What a season it has been. If you did not know the Leicester City story then you must have been living under a rock. “The Foxes” were given the longest odds in the history of the Premier League, but they defied them and won English football’s greatest prize.
With the domestic season winding down, this is normally the time for reflection and rest for footballers, but Europe’s elite will be flying to France to take part in the European Championships. The eyes of the world will be watching to see if Germany can continue to dominate international football, or perhaps looking to see if Spain can retain their title. With the 2016 edition being extended to 24 teams, the tournament will have a similar look to a World Cup and there is an opportunity for an underdog to do a “Leicester” and defy the odds.
Euro 2004 provided football with arguably the biggest shock of the international game, as Greece surprised all by defeating the hosts, Portugal in the final. The troubled nation will not be in attendance in France, but more “lesser” teams have qualified. The performances from the likes of Wales, Northern Ireland, Iceland, Hungary and Albania were inspirational at times during qualifying and Michel Platini stated that the expansion of the tournament would help these nations that have not qualified for recent international competition. Unfortunately my country, Scotland, did not get the memo and once again failed miserably, but the less said about that the better.
I personally do not think that these nations will go far in France, but with the best 3rd placed teams qualifying for the last 16, it is still anyone’s game. Northern Ireland has been placed in the “Group of Death”, but with Iceland and Hungary paired alongside a less than impressive Portugal and Austria, Group F is anybody’s game.
England has failed on the big stage in recent major tournaments, but they cannot be ruled out of contention this year. They won all ten qualifying matches and are expected to progress out of a group that contains Wales, Russia and Slovakia. The English media have not labelled this side as world beaters this time around and it is a relatively inexperienced squad that is expected to go to the Championships. The Leicester inspiration will feature prominently in Roy Hodgson’s team as a number of that league-winning side are vying for a place. Jamie Vardy and Danny Drinkwater were nowhere near being recognised international players this time last year, but the performances of those players alongside a backbone of Tottenham players can be the key to another great football story from this season. The world of football has grown to love the Leicester fairytale and while it will be unthinkable to see it happen anytime soon, that club will have given hope to all clubs and nations that anything is possible in football. Jamie Vardy was quoted saying that England winning the Euro’s would be just as impressive as Leicester winning the league, which would raise eyebrows, but given this team is an inexperienced unit, it is a fair point.
Few would have predicted the collapse of Spain at the 2014 World Cup, but it happened. They will be gunning for revenge this summer and while France and Germany join them as favourites, there is a case to be made that it is a very open tournament. The new format allows for a shock run to the latter stages and who’s to say the influence of Leicester cannot come into play this summer in France? Can you imagine Lorik Cana of Albania lifting the trophy on the 10th of July? Stranger things have happened.