If I was a betting man — which I am, but strictly only on the outcome of major football tournaments plus some Wellington Phoenix games — I would be tempted to put some money on Italy to win Euro 2016.
It is a bit of a stab in the dark. But the TAB currently has the Azzurri — the Italian national team’s longstanding nickname — at $17 for outright victory.
Those may turn out to be rather generous odds, given France and Germany, which are of similar stature to Italy in European football, are paying only $5.00 and $5.25 respectively. The TAB lengthened the odds on Italy taking out the trophy from $11 to $17 after one of the many upsets at the group stage has left that nation with a date with Spain ($6) on Tuesday morning (NZT), with the winner securing a place in the quarter finals. Spain were lacklustre in their final group match, being blitzed by a very good Croatia line-up.
Italy also lost their final group match to Ireland. But having already qualified for the round of 16, they fielded a much-changed team and rested several key players.
Even if they send Spain home early, Italy will likely have to beat France or England, and then probably Germany to make the final. That’s a very tall order.
Italy, however, were very impressive in their first game of Euro 2016, defeating highly-fancied Belgium 2-0 with surprising ease. As the game progressed, Belgium, whose line-up includes the likes of Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, Everton’s Romelu Lukako and Manchester United’s Marouane Fellaini, got more and more frustrated.
The Italians were solid in defence, innovative and enterprising in midfield, and, crucially, looked like an outfit which will not waste any chances that they make.
France ($5) are the bookies’ favourite. As ever, they are an enigma. Their David versus Goliath group match with tiny Albania a 2-0 score line which was mightily over-flattering to the French. They had to wait until the last five minutes of the game before finally hitting the back of the net. The second goal came almost on the final whistle and largely resulted from most of the Albanian team being at the other end of pitch in desperate search for what would have been a very well-deserved equaliser.
In their opening match against Romania, the French played like a team. Against Albania, they had all the cohesion of players had only met each other for the first time the day before the game.
For obvious reasons winning Euro 2016 would be a huge shot in the arm for French national morale. As it is, there is already huge pressure on the team to perform well as host nation.
It may all turn out to be too big a burden to carry.
Germany have been, well, Germany. They looked slightly below par in their group matches. But may have been holding back something special for knock-out stages. We will have a better idea after their match against Slovakia tomorrow morning, the latter having held England ($10) to a goal-less draw in group play.
Of England, we will speak later.