The long wait is over! This weekend, Euro 2016 kicks off. SEAMUS COLLINS, who recently spent a period on work experience at the Roscommon People, looks at Group E and the Republic of Ireland’s prospects…
Group odds: 1/12 to qualify from group
Manager: Marc Wilmots
Key men: Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne
Previous best: Euro 1980, runners-up
Qualifying: Topped Group B with 23 points
Belgium have become a feared international side in recent years soaring up the world rankings under ex-player Marc Wilmots. Many of their young stars such as Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard grace the Premier League. However, they will be without influential captain Vincent Kompany through injury.
Group odds: 1/8 to qualify from group
Manager: Antonio Conte
Key men: Antonio Candreva, Graziano Pelle
Previous best: Winners in 1968
Qualifying: Topped Group H with 24 points
The quality of the Italian team has declined since their run to the final four years ago, but Chelsea’s new boss after the Euros Antonio Conte will have his side well organised and resolute. Never underestimate the Italians.
Group odds: 4/6 to qualify from group
Manager: Erik Hamren
Key man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Previous best: Semi-final in 1992
Qualifying: Third in Group G, beat Denmark in play-off
Sweden’s route to France was quite similar to Ireland’s. They finished two points behind Russia in their group and narrowly beat Denmark in the play-off. An average, hard-working side, talismanic striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic brings genuine brilliance to the team.
Republic of Ireland
Group odds: 11/10 to qualify from group
Manager: Martin O’Neill
Key men: Jon Walters, Shane Long
Previous best: Group Stages in 1988 and 2012
Qualifying: Ireland finished behind Germany and Poland in Group C and pipped Scotland to a play-off spot. Convincingly saw off Bosnia in the play-offs.