Group A is unlike to provide us with any major shocks but it does contain two of the tournament’s most interesting teams – France and Switzerland. France must deal with the pressure of hosting by comfortably qualifying through what many regard as an easy group, whilst Switzerland have been handed the rare opportunity to build some momentum against minor nations before the knock-out stages.
However, Romania’s outstanding defensive record means that they could hold either France or Switzerland to a 0-0 draw – opening the door for a surprise place in the top two. They present an interesting challenge to the supposed duopoly of Group A, and will be expecting to at least qualify as one of the top ranking third-placed teams.
Didier Deschamps likes to play in a fluid 4-3-3 formation that looks to combine possession dominant central midfielders with counter-attacking speed on the wings. This is a good balance to strive for at international level, where attempts to play with innovative tactics or sophisticated attacking lines can negatively affect team cohesion over such a short burst of matches.
France will keep things fairly simple, relying on a trio of world class box-to-box central midfielders (Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kante, and Paul Pogba) to distribute the ball into the final third where intelligent and explosive wingers Antoine Griezmann and Anthony Martial will work their magic by cutting in from the flanks to link with Olivier Giroud.
This exciting young squad includes players peaking at clubs all around Europe, and this multiculturalism should work to their advantage on the international stage. However, Karim Benzema’s absence could cost them dearly, leaving France vulnerable in the full-back positions. Backary Sagna and Patrice Evra are conspicuously older than their team-mates, with both players showing signs of ageing this season; they could get caught too slow on the flanks, particularly by Xherdan Shaqiri and Switzerland.
It is vital that France embrace home advantage and top the group comfortably, or this youthful side could become overwhelmed by national expectations. Expect them to dispatch of Romania and Albania and top the group.
France to win Group A: 1.357*
The Swiss play in a 4-2-3-1 formation that looks to break forward on the counter at great speed. They failed to qualify for the last two European Championships and have never advanced further than the group stages, but Switzerland – the 14th best team in the world - deserve their FIFA ranking. Vladimir Petkovic has put together a young, talented side that could cause a big surprise in France.
If Romania pull off a couple of clean-sheets, they could throw Switzerland into 3rd place and a more difficult 2nd round tie.
Despite twice losing 2-0 to England in qualifying, Switzerland comfortably finished second with seven wins from ten matches. This was largely built on their mean defence, which consists of Norwich City’s commanding centre-back Timm Klose (who averages more clearances per game – 10.2 – than any other Premier League player) and the magnificent full-back pair of Ricardo Rodriguez and Stephan Lichtsteiner. The forward movement of these two star players is the most important aspect of Switzerland’s attacks, whilst their vast defensive experience will help ensure they do not concede many goals this summer.
Elsewhere, Gokhan Inler and Granit Xhaka provide a mix of combative experience and youthful buzz in central midfield and Stoke’s Shaqiri acts as creative fulcrum. Switzerland’s main concern is their lack of a goalscoring forward, although Haris Seferovic – part of the under-17s side that won the World Cup in 2009 – did score five goals in qualifying.
Switzerland’s lightning counters, based on the marauding runs of their full-backs, should see them rise above Romania and Albania in Group A.
Switzerland to advance from Group A: 1.306*
There are very few star players in the squad, but Romania still qualified for this summer’s Euro without losing a single game and conceding just two goals in ten matches. In fact, Anghel Iordanescu has built an unbelievably resolute, ultra-defensive side: Romania have conceded a grand total of seven goals in their last 22 matches, keeping clean sheets against the likes of Argentina and Spain.
In France they will play in a narrow shell, conceding the vast majority of possession and territory to the opposition by stubbornly refusing to exit their own half for long periods of the match. Ex-Tottenham defender Vlad Chichires is the main component of their defence, helped out by the hugely experienced left-back Razvan Rat. If they can grind out a draw against Switzerland or France they will truly shake up this group, and put themselves in a good position to finish second if they beat Albania in the final game. Underestimate Romania at your own peril.
Romania to advance from Group A: 1.819*
Albania were perhaps fortunate to scrape through an easy qualifying group and should not be a threat to either France or Switzerland. Their most high profile players are Nantes defender Lorik Cana and Napoli’s Elseid Hysaj, and although they beat France 1-0 in June 2015 and Portugal 1-0 in September 2014, they appear to have peaked in that period. More recent results suggest it will be a very tricky tournament for the nation ranked 45 in the world according to FIFA and 59 according to Elo ratings.
Albania to get over 0.5 points in Group A: 1.273*
Group A: What to look out for
The final match of Group A - between France and Switzerland - is likely to be a straight fight for top spot. These are two strong nations that are big favourites to qualify in first and second, although Romania’s impeccable defence could throw a spanner in the works; if they pull off a couple of clean-sheets then they could throw Switzerland into third-place - and a more difficult second round tie.
Euro 2016 Group betting previews by Alex Keble
Odds to win the Euro 2016*
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including Top Goal scorer, who will reach the semi-finals, over/under points and much more under the left-hand side menu Bet Options/Specials!
See the latest Euro 2016 odds, including Top Goal scorer, who will reach the semi-finals, over/under points and much more under the left-hand side menu Specials!
*Odds subject to change