The eagerly awaited Euro 2016 Championships get underway this Friday and with all the action televised live on Freeview channels it means football fans and betting enthusiasts will be in heaven for the next month.
The Euro's have thrown up some surprise winners and finalists since the 1990's like Denmark, Czech Republic, Greece and Portugal. With a new format and no ultra dominant teams like the great German, Italian, French and more recently Spanish sides of old, this years tournament has the potential to throw up a surprise winner or finalist again.
My idea of a potential surprise finalists is Belgium at 11/1. They are blessed with world class talent throughout their squad and any Premier League fan will be familiar with a lot of their star payers e.g. de Bruyne, Hazard, Lukaku, Origi, Benteke, Fellaini, Vermaelen, Courtois,
Vertonghen and Alderweireld. They will be without the experienced Kompany at the back, but Vertonghen and Alderweireld were part of the very impressive Spurs team last season, and their understanding in central defence will no doubt prove crucial over the coming weeks.
Belgium also showed signs of their potential reaching the quarter-finals of the last World Cup, where they just lost out against Argentina 1-0. While more may have been expected from them in Brazil it has to be noted that European countries tend to perform better on their own continent.The experience they gained in South America can only be classed as a good thing and in addition to this they were classed as FIFA's highest-ranked team at the end of 2015.
They qualified for this year's Euros at a canter and friendly wins against France and Italy suggests they are now ready to mix it with Europe's elite on the biggest stage.
Finally, with the tournament being held by their neighbours France, it will almost feel like a home tournament and their fans will no doubt make sure they feel right at home.
I'm personally not confident about England's chances, mainly due to the fact that i don't think Hodgson has a clue what his best team or tactics are, but if he can somehow
work this out during their three group stage matches and be bold enough to sacrifice big names where necessary for the greater good, we may stand an outside chance, that’s if we qualify for the knockout stages, which in my eyes is no where near a certainty.
Favourites France are too short for my liking and i'm not sure they have the depth of experience and strong enough leadership to deal with the pressure of winning a home tournament, like they did in the World Cup 1998. Second favourites Germany will no doubt excite going forward and score plenty of goals, but i fear they have a soft underbelly and may not be strong enough defensively to maintain their envious record in International Tournaments.
Third favourites and defending champions Spain will no doubt perform better than they did at the 2014 World Cup and it has to be noted their World Cup and Euro's successes all came on European soil. Their squad is full of experience, talent and goal scorers and with this in mind, as well as their impeccable track record at the last two Euro's, they have to be considered as serious contenders to win their third consecutive Euro Championship on the 10th July.
Looking elsewhere for some value the Top Goal scorer market has a couple of players at big prices that could easily run away with the tournament prize. Belgium's Lukaku at 20/1 is a prolific goal scorers for club and country. He netted 18 Premier League goals last season, scored in each of Belgium's last four games and with the mercurial talent of de Bruyne and Hazard buzzing around him is sure to score more during Euro 2016.
The Player of the Tournament market has some potential star players at big prices and Belgium's Kevin de Bruyne at 25/1 has to be a contender given his club and international form over the last 12 months especially. He is arguably Belgium's best player, he scores goals for fun, did so during qualifying and in recent friendlies and could be the player that helps propels Belgium to the latter stages of the tournament
Also, France and West Ham's Dimitri Payet at 66/1 is a highly skilled forward and is sure to cause many defences nightmares this summer. He's a wizard from dead ball situations and could prove to be a potential match winner in any tight games, especially come the latter stages of the tournament, should France progress this far.