- France 2. Switzerland 3. Romania 4. Albania
Group A should be 3 wins for France. The host nations crowd will be well on their side, which will make them one of the tournament favourites. Remember the 1998 World Cup, granted they did not have the same players especially one Zinadine Zidane but they have a formidable side.
France’s defense and midfield are littered with talent and boasts a combination of flair and experience. Veterans Patrice Evra, Bacary Sagna, and Laurent Kocielny are players France’s defense can rely on to create solidarity at the back for the their younger vibrant talents such as Mamadou Sakho, Eliaquim Mangala, and Raphael Varane. They also have the reliable and battle tested Hugo Loris between the posts.
Their midfield will be orchestrated by the play of Paul Pogba who could turn out to be the player of this tournament. He will be backed by veterans Blaise Matuidi and a host of other talent that management can choose from.
Even with the loss of Karim Benzema due to a sex tape scandal France still have Antoine Griezmann, Anthony Martial, and Oliveir Giroud up front to get the goals. The three strikers are capable of getting the job done in this group but they will be required to step up their game once the knock out stages begin.
The Swiss has probably the best chance of shocking the French in this group. They are well equipped to create a solid defense and midfield players to support a defensive formation that could easily break into quick counterattacks. They will also be much more cautious this time against the French after the drubbing they took in last World Cup.
The Swiss back four has usually been made up of Fabian Schar, Johan Djourou, Stephen Lichtsteiner, and Ricardo Rodriguez, which will most likely be backed by midfielders Gokhan Inler and Blerim Dzemaili. A 4-5-1 tight formation has been a staple for the Swiss since the 2014 World Cup and has been a formula that has worked for them against mid-level opponents. Their style has come up short against bigger opponents such as France in the World Cup, England in their qualifying group but they did cause a scare against Argentina in the second round of the last World Cup.
Xherdan Shaqiri will provide the creativity and work horse energy that they will need up front but it will be up to their younger and unproven strikers Admir Mehmedi and Haris Seferovic to look for the goals. Unless proven, the Swiss might find scoring goals tough proposition especially against world class opponents like France.
It’s been 8 years since the Romanians reached the final of a major tournament. Unfortunately this team is probably the weakest Romanian squad talent wise coming into a major tournament over the last 25 years.
Their qualification was far from smooth. They did not lose a single game but sputtered offensively. They had to wait until the very last week of group play to qualify. The bright spot of the Romanian qualification has been their defence, only conceding 2 goals during the entire qualification. However it is hard to gauge the validity of this defense as their group did not contain any high scoring offense with the likes of Northern Ireland, Hungary, and Finland being their sternest opponents.
The Romanian team does have bright spots especially at defense. 34 year old Razvan Rat has been solid at left back during qualification and brings a wealth of experience as he is a member of the Romanian team that reached the last Euros in 2008. Vlad Chiriches has been a pillar at center back during qualification. His partnership Dras Grigore has created a stellar defense during qualification. They snuff out aerial threats well and are solid tacklers.
The Romanian attack is really suspect as they have not really played with a lot of quality world class opponents over the past 6 months to test how good their offense or even defense match up. They might have a chance to cause a shock against the Swiss but might find the going really tough against the French.
Albania is definitely the surprise team of the tournament and qualifying. They have a feisty hard tackling style to their game. They play a tight 4-5-1 formation that is primarily very defensive with two holding midfielders between the defense and attack.
They might provide a few surprises during games as debut teams usually come in with a gung ho nothing to lose attitude but it’s hard to see them progressing beyond this group. Lorik Cana who plays with Nantes in France provides great leadership and steadies their defense. Throughout qualifying he has created a steady partnership with Ansi Agolli in the middle of the defense. They are also backed by the promising young Napoli right back Elseid Hysaj.
The Albanian midfield thrives on the energetic play of Odeshi Roshi on the left wing and their holding midfielders Amir Abrashi and Ledian Memushaj. Taulant Xhaka also provides significant pace on the right of Albania’s midfield.
Albania’s will find the going tough getting goals against their group opponents who have well organized defenses and might find themselves chasing the entire game and running out of ideas if they go down early to their opponents. It would not be surprising to see Albania crowd the middle of the pitch with hard tackling, limiting space for opponents, which would create opportunities for counter attacks.
Reaching these finals will provide a great stepping stone for the future of this young and vibrant football team.