As already discussed in my outright preview, I believe Austria could be the dark horses at the 2016 European Championships. Subsequently the 2/1 on offer for them to finish top of Group F is my best bet of the group stages.
Marcel Koller was awarded the managerial role in 2011 despite having a poor record at club level where he was criticised for a boring, defensive style during his four years at German club Bochum. Under Koller’s guidance though, Austria won their qualification group with ease, finishing with a points tally of 28 after they won nine and drew once on their way to France.
The record against qualifying opponents Russia (two 1-0 wins) and Sweden (1-1 and 4-1) is even more impressive considering that both nations are much more experienced at qualifying for major tournaments. That 4-1 dismantling of Sweden on their home turf in September 2015 raised eyebrows across the continent, but they still remain as outsiders for the competition.
A number of the current crop of players reached the semi-finals at the 2007 Under-20 World Cup. In terms of set-up, Austria employ a 4-3-3 high pressing strategy. Players are predominantly Bundesliga-based, with Bayern Munich star David Alaba pulling the strings in the heart of the midfield. Alaba has claimed the past four Austrian player of the year awards. For his country he resides in the middle of the pitch as opposed to his usual left-back spot with Bayern.
In defence the well-organised central partnership is usually Aleksandar Dragovic and Sebastian Prodl, but Tottenham’s Kevin Wimmer has done more than enough to earn himself a starting spot. Perhaps even more impressive than the Austrians' points tally is the fact that they conceded just five times across the ten qualification matches.
Fresh from Premier League glory with Leicester City, Christian Fuchs captains his national side and creates much of Austria’s play on the left flank. Further up the pitch Marc Janko, Marcel Sabitzer and Marko Arnautovic all have a great ability in front of goal.
The key match will be on June 18 against Portugal – the 10/11 favourites to top Group F. They seem far too reliant on Cristiano Ronaldo and in Brazil they struggled when the Real Madrid striker was absent. Just 11 goals were scored in eight Euro 2016 qualification games against teams like Albania and Armenia. Their ageing defence features Ricardo Carvalho (38), Pepe (33) and Bruno Alves (34), who can be troubled by Austria’s brash attack. A win in Paris in the second group game should seal top spot for Marcel Koller’s men.
*BEST BET* Austria win Group F - 2/1
When it comes to betting on which player will finish as top goalscorer, it's important to look at some big-priced value options as well as choosing one or two of the market-leaders. In the past, nobody would have guessed that Milan Baros, in 2004, and Alan Dzagoev, in 2012, would be in the mix for the golden boot.
Cristiano Ronaldo, 8/1 favourite for this summer's tournament, does not appear to be fully fit, whilst Thomas Müller (9/1) may not necessarily start in every game for Germany, with rotation between both Mario Gotze and Mario Gomez quite possible.
Antoine Griezmann - 11/1 each-way
Atletico Madrid’s star striker bagged 32 goals in 53 appearances this season and since his move from Real Sociedad in 2014, Griezmann has developed into one of the finest players on the planet. He was part of the French side that were crowned European Under-19 champions in 2010, and at senior level, the 25-year-old has a modest record of seven goals in 25 games for Les Blues. The tournament hosts have been handed a favourable group, so Griezmann will fancy his chances of finding the net against the likes of Albania, Romania and Switzerland.
Robert Lewandowski - 17/1 each-way
During Euro 2016 qualifying, Lewandowski topped the goalscoring charts (13) and also fired in the most shots-on-target (25). The Pole had an excellent season domestically, and became the first player in 39 years to score 30 goals in a Bundesliga season. For club and country, Lewandowski has scored a mighty 48 goals in his last 54 appearances so is a solid selection to score the most goals in France this summer.
An obvious requirement when considering a top goalscorer wager is that your selection must play as many games as possible. Poland are a well-drilled outfit and should, at the very least, finish second in their group that includes Germany and Ukraine. With a runners-up spot they could then face Switzerland or Romania, so the Bayern Munich forward should have plenty of chances to find the net.
Mario Mandzukic - 40/1 each-way
As a proven performer on the big stage, Mario Mandzukic has to be considered for a top goalscorer wager. The Croatian forward was 200/1 at Euro 2012 and his three goals saw him finish joint-top of the charts alongside five other players. Two years ago in Brazil he scored twice in two matches. With support from midfield maestros Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, the Juventus forward can continue his good form at international tournaments.
Eden Hazard - 50/1 each-way
He may have flopped in the Premier League this year, but Eden Hazard netted five times to help Belgium get to this tournament. Despite his struggles at club level the No.10 is vital to his nation’s chances of success. The winger was on penalty duty during qualifying and the 50/1 on offer is too big to turn down.
Mark Janko - 50/1 each-way
At club level Marc Janko has thrived since his transfer from Sydney FC to Basel, and for Austria he scored seven times in nine qualifying games. Over the past 10 years, the 6ft5 striker has scored just over a goal in every other game he has played for his country.
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