It is a long time since Austria last qualified for a major tournament, but all of a sudden the class of 2016 is showing signs that they might be capable of doing something special, having breezed through a qualifying group containing tricky opponents in the shape of Russia, Sweden and Montenegro. Just three points were dropped during the entire campaign, as a talented group of players announced themselves as potential dark horses.
Their stars include the brilliant David Alaba, who is used to success at club level as part of the Bayern Munich side that has dominated German football in recent seasons. Marko Arnautovic became an increasingly talismanic figure for Stoke City last term and really came good during the latter stages of qualifying.
A lot is expected of them at Euro 2016 and they arguably have a right to expect to top Group F, but a better idea as to how far they can go in the competition will come after their opening match against Hungary, who have also waited a lengthy period of time to figure at a major finals.
After finishing third in a fairly weak section, Hungary raised their game to overcome Norway in the play-offs, but not a great deal is expected of them in France. A squad lacking in star names and players who represent Europe’s leading clubs, escaping from the group would be seen as a great achievement, as would taking a point from the game with Austria.
The seeded team in this group are Portugal, who will inevitably rely on Cristiano Ronaldo to propel them through the competition. Without the multiple Ballon D’Or winner the squad is very ordinary, so he will need to conjure several moments of spellbinding magic if his side are to have any chance of challenging to win the competition.
Even Ronaldo’s presence could not spring them into life at the 2014 World Cup as they went out meekly at the group stage, but since then Fernando Santos has taken over as manager and built them into a solid unit that picks up results in efficient, though unspectacular fashion.
Many will expect them to take three points from their opening encounter against an Iceland side which is competing at its first ever major tournament, and what is more they are the least populated nation to ever be represented at the European Championships.
Despite an excellent effort in qualifying which saw them beat The Netherlands home and away, they have been written off in several quarters ahead of this tournament. If they can take anything against Portugal opinions might change, but they will need Gylfi Sigurdsson to continue from where he left off at the end of the Premier League season.
Another thing that they do have is a superb level of togetherness, and they will come into this with little to lose. The pressure is all on Portugal for this match, so if they can grab a draw they would be filled with confidence for the remainder of their campaign. This group is not as predictable as it seems.
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