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Euro 2016 Preview: Group E – The Group of Great Craic

Belgium, Italy and Sweden are set to contest Group E, while the Republic of Ireland are just there for the craic.

by UK Sports Staff
Jun 8 2016, 2:07pm

The craic is going to be mighty // EPA Images/Andy Rain

In our penultimate preview for Euro 2016, we cast our analytical eyes over Belgium, Italy, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland. While the competition for the top three spots is bound to be tight, whatever happens, Republic of Ireland fans are going to wang back the Guinness, bring homemade Shane Long banners and generally have a great time.

BELGIUM

How Did They Do It? By finishing top of Qualifying Group B, despite being run close by a resurgent Wales. Drew with Chris Coleman's side in Brussels, before losing 1-0 in Cardiff.

Household Names: Boast some of the Premier League's best players in the form of Thibaut Courtois, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Also have Marouane Fellaini, just in case they need to plant an elbow into somebody's eye.

Will Lukaku have his shooting boots on? In a metaphorical sense, that is // EPA Images/Laurent Dubrule

The Man in Charge: Marc Wilmots, a slick-haired former midfielder who made 70 appearances for Belgium over the course of the '90s and early 2000s. Was tipped to lead his country to World Cup glory in 2014, but the side could only manage a somewhat underwhelming quarter-final berth.

Prospects: Belgium are once again tipped to take the tournament by storm, but their performances still look some way short of France, Germany and Spain. Have the individual quality to get to the semi-finals and beyond, but aren't necessarily the most coherent team at the tournament.

Do you want some hair with that Brylcreem, Marc? // EPA Images/Laurent Dubrule

ITALY

How Did They Do It? Italy comfortably topped Qualifying Group H, finishing four points ahead of second-placed Croatia. That said, their group also included Norway, Azerbaijan and Malta and was far from a tough test.

Household Names: While Andrea Pirlo failed to make the cut for the tournament, the Azzuri squad still includes icons like Gianluigi Buffon, Thiago Motta and Daniele De Rossi. They represent an experienced core, while youngsters like Roma forward Stephan El Shaaraway and Juventus striker Simone Zaza should bring some sprightly exuberance to the team.

The man, the legend, the Cult inductee // EPA Images/Andreas Gebert

The Man in Charge: Antonio Conte, who will leave his post with the national side to take over at Chelsea come the end of the tournament. While he's doubtlessly an accomplished coach, his impending move to the Premier League could serve as something of a distraction.

Prospects: Though the current Italy side seems relatively well balanced, it lacks the technical mastery of the very best Azzuri teams. Expect functional performances and an exit at the quarter-finals.

Antonio Conte, scouting for Chelsea (sorry, managing Italy) // EPA Images/Filippo Venezia

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND

How Did They Do It? The Boys in Green scraped to third place in Qualifying Group D, three points behind second-placed Poland and four behind Germany. They went on to triumph over Bosnia and Herzegovina in the play-offs, defeating their opponents with relative ease.

Household Names: Shane Long, James McClean and the seemingly timeless Robbie Keane are some of their flashier players. The team really relies on its prosaic heroes, though, with Jonathan Walters pre-eminent amongst them.

Robbie Keane, still smashing them in for the Republic at the ripe old age of 57 // EPA Images/Filipe Farinha

The Man in Charge: Martin O'Neill, not to be confused with Northern Ireland manager Michael O'Neill. He's best known for being the last decent Aston Villa manager, and steadfastly refusing to smile. He's managed to get himself into hot water ahead of the tournament, remarking at a send-off event for the team that he didn't want anyone to think he and Roy Keane were "queers" for going to the Super Bowl together. Would do well to steer well clear of LGBT politics in his post-match press conferences.

Prospects: Will struggle to get out of the group, bar a couple of major upsets. Thankfully, the fans are just there for the craic.

Please don't ruin the craic, Martin // EPA Images/Fehim Demir

SWEDEN

How Did They Do It? By finishing third in Qualifying Group G, well behind Austria and Russia. The Swedes narrowly beat Denmark in an all-Scandinavian third-place play-off, with a single goal separating them over two legs.

Household Names: It's all about Zlatan Ibrahimovic, mainly because he staunchly refuses to let it be about anyone else.

Dat guy Zlatan // EPA Images/Claudio Bresciani

The Man in Charge: Erik Hamrén, a man who looks exceedingly cheerful about the prospect of managing Sweden, or any football team for that matter.

Has coached extensively in the Allsvenskan, for what it's worth. Won the Swedish Cup as recently as 2000.

Erik Hamrén, looking like a popular meme of some sort // EPA Images/Erik Nylander

Prospects: As the lowest ranked side in the group, anything but a bottom-placed finish will be an overachievement. Then again, there's always the possibility that Zlatan will bang in three forty-yard winners, hauling them to the knockout stages by the sheer force of his indomitable ego.

Read our other Euro 2016 previews here.