The soccer world’s four-year wait for Europe’s finest will end Friday when the 2016 UEFA European Championship begins in France.
NESN.com’s Marcus Kwesi O’Mard and Nick Goss look into their crystal balls and predict what will happen at Euro 2016, the largest-ever UEFA European Championship.
Who will win Euro 2016?
MKO: I don’t have the slightest idea. Spain won’t successfully defend its title; Germany lost several top players to retirement following its 2014 FIFA World Cup triumph; France won’t win without its best striker Karim Benzema; Italy lacks star- and fire-power; England hasn’t won anything since 1966, and this youthful group won’t end the nation’s 50-year wait for glory.
Expect a dark-horse winner to emerge. Perhaps Croatia, Switzerland, Portugal or Poland.
NG: Germany is the favorite among oddsmakers and boasts arguably the most talented and deepest squad in the tournament. That said, France also has a tremendous squad. Elite goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will be protected by a great back line, and ahead of that is a midfield with world-class players including Paul Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and N’Golo Kante. These three midfielders defend exceptionally well, and they’re also capable of going forward and contributing to the attack. France’s well-balanced squad will triumph.
How will host France fare?
MKO: A place in the semifinals is a reasonable expectation for the hosts, but Benzema’s absence means France must rely on Olivier Giroud for goals. The Arsenal striker is good but won’t fire this France team to glory. France will reach the semifinals or final but not win the competition.
NG: Les Bleus will win the European Championship, just like they did on home soil in 1984.
Which team will be the biggest surprise?
MKO: Poland could have a very good tournament due to its immense quality up front — captain Robert Lewandowski — and experience in the midfield. If Poland can defend solidly and with numbers, it could go far.
NG: Switzerland has a decent squad. Its midfield, led by newest Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka, is particularly strong. France is the Swiss’ only real competition in Group A, so don’t be surprised if they reach the knockout stage.
Which team will be the biggest disappointment?
MKO: Spain. Again. The reigning European champions fell hard at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and Euro 2016 could be another stark reminder that time and soccer always moves forward. Spain has plenty of talent at its disposal but the exhaustion and lack of hunger that doomed the team at times in Brazil could rear their heads again in France.
NG: England lost in the quarterfinals in both the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 tournaments, and it didn’t even qualify for the knockout stages of the last World Cup in 2014. The Three Lions have an improved squad and an easy group, but they won’t win their first match against a legitimate opponent, whoever and whenever it might be.
Who will be the tournament’s top goal scorer?
MKO: Thomas Muller. Why? Because it’s a major tournament, and he’s Thomas Muller, that’s why.
NG: Thomas Muller ranked second at the 2014 World Cup with five goals, and with Germany likely to reach the semifinal at the least, expect him to finish among the top goal scorers again.
Who will be the tournament’s top player?
MKO: Germany’s golden generation is firmly in its prime years, and midfielder Mesut Ozil perhaps represents the country’s post-2000 soccer revolution more than any other player. The playmaker will dictate Germany’s tempo from an attacking midfield position and likely will assist plenty of goals and score a couple as well. If Germany reaches the final, Ozil will play a huge role in its success.
NG: Paul Pogba is the key force, especially defensively, for the French midfield. He’s a world class talent and will dominate opponents in every third of the field. Pogba will prove why he’s one of the world’s top five players by the time this tournament ends.
Thumbnail photo via Tim Groothuis/Witters Sport/USA TODAY Sports Images