Every Euro 2016 Team's Biggest Weakness or Worry Heading into the Finals

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterMay 30, 2016

Every Euro 2016 Team's Biggest Weakness or Worry Heading into the Finals

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    Euro 2016 is drawing ever closer, and by now you'll have heard all about the strengths of each competing nation and their star players. Eden Hazard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Cristiano Ronaldo...the list is long enough to keep you occupied right up until the start of the tournament,.

    But it's always important to add balance to the conversation. Yes, Portugal look incredible moving forward, but where is their Achilles' heel? What is the weak point in the German XI? Why is Iceland's typically solid, workmanlike approach under threat heading into the finals?

    Here, Bleacher Report presents the biggest concern, worry or weakness for each nation set to do battle in France next month. If you've anything to add from what you've seen, or just want to start the discussion, sling it in the comments below!

Albania: No Star Quality

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    This will be Albania's first-ever major international tournament, and they will sap up every second of it. After finishing second in Group I and beating three sides—Denmark, Serbia and Armenia—who are superior to them (on paper) to the punch, optimism surrounding The Red and Blacks' chances has rocketed.

    But the group they've drawn isn't a nice one; hosts France are far stronger, while Switzerland and Romania have better players and neither are in any sort of tactical disarray. There are very few areas for Albanians to pick out and suggest that's where they can strike.

    Given Gianni De Biasi's best player is a right-back (Elseid Hysaj), it doesn't look like they have a star man in the right area to cause a surprise.

    Other issues: No tournament experience (for obvious reasons)

Austria: Flat-Track Bullies?

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    Austria went unbeaten in qualifying, winning nine and drawing one of 10 games, sparking belief that they are set to explode onto the international scene during Euro 2016. They have star men in attack and midfield and a sturdiness to their defence that generally prospers in tournaments.

    But it's difficult to look past the fact that, in the past two years, they've beaten very few top teams. Russia and Sweden are the best sides they defeated during qualifying, and friendlies against Turkey, Switzerland and Brazil have all ended in losses.

    True, David Alaba could fire them to a memorable June and July, but the evidence doesn't look good at this stage. They are, perhaps, something of a flat-track bully.

Belgium: Defensive Imbalance

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    On paper Belgium might just have the strongest squad, but so far that has failed to translate onto the pitch. One of the biggest reasons why is the defensive imbalance manager Marc Wilmots is forced to battle.

    For all the talent the nation has produced this last five years, no full-backs have appeared. It's likely with regret that Wilmots will take Tottenam Hotspur's superb central defensive pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld and split them up, sending one to left-back and the other to right-back, just like he did at the 2014 World Cup.

    They're both capable of filling in, but they don't offer the attacking verve required in the final third. Belgium can look like a team cut in half when playing wide, and this is where the problem stems. More attacking full-backs such as Jordan Lukaku do not have the trust of Wilmots.

    Other issues: Vincent Kompany's injury, whether Eden Hazard's form has truly returned, slow build-up play haunting the side

Croatia: The Players Don't Trust the Manager

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    On paper the Croatian side is in the dark-horse column; they have enough offensive quality to convince some on-lookers that they, out of all 24 teams, have the "surprise package" gene and could really pull up some trees.

    But the atmosphere around the national side is beyond sour. Manager Ante Cacic is seen as a Zdravko Mamic (FA administrator) puppet, and he seemingly has no set formation or plan for the players to play. He's tried four different systems, refused to give fringe players a go who would have been worthy and irritated the players in the process.

    Other issues: The football issues are set amid a backdrop of fear that the Croatian fans will pull another nationalistic stunt, and for that reason some Croatians don't even support their own team.

Czech Republic: The Striker Situation, Part I

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    The Czech Republic have very little in terms of star attacking power, with their most impactful players being Petr Cech (GK) and Pavel Kaderabek (RB). With Milan Baros and Jan Koller long gone and not replaced, goals are a problem.

    Tomas Necid and David Lafata are effective at their level (Lafata in particular dominates in the Czech league), but when they come up against top-tier opposition, they often come up short. The goalscoring burden will be shared to wingers Ladislav Krejci and Jiri Skalak, but they're hardly prolific either.

    Other issues: Unsettled defensive line, Tomas Rosicky is plagued by injuries

England: The Defence

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    For once, England aren't that concerned about firepower or style of play heading into a tournament; it's the defence—something they usually count on as a banker of a strength—that concerns the most.

    The Three Lions' best and most solid defender, Chris Smalling, finished his campaign with a silly red card against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final last weekend, while the shootout to partner him between John Stones and Gary Cahill does not fully convince.

    On the flanks, Luke Shaw is injured and Leighton Baines didn't make the squad, leaving left-back open to the defensively erratic Danny Rose or the steady, but less popular Ryan Bertrand; while on the right, it's a choice between two inherently attacking options in Nathaniel Clyne and Kyle Walker.

    Other issues: Wayne Rooney and where to play him, the injury to Danny Welbeck, the fatigue of some key players and which system to use

France: Sudden Defensive Crisis

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    Three months ago, France were sitting pretty with regard to central defensive options. In fact, they were so stacked at the position, Aymeric Laporte had essentially been locked out of the setup by Didier Deschamps.

    But misfortune has befallen the hosts, as Raphael Varane (injured) and Mamadou Sakho (suspended) are both guaranteed to miss the tournament. Deschamps has confirmed, per the Guardian, he will not add Sakho to the squad despite the recent overturning of his ban.

    It has necessitated Adil Rami's call-up and puts Eliaquim Mangala in pole position to start alongside Laurent Koscielny. Laporte fractured his ankle earlier in the year and can't be called upon either.

    From a position of strength to a position of real worry.

    Other issues: Will Deschamps press ahead with Giroud up top?

Germany: Right-Back

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    Two years on from Philipp Lahm's international retirement and the picture stands no clearer. Germany have just one weak position in their squad, and it's the master's old stomping ground.

    Emre Can, the apparent choice to play in his position this summer, enjoyed a superb season, but he is a central midfielder. When he plays right-back he has good spells and bad spells—as you'd expected—and will be an area other teams target during the tournament. Benedikt Howedes, Sebastian Rudy and Antonio Rudiger have all played there in the past too, but none of them are natural full-backs either.

    Other issues: Ilkay Gundogan's injury is a blow, while Mario Gotze's played very little football in 2015-16.

Hungary: A Lack of...Offensive Prowess

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    Hungary have a potential game-changer in Balasz Dzsudzsak who plays off the flank, but from a creativity perspective, he is the start and end of his nation's offerings. You get the impression manager Bernd Storck is well aware of that too, as he made the incredibly bold move of playing untried players in the playoff against Norway to qualify for the competition proper.

    It was in that playoff that Laszlo Kleinheisler shot to the fore, netting on his debut and excelling in the return leg in front of home fans. Perhaps he can be the wild card required—the spark so badly needed to contrast against Hungary's workmanlike options elsewhere?

    Other issues: Striker uncertainty

Iceland: Aron Gunnarsson's Cardiff City Benching

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    After coming so close to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup, Iceland went one better this time around and will be present for France 2016. That a country with a population just north of 300,000 will be at the finals is incredible.

    They play a condensed, organised tactical game and lean on the 4-4-2 system, unlocking the hardworking best in all of their players. They bring typical Scandinavian stubbornness to the defensive phase and will surprise a few at the other end.

    The big concern, though, is Aron Gunnarsson's lack of playing time in 2016; he's played 90 minutes once since mid-January, per WhoScored.com, as Cardiff City have explored options outside of him. Gunnarsson plays a key role in central midfield alongside Gylfi Sigurdsson. Will he be fit and sharp enough for the task ahead?

    Other issues: No depth

Italy: The Striker Situation, Part II

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    This is not an Italy team bursting from the seams with quality; it is thoroughly lacking the Francesco Tottis and Andrea Pirlos of yesteryear. While goalkeeper and defence remain very strong, the Azzurri enter the tournament with the weakest striker and midfield options among the perceived "big boys."

    That Graziano Pelle and Eder appear to be Antonio Conte's weapons of choice is indicative of the lack of talent available, and with Marco Verratti and Claudio Marchisio both ruled out of the competition due to injury, the midfield looks pretty underwhelming too.

    A resurgent Stephan El Shaarawy might just be a wild card to unlikely success, but spirits were again dampened this weekend as Emanuele Giaccherini was preferred to Domenico Berardi for a pre-tournament go.

    Few supporting the men in blue will be too hopeful of success.

Northern Ireland: Too Many Lower-League Players

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    There’s no doubt that what Michael O’Neill has managed with this Northern Ireland side is nothing short of incredible. It’s been 30 years since the nation qualified for a major tournament, and this will be their first-ever European Championships. It’s already one hell of a feat.

    But questions must be raised as to how far the immense team spirit they boast can take them, as it has more than papered over the talent cracks so far. Can Kyle Lafferty really shoulder the goalscoring burden in France, and can Fleetwood Town’s Conor McLaughlin stand the heat against Germany, Poland and Ukraine’s wingers?

    Other issues: No tournament experience (for obvious reasons)

Poland: Their Left-Back Is Not a Left-Back

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    Poland boast a talented right side in Lukasz Piszczek and Jakub Blaszczykowski, while the spine of Kamil Glik, Grzegorz Krychowiak and Robert Lewandowski would be the envy of most nations. There is a problem, though, at left-back.

    Put simply, Adam Nawalka doesn't have one of the requisite standards to call on, and Maciej Rybus—an attacking midfielder or winger—has been filling in there. Most of his eight appearances in the qualifiers were from full-back, and he is understandably and predictably suspect from a defensive standpoint.

    Other issues: Glik's centre-back partner is undecided, and the options aren't stunning.

Portugal: The Defence

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    Going forward Portugal are nothing short of delightful. Manager Fernando Santos has mitigated the lack of a No. 9 by playing a 4-2-2-2 with Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani up front, making room for four central midfield/attacking midfield talents in the engine room.

    But the defence is significantly less impressive; it has question marks all over the place and could be the nation’s downfall. Left-back Fabio Coentrao is injured so the divisive Eliseu will play, Jose Fonte likely won’t oust Ricardo Carvalho for a place in the XI despite deserving to, and Vierinha, while a wicked crosser, is hardly defensively stable.

    Other issues: Bernardo Silva’s injury opens a door for another, but he’s a big loss.

Republic of Ireland: Aging (Fading) Stars

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    Two of the biggest influences in this Republic of Ireland squad—Wes Hoolahan (34) and Robbie Keane (35)—are just beginning to fade. Neither can truly last 90 minutes at a high intensity, meaning the former will have to be substituted and the latter can’t start.

    That’s a real shame, as Martin O’Neill has done what many before him should have and given Hoolahan a central role in the team. We won’t get to see the best of the Irishman at this tournament, and the Republic will spend so much time off the ball, he may be bypassed in certain phases.

    Fortunately, Shane Long has leaped into form at just the right time and will head to France confident of doing the lone striker’s role justice.

    Other issues: No top-class goalkeeper due to injuries, left-back is weak if Robbie Brady plays on the wing

Romania: The Striking Situation, Part III

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    If you’ve been following along, you’ll know the drill by now: Romania are simply the next nation to boast a good team ethic and solid defensive and midfield setups, but questions remain over who is going to stick the ball in the back of the net.

    They scored just 11 goals in qualifying from 10 games, with three players managing two strikes each to top arguably the most underwhelming “scoring charts” ever seen in football.

    Florin Andone seems like he may get the nod up top for the finals, but he didn’t score any during qualifying.

    Other issues: Key man Vlad Chiriches is a substitute at Napoli; Crowd favourite Lucian Sanmartean (37) is past his peak.

Russia: Aging Central Defensive Corps

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    That Vasili Berezutski (33) and Sergei Ignashevich (36) are Russia’s undisputed central defensive pairing in 2016 is quite remarkable. At no point in the last decade has the country produced anyone capable of challenging them for their berths, resulting in them gaining 92 and 115 caps, respectively.

    They’ll benefit from having spent a lifetime playing alongside one another at both club and international levels and from playing under the same manager, but even that level of uber-familiarity won’t save them against quicker, fresher and young opponents. It’s easy to foresee them struggling against the dynamic players England and Wales boast.

    Other issues: Alan Dzagoev, one of two heartbeats in midfield, is injured.

Slovakia: The Striking Situation, Part IV

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    There's plenty of reasons for Slovakia fans to be hopeful heading into the tournament, as they possess three key qualities in abundance: internationally experienced players, a midfield engine (Juraj Kucka) and a talismanic creator (Marek Hamsik).

    The problem they have, though, is picking a player to do the damage up top. Robert Vittek is 34 and no longer a starter; Michal Duris hasn't scored in a competitive game; and Adam Nemec is an underwhelming compromise.

    Other issues: The team as a whole are on the older side of the spectrum, little strength in depth

Switzerland: Gokhan Inler's Lack of Football

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    Gokhan Inler has been the face of Switzerland’s national team for close to a decade, patrolling in midfield and spraying passes from deep positions and taking pride in the captain’s armband in the process.

    But a 2015 summer move to Leicester City went horribly wrong for the former Napoli man, who managed just 195 minutes of Premier League football this past season, per WhoScored.com—90 of which came against Chelsea in one game. Claudio Ranieri settled on a formation and style of play that simply did not suit the 31-year-old and left him benched.

    Manager Vladimir Petkovic has intimated, per Damian Spellman of the Press Association Sport (via the Daily Mail), that Inler may not go to the Euros if he’s not in shape, and that seems unlikely given his dormant 2016 so far.

    Other issues: It’s a choice between three underwhelming strikers or gambling on hot prospect Breel Embolo.

Spain: The Striking Situation, Part V

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    Spain's most common striking selection during qualifying was the trio of Alvaro Morata, Diego Costa and Paco Alcacer. Only the former of those three have been called up for the tournament, though, as Vicente del Bosque sprung a big surprise when naming his squad.

    Alcacer, top scorer in qualifying, and the oft-injured Costa have been replaced by Aritz Aduriz—a man who has scored an incredibly impressive number of goals over the last two seasons, but also represents a gargantuan question mark when it comes to asking how he will integrate or fit into the system.

    Will he, like Costa in 2014, fail to adapt to La Furia Roja's style and contribute to a collapse? Can Morata carry the load alone? Is Lucas Vazquez—VDB's "game-changer" option from the bench—a wise selection in light of Fernando Torres's remarkable 2016 form?

    Other issues: Iker Casillas vs. David de Gea, the midfield configuration and form of Sergio Ramos

Sweden: Individualism vs. Team Ethic

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    "What coach [Erik] Hamren has failed to find in his team is the right balance between ‘Zlatanesque’ individualism and traditional collectivism," writes Sasa Ibrulj in the World Soccer magazine’s Euro 2016 edition. It’s a sentence that perfectly encapsulates the stylistic tug-of-war affecting Sweden’s football team in 2016.

    The successful Swedish sides of old were rugged, team-oriented outfits, and the nation’s Under-21 team utilised that same collectivism last summer in winning the European Championships. This iteration of the senior side, though, lives and dies by Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s flicks and skills; by playing to him they do not double down on their traditional strengths.

    Other issues: Left-back weakness, Hamren torn on whether to go bold or sit off

Turkey: The Striking Situation, Part VI

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    Much of what applies to Czech Republic's striking situation applies to Turkey's: There's a general dearth of options, and it could well limit the team's ceiling.

    Burak Yilmaz is their clear No. 1 option, but his move to Chinese side Beijing Guoan in January was shortly followed by a bad thigh injury. It's serious enough to spark big questions about how fit and ready he will be for the finals.

    The other option—Cenk Tosun—plays a back-up role at club level, and although Fatih Terim has started him in both warm-up games so far, he hasn't scored. Is he of the requisite talent?

Ukraine: Father Time

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    Ukraine have some obvious strengths in the form of wing duo Andriy Yarmolenko and Yevhen Konoplyanka, but not too much else. The squad is workmanlike to the extreme; bar the wide pair it is every cliche you can throw it: functional, organised, pragmatic, etc.

    Of particular concern should be the age of two key men: one, the captain Ruslan Rotan, is 34 years of age and entering the twilight stage of his career, and another, left-back Vyacheslav Shevchuk, is 37. They'll have to play three games in nine games and then more if the Yellow-Blue qualify from the group.

    Can they handle the strain?

    Other issues: Goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov loves an error.

Wales: Lack of Goals

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    Wales were the joint-second-lowest scorers of any automatic qualifier with just 11 goals—only Albania, with 10, managed less. Despite the star power of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey in the side, they struggle to do anything other than squeeze out victories.

    The defensive strength is not in question, and the tactical flexibility is strong, but with Hal Robson-Kanu up front, goals will be a concern. The Reading man primarily plays a pressing role and isn't leaned on for goals, but that does increase the pressure on Bale to be the match-winner every time.

    Other issues: Joe Ledley's energy may be absent due to a fractured leg, per the Guardian.



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