FEARSOME FRANCE

Who else will shine at Euro 2016?

7 Days in Dubai - - FRONT PAGE - By Adrian Back @aidy­back

Can Ger­many re­peat their World Cup hero­ics or will Spain win a third straight Euro­pean crown? Per­haps it will be France who tri­umph on home soil. Or will there be an un­der­dog story to ri­val Le­ices­ter’s re­mark­able Pre­mier League ti­tle suc­cess?

All these ques­tions and many more will be an­swered in the com­ing month as 24 teams com­mence bat­tle across France, start­ing to­mor­row.

While logic may sug­gest that a big­ger tour­na­ment means there is less chance of an up­set, for once it seems there is no clear favourite. Ger­many still pos­sess a squad ca­pa­ble of brush­ing any­one aside on their day, but they have looked vul­ner­a­ble in the two years since their World Cup win.

Sim­i­larly there are clear is­sues in the Span­ish squad – namely the lack of a goalscorer in the same vein as a David Villa or Fer­nando Tor­res at his peak.

Italy are al­ways viewed as dan­ger­ous at ma­jor tour­na­ments but they look a faded force, while Por­tu­gal are still over-re­liant on Cris­tiano Ron­aldo.

Eng­land of course have tra­di­tion­ally flat­tered to de­ceive, but this year there is cau­tious op­ti­mism among fans.

Roy Hodg­son has a young, tal­ented squad who on their day are ca­pa­ble of de­liv­er­ing in­ci­sive, free-flow­ing, at­tack­ing football. But there are ma­jor con­cerns over a de­fence that looks as creaky as the floor­boards of their 14th cen­tury ho­tel.

Many see Bel­gium as se­ri­ous contenders but there re­main ques­tions marks over whether their tal­ented in­di­vid­u­als can come to­gether on the big stage. Of the ma­jor na­tions it is per­haps France who ap­pear best placed to add to their tro­phy haul. The French have a handy habit of win­ning tour­na­ments when held on home soil. They won the Euro­pean Cham­pi­onships in 1984 - thanks in large to the mag­nif­i­cence of Michel Pla­tini - and then the World Cup in 1998 when Zine­dine Zi­dane showed his class. This time Les Bleus pos­sess a hugely tal­ented squad with a blend of youth and ex­pe­ri­ence. In Dmitri Payet they have a dead-ball spe­cial­ist; An­toine Griez­mann of­fers pace and goals, Hugo Lloris is a world-class keeper and Paul Pogba has power, drive and bags of abil­ity. In a tour­na­ment that was Pla­tini’s part­ing gift from UEFA, it would be fit­ting if Pogba led France to glory in Paris on July 10. But don’t ex­pect France and the tra­di­tional big boys to have it all their own way. Denmark’s vic­tory in 1992 and Greece’s fa­mous tri­umph over Por­tu­gal in 2004 showed that the un­der­dogs can­not be over­looked. Sev­eral sides will be hop­ing to em­u­late these fa­mous vic­to­ries, with Aus­tria, Ice­land, Poland and Croa­tia look­ing par­tic­u­larly dan­ger­ous. Aus­tria breezed through qual­i­fy­ing, se­cur­ing nine wins and a draw, while Group F ri­vals Ice­land im­pressed as they se­cured vic­to­ries over Hol­land and Turkey. Poland pos­sess the best striker at the tour­na­ment in Robert Le­wandowski but it is Croa­tia who could prove the dark horses. With a for­mi­da­ble mid­field that features Ivan Rakitic, Luka Mo­dric and Ma­teo Ko­vacic - plus the al­ways dan­ger­ous Mario Mandzu­kic lead­ing the line, Croa­tia could a few shocks along the way. With an air of un­pre­dictabil­ity it prom­ises to be a hugely en­ter­tain­ing tour­na­ment. Let’s hope it lives up to ex­pec­ta­tion.

WIN­NERS France

TOP SCORER Robert Le­wandowski BEST PLAYER Paul Pogba

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