In our first Euro 2016 blog Michael Hughes looks ahead to the next few days’ action at the Euros including Ireland v. Sweden and gives you Tips for the €10 Million Colossus Pool.
IF you’re going to pick up a share in a cool 10 million in the Colossus you need to know the Euros like the back of your hand, or perhaps the back of your Andy King.
Here’s my brief guide to each of the seven games in the Colossus (to win big you must get seven correct scores – though any convincing win or high score draw comes under the helpful Any Other result banner).
TURKEY v CROATIA, Sunday 2pm
Group D has been widely acclaimed as the toughest group, but Turkey look a little off the pace. Two wins against already-qualified teams helped them become the best third-placed side in qualifying, but on paper Croatia have more class in the likes of Ivan Perisic, Ivan Rakitic, Luka Modric, Matteo Kovacic and Mario Mandzukic. Turkey do have their own talents though, skipper Arda Turan the most obvious, while Hakan Calhanoglu must be watched from set pieces (see below) and could be a good first goalscorer option but I expect Croatia to win.
MY VERDICT: Turkey 1 Croatia 2 SMART PICK: Turkey 1 Croatia 0
Check out Hakan Calhanoglu’s Free Taking Skills:
POLAND v NORTHERN IRELAND, Sunday 5pm
Northern Ireland earned their place in France by topping their group brilliantly and they are on a fine run under Michael O’Neill but this might be a reality check. O’Neill’s ‘on fire’ striker Will Grigg has been operating in League One for Wigan this season, while Poland’s best, Robert Lewandowski, is one of Europe’s greatest and well backed to be top scorer in this tournament at around 16-1. But Poland are no one-man band, they have classy forwards and midfielders and they scored at least two goals in eight of their 10 qualifiers. On the flip side Northern Ireland only conceded eight goals in 10 games and they will look to talisman Gareth McAuley at both ends. The big defender has seven international goals and is a set-piece threat – and is a cool 25-1 for first goalscorer. Still a Poland win is the obvious choice.
MY VERDICT: Poland 3 Northern Ireland 1
GERMANY v UKRAINE, Sunday 8pm
Germany strolled through qualifying, picking up the pace just once to beat Poland at home. The World Cup holders have plenty of other gears to go through. Ukraine do not have as strong a team as they have had in the past and they may be wise to be bold and pick the teenage sensation Oleksandr Zinchenko (see below) who is reportedly coveted by Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. The youngster has a wand of a left foot (though see if you can count how many times he uses his right in the video) and is in the mould of a Kevin De Bruyne. It’s a tough ask for Ukraine, though and Germany must be fancied to win.
MY VERDICT: Germany 1 Ukraine 0
Oleksandr Zinchenko in action:
SPAIN v CZECH REPUBLIC, Monday 2pm
There has been a lot of talk about changing of the guard with Spain but it’s not true, many of the old heads that have seen them through their golden age are still around. Even the inexperienced members of the squad are old – like 35-year-old Artiz Aduriz and Celta Vigo’s little wizard Nolito, who at 29 has only a handful of caps, but he has got four goals in the Euro 2016 warm-ups. It’s hard to see the Czechs making much impression. Borek Dockal was their top scorer and is a danger but they don’t have many stars at all.
MY VERDICT: Spain 2 Czech Republic 0
REPUBLIC OF IRELAND v SWEDEN, Monday 5pm
How do you solve a problem like Zlatan? The man is a magician and in his country’s 3-0 win over Wales the other day, he was at his imperious best, even if he didn’t score. The Swedish defence on the other hand, did look a little vulnerable, playing a high line which is crying out for someone with a little pace to attack them. If only Ireland had someone like that in the squad. So how do you solve a problem like Zlatan? You don’t, you let Shane Long terrify the Swedish defence, hope he can make the most of any chances that come his way and hope that Ireland’s defenders can contain Zlatan sufficiently to win the game. Set pieces too will be important for Ireland and Robbie Brady’s contribution in this area continues to improve. Many are fearful for Ireland but three draws in the group could be enough to get through as a third-place finisher and we could get a situation as at the 1990 World Cup where there were a rake of draws in Ireland’s group and thanks to the drawing of lots, eventual champions West Germany were avoided and David O’Leary did the rest.
MY VERDICT: Republic of Ireland 1 Sweden 1
AUSTRIA v HUNGARY, Tuesday 5pm
The once mighty Magyars beat Norway in a play-off to reach the Euros, while Austria convincingly won a group that contained Russia and Sweden. Many are tipping Austria as lively outsiders for the competition and while I wouldn’t go that far, some obvious talent jumps out at you from the squad list – Christian Fuchs, Marko Arnautovic, David Alaba to name three. Yet Austria also have more young stars coming through, one of whom is Alessandro Schopf (see below), now at Schalke, who know quality players when they see them. Austria should have too much too offer for the Hungarians.
MY VERDICT: Austria 3 Hungary 0
PORTUGAL v ICELAND, Tuesday 8pm
Iceland are the great story in the Euros, bar none, a country with a population that is dwarfed by Luxembourg. There are a little over 300,000 people living in Iceland, Cristiano Ronaldo probably has that many people working for him. Birkir Bjarnason is the man who embodies the spirit of Iceland. On the face of it he is just a hairy midfielder nicknamed Thor, but like much of this Iceland team he is far more than he appears. A strong runner he adds real bite to a midfield that allows star man Gylfi Sigurdsson to play. Portugal need their star to be fit to challenge for the title as they are down a few with injury. This one could be a cracker.
MY VERDICT: Portugal 2 Iceland 2 (Any Other Draw)
PICK 5 Selelection
If the idea of correct scores and a mega win does not appeal, the Pick 5 that starts on Friday with a four grand prize might do. Here’s my selections for this one:
France v Romania (Fri, 8pm): Draw
Albania v Switzerland (Sat, 2pm): Switzerland win
Wales v Slovakia (Sat, 5pm): Draw
England v Russia (Sat, 8pm): England win
Turkey v Croatia (Sun, 2pm): Croatia win
Enjoy the Euros and happy punting!