France are the clear favourites for Group A and with the talents of Antonio Griezmann, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba in their squad it is easy to see why they are so fancied. The defence also looks strong and while the midfield looked like it might have lacked some quality in comparison with the likes of Spain and Germany the form of Dimitri Payet and N’Golo Kante this season has given them a couple more excellent options.
While Romania might have come through qualifying unbeaten they were in a very easy group, which saw Northern Ireland and Hungary also advance. Furthermore, they actually won only half their 10 matches while scoring just 11 times. It’s not a squad with many, if any, well-known names – Razvan Rat spent a season at West Ham while captain Vlad Chiriches was at Spurs for a couple of seasons – and they last beat France over 40 years ago.
However, Anghel Iordănescu has made them hard to beat and they did pick up draws with Italy and Spain in friendlies in November and March. Their lack of goals though will make it tough for them to win matches and could also let them down if they are challenging for a knockout spot as a third-placed side.
Albania shocked Portugal in their opening qualifying game and when they were then awarded a 3-0 win after their match in Serbia got abandoned a pair of wins over strugglers Armenia were enough to send them to the Finals. However, the win against Portugal was against the run of play and over a side that was significantly below full-strength.
With only seven goals scored in their seven completed qualifiers – five of which came against Armenia – they are arguably the weakest team at the Finals. Gianni De Biasi has been in charge of Albania since 2011 so has had plenty of time with this squad and, like Romania, they have made themselves difficult to break down. Portugal could only beat them 1-0 in the return fixture while they held Denmark to a pair of draws (0-0 and 1-1) so they’ll hope to at least pick up a couple of points.
Switzerland should really come through this group along with France. They lost both clashes with England in qualifying but won seven of eight otherwise while scoring three goals per game. They went into the last World Cup with hopes of upsetting France in the group stages but were on the end of a 5-2 hammering (they were 5-0 down going into the final 10 minutes).
However, they did still advance to the knockouts where they took Argentina to extra-time. The Swiss can certainly trouble France on a good day but even if they can hold the hosts to a draw they look like they’ll find it harder to break down the tough defences of Albania and Romania, potentially impacting on their goal difference.
We certainly don’t see a total upset in the game between Switzerland and France, with the Swiss having won just one of their 10 games away against teams in the top 50 of our rankings since 2011 and with France having a higher ranking than any of those sides (which had an average rank of 34th).
Nevertheless, the gap in our gradings between the second and third best teams in this group is larger than in any other group, while there is also a significant gap between first and second, and so our best bet in Group A comes from the Straight Forecast market, where we don’t expect to see any upsets.