Soccer·Preview

Euro 2016: France favoured to win at home

Many of the world's top soccer powers will battle for continental supremacy when UEFA Euro 2016 kicks off Friday in France. Here's a look at some of the favourites, a darkhorse and some long shots in the 24-team European championship tournament.

Germany, England, Spain could also challenge hosts for European soccer crown

French players celebrate in an international friendly in March ahead of the 2016 UEFA European Championship. Oddsmakers have given the host nation another reason to celebrate by giving France the highest chance of winning the tournament. (Frank Fife/Getty Images)

Many of the world's top soccer powers will battle for continental supremacy when UEFA Euro 2016 kicks off Friday in France. 

Here's a look at some of the favourites, a darkhorse and some long shots in the 24-team European championship tournament, which culminates with the title match on July 10.

Note: "Chances of winning" are implied probabilities derived from betting odds made available by the online bookmaker Pinnacle.

FAVOURITES

France 

Les Bleus are ranked just 17th in the world by FIFA, but oddsmakers seem to have ignored that factor in making them the favourites to win this tournament for the first time since 2000. France has performed well in the past when hosting big events, winning both the World Cup in 1998 and Euro in 1984 on home soil. However, Didier Deschamps's squad will be without Real Madrid striker Karim Benezema after his role in a blackmail scandal involving French national teammate Mathieu Valbuena. The French will be counting heavily on talented midfielder Paul Pogba, who has the potential to be the star of the tournament.

Canadian rapper Drake seems to agree.

Chance of winning: 25%

Pool opponents: Switzerland, Romania, Albania.

Star player: Paul Pogba — 8 goals in Serie A competition with Juventus this season.

Underrated player: Antoine Griezmann — 7 goals in 13 Champions League matches with Atlético Madrid.

Germany 

The reigning World Cup champions are another strong contender, and two of the last three European teams to win the World Cup have won the ensuing Euro crown (Spain in 2012, France in 2000). Although Die Mannschaft will be without former top players Per Mertesacker and Philipp Lahm, there is still more than enough offensive talent for head coach Joachim Loew to work with. The Germans have struggled in several recent friendlies, losing to France, England and Slovakia over the past eight months, but they still should be considered a favourite to win it all.

Chance of winning: 19% 

Pool opponents: Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland.

Star player: Thomas Mueller — 32 goals in 44 appearances in combined play with Bayern Munich and Germany this season.

Underrated player: Mario Goetze — 8 goals this season in 16 matches for Bayern Munich.

Spain 

La Furia Roja have won the last two Euro titles, but can no longer be considered the outright favourites for the first ever three-peat. Spain's dismal 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands and consequent failure to move past the group stage at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil may have signaled a downward trend for the 2010 World Cup champs. Spain did manage to win nine of 10 qualifying matches, but the most concerning was a home loss in its final warm-up game to 137th ranked Georgia, a team that didn't even come close to qualifying for Euro 2016. The biggest question may be in goal as Manchester United's David De Gea could start over veteran and longtime national captain Iker Casillas. 

Chance of winning: 17%

Pool opponents: Croatia, Turkey, Czech Republic.

Star player: Álvaro Morata — 9 goals in 20 matches this season at Juventus and has a knack for scoring the big goals.

Underrated player: Thiago Alcántara — 2 goals in 16 appearances with Bayern Munich this year but is one of the leaders of the much-needed next generation in Spain.

England

The English are looking for their first ever European crown and have a good chance of finishing first in Group B against the likes of Wales, Slovakia and Russia. England arrives in France with momentum on its side after winning all of its qualifying matches. However, historically, the English have struggled to rise to the challenge in big events and are coming off a horrific 2014 World Cup performance where they failed to win a single match. Wayne Rooney is the last player from the "Golden Generation" but 18-year-old Manchester United forward Marcus Rashford may lead the new generation that England so desperately needs. 

Chance of winning: 13% 

Pool opponents: Wales, Slovakia, Russia.

Star player: Wayne Rooney — 30-year-old had 8 goals in 27 appearances with Manchester United in 2015-2016.

Underrated player: Marcus Rashford — 5 goals in 11 games with Manchester United in Premier League play.

DARKHORSE

Belgium 

Ranked second in the world by FIFA, the Belgians are coming off a solid performance at the 2014 World Cup, winning all three matches in the group stage before beating the United States in the round of 16. The small nation's run came to an end when it lost to eventual runner-up Argentina in the quarter-finals. Belgium holds the slim edge as favourites to come out on top of Group F ahead of Italy, Ireland and Sweden but it won't be easy, especially without the services of injured captain Vincent Kompany.

Chance of winning: 9% 

Pool opponents: Italy, Ireland, Sweden.

Star player: Eden Hazard — Led Chelsea with 14 goals in 38 matches en route to a Premier League title in 2014-2015.

Underrated player: Romelu Lukaku — 18 goals in 37 matches with Everton in Premier League.

LONG SHOTS

Iceland 

The smallest nation to ever participate in a European championship qualified in stunning fashion by shocking traditional powerhouse the Netherlands both at home and away during qualifiers. The island nation with a population of 330,000 also showed stalwart defending, holding the opposition scoreless in six of 10 matches. Iceland has done a lot to qualify for Euro but will be severely challenged by Portugal and Austria in Group F.

Chances of winning: 1%.

Pool opponents: Portugal, Austria, Hungary.

Star player: Eiður Guðjohnsen — leads Iceland in all-time goals (25) and has played 81 games for the country, the most of any current Icelandic player.

Underrated player: Gylfi Sigurðsson — 6 goals in Euro qualifying led all Icelandic players.

Wales

The Welsh qualified for the European championship for the first time since 1958, thanks largely to Gareth Bale. The Real Madrid star is the only true threat on this squad, and he demonstrated that by scoring 64 per cent of Wales' 11 goals in qualifiers. A match the Welsh have circled on their calendar is a date with the English on June 16. 

Chance of winning: 1%

Pool opponents: England, Russia, Slovakia.

Star player: Gareth Bale — 19 goals in 21 matches for Real Madrid in La Liga play this season.

Underrated player: Aaron Ramsey — 2 goals, 1 assist in qualifying. Anyone that can support Bale is a huge asset.

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