It’s EURO 2016 eve, the most beautiful time of the football year: a carnival of early morning starts, low-key sports betting addiction and extremely niche memes is nearly upon us. Get match-fit with James Beavis’ essential group-by-group breakdown.
Group A (aka The One Where France Maybe Won’t Succumb To Infighting This Time)
Teams: Albania, France, Romania, Switzerland
Safe bet: France to progress through the group stage is basically guaranteed. Paul Pogba and Dimitri Payet are on unstoppable hot streaks, also Olivier Giroud’s nude shoot produced maybe the best football photo ever taken.
Wild bet: Albania to win a game on their first visit to a major tournament.
One to watch: Brothers Taulant (Albania) and Granit (Switzerland) Xhaka face each other in their first game of the tournament, which will henceforth be called the Xhaka Xhowdown.
Group B (aka The One Where People Won’t Shut Up About It Because of England)
Teams: England, Russia, Slovakia, Wales
Safe bet: England to progress. With the tournament’s youngest team and players like Dele Alli prepared to embarrass elderly opponents, they should breeze through the group. They’ll get knocked out in the round of 16 though. Probably by Hungary or something.
Wild bet: Wales top the group. Joe Allen has now styled himself after legendary Italian midfielder Andrea Pirlo and they have a defender called Jazz Richards, so hope is real. Also, you know, they have the world’s most expensive footballer in Gareth Bale.
One to watch: Sergei Ignashevich. He is the rock in the middle of Russia’s defence, but the real thing to watch is his Instagram, where he has gone all-in on the #puddlegram movement – there really is an indie photographer in all of us.
Group C (aka The One Where Rihanna Will Probably Be Watching)
Teams: Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine
Safest bet: Robert Lewandowski to score a lot of goals for Poland. This is a guy who scored 5 goals in 10 minutes, prompting the cutest reaction gif of the year from his manager. Get you someone who looks at you the way Pep Guardiola looks at Robert Lewandowski.
One to watch: Rihanna. After partying with the German team post-World Cup, I assume she is going to be clubbing it up with the team again at this tournament.
F/M/K: Fuck anyone in the German squad that won the World Cup so you can get the scoop on partying with Rihanna (Jerome Boateng is pretty fashion, maybe go with him); marry Joachim Low, because the German coach is literally football’s Sandy Cohen; kill Krzysztof Mączyński for an absolutely savage seven consecutive consonants in his name.
Group D (aka The One Where Spain Falls Apart Again)
Teams: Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain, Turkey
Safest bet: Croatia to be very good. Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric make one of the competition’s best midfield combos, and the in-form Super Mario Mandzukic is one of the main reasons Juventus is the best team in Italy.
Wildest bet: Spain to lose every game. They lost to Georgia at home a couple of days ago, so there’s every chance they don’t even make it out of the group.
One to watch: Sergio Ramos. Spain’s volatile central defender has received more red cards for Real Madrid than any other player in history, and if Spain start losing he’s going to pack a tantrum. Bring a jar for his tears.
F/M/K: Fuck Turkish midfielder Arda Turan, who has the nicest beard in the competition and pulls a good shaka; marry Petr Cech (just look at his extensive YouTube channel where he drums along to everything from Coldplay to System of a Down); kill his teammate Jiri Skalak, unless he takes some Arturo Vidal tips on fixing whatever is happening with his hair.
Group E (aka The One Where It’s A Retirement Home)
Teams: Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Sweden
Safest bet: Italy to go through in the most boring fashion possible. Is anyone offering odds on Italy being boring? Please get in touch.
Wildest bet: A goalkeeper to die of old age. Gianluigi Buffon is 38, Shay Given is 40. If any group is going to bring out the Mortal Kombat “fatality” sign from storage, it’s this one.
One to watch: Zlatan Ibrahimovic, football’s most majestic asshole. It’s likely his last tournament, he just had the season of his life as PSG, and he’s done a 30-metre bicycle kick before. He may as well give the finger to the laws of physics and learn to fly at Euro. Dare to believe. Dare to Zlatan.
F/M/K: Fuck Graziano Pelle, who has a history of ballroom dancing which I assume is good (however, he also did the haka, which is bad); marry the tournament’s most eligible bachelor, Romelu Lukaku, who speaks six languages and scores goals at will; kill Marouane Fellaini and his unacceptable afro.
Group F (aka The One With All The Instagram Stars)
Teams: Austria, Hungary, Iceland, Portugal
Safest bet: Austria’s David Alaba. Not even for football necessarily, just for everything. Playing in defence, scoring goals, starring in extremely strange rap videos, hanging out with Kid Ink, dabbing – he is a safe bet to do literally anything and everything.
Wildest bet: Iceland midfielder Birkir Bjarnason to summon a thunderbolt, outing himself as the god of thunder. Actually, Iceland to win a game might be a wilder bet.
One to watch: Cristiano Ronaldo’s thigh, as always. This is probably the last time Ronaldo will play at the Euros, and I don’t think his ego could handle going out with a whimper. Expect him to dominate early highlights reels.
F/M/K: Fuck Austria’s bad boy Marko Arnautovic, especially once he lets his man bun down; marry David Alaba, obviously; kill Pepe – if you don’t get him, he will get you.