Euro 2016 Preview

With Euro 2016 about to start Michael Gossage looks at England's chances

EURO 2016 kicks off at the Stade de France on Friday 10th June and looks to be one of the most open international competitions for years. Hosts France are widely fancied and enter the tournament as slight favourites ahead of Germany and Spain. However, hosting a tournament brings its own pressures – as Brazil found out in 2014. The home nations are well represented with all but Scotland qualifying for the competition. Wales have been drawn in Group B alongside England, Russia and Slovakia. They will be hoping that Gareth Bale’s thigh problem in the Champions League final was nothing more than cramp. The Republic of Ireland find themselves in Group E alongside Belgium, Italy and Sweden; undoubtedly one of the harder groups. Northern Ireland travel to their first major tournament in 30 years hoping to make their mark on Group C. This is another difficult group featuring the Eastern European triumvirate of Germany, Poland and Ukraine. All three countries are underdogs to progress from their groups but their impressive qualifying campaigns mean that they should not be underestimated. So, how can England expect to fare? England are considered favourites to win Group B. Despite this, Russia and Slovakia are certainly no pushovers and the grudge match with neighbours Wales on Thursday 16th June promises to be quite a spectacle. Whilst progression from the group stage is seen as a necessity at any tournament, this is the first European Championships I can remember where there is no great sense of expectation or pressure on the team. So often we have seen England enter tournaments burdened with media pressure only to bow out with a whimper. Euro 2016 is different; the shackles are off. Gone are the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ and the squad is now littered with hardworking but less glamorous names. The likes of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy may not be as feared as their French and Spanish counterparts, but with 49 Premier League goals between them they are among the most in-form strikers in Europe. England’s preparations have been relatively untroubled. Roy Hodgson’s only real injury worry is Daniel Sturridge whereas the likes of France and Belgium have a long list of absentees, some of which are their most important players. Hodgson has picked Marcus Rashford ahead of Danny Drinkwater and Andros Townsend meaning that he enters the tournament with an attack-heavy squad. Concerns have been raised about the quality and amount of defenders in the squad (or lack thereof) but Roy has gone for goals and I think it is quite refreshing to have options on the bench to positively influence games. It is some 50 years since England last won a trophy. At 9/1 they are ranked as fifth favourites alongside fellow outsiders Belgium. England also found themselves as fifth favourites ahead of the 1966 World Cup behind Brazil, Italy, Uruguay and West Germany. Many see glory as a step too far for this inexperienced England team. To me, the likes of Dele Alli, Harry Kane, Daniel Sturridge, Jamie Vardy and Marcus Rashford have the right mix of talent and endeavour to go further than expected. In a year where Leicester have defied all odds to win the Premier League, I wouldn’t write off England’s chances just yet. Come on lads, bring it home. By Michael Gossage