Four teams that could be dark horses in EURO 2016

As with every major tournament, there are always a few teams that spring a bit of surprise. From Denmark back in 1992 to Greece in 2004, you can never count out the underdogs at the European Championships and there is every chance that France could host another Hollywood story that reminds us why football can create the best dramas.

Here is a look at four contenders that are shaping up to be the dark horses of EURO 2016.

 

POLAND

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Lewandowski will be crucial to their hopes. Source: foxsports.com.au

After disappointing when joint-hosting back in 2012, Poland have finally produced a team with some clout and they could deliver some heavy blows to the European heavyweights this summer.

They have already claimed one big knockout victory during qualifying, when they beat Germany 2-0 at home and they finished just one point behind their more illustrious neighbours. Adam Nawlka’s men also scored more goals than anyone else in Europe, notching 33 in ten games and they have only been denied twice in any international since September 2014.

Unsurprisingly, it’s going forward that is the real strength within this Polish side. They have a solid pairing in the middle of midfield in powerhouse Grzegorz Krychowiak and exciting prospect Piotr Zielinski with Jakub Blaszczykowski and Kamil Grosicki giving them support out wide.

Robert Lewandowski will be their talisman, arguably the best striker in Europe is in the form of his life and with 13 goals in qualifying, better than anyone else, he will be hard to stop. With the impressive Arkadiusz Milik supporting him, the 21-year-old grabbed 21 goals for Ajax in the Eredivisie this season, they will be a scary prospect for any defence to handle.

The worry is behind those players as they struggle to fill in at left-back and who should partner Kamil Glik at centre back. Wojciech Szczesny is a solid goalkeeper but is liable to a mistake, which would cost his team dearly in the knockout rounds.

Expect the Polish to come out all-guns blazing, knowing where their strength lies and trying to out-score their opponents. If they can get rolling early, especially if they handsomely beat Northern Ireland in their opening fixture, they could bulldoze their way into contention.

 

CROATIA

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Another terrific season at Real Madrid, Modric will be the architect behind any Croatian success. Source: Sky Sports

A former underdog story last time a major football tournament was held in France, Croatia should believe that they have it within them to cause a stir again.

The Vatreni started qualifying off superbly, winning four of their first six games and drawing the other two with Italy. They were deducted a point for crowd issues against the Azzuri and Niko Kovac was replaced after an embarrassing draw against Azerbaijan, yet they still finished second in Group H.

It was their defence that really impressed, conceding just five goals throughout qualifying. It boasts a wealth of international experience, from the goalkeeper Danijel Subasic to captain Darijo Srna, they have a settled back line that have been to major tournaments before.

However, you cannot talk about Croatia without discussing their astoundingly talented midfield duo. Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, who play their club football on either side of the El Classico divide, are beautiful footballers that can craft things on a pitch that mesmerise any defence in the world.

The problem is you still need someone to stick them away and with 11 of their 20 goals in qualifying coming in two games, there is a fear that they may struggle to score. Mario Mandzukic needs to rediscover his form, Niko Kalinic is wildly inconsistent and they cannot rely on a winger like Ivan Perisic to fire them to glory on his own.

Ante Cacic has also been a divisive appointment, especially after he decided to leave Dejan Lovren at home after a falling out and the 62-year-old has experimented with a back three in recent times. Regardless, this team has the know-how and that sprinkle of star dust that could make any opposing manager worry about what witty headlines he may face the morning after facing them.

 

AUSTRIA

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Alaba is an exceptional talent and he will be the engine room in Austria’s midfield. Source: channelnewsasia.com

The home of Mozart have finally concocted the right symphony after years of international wilderness and a new generation has the potential to hit the high notes at the European Championships.

Their record in Group G was outstanding, winning the group by eight points by winning nine of their ten games and drawing once. Some may argue it was a simple group, with Russia and Sweden their nearest rivals, but you still have to go out there and perform.

Marcel Koller has his team well drilled, he can rely on the solid Aleksandar Dragovic and Premier League champions Christian Fuchs in defence to shield a potential weakness in goal. Their midfield trio of Julian Baumgartlinger, Zlatko Junuzovic and David Alaba has a great balance to it, with the Bayern Munich man their real talismanic figure in the position he prefers to play.

It’s little wonder that they’ll rest some of their hopes on Alaba’s shoulders. A wonderfully gifted and versatile footballer, his energy combined with the ability he has with the ball at his feet will be the real heartbeat of this team, they will only go as far as he will.

Like a lot of teams in the Euro’s, Austria may only be held back by their lack of goals. Marc Janko scored seven in qualifying but is not always prolific and they managed a paltry three goals in two games against lowly Moldova.

They’ve been drawn into a relatively straight forward group and should have ambitions of even topping it ahead of favourites Portugal. If they do, they could quite easily march through and cause some other big sides considerable problems across the pitch.

 

SLOVAKIA

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Hamsik is Slovakia’s x-factor, if he can turn it on then they could go far. Source: Yahoo

Giantkillers of the highest calibre in recent years, Slovakia have proven that when they are given a real test, they can rise to the occasion and that makes them a difficult proposition for anyone over the next month.

They got off to a sensational start to qualifying, beating Spain 2-0 in their second game and remained unbeaten until they face the reigning European champions again in September 2015. A loss to Belarus dinted them a little but by then they had done enough, finishing above Ukraine in second place.

Another team built on a solid core, Slovakia boast Liverpool defender Martin Skrtel, experienced campaigner Jan Durica and former Zenit stalwart Tomas Hubocan. While they don’t boast any flying full backs like some of the bigger nations, with Hubocan operating as a make-shift right back, they are difficult to break down with so many natural defenders.

Their real strength is in the centre of the midfield, where Milan man Juraj Kucka adds a solid base that allows their star man Marek Hamsik to shine in the space behind the main striker. The Napoli playmaker was their top scorer in qualifying and after another great season in Serie A, he will be the one to drive them on in an attacking sense.

Slovakia also boast some interesting wingers in Robert Mak of PAOK and former Manchester City man Vladimir Weiss, while Miroslav Stoch of Bursaspor will provide them with stiff competition should they fail. Although saying that, this is another team lacking in the striker department as Adam Nemec of Willem II likely to lead the line with just six goals at international level.

A win in a friendly against Germany in the lead up to the finals will give them an added boost and was a subtle reminder to their rivals of what they are capable of. If they can beat Wales in their opening fixture, Jan Kozak’s side could easily get out the group and at that point, no big team will want to draw them in the knockout rounds.

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