France, Romania, Albania, and Switzerland comprise Group A of the UEFA European Championships, which kicks off in St-Denis, to the north of Paris, next week.
We take a closer look at the four teams in the group and their chances of success…
As hosts, France will not only be expected to progress past the group stage, but will be under pressure to do well in the tournament, and maybe even win it. Les Bleus will certainly be considered favourites to top the group, considering their wealth of talent and relatively modest opposition.
The favourites to join them in the knock-out rounds will be Switzerland, with the Balkan duo of Albania and Romania both expected to fall at the first hurdle. The Romanians are more capable to causing an upset and stealing their way into the next round, while the Albanians are competing in their first major tournament, and are probably the least-fancied side in the finals.
This tournament will see the introduction of a new generation of French players step into the gigantic boots of previous years. The French have not won a major tournament since victory at Euro 2000 two years after their 1998 World Cup success.
They have been especially underwhelming since finishing as runners-up at the 2006 World Cup in Germany, with scandals and infighting plaguing the team in recent years. But all that seems to be behind them, with Didier Deschamps seemingly having a good influence on the squad morale, and there is renewed optimism that Les Bleus are on the rise once again.
French hopes will be pinned on a few famous names in particular, despite most of the squad playing at the top of the club game. Paul Pogba of Juventus and Atlético Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann are the two really special players in the team, while the likes of Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman are expected to reach the same level in the coming years.
Romania have not featured much on the European stage since a quarter-final appearance at Euro 2000, with a group-stage exit at Euro 2008 proving to be their best achievement since the turn of the millennium.
There are few big-name players in the Romanian ranks, but the likes of Napoli centre-back Vlad Chiriches, Watford goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon and Stuttgart playmaker Alexandru Maxim are used to playing at a high level, as are Alexandru Chipciu and Mihai Pintilii from their appearances with Steaua Bucuresti in the Champions League.
Albania are the undoubted minnows of the group and the tournament as a whole, as this is their first appearance in the finals. While they did well to finish second in their qualifying group, pipping Denmark to automatic qualification, they did so with the help of three points automatically awarded to them when their qualifier against Serbia was cancelled due to a pitch invasion.
While a 1-0 friendly win over France a year earlier will offer encouragement, just making it this far has been a remarkable achievement for Kuq e Zinjtë, and surviving the group stage will be nothing short of miraculous, even in the year in which Leicester City won the Premier League.
Few opponents will be intimidated by Albania’s teamsheet, but those who watch Serie A might recognise the defensive trio of Elseid Hysaj, Berat Djimsiti and Arlind Ajeti, but their most important player is veteran defensive midfielder Lorik Cana, who has had spells with Marseille, Sunderland, Galatasaray and Lazio, and is currently skipper of Ligue 1 side Nantes.
The Swiss have never really left their mark on the European championships, and have yet to make it out of the group stages. They made an early exit as hosts in 2008 and failed to qualify in 2012, so they will be hoping to reach the knockout stages for the first time against relatively modest opposition.
The Swiss boast a team plucked straight from Europe’s top leagues, with capable performers all over the pitch. Bundesliga goalkeepers Yann Sommer and Roman Bürki will compete for a place between the sticks with defensive while Stephan Lichtsteiner of Juventus and Wolfsburg’s Ricardo Rodríguez offer a threat from the full-back position.
In midfield, Stoke City star Xherdan Shaqiri and Arsenal’s new signing Granit Xhaka will pull the strings, while this could be the breakthrough tournament for teenage striker Breel Embolo, who has been making waves back home for FC Basel and looks to be on the cusp of global recognition.