The draw for the group stage of UEFA’s Euro 2016 tournament takes place Dec. 12 in Paris, with the tournament expanding to 24 teams from 16. The Euros come with much fanfare, as it’s the second most popular soccer tournament after the World Cup. The teams that qualified for the tournament are split into four pots based on the quality of their domestic soccer leagues, with a team being picked from each pot to make six groups of four.
Pot A: Germany, England, Spain, France, Portugal, Belgium
Pot B: Russia, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Croatia, Ukraine
Pot C: Sweden, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Hungary
Pot D: Turkey, Wales, Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Albania
With the two best teams from each group and the top four third place teams moving on to the playoff round, there should be no reason for the teams in Pot A to not advance past the group stage of the tournament. If they don’t make it through, it will likely be at the hands of a team in Pot D like Wales, which boasts superstar Gareth Bale and Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, and surprised pundits with how well they played during the qualifying stage. Well coached teams like Turkey and Iceland will also post a threat.
Teams in Pot B and C like Sweden, Poland, and Croatia all boast world class scoring in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski and Mario Mandzukic respectively, and should pose headaches for their opposition. The Croatians should be especially dangerous, with a star studded midfield and a talented defense that gives them the best chance of any of the Pot B teams of winning their group. The Italians are also in Pot B, and while their best players are past or nearing the end of their primes, they should be able to lean on their experience to get them through to a playoff round.
Although the Germans and their incredibly deep squad are the favorites in the tournament, they should be given stiff tests by Belgium and England on their quest to win their first Euros since 1996. The English went undefeated in the qualifying stage and are sporting their best team in years, with Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling representing a new wave of young English superstars. The Belgians meanwhile, are loaded up front, with two of the world’s best players in Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne aided by big, skilled strikers Romelu Lukaku and Christian Benteke.
All in all, the group draw should be compelling because of the lack of consensus on who the best team after Germany is and the expansion of the tournament — which doesn’t seem to be diluting to quality of the teams like many had suggested. The Netherlands — arguably one of the best team in Europe on paper — couldn’t even make it past qualifying, losing out to Turkey, Iceland and the Czech Republic. The inability for the Dutch to qualify should serve as a warning to the other powerhouses not to take any team in this tournament lightly.