Euro 2016 Preview: Group A

FRANCE

Qualified as: Hosts

Top Scorer in Qualifying: N/A

Key Player: Paul Pogba

Manager: Didier Deschamps

In addition to home advantage, France boast a squad of immense depth in every department and a few splashes of world-class quality – namely versatile forward Antoine Griezmann, midfield powerhouse Paul Pogba and PSG star Blaise Matuidi. There are some notable absentees from Didier Deschamps’ squad, particularly injured defender Raphael Varane, blackmail-accused striker Karim Benzema and Lyon’s Alexandre Lacazette, but plenty of players are entering the tournament in good form – such as Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante – and the host nation should deal with their group stage opposition quite comfortably.

ROMANIA

Qualified as: Group F runner-up

Top scorer in Qualifying: Paul Papp, Bogdan Stancu, Constantin Budescu (2)

Key Player: Vlad Chiriches

Manager: Anghel Iordanescu

Romania’s qualification bid was centred around an incredibly resilient defence to compensate for lack of quality in the final third. That’s evident enough through three players sharing the scoring burden as noted above, not to mention a goals against record of just two conceded in ten games. Accordingly, former Tottenham star Vlad Chiriches ¬†willperform an integral role at the heart of their backline but Romania’s credentials for the tournament aren’t exactly the strongest; qualifying saw them finish runner up to Northern Ireland in Group F – by far the weakest group – and they’ve only reached the knockout rounds of the European Championship proper once before.

ALBANIA

Qualified as: Group I runner-up

Top scorer in Qualifying: Five players (1)

Key Player: Lorik Cana

Manager: Gianni Di Biasi

Albania have already far exceeded expectations by qualifying for their first major tournament, finishing runner up in the emotionally and nationalistically charged Group I. That suggests the group stages will be the end of the road for Gianni Di Biasi’s side, whose squad includes just five players with 30 caps or more and only one true standout name in former Sunderland and Lazio star Lorik Cana. But the new format gives Albania half a chance of getting through to the knockouts, especially considering it will likely be a straight-up battle with Romania for third place.

SWITZERLAND

Qualified as: Group E runner-up

Top scorer in Qualifying: Xhedran Shaqiri (4)

Key Player: Granit Xhaka

Manager: Vladimir Petkovic

Switzerland showed plenty of promise at the 2014 World Cup but ultimately failed to deliver, eliminated by eventual finalists Argentina in the Round of 16. Likewise, the Swiss were a shade below England in qualifying, losing twice, but they possess a decent side that has a good chance of escaping Group A and potentially upsetting the odds in the latter stages. Stoke City’s Xherdan Shaqiri is their most obvious attacking threat but Arsenal signing Granit Xhaka is a crafty worker in central midfield, whilst 19-year-old striker Breel Embolo is worth keeping an eye out for.

KEY FIXTURE – FRANCE VS SWITZERLAND (19th June)

Both teams may have already qualified by the time they face each other in Group A’s final round of fixtures but if anybody is to stop France completely dominating their group and claiming (theoretically) easier opposition in the round of 16, it’s bordering neighbours Switzerland.