Group A - France's GroupThere are six groups in the 2016 tournament for the first time, comprising 24 teams, the most ever at a finals tournament. The cynics would say (and normally I'd be one of them) that this move is all about making more money but there's no doubt that it's also going to be a much better tournament as a result of this expansion.
The fact that fans in the UK will have four teams to follow, England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic should be enough to whet the appetite of even the biggest conspiracy theorist.
So, here's a personal look at the teams in the tournament, group by group.
We start with Group A, which I'll call "France's Group" because it's easier to remember and because, barring a miracle, the host nation should win the group easily.
France are the bookies' favourites (4.0 @ bet365) to win the tournament, mainly because they are the host nation. They are at a relatively low ebb in terms of FIFA ranking at the moment (ranked #21) and there is always the problem that not having to qualify has meant they have lacked competitive matches for the past 18 months or so. Home advantage should make up for that, however.
As is traditional, they open the tournament with a game against Romania in Stade de France, St Denis on June 10th. Bizarrely, Romania are ranked higher than France at the moment (19th) but no-one seriously believes they are the more likely to win. The bookies make them 13-1 outsiders to win that opening game.
In the other opening game, Switzerland take on Albania. The swiss are the highest FIFA ranking team in the group, at 14th, whereas Albania are making their first appearance in the finals of a major tournament and are ranked #45 in the FIFA rankings. However, as always, it might be dangerous to underestimate the more unknown team. The Albanians have made impressive progress over the last 20 years or so, as their FIFA ranking shows.
If everything goes according to "plan" one has to expect France and Switzerland to finish 1st and 2nd with Romania probably grabbing 3rd spot and so giving them a 50:50 chance of qualifying for the round of 16.
So, assuming France win their group and get through the round of 16, they could face a possible quarter final in Paris, St Denis with Wales or England (assuming they finish second in their group and win their round of 16 game.)
28th May 2016