With Euro 2016 rapidly approaching, SASoccermag.co.za previews Group F, which features Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal, along with Austria, Hungary, and Iceland.
Portugal are the main attraction in Group F as they boast perhaps their best squad since the side’s 2004 run in the tournament. That year, the Portuguese crashed to defeat on home soil against surprise package Greece in the final. 12 years on, the side will be eager to show they are more than a one-man team when they come up against the likes of competitive Austrian, Hungarian, and Icelandic outfits.
The opening fixture of the group sees Austria take on Hungary on Tuesday June 14 at the Stade de Bordeaux.
Favourites to progress
Portugal will be favourites to progress in pole position from the group given their side contains a host of top quality players, headlined by Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Ronaldo, who has 56 goals for Portugal from 125 appearances, will join his teammates following a brief break – along with defender Pepe – following the pair’s Champions League triumph with their club.
Austria are likely to progress as the runners-up in the group. Supplemented predominantly by players from Bundesliga clubs, the Austrians are likely to be well-adjudsted to the level of play at the tournament, and will likely turn out as a well-organised unit.
Hungary, who are ranked as high as 20 in the world, will be hoping an aggressive squad selection can garner them the points they will need to progress. The Hungarians have selected six forwards in their 23-man squad, and will be hoping to make the most of their first major tournament appearance since 1986.
Iceland may well find themselves the strugglers in the group. The side are ranked down at 34 in the world and seemingly lack the firepower to cause too many problems for their opposition.
Players to watch
Ronaldo, of course, is the highest profile player in the group. But it is likely to be the performances of the players around him within the Portugal set-up that dictate how effective he will be. With the likes of Joao Moutinho, Andre Gomes, and new Bayern Munich prodigy Renato Sanches among their ranks, Portugal have perhaps the best side they have produced in years.
Austria’s brightest star at the tournament is David Alaba, another Bayern player. The 23-year-old, who can play both in defence or in midfield, is likely to step into midfield for the national side, where he can better dictate the tempo of matches. Also of interest will be Leicester City defender Christian Fuchs, who may bring his fine performances for the Foxes to fore.
Hungary, for their part, are bereft of any major stars to call upon, but do have experienced winger and captain Balázs Dzsudzsák among their ranks. The Dinamo Moscow and former PSV Eindhoven man is joined by veteran and former Premier League player Zoltán Gera in the squad.
Finally, Iceland will be hoping the experience of former Barcelona and Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnsen can rub-off on their squad, while Swansea City star Gylfi Sigurdsson is likely to pull the strings in their midfield.
Match not to miss
The biggest match of the group is likely to be when Portugal take on Austria. Austria are ranked as high as 10th in the world and will be confident of out playing a Portugal outfit that has failed to gel in recent years. Portugal, for their part, will be hoping to test their credentials against a difficult rival but will need coach Fernando Santos to find the right balance for his side.
The game be played on Saturday June 18 at the Parc de Princes, Paris.
Photo: Rafael Marchante/Reuters