There have been some claims that this year’s expanded Euro Cup tournament ultimately led to an unbalanced bracket, but I’m not sure that argument holds any water. Sure, the bottom half of the bracket features the reigning World Cup champions, the 2012 Euro champions, the 2012 runners-up, the favored host nation, and … England, I guess.
But the top half features some powerhouses, too, like the four nations who have already guaranteed their best finish at a European Championship, including Wales and Northern Ireland who are making their first appearance. Do you detect a hint of sarcasm? (Yes, you do.)
Two nations in the top half have at least qualified for Euro Cup finals; granted, it was Portugal in 2004 and Belgium way back in 1980.
Yeesh, someone really did screw the pooch on this one!
England and Spain didn’t do themselves any favors by not winning their groups (although why anyone would ever expect England to live up to expectations is beyond me). But regardless of how we got here, this bottom-heavy knockout bracket has certainly shifted the odds to win the tournament. Let’s examine the winners and losers from the group stage.
The biggest winner has to be the Croatians, who stole top spot in Group D from the Spanish on a late goal from Ivan Perisic, giving the team a markedly easier run to the finals. Croatia’s road starts with perennial underachievers Portugal, followed by the winner of Poland-Switzerland. The team’s success is actually bad news for some Croatian fans who were trying to use a massive failure in the tournament as grounds for change at the top of their allegedly corrupt football federation.
Another huge beneficiary of group play was Belgium. Despite looking overhyped and underwhelming in a 2-0 loss to Italy, that outcome allowed the Belgians to avoid drawing Spain in the Round of 16. Now, as heavy favorites to beat Hungary in the Round of 16 and the winner of Wales/Northern Ireland in the quarters, they’re that much closer to living up to lofty expectations.
It’s hard to call Iceland a loser after the inspiring run they put together to finish second in Group F. But the tiny nation now has to knock off the Three Lions just to keep their miracle run going; that’s a lofty goal even if England has looked vulnerable in this tournament.
Speaking of vulnerable, France hasn’t strung together 90 strong minutes yet. While they’re expected to easily dispatch the Republic of Ireland, don’t forget the Irish would love to exact revenge for the Thierry Henry handball that kept the team out of the 2010 World Cup. Even if France can overcome a motivated Irish side, they’ll need to show an improved game if they expect to advance past the semis.
That’s because Germany remains the favorite to win the Euro. The workman-like team has yet to concede a goal this tournament, but should have no problem scoring if they continue to play more of Mario Gomez and less of Mario Goetze.
The knockout stage officially kicks off this weekend. Here are the updated futures.
Odds to Win 2016 UEFA European Championship
- Germany: 4/1
- France: 5/1
- Belgium: 11/2
- Spain: 6/1
- Croatia: 8/1
- England: 11/1
- Portugal: 13/1
- Italy: 18/1
- Wales: 20/1
- Poland: 20/1
- Switzerland: 40/1
- Hungary: 66/1
- Republic of Ireland: 100/1
- Northern Ireland: 150/1
- Iceland: 150/1
- Slovakia: 200/1
(Photo credit: Tobias Klenze Deutsch (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.)