Cristiano Ronaldo is, quite rightly, the superstar player in Group F. Portugal’s talisman has broken scoring records in Spain and Europe over the past few years and looks set to have a fine tournament at France 2016.
However, will Portugal? The country has failed to live up to expectations over recent years and has not seemed to have recovered from the shock of losing the Euro 2004 final to Greece in Lisbon.
They face a resurgent Iceland, Austria and Hungary in Group F in one of the most difficult to call among the pool stages.
So, let’s take a look at who should qualify out of Group F, and who should have stayed at home…
Portugal: Contenders to win Euro Football 2016
July 4, 2004 was meant to be the greatest day in Portuguese sporting history. The nation that has so often fallen short on the European stage finally got his opportunity to prove the doubters wrong. They went into the Euro 2004 final as heavy favourites against a Greece side that no-one expected would make it this far.
Portugal’s squad was full of glittering talent, with Luis Figo, Deco, Ricardo Carvalho and a young Ronaldo all starting in the final. But they lost to an Angelos Charisteas header on 57 minutes in possibly the biggest upset in European football history.
It remains Portugal’s only final appearance and they have three times crashed out at the semi-final stage of the European Championships. Maybe this year will be better for them.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored 25 goals in the second half of 2015. He is now 31 years old but shows no sign of letting up. The former Manchester United striker, now finding the net for fun at Real Madrid, craves a national title for Portugal.
He left the Lisbon pitch after the 2004 final as a 19-year-old in tears and most major tournaments end with him doing the same. This year Unibet punters could do worse than to back the ace to continue his great form and bet on his to be top goalscorer.
Ronaldo holds the record for the most European Championships goals (26) if you include qualifying rounds and was joint-top scorer at Euro 2012 with three strikes to his name.
Route to Euro Football 2016:
Portugal had a near-perfect run to the finals this summer with a W9 L1 record in qualifying. Their sole defeat was a surprise 1-0 reverse at home to Albania, who were probably the most surprising nation to qualify for these championships.
Ronaldo, of course, finished top scorer in qualifying Group I with five goals. Jaco Moutinho bagged two and there were individual strikes for Ricardo Carvalho, Fabio Coentrao, Nani and Miguel Veloso.
Portugal reached the semi-finals at Euro 2012 and are a good outside bet to make the final this year. They should top this group with relative ease and that will prepare them nicely to play the runners-up of Group E in the last-16.
That could mean facing Belgium or Italy, which is a tricky task but if they scale that mountain then Portugal are strong contenders to go all the way.
Iceland: Power and determination for Euro Football 2016
This will be Iceland’s first ever major tournament appearance 58 years after attempting to qualify for World Championship 1958 in Sweden. Iceland have arguably benefitted from the expansion of the European Championships to 24 nations this year — although they qualified automatically out of their group.
To put Iceland’s achievement of reaching this summer’s finals into perspective, the nation they have beaten more than any other is the Faroe Islands (23 wins from 25 games), with Malta (10 of 14) and Norway (7 of 32) following. Iceland’s best record against a Euro 2016 top seed is W1 D2 L6 against defending title holders Spain.
Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson is the talisman of this Iceland side, which used to rely on Eidur Gudjohnsen to find the net. Sigurdsson, 26, is in his prime and has hit good form with Iceland over the past few seasons.
However, his domestic efforts at Swansea have left a lot to be desired. After a stellar 2014/15 campaign, Sigurdsson has only just got back into his groove. The midfielder’s goals could save Swansea from Premier league relegation and he earned the club five crucial points with individual strikes in three games between January and February.
Route to Euro Football 2016:
Sigurdsson was the main contributor in terms of goals as Iceland stunned their Euro qualifying table rivals with six wins to finish second and progress automatically to France this summer.
The midfielder scored six of Iceland’s 17 goals as they stunned Turkey 3-0, the Netherlands 2-0 and Czech Republic 2-1 to build up their points early in the group. And it worked. For despite failing to win any of their last three group games, Iceland had done enough in the opening round to secure a surprise qualification.
It would be easy to bet on Iceland to finish bottom of Group F. However, Hungary are favourites to crash at Euro Football 2016 and Iceland have the plucky underdog tag to fight for.
Four points from their games against Hungary and Austria should see them through to the last-16. They are favourites to beat Hungary and a draw would nick a vital point against the Austrians.
Austria: Can they beat Portugal?
Austria qualified as co-hosts for Euro 2008 but came away with a draw and two defeats from a difficult group stage. They lost 1-0 to Croatia in their opening game in Vienna, which was their European Championships debut, and despite a 1-1 draw with Poland in the next game were unable to overcome Germany, who edged a dour match 1-0.
Austria’s World Championship record is brighter, however. They finished third in Switzerland in 1954 and have qualified for five World Championship since. Their last appearance was a group-stage exit at France 1998 with just two points to their name.
Unlike Russia and Sweden, Austria did not rely on one talisman to get them through qualifying. Marc Janko, with seven goals, was their top scorer but David Alaba (4), Marko Arnautovic (3) and Martin Harnik (3) all contributed in front of goal.
Arnautovic, 26, has greatly impressed since he joined Premier League club Stoke City in 2013 and his speed and ability to pick a pass out of nowhere is crucial to how Austria play.
But it is Bayern Munich’s utility man Alaba who has really risen to prominence in recent years and tipsters are backing him to secure a big-money transfer away from Germany if he catches the eye at Euro Football 2016.
Route to Euro Football 2016:
If Iceland were a surprise team to make Euro 2016 then Austria’s topping of qualifying Group G must able be roundly applauded. The Austrians finished undefeated (W9 D1) in their euro table that included Russia and Sweden.
Their only blemish was a 1-1 result against the Swedes and they finished eight points ahead of second-place Russia. Only England (W10) did better in the qualifying stages.
The group stage could go one of two ways for Austria. They could either crash and burn, finishing rock bottom as the nerves of playing in a first major tournament since 1998 get to them. They have great odds for doing just that.
Or, they could beat Portugal in their second game of the group and make a real challenge to escape as top dogs. Much will depend on how Alaba marshals the midfield and defence against Ronaldo and Co.
Hungary: Favourites for group stage elimination
Much like Austria, Hungary have a rich history at the World Championship and even boast a couple of appearances at the European Championships. But that record is very much in the past. The 1938 and 1954 World Championship finalists have not played at a major tournament for 30 years.
Their last appearance on the international scene was a group-stage exit at Mexico 1986. They do, however, boast of two semi-final appearances in the Euros (1964 and 1972), which is better than many other nations competing this summer.
Midfielder and captain Balazs Dzsudzsak, 29, boasts 75 caps for a Hungary team that age-wise heads to Euro 2016 at its peak. Bursaspor’s Dzsudzsak made his international debut back in 2007 and scored his first of 17 goals for the country a year later.
Dzsudzsak isn’t one to score regular goals but he does lead by example. As an experienced winger, strikers Tamas Priskin and Adam Szalai are getting used to feeding off his service. Former Fulham star Zoltan Gera will be 37 come France 2016 is another man to look out for — if he makes the cut.
Route to Euro Football 2016:
Nine players shared the 11 goals Hungary scored in their Euro 2016 qualifying group as they earned a playoff spot against Norway. Laszlo Kleinheisler’s 26th-minute strike gave the Hungarians a 1-0 first-leg result in Oslo to take back home.
And they got the job done in Budapest. Priskin scored early on before Norway’s Markus Henriksen bundled into his own net. The AZ Alkmaar midfielder then scored at the other end, but it was too late as Hungary went through 3-1 victors on aggregate.
Like Austria, Hungary lack an out-and-out goalscorer. However, unlike their neighbours, goals have not come easy to this team in recent years. Therefore, they face the prospect of losing all three games without scoring themselves.
Hungary are favourites to finish bottom of Group F and, if you’re considering a Euro Football 2016 combination bet, think about betting on Hungary to lose to Austria in their opening game.View market