The 2016 UEFA European Championship won't get underway until June 10th of next year. As of early December, though, the group stage draws for the tournament are set. With 24 teams spread across six groups, which countries will rise and which will fall in the first round of this prestigious football tournament? Read on to check out our predictions for each of the six groups.
The Group: A
The Teams: France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland
The Likely Outcome: France are the natural frontrunners here. In addition to being the tournament hosts, France are also the only soccer team in this group that have won a previous European Championship title-let alone two. France won in both 1984 (also at a tournament they hosted) and 2000 and have had a fairly solid year, friendly-wise. Romania went undefeated in the qualifiers but picked up five draws out of their 10 matches. If there's a threat here, it could be Albania, a Euro debutante team that won a friendly against France in June. Don't discount Switzerland, though: they scored more goals in the qualifiers (24) than Romania and Albania combined (21).
The Group: B
The Teams: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
The Likely Outcome: This one seems fairly cut and dried. England, fresh off a perfect 10-game winning streak in the qualifying rounds, should win the draw handily. Russia have the next highest seeding (and the most Euro experience, with 10 previous tournaments under their belts), but the likely second-place team is Wales. Another debutante team, the Welsh soccer squad have the passion and hunger that Russia don't right now. Plus, they've got Gareth Bale.
The Group: C
The Teams: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
The Likely Outcome: This draw is what we call a "group of death." Northern Ireland surprised everyone in the qualifiers, topping their group to qualify for their first ever European Championship. They are out of their depth in this group, though. Germany, fresh off a World Cup victory, are the frontrunners to win the entire tournament, while Poland could probably earn second place off little more than the strength of striker Robert Lewandowski. (Lewandowski scored 13 goals in the qualifiers, more than anyone else in the competition.) Ukraine, meanwhile, have a good chance of putting up a good enough score in third place to make it to the knockouts.
The Group: D
The Teams: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
The Likely Outcome: As the two-time reigning champions, you have to expect that Spain will top this group and progress to the knockouts-regardless of what happened at the World Cup last year. The rest of the field is competitive, and any of the three teams could push for second. Our money is on Croatia, though, whose stable of talent includes Ivan Perisic (six goals in the qualifiers), Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic, and Luka Modric.
The Group: E
The Teams: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
The Likely Outcome: Like Group D, this one is tough to call. Currently considered the best football team in the world by FIFA, Belgium are the favorites to win. They certainly have a lot of talent: Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne recorded five goals apiece in the qualifiers, while Marouane Fellaini recorded four. Even with prestige on their side, the Belgian soccer squad aren't shoe-ins here. Italy are perhaps underestimated following their poor 2014 World Cup performance, but went undefeated in the qualifiers; the Republic of Ireland scored an upset win over Germany in the qualifying competition, which means they could easily surprise here; and Sweden, while seeded last, still have the asset of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored 11 goals in the qualifiers-one fewer than Poland's Lewandowski.
The Group: F
The Teams: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
The Likely Outcome: This group may look soft compared to the other Euro 2016 draws, but it isn't. Portugal are the frontrunners, having managed one of the most impressive winning streaks of the qualifiers. After losing their first game to Albania, the Portuguese football team replaced their manager, hiring Fernando Santos. Santos quickly turned things around, propelling his soccer squad to seven straight wins. Still, beyond the obvious talent of Cristiano Ronaldo (who scored five goals in the qualifiers), Portugal don't have the depth-especially defensively-to be title frontrunners. Austria, on the other hand, won nine qualifying games and drew the 10th, finishing the competition with the second highest point tally. And Iceland, while making their Euro debut, could have dark horse potential.
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