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The Euro 2016 draw was held this past weekend in France. As with any draw for any international competition, some teams are left licking their chops while others are left shaking their heads wondering how a random draw could be so cruel.
So who were the biggest winners and losers of the Euro 2016 draw? Let’s find out.
When it comes to England you always have to temper the expectations that come along with their usual dominant qualification campaign. As usual, the team dominated qualifications, this time finishing with a 100 percent record. This was because they went up against exactly zero quality teams in qualifying. That means that essentially their first test since the 2014 World Cup will come in the group stages, and boy will they be tested.
It’s true that whatever group drew Wales out of Pot 4 was going to be an unlucky group, but it’s even worse now for England who now face a border battle in their second group game. Even more, they have to go up against the current biggest British star, Wales’ Gareth Bale. Don’t sleep on Russia, either, who have won seven of their 10 matches this season as well as five of six since firing manager Fabio Capello.
England can use the group stage to their advantage, using the three games to get everything going and prepare to make a run in the knockout round as they are more than capable of doing. Or of course they could be burdened by the tough group draw, and combined with the tough expectations, get weighed down by everything and prepare to crash out of the tournament in extravagant fashion as they’ve done so often in recent tournaments.
After the World Cup hangover bled into the beginning of their qualifying campaign, the Germans struggled to completely right the ship heading into the tournament. Similar to England, the team looked forward to the group stage where they could use the three matches to get everything going and be ready for the knockout round. Then the draw happened.
The World Champions were drawn against the Ukraine, Northern Ireland and local rivals Poland. After watching their hated rivals, the Republic of Ireland, take four points off the Germans in qualifying you can expect Northern Ireland to come out determined to get a result in what could be a crucial final group match.
Then of course the Germans will have to do battle with their next door neighbor Poland, who always bring it when they face the Germans. Poland also has the most in form striker on the planet in Robert Lewandowski who can single handily cause problems for the German defense problems.
Barring any catastrophic collapse, the Germans will still get through the group stage, but it won’t be the cakewalk many originally thought it would be.
Thanks to UEFA’s lust for more money, the tournament this year has expanded from 16 to 24 teams, meaning that ultimately the fans end up losers. How so? The European Championships was considered by many to be the best international football tournament on the planet, better than even the World Cup. The format of the tournament was perfect.The top 16 European teams were divided into four groups, the top two teams of each group advanced. Simple.
Now the tournament has six groups of four teams with the 24 teams in the group stage barely being narrowed down to 16 teams for the knockout stage. That means the top two teams of each group will advance as well as the four best third place teams. Four the six groups will have three teams moving on from the group stage, eliminating a lot of the drama of the group stages.
Not only does France have the benefit of hosting the tournament, but they also get the benefit of playing in a very weak group. Weak group or not, France has one of the best squads in the tournament — albeit a young and untested one. The three group matches will be a great opportunity for their young team to get their feet wet in an international tournament and prepare them for the upcoming rigors of the knockout round.
To make things even better, France’s toughest game is against Switzerland, a team known mostly for defense and not much of an attacking threat, and that doesn’t come until their third group game. By that time, France could easily be sitting on six points and already have secured qualification to the next stage.
There’s probably no better story in this tournament than Iceland. A small country from the middle of the Atlantic Ocean has not only qualified for the European Championships but did it at the expense of Holland.
Iceland finished at the top of one of the toughest qualifying groups in Europe that included both the Dutch and Turkey. Iceland is now rewarded with a group that consists of Portugal, Austria and Hungary. The latter two teams haven’t been good in decades. As for Portugal, as all U.S. fans learned in 2014, they’re very comparable to the 2007 Cleveland Cavaliers. They have the best player in the tournament in Ronaldo but absolutely no one else is close to his level to support him.
Iceland weren’t handed any gifts in qualifying for this tournament, which long term will have helped them be ready to march right to the top of Group F.
The increase to 24 teams may have diluted the group stage but at the end of the day, more teams will end up benefitting long term. Exposure on the big stage will help federations such as Hungary, Austria and Albania get better long term, making their future appearances more exciting for the fans.
More teams mean more games and a longer tournament. With 16 teams going to the knockout rounds fans have an entire extra round of exciting elimination matches.