AUTHOR: Lewis Williams


More than half a million England and Scotland fans are expected to descend on Germany as the biggest ever European Championship gets underway next week and I cannot wait to board my flight to Berlin to get right amongst it all, writes ALEX CROOK.

For the first time ever 24 nations will compete for the ultimate prize and it is arguably harder to get knocked out in the expanded group stage, with only eight teams going home, than it is to progress to the round of 16.

That should be good news for Scotland as they bid to shed their unwanted record of having never reached the knockout stages of a major tournament, however that will not be easy having been drawn alongside hosts Germany, experienced campaigners Switzerland and a Hungary side who should not be underestimated.

The Hungarians may not be the force they were in their golden era of the 1950s, but they did beat England twice in the 2022 Nations League before going unbeaten for the whole of 2023 and, led by captain and Liverpool midfield dynamo Dominik Szoboszlai, will be confident of causing an upset or two.

Germany are the clear favourites to make home advantage count and win Group A but despite their recent upturn in fortunes under Julian Nagelsmann, memories of a limp group stage exit in the 2022 World Cup and poor displays at the two tournaments prior still linger.

Hungary to top the group at ? with is too big a price to ignore as I think they could be the surprise package of the tournament with the class of Szoboszlai complimented by the defensive steel of RB Leipzig’s Willi Orban and the goals of Freiburg forward Roland Sallai.

Scotland’s best chance of claiming a top three spot will come when they face the Swiss in Cologne in their second game, but losing Lyndon Dykes to a training ground injury is a body blow for Steve Clarke’s side as they are far from blessed with free-scoring strikers.

They did brilliantly to qualify ahead of Erling Haaland’s Norway, famously beating Spain along the way, but sadly I think the Tartan Army are heading for yet another early exit.

As for England, Gareth Southgate’s troops find themselves as favourites to go one better than in the last Euros and lift the trophy.

With generational talents like Jude Bellingham and Phil Foden and the goalscoring prowess of captain Harry Kane, it is not hard to make a case for the Three Lions ending 58 years of hurt, but defensively there are still a lot of question marks.

Luke Shaw has had to sit out the end of the Premier League season through injury and if Shaw does not recover in time then Southgate does not have another natural left-back available with Kieran Trippier likely to be asked to fill the void.

There are also concerns over the fitness of John Stones having sat out more games than he started for Manchester City last season so while England’s attacking weapons strike fear into their rivals, those frailties at the back could well cost them at the business end of the tournament.

If all goes as expected as both England and France win their respective groups then they will meet in the semi-finals in a repeat of their last eight showdown in Qatar.

Southgate will have learnt valuable lessons from recent major tournament near misses, but stopping Kylian Mbappe and co with a potentially patched-up defence will be a tall order and I fear this will be where the England journey ends which is ? with

As for France’s likely opponents come the final in Berlin on July 14, I’ve been sweet on Portugal for some time.

Roberto Martinez’s men were the only team to come through qualifying with a 100 per cent record, albeit in a group that included Luxemburg Liechtenstein, and the former Everton and Wigan boss has a ridiculous array of quality at his disposal.

Assuming they can overcome the fact they are managed by Martinez, Portugal at ? to win the tournament with are my each-way selection, especially as they should end up on the other half of the draw to England and France.

Cristiano Ronaldo will almost certainly be playing in his last Euros, and potentially his final international tournament, and will be determined to go out on a high but Portugal are not as heavily reliant on CR7 as they have been in the recent past.

AC Milan speedster Rafael Leao and Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva really impressed me in qualifying while Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes has banged in 22 goals for club and country this season, including a brace in this week’s 4-2 friendly win over Finland.

Fulham’s Joao Palhinha, once again expected to be sought-after by Bayern Munich this summer, provides the midfield shield in front of a defence that includes Manchester City’s Rolls Royce Ruben Dias.

Having been paired in group F with Czechia, Turkey and first-time qualifiers Georgia, Fernandes should get plenty of opportunities to add to his scoring spree. Fernandes is a whopping ? with to win the Golden Boot.

After a stellar club season and with England also handed a relatively easy group, I was also tempted to back Phil Foden to be top-scorer.

However, given Foden never seems to be quite the same player he is for City in an England jersey, Arsenal’s Kai Havertz represents better value at the same odds of ? with

I had serious doubts about Arsenal paying £65m to sign Havertz from Chelsea but he proved me wrong with a string of important goals during the Premier League title run-in.

Having silenced his critics Havertz’s confidence could not be higher and he is expected to lead the German line as a false number 9 so with each-way bets paying the top four places should give us a decent run for our stake money.

BACK Hungary to win Group A 1pt at 15/2 (⭐ ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK England to go out in the semi-finals 1.5pts at 10/3 (⭐ ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Portugal to win 1.5pts E/W at 8/1 (⭐ ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Bruno Fernandes to be top goalscorer 0.5pts E/W at 50/1 (⭐ ? CLICK TO BET NOW)
BACK Kai Havertz to be top goalscorer 0.5pts E/W at 28/1 (⭐ ? CLICK TO BET NOW)



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