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Dublin: 8°C Tuesday 27 October 2020

Dark horses: Four outsiders who could be worth taking a punt on

Looking beyond Spain, Germany and Holland, where is a winner likely to come from?

IT’S A QUESTION that I hear being asked at least once a day at the moment – “Who do you fancy for the Euros?”

For good reason, few are looking beyond current heavyweights Spain, Germany and Holland.  The bookies’, which is generally a good place to start as they are rarely wide of the mark, have them down at 13/5, 3/1 and 7/1 respectively pre-tournament and many experts and fans alike  expect to see at least one if not two of that trio contesting the final on July 1.

There is form to suggest an outside bet is well worth a punt, however. Of the 13 European championships which have been staged since the competition’s inception in 1960, there have been nine different winners, no country has successfully retained the Henri Delaunay trophy and only three have one it twice with Germany standing alone as three-time champions.

Moreover, two of the last five winners have come out of nowhere. Just eight years ago, Otto Rehhagel’s well-drilled Greek team shocked the world by going all the way in Portugal – beating holders France, favourites the Czech Republic and the hosts (twice) along the way.

In 1992, a team which hadn’t even qualified for the finals did the same in Gothenburg. Yugoslavia, torn by war, were banned by the United Nations from taking part and UEFA offered the Danes a late invitation to fill the spot. Richard Moller Nielsen’s side did the unthinkable to see off a star-studded German side in the final.

So let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Spain are struck down by fatigue and fail to make it out of Group C (with Ireland emerging instead, obviously). Let’s say the Dutch lose to Portugal and finish third in this year’s so-called ‘Group of Death’.

And let’s say, despite possessing a plethora of young talent, Germany also stumble in the knockout stages. With the favourites gone home then, who will come to the fore?

Russia, 20/1

Credit: Petros Giannakouris/AP/Press Association Images

The champions of the inaugural European championships in 1960 topped Ireland's qualifying group (remember Moscow?) and find themselves up against the weakest set of opponents in co-hosts Poland, Greece and the Czech Republic.

Although they are likely to meet Germany, Holland or Portugal in the quarter-finals, finding momentum with a couple of convincing results early on could take Dick Advocaat's side, which is full of experience, all the way.

Manager Dick Adovcaat: “Our main goal is try to win in the tournament,” Advocaat stressed. "If we play to our full potential, we could surprise a few people. I would call us a dark horse of the tournament. If you recall Euro 2004, nobody expected Greece (to win) it.

Portugal, 20/1

Credit: Francisco Seco/AP/Press Association Images

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They are not quite a one-man team but the impact Portugal will make on this tournament undoubtedly depends on whether Cristiano Ronaldo can continue the club form that produced 60 goals for Real Madrid this season.

The players around him (Meireles, Moutinho, Bruno Alves, Postiga et al) are more functional than spectacular and former Manchester United team-mate Nani is the only other real game-changer.

Group B is certainly a tough proposition but the Euro 2004 finalists could well surprise most and eliminate the Dutch.

Paulo Bento: “What gives me confidence is our good organisation, the hard work of the players from day to day, their behaviour and the commitment that they have to try and do the job as best they can. We all believe that we can achieve our primary objective, it is something that all of us really want.”

Croatia, 64/1

Credit: Antonio Bronic/Pixsell/Press Association Images

Not what Irish fans will want to hear but Croatia do pose a real threat. Have received increasing amounts of support from experts in recent weeks and Liam Brady has said they have got all the ingredients necessary to be champions.

Luka Modric is the main man and in Nikica Jelavic, Slaven Bilic has a striker who has shown his goalscoring record in the SPL was not down to the league's poor quality since moving to Everton.

Slaven Bilic: “We have quite a good squad, our results talk for themselves, now we have to prepare as good as we can,” he said. “I would say we are better than in 2008, when we went to the quarter-finals; back then we wanted to win the Euros, and this time around we want to do the same thing.”

France, 10/1

Thibault Camus/AP/Press Association Images

Laurent Blanc may have one of the competition's most talented squads at his disposal, but because of their dire showing at major tournaments in the recent past, they should be seen as outsiders. There are questions marks over central defensive partnership of Adil Rami and Phillippe Mexes andYann M'Vila is out of the England game meaning they have been stripped of their best defensive midfielder.

That said, a team containing Franck Ribery, Hatem Ben Arfa, Samir Nasri, Olivier Giroud and Karim Benzema will cause the best backlines in Europe problems. It will ultimately come down how well they can gel as a unit.

Laurent Blanc: "We’re hoping to reach the quarter-finals first and foremost. It might only require four points to do that."

Do you agree or am I talking nonsense? Have your say below...

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Ben Blake

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