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Four potential dark horses of EURO 2016

The expanded 24-team tournament for UEFA EURO 2016 presents a greater possibility for a dark horse to cause an upset in the knockout stage and progress to the latter stages. Here are four nations that may defy expectations and go far in France.

Luka Modric

Source: Getty Images

Croatia

It wouldn’t be the first time a Croatian side has set a tournament hosted by France alight, with the country having great memories of the last major football event to be held there, the 1998 FIFA World Cup.

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Indeed this may be Croatia’s best array of talent since the legendary side of Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker. Just like then, the current Croatian midfield is oozing with talent, led by Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic. They may sit on opposite ends of the El Clasico divide, but at international level they will get the opportunity to link up and step away from the shadow of their more famous club team-mates.

They will be aided in midfield by Milan Badelj, Ivan Perisic and Mateo Kovacic, making it potentially one of the most exciting teams to watch in France. Mario Mandzukic will lead the front line and if he fires, it could well be deja vu for Croatia in France.



Austria

Since the wunderteam of the 1930’s, Austria has been waiting for a national team that can genuinely challenge at international level. While this current side may not be as exciting or successful as that of legendary coach Hugo Meisl, it presents Austrian football fans with something to be excited about after such a prolonged period in the international football wilderness.

 

Bayern Munich’s David Alaba will be the side’s headline act. He has grown into one of the most accomplished players in world football, who is capable of playing just about anywhere on the pitch.



 

Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic is also a player who, on his day, can produce moments of magic and swing a game with a stroke of brilliance.



These stars will be helpfully aided by less-heralded, but equally important players, such as the hard-working and technically accomplished holding midfielder Julian Baumgartlinger, the creative and gifted Zlatko Junuozvic and rising star Alessandro Schopf.

At the back there’s Christian Fuchs and Aleksandar Dragovic, while everyone in Australia will remember Austria’s formidable striker Marc Janko.

In a group where only Portugal has a greater recent pedigree, Austria should at least progress to the last 16.

Ukraine

Four years on from co-hosting the tournament, it could be argued that Ukraine actually has a stronger team and after being grouped alongside Germany, Northern Ireland and Poland, a greater chance at progressing to the knockout stage.

 

Similar to the great Soviet and Ukrainian club teams of the Valeri Lobanovsky era, this Ukrainian side is technically proficient, strong defensively and accomplished in attack.

Central to chances going forward is their star player Yevhen Konoplyanka. The 26 year-old is coming off a stellar campaign with Sevilla and has the ability to open up defences with a clever dribble or incisive passing.



Those around him are solid, without being spectacular, but there is another name that could also set the tournament alight, Andriy Yarmolenko. The physically-imposing forward is highly skillful, as well as having a keen eye for goal.



 

Ukraine’s ability to be adept in both defence and attack could mean they prove very difficult to beat, even for the contenders.

Slovakia

Few would expect much from a Slovakia side that only boasts one standout name, Marek Hamsik. But those who underestimate the 2010 FIFA World Cup surprise packets, do so at their own peril.

This team has the potential to be giant killers and already claimed the prized scalp of Spain in qualification, as well as stunning Germany at home in a recent international.

Hamsik being at his best will of course will be vital to their chances of success. Indeed the team is centred around the Napoli star, who will be charged with running things from midfield.



The defence will prove formidable centre-back pairing Martin Skrtel and Jan Durica anchoring the backline.

In midfield, Mioslav Stoch and Vladimir Weiss can be quick and unpredictable, while much is expected of potential star Ondrej Duda.

But the key to Slovakian success will be how they work as a team and after they stunned many in South Africa six years ago where they eliminated Italy, the big guns again should be wary of facing Slovakia.


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4 min read
Published 2 June 2016 at 4:22am
By Vitor Sobral