The 2016 European Championship kicks off on Friday with much anticipation. This is widely regarded as the second biggest international competition behind the World Cup.
Spain are the two-time defending champs but their reign over the rest of the world ended when Germany won it all in 2014. Can Spain make it a three-peat?
Will Germany be able to follow up their world title with a European Championship? Or will some other powerhouse like England or France be able to take the crown? Let’s find out.
Rather then provide a breakdown on all 24 teams and working from there, we’ll jump straight to the Round of 16.
ROUND OF 16
SWITZERLAND 2 POLAND 1
This is a potential matchup between the runners up from Group A and C. Poland will be expected to advance to the knockout stage for the first time in the country’s history.
They have a solid big three in Robert Lewandowski, Jakub Błaszczykowski, and Grzegorz Krychowiak, along with plenty of goalkeeping depth.
Poland’s chances in this tournament will fall on the shoulders of Lewandowski who scored 42 goals for Bayern Munich this season. Lewandowski is lethal in front of goal, so much so that 5 goals in 9 minutes in one game against Champions League side Wolfsburg.
However, the Swiss are too deep of a team to get beat by a one-man wrecking crew. Everyone knows their best player is Xherdan Shaqiri but this tournament should be a showcase for Arsenal’s newest signing, Granit Xhaka. His matchup with Krychowiak in the middle of the field could determine how the game goes.
SPAIN 3 ICELAND 1
After a disappointing end to the 2014 World Cup, Spain should continue to have high expectations. Unfortunately David De Gea who was supposed to replace Iker Casillas, has been sent home after being involved in a sex abuse case. Spain could be in trouble but it won’t happen against Iceland.
Iceland are appearing at their first ever European competition and if they beat up on Hungary, they could have the goal difference and points required to get the third place spot. Their star player is Swansea midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson who can create and score at a high level.
In the end they will not have enough firepower to defeat Spain if the draw ends up looking this way.
ENGLAND 3 UKRAINE 2
The winner of Group B takes on the best third place team from Groups A, C and D. This is by far one of the youngest England teams that we have seen maybe ever. Will the rising stars like Dele Alli, Harry Kane and Jaime Vardy be able to carry over their fantastic form to the Euros? Or will they fail to reach at least the Semifinals once again?
The Three Lions should be able to scrape by the Ukraine but England’s back four will have a lot to worry about with Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko creating chances and getting forward. This should be a closer game than people think.
PORTUGAL 2 BELGIUM 2 (PORTUGAL 7-6 PKs)
The winner of Group F is most likely going to be Portugal and they’ll likely face Belgium or Italy as the second place team out of Group E. Belgium’s defense can be exposed and I think Italy has an advantage over them in the group stages which is why I have Belgium in this position.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal just cannot seem to get over the hump in the European Championship. Not only do they have to live with losing to Greece in the 2004 final but they also lost to Spain back in 2012.
However, the Portuguese seem to have a knack for getting to at least the quarterfinals and Belgium still have some growing pains to deal with.
GERMANY 4 WALES 1
Wales is another country that is making their first appearance at the European Championship. Most countries that qualify for a tournament like this one for the first time are just happy to be there.
Things might be different for Wales who have some extra motivation when they take on England in the group stages. Gareth Bale, Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey are their stars, but will it be enough to make it out of Group B? I think they will but if they run into Germany it’s pretty much over.
The Germans are definitely the favorites going into this competition and their squad is just as good as the side that won the World Cup two years ago. Wales shouldn’t be much of a test for them.
CROATIA 1 ITALY 0
Croatia is a definite darkhorse in this year’s field because they are organized, tough and they have play makers all across the board. They have more than enough to take out Italy who simply won’t have the offensive firepower to come from behind.
Italy are bit too defensive minded and a loss at the hands of Luka Modric and Croatia will spoil Antonio Conte’s farewell party.
FRANCE 3 TURKEY 1
I would have loved to pick Ireland as the last third place team to make it to the Round of 16 but their group is a little bit tougher than Turkey’s group. The Turks have not been able to build on their World Cup semifinal appearance in 2002 but they still have some talent in the midfield.
Arda Turan and Nuri Sahin need to be key for Turkey but it’s Hakan Calhanoglu who could have a breakout tournament.
Turkey still won’t beat the hosts, France are too deep with too many players in good form to lose this early in the competition.
AUSTRIA 1 RUSSIA 1 (AUSTRIA 5-3 PKs)
These are two solid teams with plenty of talent on both rosters. The Russians aren’t going to be an offensive juggernaut but they are big, physical, and they can slow down the tempo of this game.
The Austrians definitely play a bit faster and if David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic combine well in the midfield, they will be tough to beat.
SPAIN 1 SWITZERLAND 1 (SWITZERLAND 5-3 PKs)
The Swiss will definitely be a trendy upset pick with Spain potentially on the decline. Spain will dominate possession and slow the game down which will send this game to penalties. If it does go to penalties then the clear advantage would have gone to David De Gea and Spain but he got sent home. The Swiss march on to the semifinals with Iker Casillas unable to stop the Swiss.
ENGLAND 2 PORTUGAL 1
A rematch from the 2006 World Cup quarterfinal would be a highly anticipated fixture in this year’s tournament. As the years have gone on, Cristiano Ronaldo’s supporting cast has gotten worse and CR7 can only do so much by himself.
Roy Hodgson might be England’s manager but I still think this side has what it takes to get to the semifinals of this competition again. Otherwise there will plenty more reactions like this around England.
GERMANY 3 CROATIA 1
If Croatia were taking on a different team in the quarterfinal, I would be very tempted to take them but unfortunately they’re on Germany’s side of the bracket.
As mentioned earlier, the Germans are loaded at every single position and the only way they lose is by beating themselves.
FRANCE 2 AUSTRIA 0
France will be fueled by their home crowd at the Stade de France stadium in what should be a decisive victory for them. Unless David Alaba hits one of his miracle free kicks from miles away, I don’t think Austria can get past Hugo Lloris.
ENGLAND 1 SWITZERLAND 0
This younger group of English players has proved a lot of people wrong this season and I just have a feeling they’ll be able to continue.
England’s youth is something that has been lacking in recent years and they’ve had some of their best moments when Michael Owen and Wayne Rooney were young stars.
England’s combination of youth and experience could have what it takes to keep up with Switzerland’s balanced roster. Joe Hart and England’s back four will be the unsung heroes.
It could take a moment of magic from Dele Alli or Harry Kane that does the damage and the Three Lions will shock the world.
FRANCE 1 GERMANY 0
As the tournament progresses the games always tend to slow down as well as the number of goals scored. These two teams squared off at the world cup two years ago and it only took a Mats Hummels header to separate the sides. This time it might be the hosts who get revenge, courtesy of a perfect free kick Dimitri Payet.
FRANCE 1 ENGLAND 1 (FRANCE 4-2 PKs)
If England were to somehow win this tournament it would be an incredible story. However, it just seems like the right time for France to put everything together with the complete roster they have.
Didier Deschamps definitely has the tactical advantage over Roy Hodgson and their midfield will be tough to contend against. England will hang in there till the very end but their youth may finally fall short in a big moment. France has a great chance to become European Champions.