Portugal – Austria – Iceland – Hungary
Group F is the weakest of all the groups with Portugal the only top seed that we don’t actually have in the top six in our gradings for this tournament. Austria do sneak into our top 10 on the back of a qualifying performance that saw them win nine of 10 matches but then Iceland and Hungary are both in our weakest six sides.
Hungary have qualified for their first European Finals since 1972 but winning just four of 10 matches while scoring only 11 times (three of the four wins were 1-0) in a group that was topped by Northern Ireland hardly suggests a team that can compete at this level. The last time they faced a team in the top 20 in our global rankings was in qualifying for the last World Cup when the Netherlands beat them 4-1 and 8-1. So 40 year old Gabor Kiraly better expect plenty of action in goal.
Hungary’s neighbours, Austria, look a far stronger outfit. With most of their players playing in either the Bundesliga or Premier League and captained by Leicester City’s Christian Fuchs they are used to playing at a decent level. Only three of their outfield players are in their thirties, while just one is younger than 22, and this is a squad that looks to be largely coming to the peaks of their careers at the same time.
This is their first major tournament appearance since 2008 but you have to go back to 1990 to find the last time they won a match at a tournament – they should at least break that streak this time. Austria have scored in 22 consecutive games prior to the pre-tournament friendlies and they are also solid at the back with two holding midfielders protecting the back four. If Portugal underestimates them then they could spring a surprise.
Iceland attracted some attention when they won six of their first seven qualifying games but their form has been poor since then. With 37 year old Eidur Gudjohnsen in the squad it highlights the small pool of players they have to pick from – which is not surprising given their population of 330,000 is more than 2.5 million less than that of the next smallest qualifier. It is still a squad that can cause an upset though, and they did beat the Netherlands both home and away in getting here. An opening game against Portugal offers the chance of a major scalp.
The final of Euro 2004 still hangs over this Portuguese side. Shocked by Greece on home soil that day a teenage Cristiano Ronaldo probably thought he’d have many more chances of international glory. Ricardo Carvalho is the only other survivor from that match but the closest either has come has been semi-finals at the 2006 World Cup and the Euros four years ago.
With nine members of this squad now in their thirties do they have the ability to go one step further than 2004? In the past three major tournaments they’ve failed to score in half their 12 matches and they found the net just 11 times in their eight qualifying matches as all seven of their wins were by one goal margins. Only once in Fernando Santos’ 16 games in charge have Portugal scored more than twice and that was against minnows Armenia.
With four of Ronaldo’s five goals in qualifying coming against Armenia, and the lack of significant striking support, Portugal’s problems in attack look like they are set to continue. They are still strong at the back but Austria look a more well-rounded side and have the physicality to get the better of Portugal. Meanwhile, Iceland should be too good for Hungary, who look like they’ll be picking up the wooden spoon in Group F.