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Bale, Ibrahimovic, Nagy and Rosicky can inspire Euro 2016's dark horses

Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004. The European Championships gives the chance for an underdog to taste glory. Could it be their turn again?

A selection of the tournament's unfancied teams put a case forward for why France should fear them.

Group A

ALBANIA: Though the tournament expansion -- instituted by UEFA in 2008 -- has been hotly debated around the continent, there can be no doubting that the reform has proved beneficial to Albania, a debutant at Euro 2016.

Not only will Albania play in their first international competition, but they also hold a realistic chance of achieving their target of reaching the knockout phase due to the format change, which will see the four best third-place sides in the group stages progress.

Albania's key strength is their compact defence. They're quick to stifle space opposition need to fashion scoring opportunities. Teams will need to work to score against Lorik Cana and co. thus leaving themselves vulnerable to counterattacks.

Gianni De Biasi's men certainly have the confidence necessary to topple titans. During the qualification campaign, Albania defeated both Portugal and France 1-0. If Albania play their lockdown football, the Eagles have shown that they can soar to the big occasion. -- Maher Mezahi

Group B

WALES: When you've spent your entire football supporting life wrapped in a safety blanket of gallows humour and cynicism, it's not easy to consider your nation dark horses. But this is a very different Wales team, in that it is, above all else, a team.

"Together stronger" is the motto adopted by players and fans, and Euro 2016 is the realisation of that mantra. A collective which can, as Belgium discovered in qualification, be lifted to achieve beyond the sum of its parts, a trait the Wales of 2016 share with 1992 Denmark and 2004 Greece. Not always pretty, not always entertaining, but when you have no pressure of expectation of either, then similarly you've nothing to lose. Wales can be pragmatic without incurring the wrath of the fans or media, and if that fails, well, we can always just give it to Gareth Bale. -- Glen Wilson

SLOVAKIA: After the arrival of coach Jan Kozak in 2013, Slovakia have managed to defy the odds so many times they hardly surprise any more. They beat World Cup holders Germany in a Euro 2016 friendly (3-1) and nobody would be shocked if they were to repeat similar heroics during the tournament proper. Slovakia like to sit deep and break quickly when they win possession. Therefore, the playing style of their opponents in their group, especially Russia and England, should suit them.

Kozak can rely on a team which is a perfect blend of older experienced players, like Liverpool centre-back Martin Skrtel, and young guns. Moreover, the team's more important player, Napoli playmaker Marek Hamsik, is arguably in the best form of his career and belongs in the discussion of the best players in Europe. They are confident, but humble as well. Kozak's strong personality has significantly influenced the whole squad; he has made Slovakia a difficult opponent to beat and they will be fighting until the end. -- Lukas Vrablik

Group C

NORTHERN IRELAND: Northern Ireland, in tandem with an exodus of tens of thousands of feisty fans and much goodwill from elsewhere, have waited too long to be blase about surfacing at Euro 2016. And while it may be 30 years since appearing at a major tournament, Michael O'Neill's men have arrived in France with a 12-game unbeaten record -- the longest of any other competing nation.

Negotiating a group containing Germany, Ukraine and the threat of Polish superstar Robert Lewandowski provides serious questions, but the Irish will invoke memories of winning their qualifying group to maximise self-belief. Scrupulous organisation and spirit, instilled by an absorbed coach, are the strengths of an unfazed squad. Players approve of O'Neill's man-management plus the clear vision of what he expects. A reliable, experienced spine, with combative Gareth McAuley, creative Steven Davis and big occasion, maverick scorer, Kyle Lafferty, keeps the Green and White Army dreaming and believing. -- Julian Taylor

Group D

CZECH REPUBLIC: The Czech Republic are considered the weakest team in Group D, which is strange for a country that finished top of their qualifying group. Meanwhile, Croatia finished second and Turkey were the best third-placed side in qualifying. The truth is, FIFA rankings aside, the Czechs still have the potential to surprise. Yes, even against the mighty Spain.

Coach Pavel Vrba's attacking system is meant to disrupt; when the midfield clicks and the full-backs are flying forward, a goal can come from anywhere. And counting out the magical maestro that is Tomas Rosicky? Well, that's just foolish. A mere flick from the captain could send Czech Republic deep into Euro 2016. -- Kirsten Schlewitz

TURKEY: Turkey go into Euro 2016 with arguably their strongest ever squad and are free of the pressures which usually surround the national team after pulling off a near-miracle to qualify.

Fatih Terim led the national team to the semifinals in 2008 with his side earning the nickname "The Comeback Kings" after coming from behind against Switzerland, Czech Republic and Croatia to record memorable victories. Turkey go into the tournament as dark horses having lost just once in their last 16 games and could very well end up going one step further than last time around. -- Eren Sarigul

Turkey reached the last four at Euro 2008 eight years ago and are hoping to go one better.

Group E

SWEDEN: No one expected Sweden to reach the semifinals of the 1994 World Cup, when Tomas Brolin was the team's biggest star. Now they have Zlatan Ibrahimovic in imperious form and with a point to prove on the international stage, so why can't they go one better? There's not a single defender at the Euros who is relishing the thought of going up against Ibra in France. And this team has young talents behind him who are ready for a breakthrough -- including several who surprisingly became under-21 European champions last summer.

If Sweden can combine its traditional workmanlike approach with Zlatan's star qualities to maximum effect, and get the veteran spine to gel with the exciting crop of newcomers, they could be celebrating another surprising run this summer. -- Mattias Karen

Group F

ICELAND: Iceland's qualification group looked extremely tough at the start with Netherlands, Czech Republic and Turkey seemingly the contenders for the top three places. But as it turned out, Iceland beat them all, the Netherlands twice, and earned a ticket to France with two games to spare.

Iceland's group in France is probably not as strong, with Portugal, Hungary and Austria the opponents. If the team could win four times in six matches against formidable opposition in qualifying, Icelandic football fans should not be regarded as over-optimistic if they believe their team can win at least one match in France and progress to the second round. -- Vidir Sigurdsson

HUNGARY: Hungary are tipped by almost everyone to go out in the group stages, but there are plenty of reasons to believe that 2016's version of the Mighty Magyars may have a surprise or three in them.

Bernd Storck has experienced a big tournament as Hungary manager before, and against all odds, led them to a very competent performance in the U20 World Cup last summer, running Brazil very close with 10 men and coming within seconds of beating eventual winners Serbia in the round of 16. His experience from that tournament will be invaluable to the senior Hungarian side and though there are no stars, there is a willingness, a great team bond and a real tactical intelligence that, coupled with important players like Adam Nagy, Balazs Dzsudzsak and Laszlo Kleinheisler, really could damage even the most illustrious of opponents. -- Tomasz Mortimer


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