The Euro 2016 is upon us, and as always there’s a slew of heavy hitters vying for the title. Most expect the usual suspects—Germany, Spain, Belgium, and France—to be among the top teams competing in Paris. But we know from years past that the Euro often plays host to some pretty wild upsets.
Keeping that in mind, BBC’s sports section recently ran a video featuring a number of different experts giving their Euro 2016 picks, not just for which team might come out on top but for which underdogs have the potential to surprise us. The experts interviewed included the likes of Martin Keown, Danny Murphy, Thierry Henry, John Hartson and Chris Waddle, among others. And yes, Henry picked France to win.
But below let’s take a look at the four clubs that were singled out by this panel as possible dark horses for Euro 2016.
The best of the bunch was probably England, which probably feels like a little bit of a slap in the face to so many loyal supporters around the world. The English certainly aren’t a bad side, and as a matter of fact, Betfair’s football exchange lists the Three Lions as the fourth-likeliest winners of the event (behind France, Germany and Spain). Still, the way people talk about European football these days, the English are generally left out of conversations about contention.
This year’s squad could do some damage in Paris, however. England got through qualifying without a loss, and an attack revolving around the likes of Harry Kane, Eric Dier and Jamie Vardy looks deadly. A group stage that will pit them against Russia, Slovakia and Wales also looks quite friendly, and it could help facilitate a deep run. Frankly, they may not be favourites, but calling them an underdog or dark horse is probably a little bit dramatic. It’s a capable club.
A slightly bolder pick was Northern Ireland, a team for whom many will anticipate a difficult group stage battle. However, there does seem to be an air of optimism around this side, and that could go a long way in a tournament that, as stated, often produces surprises.
Northern Ireland already shocked European football fans when they capped off a very strong qualifying campaign by finishing first in Group F. They’ll now have to beat out two teams among Germany, Ukraine and Poland to advance further, but they’ll benefit from having nothing whatsoever to lose. As The Guardian’s football coverage reminds us, this is Northern Ireland’s first major international event since Mexico 1986, and the supporters are enjoying every bit of it.
Wales was another team mentioned by BBC’s panel of experts, and they might just be the trendiest team among those looking for a dark horse. Frankly, there isn’t much to suggest that this team is poised for a deep run. Also, placement in Group B (alongside England, Russia and Slovakia) isn’t devastating, but it didn’t do them any favours.
Nevertheless, football fans and experts alike can’t help but be intrigued by the possibility of Gareth Bale putting his country on his back. It feels a little bit like how we sometimes talk about Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Sweden, though to be fair Sweden is generally in a different class than Wales. For his part, Bale is largely focused on beating neighbouring England to get to the top of the group, according to The Telegraph.
Perhaps the boldest underdog pick of all was Iceland, who have never qualified for the Euro before. Iceland squeaked through as the second best team in Group A of qualifying despite securing just two combined points in the final three matches.
The reasoning behind this underdog pick would appear to be that Iceland got relatively lucky with the group stage draw. While they’re the weakest side in Group F, there are beatable teams there. Portugal should get through but Hungary can be had, and Austria is heading up the group only by virtue of a stunningly successful qualifying campaign that saw them go 10 matches without a loss. That’s not to suggest Austria isn’t deserving, but of the top group teams, they’re a more welcome sight for a team like Iceland than most.
The action starts this weekend, and we’ll begin to get an idea Friday of which teams look ready to compete in Euro 2016. But if you’re looking for a few surprise picks to advance and perhaps make deep runs in the tournament, these are the sides some of the experts are looking at.