Five Essential Euro 2016 Group Matches to Bet On

Euro 2016 is almost upon us, and so it's time to look at some of the matches that might produce the biggest surprises, so you can get maximum value from your betting. We've identified five of the major favourites to lift the trophy - Italy, Germany, France, England and Spain, and looked at the group matches where those teams are most likely to come unstuck.

Italy vs. Belgium (Monday 13th June)

Italy approaches these championships with a sense of uncertainty, head coach Antonio Conte not seeming to have the quality squad to choose from that many of his predecessors enjoyed. The reasons for this are something to be discussed elsewhere, but it leaves Italian fans unsure how their side will perform.

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Belgium is a side chock-full of influential players, such as Premier League favourites Eden Hazard, Thibault Courtois and Jan Vertonghen, but it's got weaknesses at the back, where its lack of world-class specialists at full-back usually means Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, central defenders for Tottenham, are deployed wide.

The problem for Italy will be exploiting that issue in the Belgian defence. With Mario Balotelli so far not living up to his potential and Sebastian Giovinco not selected by Conte in spite of good form for Toronto FC, there is a lack of attacking menace in the Italy side. Hazard, Axel Witsel and Romelu Lukaku will hope to exploit this relatively weak Italy side.

Italy 18/1 with 888sport to win Euro 2016 outright

Germany vs. Poland (Thursday 16th June)

In case you've forgotten, Germany lost to Poland in qualifying, for the first time in its history. This was a surprise result, but it won't be quite as surprising if it happens again, given that the World Champions were beaten 3-1 in their friendly against Slovakia last time out. Robert Lewandowski has spent the past season menacing Bundesliga defences for Bayern Munich, and will relish the chance to do the same against the nation where he plays his football.

There's also evidence of real improvement in this Polish team since Euro 2012, where it was underwhelming, a win over Russia aside. Grzegorz Krychowiak is a midfielder who has just won the Europa League with Sevilla, and in the process has been scouted by the likes of Barcelona and, probably, Bayern. There are plenty of other reasons to look at Poland as a major banana skin for a German team that seems a little off-colour.

Germany 9/2 with Betway to win outright

France vs. Switzerland (Sunday 19th June)

Switzerland became this writer's second-favourite international team in taking Argentina to the wire in the second round of the last World Cup in Brazil. Xherdan Shaqiri has shown that, at least in patches, he can produce the sort of form that we've come to expect on wet Wednesday nights in Stoke, and Granit Xhaka is the rock in midfield that Arsene Wenger thinks will take Arsenal to the next level.

There are many reason for the Swiss to be cheerful about Euro 2016. Although France is still among the red-hot favourites to win Euro 2016, team disharmony is surfacing with Karim Benzema having complained that he feels he was left out of the squad on racial grounds. It shouldn't make any difference to France's performances on the pitch, but for a tournament win, everything needs to come together for an international side.

If France plays as it can, expect a win here. But that doesn't always happen with French sides.

France 13/4 with bwin to win outright

England vs. Slovakia (Monday 20th June)

This fixture has flown a bit under the radar in the English press partly because pundits are still debating the squad's makeup. That said, Slovakia got through a very tough group behind Spain and ahead of fellow qualifiers Ukraine, with strong results including a win over the European Champions.

Marek Hamsik doesn't play in the Premier League, which is probably why you haven't heard a lot about him, but he's produced consistent quality for Napoli since he joined them, and will cause problems for a shaky and uncertain English defence, as he did for the far superior Spain. It's been the case for a while now that England is great when on the counter-attack but not so much when forced to sit back. Slovakia's strength is pace on the break, and Roy Hodgson's team may be caught out.

England 9/1 with Betfred to win outright

Spain vs. Croatia (Tuesday 21st June)

Spain, at least on paper, has a slightly easier group than England. That being the case, Vicente del Bosque's men should beat Croatia in their final group game to go through to the knockout stages. This was, however, what we said at the World Cup in 2014, when Spain went home with its tail between its legs.

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Croatia possesses excellent ball-players in the form of Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, who play for Real Madrid and Barcelona, as well as Mario Mandzukic, who at Juventus has had another season as exactly the kind of big, troublesome striker who can catch out defences at set pieces. While the likes of Spain's Gerard Pique aren't easy to outmuscle, if Croatia plays a physical game and denies the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Sergio Busquets time on the ball, things could get very tasty here.

Spain 23/4 with bwin to win outright