Euro 2016 Preview: Group A – The Group of Inherent Privilege
Our first preview for Euro 2016 covers Group A, where hosts France are joined by Switzerland, Romania and Albania.
Our first preview for Euro 2016 covers Group A, where hosts France are joined by Switzerland, Romania and Albania. Didier Deschamps' men are favourites to win the tournament and it would take a spectacular cock up for Les Bleus to not progress, but no national side does self-destruction with the flair and regularity of the French.
How Did They Do It? By hosting the tournament, hence qualifying through sheer entitlement and inherent privilege. It's absolutely despicable, if you ask us.
To make matters worse, France hosted Euro '84 and World Cup '98 and subsequently won both competitions. The rest of us may as well give up and go home, because the whole thing is absolute bullshit.
Household Names: France have a vast body of individual talent, including a spine of Hugo Lloris, Laurent Koscielny, Paul Pogba and Olivier Giroud. Their squad is what Arsenal's first team would look like if every fantastical transfer rumour of the last five years had come to fruition.
There was controversy following the final squad announcement: with Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa both left out, some have gone as far as to suggest that racial bias played a role in who was picked. That won't prove in the least bit destabilising, of course.
The Man in Charge: Didier Deschamps, the same square-headed gentleman who captained France to victory at World Cup '98. He also won Euro 2000 as a player, while earning over 100 international caps with Les Bleus. He's widely considered to have done a good job since taking charge of the national team in the summer of 2012, and is certainly more popular than his predecessors, Laurent Blanc and Raymond Domenech.
Nonetheless, he shares their penchant for falling out with the players. Don't rule out a massive dust up between Deschamps and several unnamed stars, followed by strikes, rows, resignations and Patrice Evra taking breakaway training sessions.
Prospects: As long as said strikes, rows and resignations can be avoided, France are hot favourites to win the tournament. It's on home soil, they're in great form, and they're almost certain to come out of the group stage on top.
How Did They Do It? The Swiss finished nine points behind England in Qualifying Group E, with Roy Hodgson's men beating them 2-0 both home and away. Nevertheless, they did enough to ensure they finished second in the standings and returned to the Euros after failing to qualify in 2012.
Household Names: Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka are both well known and – owing to their family connections – are bound to make headlines when the Swiss face Albania. Switzerland are also taking former Arsenal defenders Johan Djourou and Philippe Senderos to the tournament, God help them.
The Man in Charge: Vladimir Petković has coached the Swiss national team for the last two years, delivering reasonable results. His managerial accolades include a Swiss fourth division title from 2003 and, well, that's it.
Prospects: Switzerland go into Euro 2016 a respectable 14th in the FIFA World Rankings, well ahead of Romania and Albania. They will expect to finish second in the group and qualify for the knockout stages behind France; anything less will be a significant underachievement.
How Did They Do It? By finishing second in Qualifying Group F, a single point behind Northern Ireland. Though five draws saw them miss out on top spot, they did manage to get through their qualifiers undefeated.
Household Names: While Romania's forwards are all relatively unknown, their backline will look oddly familiar. Watford's second-choice stopper Costel Pantilimon is between the sticks for the Tricolorii, while their outfield stars include former Tottenham deadweight Vlad Chiricheș and one-time West Ham defender Răzvan Raț.
The Man in Charge: Anghel Iordănescu, a legend of Steaua Bucharest who has had three stints as Romania manager since 1993. He was in charge of the side at World Cup '98, when the players all dyed their hair blonde to encourage team spirit and bring good luck. They went out to Croatia in the second round.
Prospects: Romania could well get out of the group stage, but have absolutely no chance of winning the tournament. Still, remember the blonde hair thing? Classic.
How Did They Do It? Albania finished second in Qualifying Group I, having amassed a respectable 14 points. Though Portugal comfortably topped the group, the unfancied Albanians pipped both Denmark and Serbia to second spot and an automatic place at the finals.
Household Names: They are all household names in Albania, but former Sunderland defender Lorik Cana is the closest thing they have to an established international star. He currently plays his club football at French side Nantes and has also had spells with Lazio and Paris Saint-Germain, among others.
The Man in Charge: Gianni De Biasi, a veteran Italian coach who has managed Torino on no fewer than three separate occasions. Known for his winning smile and exceedingly precipitous hairline.
Prospects: Though we're tempted to tip them to go out at the group stage, the fact they're at the tournament at all suggests they're capable of defying the odds. Romania and Switzerland are beatable, though Albania are the lowest ranked team in the group by some margin.
Their chances of going through would be much higher if they could select Adnan Januzaj, Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka, all of whom would have been eligible had they not already committed to Belgium and Switzerland respectively. As it is, they'll have to make do with Ansi Agolli, Burim Kukelli, and Istanbul Başakşehir forward Sokol Cikalleshi. They also have Taulant Xhaka, Granit's little-known older brother who's notoriously bad at locking up after he leaves the house.