In one week the second biggest football tournament in the world will come to France, and with 24 teams included in this year’s tournament it has more teams than ever. The finals will be great to watch and provide a great spectacle, and in the lead-up to this year’s event I will be previewing one group every day with in-depth analysis and everything you need to know about the participants, with full squads included. Enjoy.
Teams (world ranking in brackets): France (17), Romania (22), Albania (42), Switzerland (15)
France vs Romania, Stade de France, Saint-Denis
Albania vs Switzerland, Stade Bollaert-Delelis, Lens
Romania vs Switzerland, Parc des Princes, Paris
France vs Albania, Stade Velodrome, Marseille
Switzerland vs France, Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Lille
Romania vs Albania, Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon
Head Coach: Didier Deschamps
Captain: Hugo Lloris
Previous Appearances: 8 (1960, 1984, 1992, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2008, 2012)
Best Finish: Champions (1984, 2000)
UEFA Euro 2012: Quarter-finals
Goalkeepers: 1. Hugo Lloris (Tottenham Hotspur), 16. Steve Mandanda (Marseille), 23. Benoit Costil (Rennes).
Defenders: 2. Christophe Jallet (Lyon), 3. Patrice Evra (Juventus), 4. Adil Rami (Sevilla), 13. Eliaquim Mangala (Manchester City), 17. Lucas Digne (Roma), 19. Bacary Sagna (Manchester City), 21. Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal), 22. Samuel Umtiti (Lyon).
Midfielders: 5. N’Golo Kante (Leicester City), 6. Yohan Cabaye (Crystal Palace), 8. Dimitri Payet (West Ham United), 12. Morgan Schneiderlin (Manchester United), 14. Blaise Matuidi (Paris Saint-Germain), 15. Paul Pogba (Juventus), 18. Moussa Sissoko (Newcastle United), 20. Kingsley Coman (Bayern Munich).
Forwards: 7. Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid), 9. Olivier Giroud (Arsenal), 10. Andre-Pierre Gignac (Tigres), 11. Anthony Martial (Manchester United).
The French are hosting the tournament, and as such their last competitive fixture was at the World Cup in 2014, where they lost to Germany after a strong run through to the last eight. They played multiple friendlies during the qualification process, but they have not had much competitive preparation for their home tournament.
France have taken the side that made the quarter-finals in 2014 and spiced it up with some exciting new talent. Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial both have a massive upside, and Paul Pogba has developed into one of the best players in the world. Hugo Lloris is solid and has plenty of experience in goal, and with Laurent Koscielny, Patrice Evra and Eliaquim Mangala at the heart of defence the French should not concede too many. The established midfield core of Pogba, Blaise Matuidi and Yohan Cabaye are joined by Leicester’s N’Golo Kante, who is in brilliant form.
The French have a very strong side and they will be sure to get plenty of home support, but they have not played competitively for a couple of years and this could lead to some issues. Star striker Karim Benzema has not been included in the squad due to an incident involving Mathieu Valbuena, and Olivier Giroud will be left to spearhead the attack. The squad is going to come under intense scrutiny and pressure as the hosts of the tournament, and injuries to Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu will affect the output of the defence.
Star Player: Paul Pogba
Pogba is only 23, but he is already in the top echelon of players in the world and is only going to get better. He has won four Serie A titles with Juventus and was the best young player in the 2014 World Cup, and this tournament is his chance to make a big impact and show just how good he is. His work in midfield will be key, and he is sure to impress in front of his home fans.
Key Player: Olivier Giroud
With Benzema suspended for the tournament the onus will be on Giroud to provide the goals. He is a quality player with four seasons under his belt with Arsenal, and he has more experience at the highest level than anyone else in the French attack. If he can bag plenty of goals while helping the younger members of the team adapt the French will play well.
The French look excellent, and the new blood they have brought in alongside their established stars could have a huge impact. The established core of Lloris, Koscielny, Pogba, Matuidi, Antoine Griezmann and Giroud is brilliant, and they have the potential to win the tournament for the first time since 2000 in front of their home fans.
Head Coach: Anghel Iordanescu
Captain: Vlad Chiriches
Previous Appearances: 4 (1984, 1996, 2000, 2008)
Best Finish: Quarter-finals (2000)
Qualified: 2nd Group F
UEFA Euro 2012: Did not qualify
Goalkeepers: 1. Costel Pantilimon (Watford), 12. Ciprian Tatarusanu (Fiorentina), 23. Silviu Lung (Astra Giurgiu).
Defenders: 2. Alexandru Matel (Dinamo Zagreb), 3. Razvan Rat (Rayo Vallecano), 4. Cosmin Moti (Ludogorets Razgrad), 6. Vlad Chiriches (Napoli), 15. Valerica Gaman (Astra Giurgiu), 21. Dragos Grigore (Al-Sailiya), 22. Cristian Sapunaru (Pandurii).
Midfielders: 5. Ovidiu Hoban (Hapoel Be’er Sheva), 7. Alexandru Chipchiu (Steaua Bucuresti), 8. Mihai Pintilli (Steaua Bucuresti), 10. Nicolae Stanciu (Steaua Bucuresti), 11. Gabriel Torje (Osmanlispor), 16. Stefano Filip (Dinamo Bucuresti), 17. Lucian Sanmartean (Al-Ittihad), 18. Andrei Prepelita (Ludogorets Razgrad).
Forwards: 9. Denis Alibec (Astra Giurgiu), 13. Claudiu Keseru (Ludogorets Razgrad), 14. Florin Andone (Cordoba), 19. Bogdan Stancu (Genclerbirgili), 20. Adrian Popa (Steaua Bucuresti).
The Romanians were drawn into a fairly easy qualifying group, and after a win against Greece in Piraeus kicked off their campaign they strolled to 13 points from their first five games. After that their results fell off, and four consecutive draws threatened to send them to the play-offs, but a 3-0 victory in Torshavn in the final match sent them through in second over Hungary.
The Romanians have a well-rounded team, and the defence of Razvan Rat, Vlad Chiriches, Alexandru Matel and Dragos Grigore will be hard to beat. Ciprian Tatarusanu is a quality player in goal, and Gabriel Torje, Alexandru Chipciu and Mihai Pintilli are just some of the options Anghel Iordanescu has at his disposal in the middle of the park. Up front, Claudiu Keseru has a brilliant record at international level, and Bogdan Stancu has plenty of experience and has the potential to provide plenty of goals at the final tournament.
Romania are very well-rounded and experienced, but the side is very old and a majority of the team have passed their peak without gaining too much international experience. Keseru and Stancu are good options up front, but while the defence let in only two goals the attack was only able to score eleven, and they may be unable to provide at the final tournament. With a serious downturn in results coming before the end of qualifying the side is not in particularly strong form running into the tournament, and the opposition they will face will prove a much bigger test.
Star Player: Ciprian Tatarusanu
Romania had the best defence of any side in qualifying, and Tatarusanu was a key member, displaying excellent form in qualifying and in the Serie A with Fiorentina. He has been in brilliant form since replacing Neto as the number one keeper at Fiorentina, and after a strong season at the highest level he could have a great tournament.
Key Player: Vlad Chiriches
Chiriches is still young and is approaching his prime, and he will lead the team at the final tournament after replacing veteran right back Rat as the captain. Chiriches has played for Tottenham Hotspur and Napoli, and his 35 matches in European competitions could prove key as he aims to marshal the Romanian defence at the final tournament.
The Romanians struggled slightly in the easiest group of them all, and this does not bode well for the final tournament. While this is the case, the defence is very strong and if they can stop sides from scoring like they did in qualifying they will be very tough to beat. They will need a big tournament from their forwards, however, if they are to put any pressure on opponents.
Head Coach: Gianni de Biasi
Captain: Lorik Cana
Previous Appearances: None
Best Finish: N/A
Qualified: 2nd Group I
UEFA Euro 2012: Did not qualify
Goalkeepers: 1. Etrit Berisha (Lazio), 12. Orges Shehi (Skenderbeu), 23. Alban Hoxha (Partizani).
Defenders: 4. Elseid Hysaj (Napoli), 5. Lorik Cana (Nantes), 6. Frederic Veseli (Lugano), 7. Ansi Agolli (Qarabag), 15. Mergim Mavraj (Koln), 17. Naser Aliji (Basel), 18. Arlind Ajeti (Frosinone).
Midfielders: 2. Andi Lila (Giannina), 3. Ermir Lenjani (Nantes), 8. Migjen Basha (Como), 9. Ledjan Memushaj (Pescara), 13. Burim Kukeli (Zurich), 14. Taulant Xhaka (Basel), 20. Ergys Kace (PAOK), 21. Odise Roshi (Rijeka), 22. Armir Abrashi (Freiburg).
Forwards: 10. Armando Sadiku (Vaduz), 11. Shkelzen Gashi (Colorado Rapids), 16. Sokol Cikalleshi (Istanbul Basaksehir), 19. Bekim Balaj (Rijeka).
Albania were drawn into a tough qualifying group with Portugal, Denmark, Serbia and Armenia, but they started their campaign with a shock upset of the Portuguese and did not look back. They passed through a controversial game against Serbia with an awarded 3-0 win, and they proceeded to qualify for their first major tournament as a footballing nation.
With Lorik Cana, Ansi Agolli, Andi Lila, Elseid Hysaj, Mergim Magraj and Arlind Ajeti at the helm the defence is solid, and they conceded just 5 goals in qualifying. Etrit Berisha is a strong goalkeeper, and the experience they have down back should make them hard to penetrate. They have managed to defeat a strong French side who they will meet in the finals, and should come into the tournament full of confidence. Up front, they have plenty of options, and they had many different contributors to the scoresheet throughout qualifying.
While there are many different options up front no player has stepped up as the one main option. Bekim Balaj has scored just one international goal (coming in the win over Portugal) in 13 games, and the records of Armando Sadiku and Sokol Cikalleshi are no better. The midfield is not necessary picking up the slack either, and ultimately there are no players in the squad with more than four goals at international level. While there is a large spread of options, this is more due to a famine rather than a feast. A lack of experience in the middle of the park could also cause issues.
Star Player: Taulant Xhaka
Xhaka has plenty of experience playing in the Champions League with Basel, and he will be a key presence in the centre of midfield for Albania at the final tournament, where he will face his brother Granit and Switzerland. Xhaka is a strong player, and he will bring plenty of stability to the Albanian midfield. He may not score, but he has the potential to make life very difficult for opponents.
Key Player: Lorik Cana
Cana is the captain of the side, and he will bring 90 caps worth of experience to the Albanian defence. He has experience with Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille and Lazio, and he has the big game experience to deal with the pressure surrounding the Euros. His leadership will prove essential to Albanian success at the tournament.
Albania are a strong side defensively, but when push comes to shove they will struggle to score with no real options up front. They have experience in defence, but a lack of big game experience could come through during the finals. While this is the case, Gianni de Biasi has worked wonders with this team, and they have absolutely nothing to lose.
Head Coach: Vladimir Petkovic
Captain: Stephan Lichtsteiner
Previous Appearances: 3 (1996, 2004, 2008)
Best Finish: Group Stage (1996, 2004, 2008)
Qualified: 2nd Group E
UEFA Euro 2012: Did not qualify
Goalkeepers: 1. Yann Sommer (Borussia Monchengladbach), 12. Marwin Hitz (Augsburg), 21. Roman Burki (Borussia Dortmund).
Defenders: 2. Stephan Lichtsteiner (Juventus), 3. Francois Moubandje (Toulouse), 4. Nico Elvedi (Borussia Monchengladbach), 5. Steve von Bergen (Young Boys), 6. Michael Lang (Basel), 13. Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), 20. Johan Djourou (Hamburg), 22. Fabian Schar (Hoffenheim).
Midfielders: 8. Fabian Frei (Mainz), 10. Granit Xhaka (Borussia Monchengladbach), 11. Valon Behrami (Watford), 14. Denis Zakaria (Young Boys), 15. Blerim Dzemaili (Genoa), 16. Gelson Fernandes (Rennes), 23. Xherdan Shaqiri (Stoke City).
Forwards: 7. Breel Embolo (Basel), 9. Haris Seferovic (Eintracht Frankfurt), 17. Shani Tarashaj (Grasshoppers), 18. Admir Mehmedi (Bayer Leverkusen), 19. Eren Derdiyok (Kasimpasa).
Switzerland’s campaign started horribly, with a 2-0 defeat at the hands of England compounded by a 1-0 loss to Slovenia in Maribor. The Swiss recovered, however, winning their next five matches, and while they lost 2-0 to the English at Wembley they managed to edge out Slovenia to finish second, a 7-0 home victory over San Marino confirming their passage.
With Stephan Lichtsteiner, Ricardo Rodriguez and Johan Djourou down back not much gets through the Swiss defence, and the midfield of Xherdan Shaqiri, Valon Behrami and Granit Xhaka is very solid as well. Vladimir Petkovic is spoilt to choice when it comes to scoring options, and with the midfielders and defenders often chipping in with valuable goals misfiring strikers will not be an issue. Diego Benaglio has retired, but Yann Sommer is still an excellent player and will provide solidity that the team can build on.
The Swiss lack some class up front, and while their midfielders have the ability to chip in Eren Derdiyok, Haris Seferovic and Admir Mehmedi could well face a struggle to find the back of the net. Breel Embolo has plenty of promise, but he is an unknown quantity and the chances that he will fail to deal with the pressure are just as high as the chances that he will fire. With Josip Drmic, Gokhan Inler and Timm Klose all missing there are some huge outs, and the loss of Benaglio, who was the rock of the side for a long time, is a huge one.
Star Player: Xherdan Shaqiri
Shaqiri is an excellent player and he is a proven goal scoring threat whether he be in attacking midfield or on a wing. He has already won the Champions League, and his record at international level is better than any of his teammates. He is a star, and he will prove to be a massive headache for opposition defences throughout the tournament.
Key Player: Yann Sommer
Switzerland’s success at this tournament could well hinge on how well Sommer plays as he aims to replace Benaglio in goal. Sommer is an excellent player, and he has had plenty of success with both Basel and Borussia Monchengladbach. If he is able to play as well as he can the Swiss will be very difficult to score against, and will be tough to beat.
The Swiss are strong and solid and could go a long way in this tournament. There are concerns about the attack, but there are plenty of players who can make an impact on the scoreboard and this should not be an issue. The defence is very solid, and the Swiss should be very difficult to break down at the finals.
This group will be an intriguing one, with two sides with plenty of experience at major tournaments coming up against two teams who are the exact opposite. The French are incredibly strong on paper, and they should make their way through easily. The other sides in the group are all very solid, but the Swiss should progress with an attack which is considerably stronger.
1. France, 2. Switzerland, 3. Romania, 4. Albania.