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Preview: Euro 2016 Group Stages

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The wait is over. The squads are in. The action is just four days away.

The remarkable 2015-16 season ends with the big tournament in France, but who are the teams to look out for? And what chance do the British representatives have of Euro glory? 

It's no surprise that the likes of France, Germany and Spain are favourites going into the tournament, with Roy Hodgson's England fourth favourites with some bookmakers.

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However, it's too soon to be discussing who is the favourite to win the whole competition and for the nations taking part, their first target will be to get out of their respective groups.

Here we take a look at each group at Euro 2016 and what to expect from the teams.

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Group A - France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland

The French have never been generous hosts. In 1984 they hosted the Euros and kept the trophy, and in 1998 they hosted the World Cup and did the same. The bookmakers have them as favourites and it is easy to see why.

Strength in depth in every area and exciting young attackers like Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial could mean they do not miss experienced campaigners Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema.

Dimitri Payet and N'Golo Kante were standout performers in the Premier League and should provide a solid midfield platform. Hugo Lloris is one of the world's top goalkeepers, so the only slight issue for Didier Deschamps' side could be the age of the back four in front of his 'keeper. 

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Five of the eight defenders chosen are over 30 and two games a week could catch up with them. 

The Swiss have players that can hurt any team, however, Xherdan Shaqiri and Valon Behrami can float in and out of games, and there is no prolific frontman. 

Albania and Romania should not make too much of an impact on the tournament.

Group B - England, Russia, Slovakia and Wales

It's been fifty years of hurt since Sir Alf's boys won England's only major trophy.

There is a feel-good factor surrounding the exciting young attacking talent available for Roy Hodgson but does a weak defence and doubts over the fitness of Daniel Sturridge, Jack Wilshere and Jordan Henderson appear to rule England out of the running to be a major contender?

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The new format of the tournament should mean qualification for the knockout phase. Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Jamie Vardy will fancy their chances of getting the goals to steer England past Russia, Wales and Slovakia, possibly as group winners. 

Winning the group will lead to a tie against a third-placed team and even finishing second would not be an issue as this would pit them against the runner-up in a weak looking Group F.

However, defensive issues have recently been exposed by Turkey and Australia. Six goals conceded in four friendlies is not the sort of form to worry the likes of France, Germany and Spain.

A first tournament for the Welsh since 1958 and they will be looking to avoid an early exit. They have been drawn in England's group alongside Russia and Slovakia, and it is easy to see them also getting through this test.

With another Champions League winners medal in his pocket, Gareth Bale will head to the tournament full of confidence, and backed up by Ashley Williams, Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey, there is a strong spine to the Welsh side.

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The team does lack strength in depth, though. For a nation that has produced John Charles, Ian Rush and Mark Hughes the striking options look thin. In addition, goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey has had some shaky moments last season and Chris Coleman may be better served by taking a chance on Liverpool youngster Danny Ward between the sticks.

All in all, a quarter-final place could be realistic for the Welsh. 

Russia and Slovakia will battle out for third place, and despite a number of key players missing through injury, you would expect the Russians to edge this.

Group C - Germany, Poland, Northern Ireland and Ukraine

Northern Ireland go into the tournament as outsiders and probably rightly so. It was a great achievement for this side to make it to the tournament as group winners. 

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Michael O'Neill appears to have found a settled squad with no stand out performers and a strong team ethic. However, with no stand out performers, there may not be the individual to make the decisive impact in a big game. They have also been drawn in a tough group. Third place may be enough to qualify and one win could seal that, but it is a tough ask to see them getting past the group stage.

As for Ukraine, they have lost some of the big names of old, such as Sergi Rebrov and Andrei Shevchenko. Captain Anatoliy Tymoshchuk is now 37 and much will rely on the form of attackers Yevhan Konoplyanka and Andri Yaramolenko.

World Cup winners Germany are regarded as the favourites, and again it is easy to see why. The strength in depth is shown by the names of the players not in the squad. Kevin Trapp, Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan among the names missing show why this is a team to be feared. There are some doubts over the fitness of captain Bastian Schweinsteiger after a difficult season at Manchester United but the Germans should go far.

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The final team in the group is Poland. Robert Lewandowski is one of the top strikers in Europe and could be looking to put himself in the shop window after another successful season with Bayern Munich. 

He is supported by some good young midfielders, such as Liverpool target Piotr Zielinski and Sevilla's Grzegorz Krychowiak. Lukasz Piszczek provides experience at the back and the Poles have a trio of goalkeepers with Premier League experience. 

This is a side that could provide some shock, and 50/1 with the bookmakers could represent a sound each-way bet.

Group D - Spain, Croatia, Czech Republic and Turkey

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Spain are the standout team in this group and another favourite with the bookmakers. Again this is a strong squad with a number of big names such as Diego Costa, Isco and Juan Mata all not making the cut.

In addition to the strength of the squad, there is a lot of big tournament experience, with nine players already holding medals from the 2012 triumph and a number also from four years earlier. 

The big names in this squad have been around and played together for a long time. Between Iker Casillas, Andres Iniesta, Sergio Ramos, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva, there are over 600 international caps and in addition to this experience, there are one or two younger faces, including Alvaro Morata, sure to be a contender for the Golden Boot and one of the most sought after players in Europe.

English fans recently got the chance to see Turkey up close and personal in a recent friendly, and despite almost earning a draw, there didn't seem a lot to frighten the favourites. 

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Much will rely on Barcelona star Arda Turan to provide the star dust, although coach Fatih Terim, is a vastly experienced campaigner, who may have the nous to guide them to the knockout phase.

The Czech Republic will be captained by Arsenal's Tomas Rosicky, still the star name at 35. Petr Cech in goal should provide a solid defence for the team, but there appears to be little going forward to make a big impression with many of the big name Czech players now in retirement.

Croatia are also captained by a veteran midfield campaigner in Dario Srna. They will be relying on the experienced Mario Mandzukic and Leicester flop Andrej Kramaric to get the goals. That may be enough to push them out to the knockout stage, but it does not appear a squad capable of progressing much further.

Group E - Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland and Sweden

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There will no doubt be a lot of British interest in this group as it contains the Republic of Ireland.

The Irish are another team brimming with experience, with Shay Given, John O'Shea and Robbie Keane all boasting well over a hundred caps each. However, Keane is now 35 and plying his trade in the USA, meaning his best days are probably behind him and he captains a squad you would call functional rather than spectacular.

That may not be a huge issue though as they have been drawn in a group that seems very difficult to call.

Twelve months ago Belgium were many people's tip to be champions. The squad boasts quality in all areas, however, many of the star players have struggled to hit the heights over the last 12 months. Chelsea pair Thibaut Courtois and Eden Hazard have seen their form slump as alarmingly as their clubs since winning the league in 2015, while Christian Benteke's big money move to Liverpool quickly turned sour as he seemed the wrong fit for the club, while Simon Mignolet also struggled for consistency.

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This may, however, prove good for the national team, spurring them on to great performances with the knowledge they are in the shop window for a summer move. In addition, Divock Origi was ahead of more illustrious names in the Anfield pecking order before picking up an injury, and Yannick Carrasco was many people's Man of the aMtch in the Champions League final.

They also have a strong backline with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen the backbone for Spurs title push.

Italy come into the tournament with few people talking about them. While they still boast a strong defence, there appears to be little in the attacking department to worry the best defences. The maverick Mario Balotelli has been left out after a difficult loan spell with AC Milan, however, coach Antonio Conte will no doubt want to leave the role with his reputation enhanced.

Italy Official Team Photo

With experienced players, such as Gianluigi Buffon, Georgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonnuci at the back, they will be difficult to break down, and will have to hope the less illustrious attacking names will be able to nick something at the other end.

Sweden will again be all about one man. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Out of contract and probably at his last major tournament, he will want to leave his mark, and the side will have to be built around utilising his gifts. On his day almost unplayable. The simple instruction to his teammates is get the ball to Zlatan.

Group F - Portugal, Austria, Hungary and Iceland

The weakest group in the tournament by far. Portugal will, like Sweden, be set up to make the most of the one-star player - Cristiano Ronaldo.

It is difficult to see a way Portugal will not top this group, even if Ronaldo is having an off day. Youngsters Andre Gomes and Renato Sanches have also been included in the squad and will be looking to enhance their burgeoning reputations and earn moves to top European sides.

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Austria boasts a number of players familiar to Premier League fans, but the star man is Bayern Munich left-back David Alaba. They will look to veteran striker Marko Janko to provide the goals, and with the strength of the group, second place and the knockout stage is a realistic target, where they could face England or Wales.

Hungary boasts the oldest player in the tournament in goalkeeper Gabor Kiraly. They also have a number of other former Premier League players, such as captain Zoltan Gera (now 37) and former Liverpool youth player Kristian Nemeth. The fact Nemeth now plies his trade in Qatar says a lot about the depth of talent Hungary have to choose from.

Iceland are the smallest nation to ever qualify for the European Championships. This obviously leaves another small talent pool to pick from, but there are a number of names familiar to British football fans. 

Much will depend on Swansea City playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson, and with third place possibly offering qualification, the knockout phase is not unrealistic.

Who are you backing to win Euro 2016? Leave us YOUR predictions in the comment section below!

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Topics:
Wayne Rooney
Paul Pogba
Gareth Bale
Zlatan Ibrahimovic
La Liga
Football
Premier League
Cristiano Ronaldo
Euro 2016
Eden Hazard

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