- Associated Press - Saturday, June 4, 2016

A look at the teams and their key players and coach in Group F at the European Championship:



Despite what some skeptics might say, Austria’s first ever qualification for a European Championship is not down to UEFA’s decision to enlarge the tournament from 16 to 24 teams in 2016. With nine wins and a draw, the team based around captain Christian Fuchs and playmaker David Alaba comfortably topped a group that also included Russia and Sweden. Only England enjoyed a better qualifying campaign with the maximum 30 points. Austria appeared at Euro 2008 as a co-host with Switzerland but hadn’t qualified for a finals tournament since the 1998 World Cup.

DAVID ALABA: Usually a left back at Bayern Munich, Alaba is the heart and soul of the national team. Born to a Philippine mother and a Nigerian father, the playmaker dictates the pace of the game and is first in the pecking order to take free kicks and penalties. Gives Austria an edge without being irreplaceable - he was out with injuries both times Austria beat Russia in qualifying.

MARC JANKO: The 6-foot-5 tall Basel player has always been coach Marcel Koller’s undoubted first-choice striker, even during a two-year spell where he hardly played for his then-club Trabzonspor. Has repaid his coach with seven goals in Euro 2016 qualifying, most notably a spectacular bicycle kick for a 1-0 win in Moscow. The son of the 1968 Olympic javelin bronze medalist, Eva Janko, he is eager to maintain his average of one goal in every two international games.

COACH MARCEL KOLLER: Greeted with skepticism as he had been without a job for 25 months when appointed in 2011, the Swiss coach has masterminded Austria’s revival. Sticking with an almost unchanged squad for four years, he has used his skills as a man-manager to build a solid team with a strong belief that it can beat every opponent - which it nearly did in the past two years.

By Eric Willemsen



Hungary was once one of world football’s giants, but those days are long gone. In France, Hungary will be at its first major tournament for 30 years and its first European Championship since 1972. The current team bears little similarity with the “Magic Magyars” of old. Whereas once the likes of Ferenc Puskas and Nandor Hidegkuti dazzled the crowd, Hungary’s preliminary squad for the championship features only one player from any of the top five-ranked European leagues, Werder Bremen’s fringe midfielder Laszlo Kleinheisler. Qualifying was a struggle, beating Norway 3-1 on aggregate in the playoff round after coming third behind Northern Ireland and Romania in what many considered one of the easier groups.

ZOLTAN GERA: Aged 37, the veteran midfielder has been there for some of Hungary’s lowest moments, including the Euro 2008 qualifying campaign when it finished sixth in its group behind Moldova. A cult hero at Fulham and West Bromwich Albion, Gera now plays in the Hungarian league and will want to end his international career on a high.

KRISZTIAN NEMETH: The striker won admirers in the United States last year as he won the Major League Soccer goal of the season award after dancing through the Portland Timbers defense. However, a move to the Qatari league for 2016 means he hasn’t been facing opposition anywhere near the caliber he’ll encounter in France.

COACH BERND STORCK: Hungary went through three coaches during qualifying but eventually settled on Storck, a German and only the third foreign coach in the national team’s 114-year history. A respected youth coach, Storck’s only previous appointments as a senior head coach were with Kazakhstan and now-defunct Kazakh club FC Almaty.

By James Ellingworth



Iceland has never played in a major tournament before, but more established teams would be wise not to underestimate the newcomer at the European Championship: Just ask the Netherlands. Iceland stunned the Dutch twice in an impressive qualifying campaign that also included wins over the Czech Republic and Turkey to reach the Euros. It is the culmination of the team’s rapid improvement under Swedish coach Lars Lagerback, who narrowly failed to take Iceland to the 2014 World Cup as the team lost in a playoff to Croatia. Lagerback has set Iceland up to be defensively solid, conceding just six goals in 10 qualifiers.

GYLFI SIGURDSSON: Led Iceland with six goals and three assists in 10 qualifiers and the Swansea midfielder is at the heart of most of the team’s attacks. He has the vision and passing skills to pick teams apart, while also providing a scoring threat from distance. In a team that emphasizes the collective, Sigurdsson is the standout talent that must provide goals for the team to have a chance to make a mark in France.

ARON GUNNARSSON: Iceland’s captain anchors the team’s midfield and provides on-field leadership through his determination and intensity. While he wasn’t a regular for Cardiff this season, Gunnarsson is exactly the type of blue-collar player that Lagerback prizes highly and his place in Iceland’s starting lineup is all but assured.

COACH LARS LAGERBACK: While Iceland is a newcomer at the Euros, its coach is one of the most experienced at the tournament. Lagerback helped lead Sweden to five consecutive championships between 2000 and 2008 and then coached Nigeria at the 2010 World Cup. However, leading Iceland to the Euros may rank as his greatest achievement yet. The stoic Swede is known for managing teams that are difficult to beat but rarely spectacular to watch.



Think of Portugal and one name immediately comes to mind: Cristiano Ronaldo. Naming any other Portuguese players, though, is a bit harder. And that lack of squad depth has long been Portugal’s problem. Ronaldo admitted after Portugal’s disappointing group-stage exit at the 2014 World Cup that maybe the team was just average, despite often being high in the FIFA rankings. The Real Madrid striker makes a competent but ordinary Portuguese team shine. He leads a side that reached the semifinals at Euro 2012 and lost the 2004 final on its own turf, against Greece.

CRISTIANO RONALDO: Ronaldo, who converted the winning penalty for Madrid in the Champions League final on Saturday, is already sure of going down as one of Portugal’s all-time greats. The team captain is his country’s all-time top scorer with 56 goals in 125 appearances - two shy of Luis Figo’s record number of caps. A player who loves being center of attention, Ronaldo needs to shine in France for Portugal to have any chance of going close.

ANDRE ANDRE: After making his international debut in March, the midfielder moved to FC Porto last summer. He made an immediate impact, scoring to help Porto beat Benfica in Portugal and Chelsea in the Champions League. Andre Andre is part of a new generation that is blossoming after coming through Portugal’s youth teams. Other promising youngsters are William Carvalho, Joao Mario and Ruben Neves.

COACH FERNANDO SANTOS: Your team needs a makeover? Call Fernando Santos. The coach has built a reputation for rescuing troubled teams, taking over a Greece that was in the doldrums after the 2012 World Cup and racking up an unbeaten run in his first 15 months on the job. He joined Portugal after its 2014 World Cup group-stage exit and following its 1-0 home defeat against Albania in its opening Euro 2016 qualifier. He then chalked up seven straight victories and, in exhibition games, also snared Portugal’s first win in 39 years against Italy, as well as its first in 42 years against Argentina.

By Barry Hatton

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