Euro 2016 Preview and Betting Guide

These are exciting times to be a football fan. Leicester City just won the least predictable Premier League title race in history, there's a face-off between the two Madrid clubs in the Champions League final, and we can also look forward to the biggest, and most open, European Championships ever.

Former UEFA President Michel Platini pushed for an expansion from 16 international teams to 24 for the top European tournament, after a successful Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Pundits worried at the time that it would dilute the quality on display, and this may yet come true - but what's indisputable is that it's allowed representatives of some enthusiastic smaller nations around the continent to dare to dream like never before. As Leicester showed in its epic title charge, that is what football is all about - so let's enjoy this meeting of some of the world's best footballers. Below, we look at the prospects for each team, along with the players likely to influence how things go.

EURO 16 GROUP A

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France

The host nation went all the way when Zinedine Zidane and company won its last home tournament, the 1998 World Cup. This France squad isn't packed with illustrious names like that one was - but it's arguably a more rounded and better team. Head coach Didier Deschamps, the World Cup-winning captain, will remember how that great team won without much contribution from any of its strikers. This time around, it might have to be more of the same, with Real Madrid powerhouse Karim Benzema having been suspended by the national federation after allegedly being part of a plot to blackmail a team-mate.

French teams thrive in controversy, and it's clear that Deschamps still has plenty of options. The goal-scoring burden is likely to fall upon Atletico Madrid winger Antoine Griezmann, who was a last-minute addition to the 2014 World Cup squad, but has broken through on the biggest of stages since then, starring in his club's Champions League defeat of Barcelona this season.

Key Player
Paul Pogba is one of the major reasons why Juventus won the Italian league and cup double last season, and his box-to-box relentlessness gives France one of the best midfield engine rooms there is.

Top Bet
7/2 to win outright with Paddy Power

Romania

Unbeaten in qualifying, this Romania side doesn't have the elan of the Georghe Hagi-inspired team of the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, but it does have the coach from the first of those tournaments, Anghel Iordanescu, who agreed to return to management in spite of having gone into politics. Romania has not set the world alight in its play, having conceded the lowest number of goals in qualifying but also scored the fewest. With players based at clubs in Romania's domestic league plus Spain, Italy, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bulgaria and, erm, Watford, this is certainly a cosmopolitan squad, even if its stars, like Rayo Vallecano's Razvan Rat, are mostly over 30.

Key Player
Vlad Chiriches had a nightmare at Tottenham Hotspur, his departure coinciding with Spurs becoming the best defensive outfit in the Premier League. He has since found his feet at Napoli in Serie A, and will likely be getting plenty of action against top-quality attackers in France.

Top Bet
9/2 to reach the quarter-finals with William Hill

Switzerland

A bit like the country itself, Switzerland's football team is frequently forgotten when discussing global influencers and players, and yet it's always up there close to the top of the FIFA World Rankings, and consistently decent performances in qualifying tournaments tend to lead to decent showings at tournament finals. The FIFA Under-17 World Champion team is maturing nicely, and many of this excellent squad are playing for top European clubs, meaning week-to-week experience of what's required to win. Expect at least one British pundit to write off Switzerland's chances of doing well, but don't listen to them.

Key Player
It's between the new Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka, a hard-nut defensive midfielder with a temper that is never neutral, and Stoke City's former Bayern Munich winger Xherdan Shaqiri, whose season might have tailed off in the Midlands, but whose hips don't lie when he's on the ball. Shaqiri was the Swiss star of the World Cup in Brazil, and his dribbling will again cause problems for defences.

Top Bet
70/1 to win outright with 888sport

Albania

The Black Eagles did superbly in qualifying, getting through to the southern-European nation's first major international tournament. Due to decades of poverty and conflict, countless young footballers have been lost to emigration, however Italian-Albanian head coach Gianni de Biasi, whose reign has sparked the Albanian team's great form, has combed the diaspora for potential recruits. The result is a tight-knit squad of players who might be from all over Europe, but who have a shared pride in their identity.

Though the worst moment in qualifying was definitely the ugly fight between Albania and Serbia's players and fans in their tempestuous meeting, beating Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo showed this is a team that deserves to be on the big stage.

Key Player
Lorik Cana of French Ligue 1 club Nantes is Albania's captain and defensive organiser, and will ensure that his side defends as a team and is hard to break down.

Top Bet
12/1 to reach the quarter-finals with William Hill

EURO 16 GROUP B

England

Roy Hodgson's team might have gone through the whole qualifying campaign without losing a game, but, much like Italy and Russia, the England national team is the subject of a lot of negative bile from fans and the domestic media. The fact is, this is a good team - not as good as the one that Sven-Goran Eriksson coached between 2001 and 2006, but good enough to take on most of the top teams. Players like Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere and Wayne Rooney have had their form, dedication and commitment questioned, but when the side is settled, reasonable performances usually follow.

If there's anyone under pressure at this tournament, it's Hodgson. The former Internazionale and Switzerland manager has presided over two poor tournament performances from England, and the elephant in the room is: is there another coach who, for a reported £5m a year in salary, could get more from this squad? Inter and Liverpool fans would answer "yes."

Key Player
England's failing has tended to be losing possession too often, and losing shape and discipline as a result. Eric Dier is heading into his first senior international tournament after a season at the base of Tottenham's young midfield. With a childhood spent in Sporting Lisbon's youth team, Dier knows how to keep and use the ball, and his control will be essential if England is to progress.

Top Bet
9/1 to win outright with Betfred

Russia

Leonid Slutsky probably wasn't anticipating becoming Russia's national coach in the middle of qualifying, but he bailed the team out of a mess created by former England manager Fabio Capello, getting them through to Euro 2016. That was a minimum expectation of the heirachy given that Russia is to host the 2018 World Cup. Having lit up Euro 2008, it's been a tale of diminishing returns since then, the Russian Premier League having proven itself as a great attraction for foreign players, but not necessarily a top-quality proving ground for young domestic footballers. This squad will have its work cut out if it wants to progress beyond the group stages.

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Key Player
Igor Denisov has fought the demons for much of his career, in and out of club and national sides, and is widely distrusted as a maverick influence. That said, he's a skilful midfielder whose touch will be required in the centre.

Top Bet
2/1 to reach the quarter-finals with Betfair

Wales

Wales, who last qualified for a major international tournament at the 1958 World Cup, looked like qualifying for Euro 2012, but instead ended the campaign grieving at the loss of manager Gary Speed, who committed suicide when the young team was on an upward curve. Chris Coleman, a manager whose career was on the slide at the time, sensibly changed little about Speed's winning tactics. In qualifying for Euro 2016, this best Wales team for several generations has the chance to really make a splash. It'll be difficult to get out of the group stages, but as long as the small peppering of star players can stay fit and the others play out of their skins, there's a chance.

Key Player
Gareth Bale came of age this season, the Real Madrid star refusing to be cowed by Cristiano Ronaldo's ego, and earning the love of fickle fans at the Bernabeu. Every Wales attack is built around Bale, and it's essential he is at the top of his game when it matters.

Top Bet
3/1 to reach the quarter-finals with Ladbrokes

Slovakia

Jan Kozak has exceeded everyone's expectations in coaching this fairly ordinary-looking Slovakia team brilliantly through a qualifying tournament that also contained Spain and Ukraine, who also feature in France this summer. In spite of, like Wales, not having a large number of star players, this is a tactically-astute unit who showed, particularly in beating a name-packed Spain team, that there is no fear of reputations. England should watch out.

Key Player
Marek Hamsik has been a Serie A star since he joined Napoli in 2007, and will be relied-upon by Slovakia for his fancy footwork and goalscoring prowess.

Top Bet
6/1 to reach the quarter-finals with William Hill

EURO 16 GROUP C

Germany

You'd expect the World Champions to be confident of adding Euro 2016 to a heaving trophy cabinet, but Joachim Löw doesn't have the luxury of that fantastic squad from Brazil, captain Philipp Lahm and all-time top-scorer Miroslaw Klose having both retired from national duty. There have been teething problems in qualifying and recent friendlies, including a first-ever defeat to Poland, who also got drawn in Group C. It's interesting that, in spite of what is probably still the best defence and midfield around, Germany doesn't have a top-line goal-poacher, meaning Mario Götze will probably have to transcend his patchy form for Bayern Munich if Germany is to win outright.

Key Player
Manuel Neuer is the undisputed best goalkeeper in the world, and probably also one of the best defenders, given the number of times he nervelessly comes out of his box to sweep up the danger. The Bayern keeper won't worry about a thing, and neither will his team-mates.

Top Bet
4/1 to win with Ladbrokes

Poland

Flying a little bit under the radar of many European football-watchers, the temptation is to dismiss Poland as a one-man team. Robert Lewandowski might be probably the best out-and-out striker in the world (don't tell Zlatan Ibrahomovic I said that), but he's backed-up by a supporting cast that has made waves in club football for some very good sides. In Swansea's Lukasz Fabianski and Roma's former Arsenal gloveman Wojciech Szczęsny, Poland has two goalkeepers most countries would take if they could. Further forward, Fiorentina's Jakub Błaszczykowski has had some great European nights with Borussia Dortmund. Whoever faces Poland will have a tough night.

Key Player
Lewandowski is on fire at the moment, and is almost unmarkable, such is his combination of strength, speed and skill. Keeping the Bayern striker quiet will be the work of a top defender.

Top Bet
2/1 to reach the quarter-finals with Sportingbet

Ukraine

Frequently getting to the latter stages of European club competitions, Shakhtar Donetsk, Dynamo Kyiv and Dnipro are powerful clubs which also supply most of the Ukraine national squad for Euro 2016. Well-marshalled by head coach Mykhaylo Fomenko, this side has a great deal of experience against top opposition, and didn't show badly in either of its qualifying matches against Spain. Don't be surprised if this pacy counter-attacking team goes a long way.

Key Player
Yevhen Konoplyanka makes up half of a golden duo of wingers with Dynamo Kyiv's Andriy Yarmolenko. Both are dangerous, both will be heavily-marked, but Konoplyanka has shown good form in La Liga for Sevilla this season.

Top Bet
100/1 to win outright with Betway

Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill said in a recent interview with the Guardian that he'd been mocked for including players from clubs like Fleetwood Town, in the English third tier, but his response was always the same: "yes, and we won the [qualifying] group." Northern Ireland's players haven't had to cancel their summer holidays since the 1986 World Cup, but this slightly rag-tag looking collection of lower-league journeymen is coming to France on merit, having dominated a tough-looking qualifying tournament. O'Neill won't feel particularly rewarded by such a hard group, but the boss has experience of beating the odds, having been in charge of Shamrock Rovers when it was the first League of Ireland side to reach the Europa League group stages.

Key Player
Kyle Lafferty has the dubious distinction of having been kicked out of Italian club Palermo with the team's president Maurizio Zamparini calling him an "out-of-control womaniser." No club manager has ever got the best consistently out of the striker, but his goals pushed Northern Ireland through qualifying and will be needed in Group C.

Top Bet
12/1 to reach the quarter-finals with William Hill

EURO 16 GROUP D

Spain

The World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012 winners haven't had it their own way since then, with tactics having evolved since the days when a team could just dominate possession and pass their way to victory. Nonetheless, Vicente del Bosque, the head coach, has attempted to evolve the team following the 2014 World Cup failure. While this side is not as strong as the one that Xavi and Andres Iniesta drove to those two tournament victories, if del Bosque can overcome his innate conservatism to select the right side, this team is a definite contender.

Key Player
Pick one from any of the 23, in honesty... But if pushed to take one, Koke of Atletico Madrid is one of a new wave of midfielders who is helping to revitalise Spain, and he'll be needed in the engine room.

Top Bet
11/2 to win outright with Bet365

Croatia

After a tumultuous and controversial qualifying tournament, Croatia is lucky to be at Euro 2016. However, this is a squad full of game-changers, with Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic threatening goals from different places, and a decent defensive line behind them. Croatia made the semi-finals of France '98, and few would write the team off this time.

Key Player
Rakitic has had two seasons as part of Luis Enrique's joyous Barcelona team, and this experience, plus his excellent deliveries, will bring an x-factor for Croatia.

Top Bet
9/4 to reach the quarter-finals with William Hill

Turkey

Gone are the days when Turkey could boast superstars through the team, but Fatih Terim, back in the hot seat yet again, has put together a youthful side with plenty of potential, taking advantage of the millions of people of Turkish descent living across Europe to select a dangerous team for the group opposition. This might be a tournament too soon for some players, but there are likely to be moments of promise.

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Key Player
Borussia Dortmund's Nuri Sahin is part of a resurgent Bundesliga team, and brings precision and control to his national side.

Top Bet
10/3 to reach the quarter-finals with Ladbrokes

Czech Republic

The 1996 finalists haven't had the same good fortune since, but this is still a decent, workmanlike side capable of causing an upset if a top team doesn't bring its A-game to the table.

Key Player
Tomas Rosicky of Arsenal faces a race to get fit for what will probably be his final major tournament, but the winger is the Czech Republic's only authentic global star, and fans will hope he makes it to the plane.

Top Bet
4/1 to reach the quarter-finals with Betfair

EURO 16 GROUP E

Portugal

It seems like Portugal always attracts lots of bets as an outside possibility to win major tournaments, although the only mega-talent in an otherwise workaday squad is Cristiano Ronaldo. The Ballon d'Or-holder will again try to drag his team-mates to the knockout stages through sheer force of personality, but he's likely to look around and wonder where the support is coming from.

Key Player
CR7 is going to need to bring the performance of a lifetime.

Top Bet
8/1 for Cristiano Ronaldo to be top goalscorer with Betway

Austria

The surprise package of qualifying, Austria topped its group in easily getting through to the finals, and, for similar reasons to Switzerland (immigration giving access to a huge well of youthful talent, and a well-funded youth system giving them places to practice), the central-European nation, has its best-ever squad. Stoke City fans may adopt Austria as their second team, given that Marko Arnautovic is the team's main goal threat.

Key Player
David Alaba said recently that he never thought he could play in central defence until Pep Guardiola convinced him he could do so for Bayern Munich. The versatile player is a major asset for Austria, wherever he plays.

Top Bet
40/1 to win outright with Bet365

Iceland

In the halcyon days before the global banking crisis, when Iceland was considered a financial centre, the then-government financed the building of plastic pitches all over the volcanic Nordic island, which transformed football from a brief summer pastime into something much more organised. The outcome could be seen in results like Iceland's dismantling of Holland in qualifying, and although Lars Lagerback's disciplined team is unlikely to progress far, the squad is nobody's fool.

Key Player
Swansea's Gylfi Sigurdsson was the Premier League team's top goalscorer in 2016, helping the Swans clear of relegation danger. A dead-ball specialist with tremendous athleticism, he will be fired-up for this challenge.

Top Bet
4/1 to reach the quarter-finals with Ladbrokes

Hungary

The "Mighty Magyars" used to be a major name in international football, with players like Real Madrid legend Ferenc Puskas dominating football in the 1950s. Since then the footballing infrastructure has crumbled, but this is a hard-grafting squad which is unlikely to be victim to any major thrashings.

Key Player
Tamás Priskin has been around, but the 29 year-old, who once played for Watford in the Premier League, is still a tough target man.

Top Bet
10/1 to reach the quarter-finals with William Hill

EURO 16 GROUP F

Belgium

Belgium's ascent to the top of the FIFA World Rankings was the subject of widespread mockery, with the team having been beaten by Wales in qualifying for Euro 2016 and featuring several top players, like Chelsea's Eden Hazard, who have been in patchy recent form. Nonetheless, this is a fantastic squad of players, with even a backup XI which could challenge most opposition. It leads to a thought experiment: if the head coach of Belgium were a top global coach, someone like Pep Guardiola, rather than Marc Wilmots, would Belgium already have won something?

Key Player
Thibault Courtois hasn't had the best of campaigns with Chelsea, but the massive goalkeeper will help keep things tight at the back for the Belgians.

Top Bet
11/1 to win outright with Betfair

Italy

It's not clear when this happened, but Italy isn't tipped among the favourites to win major tournaments any more. It's odd, given that Juventus continues to perform well in the Champions League, but then when you look at the lack of a top-class goal-poacher in the squad named by head coach Antonio Conte, you begin to see the problem. As usual, Italy qualified easily, but the finals might be more of a drag for fans.

Key Player
Daniele De Rossi is, say Italian football journalists, a very particular and strange man to deal with. However, the career Roma man is also the metronome Italy will need if this side is to progress.

Top Bet
16/1 to win outright with BetVictor

Republic of Ireland

Martin O'Neill has had some good times with Leicester City and Celtic, but arguably he faces his biggest challenge in trying to get this Irish team out of Group F. The manager concurred that the draw had done him no favours, and neither has an inopportune injury to captain Robbie Keane. Although the bulk of this team plays in England, it might be that O'Neill puts his faith in Colorado Rapids' Kevin Doyle up-front.

Key Player
They don't come more industrious than James McCarthy, and the Everton midfielder is a classic all-rounder, capable of winning and playing the ball.

Top Bet
13/2 to reach the quarter-finals with William Hill

Sweden

Erik Hamren's squad was never a certainty to qualify, and enters Euro 2016 on shaky ground, still relying very much on Zlatan Ibrahomovic for goals and inspiration. The 34 year-old free agent is still among the world's most dangerous players, and at an age most stars are thinking about retirement, "Ibra" is talking to Manchester United. There are decent players around him, but all eyes will be on the striker.

Key Player
Ibrahimovic is capable of some truly insane goals and skills, and he's what changes a reasonable team into a good one.

Top Bet
34/1 for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to be top scorer with Unibet

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