THERE are no truly outstanding teams in Euro 2016 which means any of six or seven countries will fancy their chances of going all the way.
Hosts France are the marginal favourites while Germany, Spain, England, Belgium and Italy should go well.
And there’s usually an outsider that makes a splash and that could be Poland, Sweden, Austria or even Croatia. The first two have matchwinners in the shape of Robert Lewandowski and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Austria were one of the most impressive qualifiers and Croatia have a habit of turning up for finals.
So are the French justifiable favourites? I think so. Last time France hosted a major tournament, the 1998 World Cup, Didier Deschamps was skipper.
The chances of him managing his side to glory at the Stade de France on July 10 are 7-2 at Paddy Power. And that would be some achievement for a man once branded the “Water Carrier” by Eric Cantona.
Deschamps has a midfield to die for with Leicester star N’Golo Kante doing the digging alongside the brilliant Paul Pogba with Blaise Matuidi in there too but Lassana Diarra will be missed.
West Ham star Dimitri Payet could shine beside Man United’s Anthony Martial with Olivier Giroud providing a goal threat through the middle with Deschamps’ preference to play Antoine Griezmann wide.
When Karim Benzema was ruled out of the tournament I thought he’d be missed but not now.
Arsenal hitman Giroud has hit 14 goals in 46 appearances and nine have come in the past two years. He ended the season with a hat-trick against Aston Villa and might be worth a look as an eachway top scorer at 20-1 with bet365.
Griezmann bagged 22 La Liga goals for Atletico Madrid but Giroud will start out as Deschamps’ main man. He is 14-1 with Paddy Power to top score in a market where the favourites are Cristiano Ronaldo and Thomas Muller at 8-1.
France haven’t played a competitive match since their 2014 World Cup defeat to Spain and have only kept eight clean sheets in 19 friendlies so if they have a weakness it’s in defence where Patrice Evra can be got at and of the 39 goals conceded under Deschamps 19 have been from set-pieces which must be a concern.
But in those 19 matches France have won 14 and lost just two – one of those was to England just after the Paris attacks – so they’ve been taking them seriously and are in fine form.
They kick off against a much improved Romania outfit on Friday and I’m looking for a strong showing and three points. Best of the early prices is 2-5 at William Hill.
A dull 0-0 draw in Zurich opened a disastrous Euro 2008 tournament for the French and it proved to be the only point they gained in the entire group stage.
Romania boss Anghel Iordanescu will attempt to pull off a similar result. They conceded just two goals in the groups stage and could France their toughest game of what looks to be an easy draw.
To reach the Final the French are 15-8 at boylesports and just 2-5 at Skybet to finish top of Group A that also includes Albania and Switzerland. If they win the section they’ll face a third-placed team in the last 16 and that’s crucial.
Much of the tournament’s focus will be on the home nations and the Republic of Ireland. The fact Scotland failed to qualify while England, Wales and Northern Ireland hurts.
And it could be even more painful for Scots fans if our fierce foes and World Cup opponents England go well – as I expect them to do so.
Roy Hodgson’s men have been paired in Group B with the Welsh as well as opening opponents Russia and Slovakia.
England to qualify is incredibly short at a best 1-9 with McBookie but I can see why. Hodgson has thrown off the shackles and has a young, vibrant team who could take the finals by storm if they defend well.
I expect them to sail through the group, possibly winning all three games, which pays 7-2 at Skybet.
It’s a toss-up between Russia, Slovakia and Wales for second spot and once again Chris Coleman’s side will rely on huge displays from Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey.
I’ll look at Group Betting and other outright bets and tournament specials before the big kick-off.
(7-2, Paddy Power)
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