Monday 26 September 2016

Watch: Arsene Wenger backs 22/1 underdogs to win the Euros

Tom Rooney

Published 08/06/2016 | 17:07

It’s odd that, with just two days to go before Euro 2016 gets underway, a consensus favourite to win the tournament has yet to emerge, but Arsene Wenger has made a compelling case for one side in particular.

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Even a cursory glance at the bookmakers’ projections for likely champions by the end of the European Championships, will reveal a fairly standard cadre of frontrunners.

Despite a decidedly poor World Cup, Spain, seeking to win an astonishing third consecutive tournament, are there or thereabouts, so too are the hosts, France, and the outrageously talented Belgium.

Of course, Germany and Italy would be worth a punt or, if you’re really brave, Portugal.

One nation that is perennially overlooked when discussing potential victors is Croatia. That said, since finishing third at the 1998 World up, their form in tournaments has proven far from earth-shattering.

Four years ago, they failed to progress from a group comprising Ireland, and eventual finalists Spain and Italy.

Still, the past is the past, and the squad Croatia are bringing to France is replete with elite operators.

In midfield, they boast Real Madrid’s diminutive magician Luka Modric and the dynamic Ivan Rakitic, a vital cog in Louis Enrique’s Barcelona.

Less heralded is impressive 22-year-old Matteo Kovacic, also of Real Madrid. He featured heavily across the middle third under Rafa Benitez, though Zinedine Zidane used him sparingly.

In term of goals, Croatia can call on the wily Mario Mandzukic and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic, who scored six times during qualification.

As such, the Arsenal boss is adamant they have more than enough quality to make a serious dent in the tournament.

“One team, above all, who nobody speaks about, and has the internal qualities to be a major favourite is Croatia,” Wenger said.

“When you look at the players that they have; Kovacic, Rakitic, Modric - so many that I forget. If you look at the names there is something there, and why should they not be favourite?

“They could, for me, be the surprising package. “

Croatia progressed to the finals behind Italy, having lost just once during qualification, but doubts about their journeyman manager Ante Cacic remain. Cacic left Liverpool's Dejan Lovren at home following a bust up.

Furthermore, their group, containing Spain, Turkey and Czech Republic, is no joke. Croatia will open their account against Turkey on Saturday in Paris.

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