The European football championship has generated more than its fair share of upsets. In the past minnows like Czechoslovakia, Denmark and Greece have all defied the odds to win Europe’s biggest football prize. And more big upsets are on the cards. Eight teams have been added to the tournament for 2016, increasing the number of competing sites to 24 and adding an additional knockout round to the path to the final.
Here are five outsiders who could upset the odds at Euro 2016.
After decades spent trying, and failing, in major football tournaments, 2016 may well be the year that England finally silence their critics.
A momentous domestic season saw minnows Leicester claim a maiden Premier League title, showing the football world that anything really is possible in the beautiful game. It also unearthed two superb home-grown strikers in Leicester’s Jamie Vardy and Tottenham’s Harry Kane.
Between themselves these two strikers put away 50 Premier League goals, with Kane finishing on top of the scoring charts. At Euro 2016 Vardy and Kane will be backed up by an equally exciting supporting cast that includes the likes of Daniel Sturridge and Adam Lallana.
Besides drawing from the availability of skilled young players who know that anything is possible, England will also enjoy the benefit of playing in a relatively lightweight group. Victories over Slovakia and Wales in Group B will put them into the knockout rounds, and it would be foolish to bet against the English going all the way to the final once they have some momentum.
Austria is one of Europe’s football backwaters, with a sparsely-attended local league dominated by a handful of big clubs. However, Austria were one of the most impressive teams in Euro 2016 qualifying, topping a group which included both Sweden and Russia without losing a single game.
The Austrian team excels at playing balanced football, with aggressive attack backed up by one of the best defensive units on display in Euro 2016 qualifying. They’ve also benefitted from a favourable draw, and will need to beat Iceland and Hungary to secure their place in the knockout rounds of the tournament.
Poland were one of the surprise packages during European Championship qualifying. Placed in the tough Group D they not only qualified ahead of Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and Georgia, but came extremely close to beating Germany to first place in the group.
Their feats in qualifying included scoring 33 goals (the highest goal tally of any team in the qualifiers), and beating the reigning world champions 2-0 in Warsaw. The ace up their sleeve is the in-form Robert Lewandowski, who was not only the top scorer in the Bundesliga this season, but also the top scorer in Euro 2016 qualifying with 13 goals.
At Euro 2004 Greece demonstrated that resolute defence can win major football tournaments. Romania apparently took notes at the time, and emerged from Euro 2016 qualifiers as the best defensive unit in Europe. The Romanians conceded just two goals in qualifying, with only Hungary and Finland able to find the back of their net.
After finishing second in qualifying Group F, Romania were drawn in Group A alongside France, Switzerland and Albania. While Group A is no walk in the park, the Romanians have the skills to neutralize the Swiss and French attacks and beat the Albanians at their own game. Once they qualify for the quarterfinals history tells us that disciplined, defensive play could take them all the way.
The Czech Republic became one of nine nations to win the European Championship when they defeated Germany in the 1976 final. Two decades later they faced Germany in another European Cup final, losing to Germany courtesy of a golden goal in extra time.
A decade later the Czech Republic has again emerged as a team to be reckoned with, winning a qualifying group that included the Netherlands, Turkey and a surprisingly tenacious Icelandic team. This success was based largely on cohesive team play, with the Czech team seemingly able to score from any position on the field.
So, which outsider could win Euro 2016?
We expect a lot of the five times we’ve selected as outsiders here. However, some of these teams may only be destined to take out more fancied teams, and thereby pave the way for one of their fellow minnows to progress deep into the tournament.
If we had to put money on one of these sides it would be England. At a price of 8/1, bookmakers in the UK aren’t giving the English the respect they deserve. Their youth, raw talent and self-belief will make them a force to be reckoned with and serious contenders for a place in the Euro 2016 final.