Don't cry Cristiano Ronaldo: Euro 2016 predictions
Germany legend Lothar Matthaeus gives his opinion on Euro 2016. This week, his predictions for which teams are going to do well, and not so well in France. First up, Portugal...
Fans of Cristiano Ronaldo just might break out into tears when I predict that of the 24 teams in the European Championships, Portugal is in danger of being eliminated in the preliminary round. By appearances, Portugal has an easy group with such opponents as Iceland, Austria and Hungary. But all three teams have improved immensely. And if Ronaldo were to bow out by the quarter-finals, then his reputation would be intact - the reputation that he can only win titles with Real Madrid, such as most recently in the Champions League.
Portugal look too weak
Portugal, by contrast, looks to me to be too weak, despite their 18-year-old super-talent Renato Sanchez, whom Bayern Munich has just purchased from Benfica Lisbon for 35 million euros. My advice to Cristiano Ronaldo: Remain brave. Don't cry.
Far and wide, I don't see any country that could pull off the kind of suprise that Greece did in winning the 2004 championships in Portugal.
In my view, such strong footballing nations like Croatia with its often outstanding Luca Modric, or like the slightly improved England and maybe Italy will at most make it to the quarterfinals. The Italians have embarked on a total revamping, with coach Antonio Conte deciding to do without the 37-year-old genius Andrea Pirlo, who is playing far away in New York. And striker Mario Balotelli also has been dispensed with. At the moment the Italian team doesn't have a face, except of course for their 38-year-old keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Favourites at Euro 2016
This brings us to the top favourites, and naturally at the very top are World Cup champions Germany and defending European champions Spain.
German coach Joachim Loew is again counting on an axis of Bayern Munich players. Besides Manuel Neuer in goal, in the centre-back positions are Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, who has just transferred from Dortmund to Munich. Up front the coach is betting on Mario Goetze, the man who scored the 2014 World Cup match-winner against Argentina, as well as on Thomas Mueller, the best World Cup scorer. The resignations of captain Philipp Lahm and of striker Miroslav Klose however will be hard to compensate. And the fact that the new team captain, Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was almost always injured at Manchester United, is to be slowly brought back into the German team is a good plan, but a risky one.
Spain's chances at Euro 2016
Spanish coach Vicente Del Bosque has now definitively dispensed with the services of striker Fernando Torres, who eight years ago scored the 1-0 goal to beat Germany in the final. Del Bosque is also going without the experienced Diego Costa as well as the younger dangerous goal-getters Isco Alarcon Suarez and Saúl Ñíguez and instead is banking completely on the youngster Alvaro Morato, whom Real has loaned out to Juventus Turin, and on Real substitute Lucas Vazquez. Then there is 35-year-old Aritz Aduriz of Athletic Bilbao.
So Del Bosque has put together an interesting mixture. With the exception of Xavi, he can count almost completely on the solid bloc of Barcelona stars - Andres Iniesta, Jordi Alba, Gerard Piqué and Sergio Busquets. Virtually a guarantee of success.
France, naturally, counts as a top title contender as the host country. Just such names as Paul Pogba of Juventus, Olivier Giroud of Arsenal London and Antoine Griezmann of Atletico Madrid promise not only fun football-watching, but also a lot of goals. It is really interesting to see how Griezman has evolved. No more of a new hair colour every three days, no more of the night-time escapades. Griezmann could be the top star of this tournament - something that I also think possible for Germany's Toni Kroos with his outstanding passing game.
Belgium's mix of robustness and technique
Now, don't be surprised that I see yet another country well at the top of the field - the Belgians. They have this highly explosive mixture of robustness and technical finesse. All I need to do is look at Kevin de Bruyne of ManCity, Eden Hazard of Chelsea, or Yannick Carrasco, who scored the 1-1 equaliser for Atletico Madrid against Real in the Champions League final: These are just three players out of a really super-strong team.
If Belgium were to win this tournament, it would not come as a surprise.
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