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Playing for places: Which teams will escape the Euro 2016 Maze?

June 04, 2016

- Grant Whittington

For years, people have been visiting the Hampton Court maze in London, marvelling at its beauty while getting lost in its carefully cultivated cul-de-sacs. Making it out of the maze in a short amount of time was a challenge in itself, while attempting to find your bearings when you are surrounded by nothing but towering green hedges was disorientating in the extreme.

If you imagine navigating the maze competitively and in front of a few million viewers, you will begin to understand the challenge facing each participating team at Euro 2016. The new, 24-team format boasts a complex set of qualification criteria, for example, with the four best third-place teams joining 12 others in the knock-out stages to create innumerable scenarios in terms of potential match-ups and routes to the final.

This also opens up an avenue of qualification to almost every participating side, meaning that many will spend their time furiously calculating exactly what they require to reached the promised land of the last-16.

Which teams offer the best value to qualify?

While the bookmakers have adopted a risk-averse approach to this challenge and made the majority of sides odd-on to qualify, there are still some wagers that offer good value. Here are three of the best: –

Albania to qualify from Group A at 15/8

Clearly, Albania are unfancied to progress from Group A in the face of stern opposition provided by France, Switzerland and Romania. The Albanians showed huge pedigree during qualification, however, finishing ahead of Denmark and even managing to beat Portugal 1-0 with a disciplined performance in Lisbon.

With Switzerland inconsistent at major tournaments and Romania sorely lacking in inspiration (which was only offset by one of the best defensive records in qualifying), Albania have an excellent opportunity to at least finish in third and earn a place in the knock-out stages. They can also be backed at 15/8 to qualify in any position, and this offers decent value in a relatively open group.

The Republic of Ireland to qualify from Group E at 11/8

The Republic of Ireland find themselves in a similar position, although they have a much tougher group to contend with as their opposition includes Belgium, Italy and a Zlatan-Ibrahimovic-inspired Sweden. The Irish are doughty tournament performers, however, while they also showed their big-game pedigree by taking four points from world champions Germany during qualification.

With this in mind, we think that the Irish offer excellent value at 11/8 to qualify in any position. The key will be for Martin O’Neill’s men to secure a win when they play Sweden, who often rely too heavily on the talented and talismanic Ibrahimovic. A point against either Italy or Belgium may then be enough to qualify, earning a nice little return on your wager.

Austria to qualify as the winners of Group F at 9/4

Group F is wide open, with Portugal heading a list of teams including Austria, Iceland and Hungary. While the Portuguese may seem well-set to win this group (they can be backed at 10/11 to do so), there is a growing sense that they may have to settle for a runners-up slot behind Austria.

The Austrians qualified in incredible fashion from a difficult group including Sweden and Russia, winning nine and drawing one of their 10 matches. They actually finished eight points clear of the Russians, while Portugal are renowned as being slow-starters at major tournaments. We therefore think that the Austrians can top Group F at a canter, and are good value to do this at 9/4.

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