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Low's new Germany comes at a price

John Brewin profile picture  By John Brewin

Euro 2016, Group A: France favourite, plus Switzerland, Romania and Albania

Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F

Predicted finish:

1. France 2. Switzerland 3. Romania 4. Albania

France (SPI odds to win group: 83.7 percent)

The hosts hope to repeat the success home advantage helped them achieve in winning the 1998 World Cup and Euro '84. Coach Didier Deschamps was the captain at France '98 and leads a talented squad with quality in defence, midfield and attack. However, the Karim Benzema affair has cast an unsettling shadow, with the Real Madrid striker excommunicated from the team for his involvement in an alleged plot to blackmail France team-mate Mathieu Valbuena, a decision confirmed by French football federation in April. Though team spirit might be aided, any team would miss a player of that class, though Antoine Griezmann's thrilling season at Atletico has found a solution. Behind Griezmann, from attacking midfield, Paul Pogba will be looked to as a potential star of the tournament.

Switzerland (9.0 percent)

Euro 2008's co-hosts benefit from a youth development program that has produced a steady stream of promising players, many of them from immigrant backgrounds, such as Stoke's Xherdan Shaqiri, who is of Kosovar extraction, as is new Arsenal midfield signing Granit Xhaka. England made rather pretty work of them in qualifying in beating them home and away, and it required a rescue job from coach Vladimir Petkovic to haul the Swiss through to the final. They reached the round of 16 at the last World Cup and should be capable of reaching that stage this time around, but few will fear them as a knockout opponent. France demolished them 5-2 in the group stage of the 2014 World Cup finals.

Romania (4.5 percent)

Best known for their gloriously attacking 1994 World Cup quarterfinal side, Romania haven't played like that in some time. As such, perhaps it wasn't so much of a surprise that, when they needed a manager in 2014, they looked to the man behind that spectacular summer. Anghel Iordanescu, 65 years old and a member of the Romanian Senate, was summoned out of retirement, and the gamble paid off. The Tricolorii, who had reached only one international tournament since their run to the last eight of Euro 2000, qualified unbeaten, and no team in Europe conceded fewer than the two goals they allowed. Mind you, no qualifying team scored fewer in 10 games than the 11 they mustered, either.

Albania (2.8 percent)

Not only have Albania never qualified for a major international competition, but they also have only made it to two minor ones. The 1982 Under-18 and the 1994 U-16 European Championships constitute the full extent of the Black Eagles' tournament experience. But the senior side has bucked that trend under Italian manager Gianni de Biasi. He is known as a shrewd tactician and has been instrumental in the development of young players such as goalkeeper Erit Berisha and defender Elseid Hysaj, both of whom play in Serie A. Upon qualification, during which they beat group winners Portugal, the entire team was awarded Albania's highest civilian award, the Honour of National Order.

Two years after their duel in Brazil at the World Cup, Euro 2016 hosts France will meet Switzerland in Group A.
Blaise Matuidi and Xherdan Shaqiri will be key men for France and Switzerland, respectively.

Must-see game: France vs. Romania

Opening matches to tournaments set the tone, and the French have a chance to lay a marker when they welcome the Romanians to the Stade De France on June 10. Les Bleus might, however, have bad memories of facing those opponents in such a fixture. A dull 0-0 draw in Zurich opened a disastrous Euro 2008 tournament for the French, and it proved the only point they gained in the entire group stage. Iordanescu is bound to fancy pulling off a similar result. That might be Deschamps' toughest test of what looks a rather easy first-round draw.

Best individual battle: Pogba vs. Xhaka

Juventus midfielder Pogba is the player who can carry the host nation to the further reaches of a tournament that the French think they can win. However, a player whose athleticism and cruising speed can pull anyone apart can also occasionally drop into listless inconsistency. The Swiss, and Arsenal fans wanting a glimpse of their new signing, will hope to see Xhaka gaining ascendancy. In the Bundesliga for Borussia Monchengladbach, and during the qualifying campaign, the quality of his passing and the force of his tackling has impressed.

Group X Factor: The battle for second

Group A looks readymade for the French to make easy, untroubled progress to the round of 16, but who wins the fight to finish second is much more difficult to predict. Each of Switzerland, Romania and Albania -- none of them poor sides but definitely not world-beaters -- will fancy trying to land second or even third place, which might still be enough. Albania versus Switzerland in Lens, Romania vs. Switzerland in Paris and Romania vs. Albania in Lyon hold more intrigue than the hosts' matches.

John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.


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