by JAMES LING
Group E is looking to be one of the tougher groups to call. Containing many people’s favourites Belgium, Italy, Ibrahimovic’s Sweden and Republic of Ireland. Here I take a look at everything you need to know about each of the teams.
Manager: Marc Wilmots
Wilmots took charge of the Red Devils in 2012 as caretaker but was later appointed as head coach on a full time basis. He led his side to the 2014 World Cup finals following an impressive undefeated qualifying campaign which saw them become dark horses that summer. They were eventually beaten 1-0 by Messi’s Argentina. Wilmots biggest achievement to date still remains taking Belgium to No.1 in the FIFA World rankings.
Road to Euro 2016
Seven wins, two draws, and one loss saw the Red Devil’s top qualifying Group B. The sole loss came at the hands to eventual runners up Wales in Cardiff. However, four successive wins saw them top the group by two points.
Belgium made their tournament debut back in 1980 and finished runners up to West Germany in Rome. They would qualify again four years later but would not make it out of the group stages. It would be another 16 years before they made another appearance, qualifying as the host nation in 2000. But history repeated itself as they failed to make it out of the group. You would expect that to change this year.
Despite his stuttering season, Eden Hazard remains Belgium’s biggest threat. On his day, Hazard has the ability to tear through defences with his dribbling often mesmerising to watch.
Manager: Antonio Conte
Antonio Conte took over as head coach in 2014 after winning three league titles on the bounce with Juventus. Conte took over from departing boss Cesare Prandelli after a dismissal show in Brazil saw the Italians fail to get out their group. However, this will be the Italian’s only tournament in charge, as he has recently agreed to take over at Chelsea.
Road to Euro 2016
Italy topped qualifying Group H, finishing four points clear of runners up Croatia. Seven wins and three draws from their 10 matches saw them qualify unbeaten, but the campaign saw some laboured victories against Malta (1-0) and Azerbaijan (2-1).
Italy beat Yugoslavia to win Euro 68 in Rome back when the tournament finals were contested between four teams. They have since finished runners up twice. The first in 2000 was when David Trezeguet’s golden goal secured France victory. The other came in 2012, where the Italians met reigning World Champions Spain, who thrashed the Azurri 4-0.
To this day Gigi Buffon still remains Italy’s most valuable player. The goalkeeper is now 38 and his presence in not just the national team but also club level is a testament to his ability and fitness to still be playing and to keeping younger goalkeepers behind him as his No2.
Manager: Erik Hamren
Hamren was appointed in 2009 on caretaker basis while also managing Rosenborg at the same time, Hamren would take control on a permanent basis after being released from his contract by the Norwegian side. Hamren boasts a hefty trophy haul in Scandinavia, winning two league titles with Rosenborg, one in Denmark with AaB, and also three Swedish cups.
Road to Euro 2016
Sweden had a somewhat turbulent road to the Euros. With the Swedes four points clear at the top of qualifying Group G, they looked a cert to qualify automatically. But back to back defeats by Austria and Russia saw the Sweden have to settle for a play-off spot. Sweden would have to play Denmark. A 2-1 home win and 2-2 draw away saw the Swedes name put into the pot for the finals.
Sweden made their first appearance in 1992 where they reached the semi-finals before defeat to Germany saw them miss out on the finals. Sweden have qualified for the finals on the last four occasions which has seen them only get out of the group stages once back in 2004.
When you think of Sweden only one player comes to mind. Zlatan Ibrahimovic. At 34 years of age he remains crucial to at both national and club level. The free agent who this summer has been closely linked to a move to Manchester United, boasts an impressive 62 goals in 112 appearances for Sweden which just proves how special he really is.
Republic of Ireland
Manager: Martin O’Neil
Martin O’Neil is an highly experienced manager having spells with Leicester, Celtic, Aston Villa and Sunderland, while also having an impressive career as a player. O’Neil was a part of Brian Clough’s title winning Nottingham Forest side who then went on to become Two-time European champions. O’Neil also captained Northern Ireland at the 1982 World Cup.
Road to Euro 2016
Ireland qualified by virtue of the play-offs, after being drawn into a tough group containing World Champions Germany, Poland and Scotland. Ireland drew Bosnia & Herzegovina. The Irish took the lead in Zenica but conceded a late equaliser to make it level heading to Dublin. However, two goal from Jonathan Walters saw the Irish head to their third European Championships.
The Irish made their first appearance back in Euro 88, but since only qualified on one other occasion in 2012. Former manager Giovanni Trapattoni’s men were criticised for their lack lustre display at the finals losing all three games in their group – albeit containing Spain, Italy and Croatia – the only thing people will remember the Irish for in 2012 will be the impression the fans made.
Southampton’s Shane Long will be Ireland’s danger man upfront this year. His pace and ability to hold the ball up makes him a nightmare for any defender. Ireland will look to utilise his pace to create the space for their record goalscorer Robbie Keane.