And so it begins. Euro 2016 – a full month of frenzied goals, colour and controversy. And Mark f*cking Lawrenson moaning on BBC1. The newly expanded 24-team tournament features the creme de la creme of the European game, who have gathered in France to duke it out for the Henri Delaunay Trophy. Ooh la la indeed.
The Euros are the second-most watched international football tournament in the world after the World Cup, and bookie business is expected to be brisk. The 2014 World Cup was the biggest sports betting event in history.
In terms of picking a winner, this year’s tournament looks wide open. Hosts France are the favourites but there are question marks surrounding all them defensively. The French should take all the beating on home soil, but losing key figures such as Rafael Varane and Lassana Diarra leaves them a tad vulnerable. Spain will be looking to make history by becoming the first side to win the tournament three times in a row, but Vicente Del Bosque’s side were found out in Brazil two years ago and they are hard to fancy without a recognised striker. A recent 1-0 friendly loss at home to lowly Georgia (the Iberians went off as 1/20 shots in that one) doesn’t inspire confidence either.
Reigning world champions Germany are always there or thereabouts and are currently a top price 9/2 to win the event for a record fourth time. However, losing Marco Reus to injury and no longer being able to call on the services of Philipp Lahm or goal machine Miroslav Klose (both retired) means they will be up against it this summer. So too Italy. The Italians tend to come into most major tournaments horribly undercooked these days but somehow always seem to make a fist of it. Defensively they should be fine, with their selection of Juventus stalwarts, but they don’t seem to have enough creativity in their side and I can see the Azzurri coming unstuck in the next few weeks.
Having thought long and hard about a winner my personal pick for glory this year is Belgium, still available at a tasty 11/1. The Red Devils topped their qualifying group (losing just once) are are ranked as the number two team in the world right now by FIFA. Losing big Vince Kompany is a huge blow but there is so much quality in this side I can see them going all the way despite being labelled with this dreaded f*cking ‘Golden Generation’ tag.
Belgium can come through a tough Group E (that also includes Italy, Sweden and Republic of Ireland) and their experiences of tournament football as a young side in Brazil two years ago – when the reached the quarter-finals – should also stand them in good stead. Players like Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku would walk into any national side and this trio is complimented by maverick talents such as Dries Mertens. In short there is quality all over and I just don’t see why the camel coats have chalked them up as a double figure proposition in the betting.
So what of England? Hopes are again high on this side of the pond that this squad – the youngest at the Championships – can bloody win the thing. They were perfect in qualifying but England’s record in major tournaments is atrocious really with just a solitary semi-final showing on foreign soil to show in their history. I can’t see us winning it, but we should p*ss our group and ease past Russia (ravaged by injuries), Wales (essentially a one-man team) and Slovakia (a bit sh*t). We are 9/2 with Betfred to win all our Group B matches and that looks a pearler of a bet all things considered.
In terms of a top goalscorer you can bet your Aunt Fanny’s false teeth 80% of the casual punters will be steaming into the likes of Ronaldo and Thomas Muller. But I’m going to risk the wrath of the ‘casuals’ here by tipping up big Mark Janko at 50/1. The Basel star is pretty prolific having scored 26 in 52 appearances for Austria. This included seven in their qualifying campaign, a campaign that saw Austria win nine Group G games off the belt following an opening 1-1 draw with Sweden. They are proper dark horses in France and if they do make the business end it will be Janko firing the bullets.
Betting: Belgium to win Euro 2016 at 11/1 (Paddy Power)
Betting: England to win all their group games at 9/2 (Betfred)
Betting: Janko to be top goalscorer at 50/1 (Bet Victor)