big effort to try and win those games than we see in other Group games in other tournaments. A loss is not disastrous at this Stage, but a win almost puts a team into the Second Round already so I think we could see a more entertaining tournament than others have been in the early moments as teams look to avoid losing.

France v Romania PickOpening up a major international tournament as the hosts can be difficult, but there is even more pressure on France as they come into Euro 2016 as the favourites to win the title on July 10th. Getting off to a strong start will keep the public behind them which is important as the French fans can quickly turn when their team are not performing to the standards expected.

While there won't be too many complaints about the level of opposition in Group A, I think France might feel this is the most difficult game in the Group. They are playing a Romania team that are comfortable sitting in two banks of four and making it very difficult to beat them and they showed that in Qualifying for the tournament as they conceded just 2 goals in 10 games.

Romania have also held Spain to a goalless draw in a friendly, but a lack of major international tournament experience could hurt them. On the contrary, a young France team reached the Quarter Final in the 2014 World Cup and will look to use that experience of Knock Out football at Euro 2016.

With only eight teams being eliminated in the Group Stage, a win should be enough to earn a place in the Second Round. Romania will feel their three points are most likely to come in their games with Albania and Switzerland but they can play this one with a 'nothing to lose' attitude which will make them dangerous. They might want to frustrate their hosts, but Romania will also be keen to nick something on the counter against a vulnerable defence and try and pull a big upset against France.

Even with that in mind, I can't look for anything other than a France win to begin this tournament. My research has suggested two markets that are most appealing and that is France to cover the Asian Handicap and win this by two goals and also to win with a clean sheet.

France have scored plenty of goals in their home friendlies, but I do think there will be some tension from opening the event. Their defence has not looked the strongest, but they have some tremendous attacking talent even without Karim Benzema in the squad.

You can't underestimate how well Romania have defended for much of the last eighteen months, but they haven't been as secure in their most recent games. I think France can take advantage of that and I can see them wear down Romania in this opening game and come through with a win by a couple of goals to open the tournament.

Saturday 11th June
This is the day that two of the nations representing Great Britain and Ireland will be beginning their Euro 2016 campaigns, while Group completes the remaining game from the opening round of fixtures.

Albania v Switzerland PickBoth Albania and Switzerland will feel this opening game is a chance for them to pick up a victory that will put them on the brink of moving through to the Second Round at Euro 2016. It is no surprise that the first goal is going to be of extreme importance in this one as both teams have very strong records when they do move in front, which shouldn't really surprise too many people.

It will be important from a confidence point of view as both Albania and Switzerland didn't really have the best of preparations for the Finals. Going behind would be tough for Switzerland as Albania are very much an organised side who will look to be strong defensively and try and frustrate their opponents into making mistakes.

However this Switzerland side has the attacking talent to create chances and get their team in front and then force Albania to come out of their shell and attack. I can't help feel that Albania were a little fortunate to get out of their Qualifying Group thanks to an upset win over Portugal, who were missing Cristiano Ronaldo, and then being given three points in their abandoned game in Serbia.

The fact that both Portugal and Serbia beat Albania later in the Group underlines my concern and Switzerland also have a very big edge when it comes to tournament experience. That can be key in these big tournaments and I can see Switzerland's attacking policy under Vladimir Petkovic paying off in their opening game and I will back them to win this one.

Wales v Slovakia PickWhen Wales and Slovakia last met, the two games produced thirteen goals but that was in the Qualifying Group for Euro 2008 and times have changed. Neither team has a lot of tournament experience to call upon in this fixture, although Slovakia have the slight edge having played in the 2010 World Cup and still having a number of players from that squad around for Euro 2016.

This looks a very tight game, as the layers agree, and that little experience can be the difference maker.

However the biggest difference makers might be Gareth Bale for Wales and Marek Hamsik for Slovakia and these teams could be relying on those two players for the magic to win the game. There are similarities in that regards, while both Wales and Slovakia are also two teams that like to defend in numbers and try and break quickly on their opponents.

Two counter-attacking teams meeting one another might make for a disappointing game in terms of chances being created and the Slovakia goalless draw with Northern Ireland might have been a precursor to this fixture. The tension in the fixture will also make it tough for both sets of players who may feel the opposition is the 'easiest' game in the Group and the one they are most likely to earn the three points which can set up a place in the Second Round.

Wales were very reliant on Gareth Bale magic in the Qualifiers and Slovakia will feel they have half the job done if they can keep him quiet, which is far from easy. You have to think Wales will still look to defend in numbers which will make it tough for Slovakia to break down and I can see a situation where one, or both, of these teams fail to score.

The layers have taken no chances with the under 2.5 goals which looks almost certain to come off as far as I am concerned, but that price is short enough. The tactical play of both Wales and Slovakia suggests chances will be at a premium in this one and I will back the fact that one of these teams fails to score.

England v Russia PickThe feeling I get from the media is that there is an excitement about the England squad that has been sent to France for Euro 2016, but without the levels of expectation that flustered the 'golden generation' over the last twenty years. A run to the Quarter Final would be a success for this team which is supposed to hit their peak by the time the European Championships come around again.

There is plenty to be excited about when England go forward, although the Wayne Rooney conundrum is leading to more calls for the top scorer in the national team's history to be dropped. It does feel that Rooney is being shoe-horned into different positions and there are others that are a better fit, but Roy Hodgson won't drop his Captain lightly.

Defensively England look weaker than they have in a few years and I do think the better teams will exploit those shortcomings. I am not sure any of the teams in Group B are really going to do that consistently and a Russia team missing Alan Dzagoev and Denis Cheryshev might not have the creativity to do that.

At the back Russia lack pace and I don't think you can doubt the pace that England can call upon. Players like Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling could make a big impact off the bench and I think England can get their Euro 2016 tournament off to an impressive start.

The improved results Russia had to end their Qualifiers might just have papered over the cracks of a team that were knocked out in a weak World Cup Group two years ago. Their friendly results, especially losses to three other teams that will be playing in France, have to be a concern for Russia and I think England win this one.

Sunday 12th June
The defending World Champions will get their Euro 2016 campaign going on Sunday, while Northern Ireland will be looking for another upset or two to reach the Knock Out Stage.

Turkey v Croatia PickReturning to France for a major international tournament will bring back some great memories for Croatia who finished third at the 1998 World Cup. They look to have a squad that can have a real impact at Euro 2016 having failed to come out of difficult Groups in Euro 2012 and the 2014 World Cup, but this is a team that is better than they have shown on the worldwide stage so far.

Like many teams in this European Championship, Croatia do look a little suspect at the back, but they have a lot of talent higher up the pitch. They will look to dominate possession but goals can be a problem for them and that is where Turkey will feel they can get something from this game.

The way Turkey improved through the Qualifiers will have built some confidence while Fatih Terim has plenty of big game experience. His tactics might be key for Turkey to get out of this difficult Group although they are another team that perhaps is not as efficient in the final third as they would like to be.

Consistency will be the key for Turkey as they can't take a game off against any of the opposition they face in the Group. Facing the top two teams first is also difficult as that could leave them on the brink of elimination by the time they get to the final game in the section, but Turkey have reached the Quarter Finals in their last three major international tournaments, making the Semi Finals in the last two.

With Terim's managerial experience Turkey will be looking to make the Second Round at the very least but this first game is tough to call. I think Croatia are the better team but it looks to be a tight match that might need a single goal to decide it.

At odds against I think Croatia can be backed for the narrow victory in the opening game of this Group. They should have better control through their midfield and that could be the key to the whole game and get Croatia in a position to finally make it back to the Knock Out Stages of a major international tournament.

Poland v Northern Ireland PickGroup C looks like on that could provide three teams into the Second Round, but not many are picking Northern Ireland to be one of those teams. As impressive as it is for Northern Ireland to make it to the Finals, the challenge to make it through to the Second Round looks a big one for these underdogs.

It is all about team work and discipline for Michael O'Neill who was on the brink of being sacked after a disappointing set of results in the 2014 World Cup Qualifiers. A strong start in the Euro 2016 Qualifiers gave Northern Ireland plenty of belief although they were helped out by being in a Group with Romania, Hungary and the self-destructing Greece.

Take nothing away from Northern Ireland though as they still needed to beat what was in front of them and they did top that Group.

Now they will look to defend in numbers and hope Kyle Lafferty continues his strong showings in front of goal at international level that he has failed to put together at club level. Trying to frustrate their opponents and then exploiting mistakes is the best way forward for Northern Ireland they will make it tough for Poland who prefer counter-attacking sides that come onto them.

That is unlikely to happen here unless Northern Ireland are losing so it will be up to Poland to show they can wear down a difficult opponent. The fact they failed to win 3 of 4 games against Scotland and the Republic of Ireland in the Qualifiers has to be a concern as Northern Ireland will have the same work rate as both of those teams.

I don't think Northern Ireland have the same quality going forward though and I think Poland have the star player on the pitch in Robert Lewandowski who can make the difference. I do think it will be a tight game, but Poland's additional quality might just have the edge in the contest and they can record a narrow win in this one.

Germany v Ukraine PickThere are some clear reasons why Germany might no longer be the favourites to win Euro 2016, but it will still take something special to beat the World Champions. They look on a collision course with the hosts France in what would be a blockbuster Semi Final and that could easily decide which of the teams lift the trophy on July 10th.

First things first for Germany will be to get out of Group C and they play the two toughest teams in the section in their first two games. The opener against Ukraine looks to be a game they can win if Germany can hide some of the defensive problems they have continued to have over the last eighteen months.

Many teams have those defensive problems, while their system of playing with a false nine can lead to issues when up against teams that defend in numbers. The Republic of Ireland showed that in the Qualifiers and Ukraine will likely use that as a blue print as to how they want to play this one.

You do need luck when giving the quality players that Germany have the ball for long possessions, but this looks the way this game will set out. I am not sure if Ukraine can keep Germany at bay throughout this one considering they lost 3 of their 4 games against fellow Euro 2016 Qualifiers Spain and Slovakia.

Goals will be an issue for Ukraine and I think Germany will put out something of a statement in their opening game with a solid victory. There have been some suggestions that Germany make 'slow starts' to major international tournaments, but I don't buy that.

Germany beat Poland 2-0 in Euro 2008 and Portugal 1-0 in Euro 2012. They also beat Australia 4-0 in the 2010 World Cup and Portugal 4-0 in the 2014 World Cup and I am backing the World Champions to win this one while covering the Asian Handicap.

Monday 13th June
I have been fortunate enough to get a couple of tickets for the Euro 2016 tournament so will be in Lyon on Monday night to see Belgium versus Italy which looks the stand out game of the Group Stage.

After seeing some of the images from the England fans having issues, I am glad to be NOT going to see them out there and instead will be looking for two great days meeting fans from other nations and hopefully enjoying some good football.

Spain v Czech Republic PickThere are some doubts about how good this Spain squad is going into Euro 2016 despite winning their last nine Qualifiers which includes two wins over Ukraine and one over Slovakia. The lack of a real number nine would be a concern if Alvaro Morata is not able to fill that position, while the vaunted Spanish midfield of the last few years is now on its last legs.

They still look the pick of Group D, but Spain can't afford the slow start they have made in the last three major international tournaments. With games against Turkey and Croatia to come, arguably the second and third best teams in the Group, Spain could find themselves in a precarious spot with a loss.

It is hard to see the Czech Republic winning this game despite winning their own Qualifying Group. The surprise self-destruction of the Netherlands opened the door to take control of a weak Group and the Czech Republic won 2 and lost 2 against their fellow Euro 2016 Qualifiers Turkey and Iceland.

Spain should present a stronger challenge for the Czech Republic, but the latter do have goals in the squad which makes them a potential danger. I am not always convinced by the Spanish attack and how many goals they will score, but the Czech Republic are likely to try and force them into a game and have a defensive weakness that can be exposed.

Exposing those might be worth the risk if the Czech Republic want to surprise Spain and I can see this being one of the games in the first round of Group games that produces goals. All but two of the Czech Republic Qualifiers produced at least three goals and their friendly games have also been featuring goals more often than not.

At odds against I will back there being at least three goals in this game.

Republic of Ireland v Sweden PickThe importance of the opening games of the Group has perhaps diminished somewhat with four of the third place teams moving through to the Second Round along with the top two in every Group. That means a defeat in the first game is far from disastrous, but for the Republic of Ireland and Sweden the first game might be the most critical one in the section.

Both teams will be very much aware that this game represents the best chance of picking up the three points that should be enough to see them through to the Second Round. With Belgium and Italy to come in the Group, it does look like this game is the one both the Republic of Ireland and Sweden have to feel they almost need to win.

Even with that in mind, I can't see the managers changing drastically from the tactics that have helped them through to the Finals. Martin O'Neill has looked to make the Irish very difficult to beat and they showed against Germany that they can manage top stars and contain them so facing Zlatan Ibrahimovic should not overawe their team.

There is no doubt that Sweden will go as far as Ibrahimovic can take them and he scored 11 of their 19 goals in Qualifying for France. If the Republic of Ireland can limit his impact, they will feel they can grab a couple of opportunities from the set pieces to challenge the Swedish defence and earn the priceless three points.

Of course Ibrahimovic can provide a moment of magic to unlock the stingiest of defences but much will be about his impact with a limited team behind him.

Both teams will be looking for something special to unlock the other and I can see this being a tight game as both Ireland and Sweden know what is on the line. The 1-1 draw is a real possibility, but I think the cautious approach will see one of these teams fail to score and that is what I am backing from this match.

Belgium v Italy PickWhen you look at the first round of games in the Group, the match that stands out the most has to be the Belgium clash with Italy in Lyon on Monday evening. Both Belgium and Italy are just outside the top three favourites when it comes to where teams are tiered in this competition but injuries to the Italian squad has perhaps limited their chances.

Those injuries will likely see Italy looking for a strong rearguard to help them through matches but that defence will be tested to the fullest by Belgium who have plenty of attacking talent at their disposal. The depth also means Belgium can make some big substitutions to change the momentum of any match that is perhaps slipping from them and the Red Devils are most definitely a dangerous proposition through this tournament.

The opening game should see Belgium have a free shot to get into a strong position in the Group and not just rely on being too good for the two 'weaker' teams. They scored three times against a full strength Italian defence in a friendly back in November and Belgium will feel this team is there for the taking.

Defensively they have had their struggles though and even though Italy don't score a lot of goals, I do think they will have chances in this one.

My gut feeling is that Belgium will have enough to win the game, but backing three goals to be shared out looks overpriced. Belgium have only had one clean sheet in their last 11 games so I can see Italy scoring in this one which means Belgium would need at least two to win the game as I think they can.

That makes the over 2.5 goals appealing at the same price as the Belgium win, especially if you consider Norway scored twice against Belgium in a friendly a couple of weeks ago. Italy might not be a team many expect to score a lot of goals, but they can give Belgium some problems and 4 of the last 5 games between these nations have produced at least three goals.

This match looks the best of the first round of Group games and I think the neutrals will have a chance to enjoy it too with goals being my pick.

Tuesday 14th June
I will be in St Etienne on Tuesday the 14th of June to watch Portugal get their Euro 2016 campaign going and this might be a team that potentially plays in the Final a month after this game.

Austria v Hungary PickIf you go back 100 years, World War One was being fought out and Austria and Hungary would have formed one empire. It is strange to think there were nineteen friendly games played between Austria and Hungary between 1914 an 1918 while that war was being fought in France, and these nations have a long history of playing against one another.

However this is going to be the first time they have met in almost ten years, the biggest gap in their history (previous was an eight year gap which covered the Second World War).

Things have changed since Hungary were the better team of the two and I think Austria could have some success in this tournament even if they are likely to be handed a difficult Second Round match. They have shown they are a tough team to play in the Qualifiers, albeit in a weak Group, and I don't think it is worth reading too much into the friendlies in preparation for the Euro 2016 Finals.

There are goals in the Austria side which can't be ignored and Hungary will need all the heroics of Gabor Kiraly in goal if they are going to get something from this game. Hungary failed to beat Northern Ireland or Romania in their Qualifiers but they don't tend to concede a lot of goals so defending deep and hoping to hit Austria on the counter might be their best avenue for success.

Goals have been a problem for Hungary though and it is hard to imagine too many teams keeping Austria from scoring so my feeling is one of the 'dark horse' picks of the tournament can make a very positive start to the event. The Group is likely to be decided by Portugal and Austria and I will back the latter to earn the early three points in this one.

Portugal v Iceland PickThis is a game that many will expect Portugal to dominate and win comfortably, but I think Iceland will have their part to play in proceedings. Any team that can beat the Netherlands twice, no matter how out of form the latter are, have to be respected in the Finals and Iceland are one such team.

Iceland beat the Czech Republic and Turkey too so this is a team that will feel they can get out of a Group that contains Portugal, Austria and Hungary although they will do it the hard way. This is a team that might have taken a leaf out of the Leicester City game plan as they will give up possession and look to hit teams with a very direct counter attack and the Qualifiers will only have improved their belief in their tactics.

Playing against Portugal may work to their advantage as they try to upset the favourites to win the Group but it will all be about trying to nullify the big threat that Cristiano Ronaldo will provide. Portugal have loved playing in the European Championships, but their lack of a really good centre forward might have cost them down the years.

This time they might decide to play Ronaldo as the furthest player up the pitch and Portugal have a team that can dominate possession. I expect them to do that in this game but Iceland will cause some problems too and it might be another one of the early Group games they provides more entertainment than the layers are expecting.

The issue for Portugal will always be about how many goals they can score and they are still very much reliant on Ronaldo for that. However they are facing an Iceland team that has conceded at least twice in 7 of their last 9 games and against lesser teams than Portugal for the most part in that run.

As I have mentioned, the direct counter attacking style similar to Leicester City has caused problems for teams and I expect Iceland can play a part in this one. They have scored in 9 straight games and they scored in 8 of their 10 Qualifiers with one failure coming against Kazakhstan who are the kind of team that can give Iceland problems when asked to break teams down.

All in all, I think this game might surprise the layers and produce at least three goals shared out and I will back that at odds against.

MY PICKS: France - 1.5 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Switzerland @ 1.85 Coral (2 Units)
Wales-Slovakia Both Teams NOT to Score @ 1.70 Bet Victor (2 Units)
England @ 1.95 Paddy Power (2 Units)
Croatia @ 2.20 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Poland @ 1.75 Bet Fred (2 Units)
Germany - 1 Asian Handicap @ 2.10 Bet Victor (2 Units)
Spain-Czech Republic Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.05 William Hill (2 Units)
Republic of Ireland-Sweden Both Teams NOT to Score @ 1.73 Coral (2 Units)
Belgium-Italy Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.63 William Hill (2 Units)
Austria @ 1.75 Ladbrokes (2 Units)
Portugal-Iceland Over 2.5 Goals @ 2.38 Paddy Power (2 Units)

Group Stage Update June 10-14: 4-8, - 8.20 Units

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