Whether it’s a European Championships or a World Cup, the spicy cauldron of an international football tournament always throws up a surprise package or two. In the 2002 World Cup, it was Senegal who exceeded expectations, after a shock win in their opening group game against holders France led to them qualifying from a group that was previously thought to be impenetrable. To an even more extreme extent, both Denmark and Greece are sides who have gone the whole nine yards in recent times winning the 1992 and 2004 European Championships respectively. It was perhaps the Danish heroics that were the most impressive, with the late Richard Møller Nielsen’s men famously not supposed to be even taking part in the 1992 Euro’s in the first place.
With Euro 2016 getting underway in France this month, we take a look at three national sides who could go further in the tournament than expected.
Despite a paucity of big names on a squad level, 80/1 outsiders according to the Bet365 Euro 2016 odds Wales still have one man who has the potential to carry them all the way to the Euro 2016 final on his own, providing he stays fit. Fresh from his second Champions League title win with Real Madrid last month, Gareth Bale is one of world football’s most formidable players right now and unlike some of his overpaid, underperforming British counterparts, the former Tottenham man gives it his all whenever he puts on his national team’s shirt. Having been drawn in a group that contains rivals England, Russia and Slovakia, Chris Coleman’s side will need to make an impact as soon as a ball is kicked in their maiden Group B tie against Slovakia on the 11th June.
Much like Wales, Croatia also have a Real Madrid midfield maestro who could make all the difference at this summer’s European Championships. Despite his slight build, Luka Modric, another former Tottenham Hotspur player, is currently one of the most composed footballers on the planet.
His Croatia side have already been written off as also-rans this summer, but when you consider players such as Barcelona stalwart Ivan Rakitic and Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic will also be taking to the field in France, Ante Čačić’s men’s chances all of a sudden don’t seem so remote. Much like Wales, Croatia will start their Euro 2016 campaign very much on the back foot having been drawn in a group containing Turkey, the Czech Republic and current holders of the trophy Spain.
Of all the teams featured, it is unarguably Iceland who have the heaviest odds stacked against them. With a population of just 320,000, the Nordic country’s pool of footballing talent is, understandably, pretty thin on the ground. But with the experience of 37-year-old veteran Eidur Gudjohnsen in their midst, as well as Swansea star Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland have more than enough quality to go a long way in France this summer.