Portugal are expected to ease through to the knock-out stages, but which of the sides in Group F will join them in the last 16?
Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
Despite failing to live up to expectations on the international stage in recent years, Portugal are undoubted favourites to progress to the knockout rounds as Group F winners.
Boasting impressive squad depth as well as some of the world’s best and most recognised players, they should be able to see off the challenge of Iceland, Austria and Hungary.
As one of tournament’s dark horses, Austria will be aiming to live up to their billing as one of the top 15 sides in world football. Having finished top of Qualifying Group G, it would be foolhardy to underestimate the threat posed by the Austrians.
In all likelihood, third place in Group F will be contested by Iceland and Hungary due to the quality of Portugal and Austria. But with the top four third-placed teams guaranteed a place in the knockout stages, the clash between Iceland and Hungary on Matchday 23 could prove to crucial.
Portugal, ranked eighth in the world, will be firm favourites to qualify from a Group F containing three nations that have not been regulars at major tournaments.
And having finished in third position at the 2012 Euro finals in Poland/Ukraine, coach Fernando Santos and his men will surely been seen as one of the danger sides and even potential winners in 2016. Their best-ever showing at the Euros came 12 years ago when they lost to Greece in the final.
In qualifying, the Portuguese were comfortable winners of Group I, which also contained Denmark, Serbia, Armenia, and Albania. A Selecção won seven of their eight qualifying matches to finish on 21 points, seven above Albania who qualified as runners-up.
Portugal were, however, not overly prolific in front of goal, with 11 goals netted in their eight matches. Five of those goals came from captain and talisman Cristiano Ronaldo; the Real Madrid man’s form in France likely to be absolutely crucial to his country’s hopes.
Apart from Ronaldo’s obvious threat, the likes of Nani and Ricardo Quaresma are also potential goal-scorers. Defenders Ricardo Carvalho and Pepe provide a massive amount of experience, while young up-and-coming 18-year-old midfielder Renato Sanches is certainly one to keep an eye on.
Currently ranked 34th on the FIFA list, Iceland are a footballing nation on the up these days and reached their first ever major international tournament when qualifying for France 2016.
The northern European nation certainly did not have it easy in their qualifying group, but did superbly well to finish as runners up in Group A, just two points behind the Czech Republic to earn automatic qualification for the tournament. Making their feat all the more impressive is that they finished above European giants such as Turkey and the Netherlands.
Their home form in the qualifiers was outstanding, Iceland recording 2-1, 3-0 and 2-0 wins over the Czech Republic, Turkey and the Netherlands respectively. They were the joint second best goal-scorers in the group with 17 goals in 10 matches, while ‘Strakarnir okkar’ as the team are nicknamed, had the best defence with only six goals conceded. Having excelled in the qualifiers, coaching duo Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson will surely fancy their chances at securing a place in the knock out phase at the finals.
Former Chelsea marksman Eidur Gudjohnsen, now 37, is still part of the team and will be an inspirational figure at the finals. It was however the goal-scoring exploits of Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson that proved to be vital in Iceland’s qualification, the attacking midfielder netting five times. Cardiff City’s Aron Gunnarsson also netted a couple of qualifying goals, and with nearly 60 caps to his name, the 27-year-old midfielder is another important member of his team.
Austria were sensational in the qualifiers, winning nine of their 10 matches to finish above more illustrious opponents such as Russia and Sweden, while scoring 22 goals and conceding just five. They were unbeaten home and away, their only dropped points a 1-1 home draw with Sweden.
Austria, ranked 10th in the world, will be playing at only their second ever Euro finals, their first appearance having come in 2008.
Marc Janko led the way in the qualifiers with an impressive seven goals, and with 26 goals in 52 internationals, the 32-year-old Basel marksman has proven his prowess in front of goal over the years.
David Alaba, the Bayern Munich midfielder man is another important member of the team, the 23-year-old already approaching 50 caps, and has weighed in with four qualifying goals. Marko Arnautovic, Stoke City’s gifted playmaker, got three in the qualifiers, his ability to create chances out of nothing likely also to be key to Burschen’s hopes.
Left-back and captain Christian Fuchs will of course be full of confidence after helping Leicester win the league title in England and will be keen to take that momentum into the Euros and see his side at the very least advancing from the group phase.
Hungary initially finished third in Group F, behind Northern Ireland and Romania, with 16 points (four wins, four draws) from their 10 matches. As the second best third-placed finishers in the nine qualifying groups, they went through to an additional play-off round. This saw them up against Norway, whom they beat 3-1 on aggregate over two legs to book their place in France.
Currently ranked 20th by FIFA, the Hungarians were one of world football’s powerhouses between the 1930’s and the 1960’s. They will now be hoping for a revival of fortunes after reaching their first European Cup finals since 1972.
With Portugal expected to win the group, Hungary could have their work cut out in trying to pip a star-studded Austria side and an Iceland team busy re-writing the history books, for a place in the knockout phase.
Midfielders and vice-captain and captain respectively, Zoltan Gera and Balazs Dzsudzsak (who plays for Bursaspor in Turkey) are vastly experienced and key men for their side: Gera has 24 goals from 88 internationals, Dzsudzsak has played 77 times for his country and scored 17 goals.
Defender Roland Juhasz meanwhile has 91 caps, while goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly has 102 caps – experience is certainly not lacking in coach Bernd Storck’s side.