Group E of Euro 2016 has Belgium, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland.
Both Italy and Belgium look like they have the best pedigree and individual players in the group – at least on paper and should comfortably progress to the next round, or no?
Belgium have quality options in almost every position and are one of the tournament favourites due to the number of talent at their disposal.
Italy, on the other hand, have an enviable pedigree in the European Championship, and while they don’t cannot match Belgium for star power, only a fool would write off Antonio Conte’s men in France.
Sweden and Republic of Ireland, meanwhile, look destined to battle it out for a third-place finish in Group E. However, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic leading the line for the Swede’s they look to be slight favourites for third place.
They are the best team in this group, as the latest FIFA rankings suggest. But as most would argue, their position in the FIFA rankings list means little without silverware, and they must get to the semifinals at least, to be seen to have had a successful outing.
Their squad is packed with some of the most highly-rated young players in the European leagues and one feels it could be a very long time before a country of its size and footballing pedigree manages to produce this again. This knowledge could weight quite heavily on such an inexperienced squad though.
Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku
The Swedes have yet to convert their regular qualification for the tournament into regular appearances in the knockout stages, 1992’s semi-final and 2004’s last-eight showings being their best recent performances.
Their first match is against The Republic of Ireland, a team they would fancy themselves to comfortably beat, which could mean taking good forward momentum into the more testing matches to follow. A convincing win in this fixture is crucial for Erik Hamren’s men.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Andreas Isaksson and John Guidetti.
The Azzurri should be dominating this competition given their history and pedigree, but not much has been achieved by way of success in the tournament. For a country that has produced the quality of players that Italy has to have won the competition only once is unthinkable.
Antonio Conte’s high-profile move to Chelsea after the tournament could be a blessing or a curse for the the team, depending on how they handle it.
They had one of the better qualification runs on the way to the tournament, not having lost a single match and drawing only three. But their disastrous form in friendlies and warm-up matches since qualifying would be a big concern for their supporters.
Gianluigi Buffon, Giorgio Chiellini and Daniele Di Rossi.
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND
They are the group’s least fancied team.
Martin O’Neill’s side will also be aware that their fans are owed a better showing than in 2012, where only a single goal was scored and nine conceded. A sincere desire to wipe out that memory could well be the motivation The Green Army needs to put the cat amongst the pigeons.
Shane Long, Robbie Keane and James McCarthy