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Teams to keep an eye on at Euro 2016

Although there is still plenty to play for in the remaining weeks of the season across all the major European leagues, players and fans alike may be forgiven for having one eye on the upcoming European Championship which will take place in France this summer.

The hosts will hope that history repeats itself at Euro 2016, with France lifting the World Cup at the Stade de France eighteen years ago in the last tournament held in their country. Didier Deschamps, who led his nation to the famous 3-0 victory against Brazil, now has the chance to achieve the same feat as manager, but they are unlikely to have things their own way in a competition which will involve a number of strong and emerging nations who will also have their eyes on the prize.

Euro 2016 will be the first in tournament history which involves twenty-four teams instead of the traditional sixteen – a strategic move from UEFA to not only provide football fans across the world with more action on the pitch, but also create opportunities for other nations to qualify for a major competition. Albania, Northern Ireland and Iceland are among those who have jumped at the opportunity to pit their wits against the big nations, but while Betway consider these three as rank outsiders to pull off the international equivalent of Leicester City’s surge towards Premier League glory, there are other teams that will fancy their chances of performing on the big international stage this summer.

Belgium
Marc Wilmots is the lucky beneficiary of a golden generation of star players that have not only put Belgium firmly on the international football map, but also seen them surge to number one in the world rankings. Reaching the Quarter Finals of the 2014 World Cup represents the level of progress that has been made in recent years, and although the level of expectation across the country has considerably increased, Belgium could be serious darkhorses to go all the way this summer.

Wilmots will hope that his best players remain injury-free between now and their opening Group E game against Italy, with Thibault Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku likely to play pivotal roles for Belgium. 11/1 certainly reflects their chances of achieving glory this summer, although they not only have to prove their quality in an eye-catching group that also contains Sweden and Ireland, but also meet the expectations of their fans who believe the talent and ability is certainly there to set Euro 2016 alight.

France
Playing in front of a partisan crowd is likely to provide its own pressure, but France will know that they have a serious chance of winning Euro 2016 in their own backyard if they apply themselves and allow their quality to shine through.

Les Bleus have always been blessed with a multitude of top quality players, with Antoine Griezmann, Raphael Varane and Paul Pogba standing out amongst the current crop of stars that Deschamps has managed to point in the right direction. They certainly appear to have put the huge disappointment of Euro 2008 and the 2010 World Cup behind them, and while Betway currently consider the hosts as second favourites behind Germany at 7/4, it’ll be highly competitive in a tournament which promises to be a wonderful spectacle.

Some may consider that the hosts received an element of good fortune in the draw which paired them with Albania, Romania and Switzerland in Group A, but with Karim Benzema potentially ruled out due to an on-going investigation into claims of blackmail, a lack of a proven world-class striker could be the only thing that stands in France’s way.

Wales
Odds of 66/1 would reflect that not many believe that Wales will progress far at Euro 2016, but it would be unwise for their opponents to underestimate Chris Coleman’s side. They will undoubtedly arrive at their first major European Championship with nothing to lose – a quality which may make them a dangerous commodity if Gareth Bale produces the goods.

The Real Madrid star is certainly regarded as Wales’ standout star, with his ability to change a game in an instant with his pace and wonderful left foot enough to potentially see them through to the knock-out stages which would be considered an achievement. Going toe-to-toe with Belgium during their qualifying campaign is an indication that Wales can certainly compete against the top sides, and if the likes of Aaron Ramsey and Ashley Williams also show their quality alongside Bale, then the team ranked 17th in the world could be worth watching.

Poland
Coming through a qualifying group which involved Germany, Ireland and Scotland is proof, if needed, that Poland continue to head in the right direction as a football nation who could catch the eye this summer.

Victory against Germany in Warsaw was the standout highlight for Adam Nawalka’s men, with Robert Lewandowski leading the way as the top scorer with thirteen goals. The Bayern Munich marksman will once again play a pivotal role for his country, with Lewandowski’s unerring ability to find the back of the net at all levels integral to how Poland fare at Euro 2016. 66/1 would suggest that the Quarter Finals would be the best they can hope for, but if the supporting cast can provide their leading marksman, who is 14/1 to finish the tournament as top scorer, with the service he needs, then Poland could make the big impact that few expect them to.