The European Championships are in full swing and there have already been plenty of shocks and surprises. Most of the leading favorites are still very much still in the running as we near the end of the group stage. Other prominent teams have grossly underperformed, however, and a few have done shockingly well. This has wreaked havoc on punters looking to cash in on the games but has worked out marvelously well for fans.
One of the biggest surprises of the tournament so far has been the goings-on in Group F. Neither Portugal nor Austria have managed to win a game yet, and according to FIFA, the two teams are ranked eighth and 10th in the world, respectively. Meanwhile, Hungary and Iceland are punching way above their weight as the 20th and 34th ranked world teams. As of this writing, after two games played Hungary are the leaders of the group with Portugal and Iceland tied for second place. This is the first time Hungary has competed in the tournament since its fourth-place finish in 1972, and the country will surely be looking to regain some of its former glory this year.
The 8th ranked Portuguese squad has looked remarkably limp and the Telegraph noted that Cristiano Ronaldo has failed to make his usual impact on the international stage. In the match against Austria, Ronaldo posted a rare miss in a late penalty shot that careened off of the goal post. The match ultimately ended in a 0-0 draw when the team desperately needed a win. Portugal managed to reach the semifinals in the 2012 Euros and are now very much in danger of failing to even get out of their group.
Austria has never won a game in the UEFA European championship. Since the beginning of the tournament in 1960, the team has actually only qualified for the games once, in 2008. Austria’s next match will be against Iceland and given the way the latter has been playing, it will be an uphill climb for an Austrian team looking more doomed by the minute. On a brighter note, the game might present the best opportunity for the Icemen to come away with a win and a chance to escape the group stage on their first ever Euro outing.
Meanwhile, Belgium (ranked number 2 in the world) will take on Sweden as Zlatan Ibrahimovich and company look to escape Group E. For a player of his calibre, Zlata has never quite produced on the international level in the same way he has for his club and this could be his big break. Belgium has an immensely talented, but still young, squad that already lost its first match against Italy, the current group leaders. Few people expected Italy to perform as well as they have during the tournament with an aging team that has a notable lack of big-name strikers.
Somehow though, the Azzurri have managed to upset the expectations of spectators and are actually looking like one of the best teams of the tournament. Few expected Italy to walk away from Belgium with a win and even the most die-hard footie fans are having a difficult time predicting this year’s games. But if you are looking to keep up with the predictions, the exchange at Betfair has insights for every Euro 2016 match for fans looking to wrap their heads around this year’s field. With several groups still waiting to play their final games and few teams confirmed for advancement, it’s becoming clear that anything could, and probably will, happen.
Since winning the World Cup in 2006, Italy has failed to get past the group stage of the tournament, though they were runners up in the previous Euros in 2012, getting thumped by a dominant Spanish side. But both Italy and Spain are much older now with many of their star players on the wrong side of 30. Italian captain Gianluigi Buffon is a whopping 38 years old and while he’s still one of the world’s best keepers, we can’t imagine him sticking around on the world stage for too much longer. The Italian back line still finds itself relying on aging stalwarts like Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli while the midfield boasts three different players past the three decade mark. These are all world-class players on their best days, but it’ll be a tough sell to sustain a line-up this old throughout the entire tournament.
The Euros have been an absolute spectacle this year, with no one team stepping up and dominating the tournament so far. Of course, these surprises are what make the European championships one of the most exciting tournaments in football and we’re glad that this year is shaping up to be a great one.