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Les Bleus or La Roja: Who will lift up the Cup at Euro 2016?

Paul Pogba is now officially the world's most expensive footballer. But he isn't playing like it. (AFP PHOTO / GIUSEPPE CACACE)
Roar Guru
9th June, 2016
28

Goldman Sachs says France has a 23 per cent chance of exploiting home advantage and is going to win Euro 2016 beating Spain in the finals.

Goldman Sachs is good at predicting a lot of things. Football results, however, is not one of them.

At the 2014 World Cup they gave Brazil a 48.5 per cent chance of winning the tournament beating Argentina in the finals.

We all know what happened. Brazil suffered the ignominy of a 7-1 defeat to Germany in the semis.

The serious amount of Amazonian mud on the face has obviously not stopped the pundits at Goldman from having another go at it. The risk is some serious of Seine silt on the visage. But Goldman is all about taking risk, so let the Games begin!

Euro 2016 is unique in that for the first time it has 24 teams competing in six groups. Consequently, it also for the first time has Round of 16. A recipe for early upsets if there was one.

Let’s look at the possible Round of 16 teams, assuming no upsets occur from the fringe teams. On current form and taking into account past history, we should probably be prepared to see France, Switzerland, England, Russia, Germany, Ukraine, Croatia, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Portugal, Austria, Poland, Czech Republic, Ireland and Sweden, give or take a couple of names.

The quarter final stage is where it gets interesting.

Belgium is the highest ranked European team in the world right now and they have been playing very good football.

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Germany are the defending World Champions and have an amazing team that hasn’t changed all that much since their triumph in Brazil in 2014, but they have reason to be worried having lost three of their last four friendlies.

Italy should be a shoo-in for the quarters but questions remain about how much further this team can go. Thus far, a major part of the Azzuri’s success can be attributed to the brilliant performances of their goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.

France, as the host, and the fact that they won the last time they hosted the tournament, means they have more than an even chance of making it to this stage. So that’s four taken care of.

Defending champions Spain will be in the final eight. I doubt if there is much debate about that, notwithstanding their shocking last friendly match loss to 137th-ranked Georgia. But who will join them?

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal won’t be denied a place here surely. England is not a team that inspires any confidence as an ultimate winner, but they are clearly good enough to make it to this stage. The final slot is an interesting one. Is David Alaba’s genius going to be good enough to get Austria through to this stage? I am betting it will.

Austria comes into Euro 2016 with an enviable record, and I for one am convinced they will do well at this competition. But the quarters are probably as far as they will get. Ronaldo’s genius notwithstanding, Portugal has failed to truly impress in a major competition, and after years of expectations. This time, the optimism looks muted.

Chances are Ronaldo will once again have to return without a trophy, and probably without even making the final four. Italy can surprise, and are always a handful, but despite the wall called Buffon that stands in the way of opponents scoring goals, one feels they don’t have what it takes to make the semis of this competition.

The semis at Euro 2016 will be a fascinating spectacle. Let’s go back to our friendly neighbourhood Investment Bank – Goldman Sachs – to see what they predict.

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Their models are calling for England (surprise surprise!) to meet Spain (and lose), and Germany to meet France (and lose).

They have no explanation for why England is in this group, and don’t even attempt to give one! Clearly the London-based analysts who run these models would not be allowed to board their train to Sevenoaks if they predicted an early English exit!

A look at a few online surveys puts most people expecting England to bow out in the quarters, so I guess the populace at large is more pragmatic than the quantitative analysts at Goldman in this respect! So let’s ignore this one.

The other three are very probable semi-finalists for different reasons.

Les Bleus are at home, and Didier Deschamps’ side are a genuinely good team playing as a unit. Antoine Griezmann and Paul Pogba, one of the most exciting talents in years, to name just two, are a thorn on the side of any opponent. Not making the semis would be a sheer travesty of justice.

La Roja are real contenders. A shocking show at World Cup 2014 notwithstanding, one cannot forget that this is the team that redefined footballing history by winning Euro 2008, WC 2010 and Euro 2012 on the trot.

Yes, its four years on, and yes they didn’t do themselves any favours two years ago in Brazil, but there is good reason why Vicente Del Bosque has been talking about a “smooth transition”.

The two Xavis are not around anymore. But Iniesta still leads the team from midfield, and the likes of David Silva, Fabregas, Pique and Alba will seek to make this a famous swansong.

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Germany is an incredibly good team as they showed us at WC 2014. There is a good reason why in Germany, for a few decades now, the football team is referred to as Turniermannschaft (Tournament Team). They come into their own when major trophies are at stake. It doesn’t matter how good or bad they are, and how they have been playing just before. They just have the big match temperament as a team. Mesut Ozil, Thomas Mueller and Bastian Schweinsteiger are a trio that show up for the big occasion, so expect the Germans to come into their own at this stage of the Cup.

Finally, who will take the last position in the final four? My money is on Belgium. This is a team that is ranked second in the world behind Argentina, and top of the heap in Europe.

While form does not always follow ranking, the Belgians boast a team whose players cost a combined EUR 420 million in transfer fees, making them the most expensive team in Euro 2016 on this count. However, with Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Lombaerts not manning the defence, Belgium has a bit of a hole to fill.

With Kevin De Bruyne donning the No.10 jersey, the midfield and offence is the reason why Belgium will likely make it to the semis.

And who will face off at the Stade de France on the 11th of July?

Despite the hiccups with those analysts from Sevenoaks, Goldman probably gets this prediction right. The smart money should indeed be on France and Spain to meet on the hallowed turf of the Stade de France for the finals of Euro 2016.

This has been an emotional few months for the French. The Paris attacks of November 2015 are still fresh in people’s minds. Charlie Hebdo is not too far in the past. Times have been difficult on the economic front for some time now.

All the ingredients are there and the pot is hot and ready. Intense national pride is centred on the Les Bleus. And the French team thrives under this kind of pressure. They love playing at home.

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So is it going to be the French then?

On the other side we have the La Roja. This is another team with proven big match temperament. They have won three huge trophies within the last eight years. They have also suffered the ignominy of a first round exit from the World Cup as defending champions.

They have the most important thing in the world to fight for – their pride. Nothing gets the Spanish going more than national pride. And they have the players to do the job.

It will be one memorable final if these two intensely proud national teams make it to the Stade de France on July 11th. It would take a brave man to say with any degree of certainty, which team will hold the trophy aloft at the end of the night.

The stadium will undoubtedly be a sea of Blue.

In front of my television, I will however be wearing Red.