Group F isn’t going to be breaking any viewership records this year, but that’s not to say there aren’t some very interesting story lines for the four team’s involved. Portugal is just two years away from a disappointing World Cup and global superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will be itching to do better this year. Austria is an up and coming team with a lot of promising youth, none more promising than the brilliant David Alaba. Can he lead his team on a deep run? And how will Iceland and Hungary fair? Can the tiny Island nation of only 323,000 people make an impact? Can Hungary once again become the Mighty Magyars of the 50s?
Let’s take a look at what’s in store for Group F.
The Teams (odds according to bwin.com)
Portugal — 8th in FIFA World Ranking — Best finish at Euros: Runners-up (2004) — 19/1 odds to win
Austria — 10th in FIFA World Rankings — Best finish at Euros: Group stages — 34/1 odds to win
Iceland — 34th in FIFA World Rankings — Best finish at Euros: First appearance — 101/1 odds to win
Hungary — 20th in FIFA World Rankings — Best finish at Euros: Third place (1964) — 251/1 odds to win
Best goalkeeper — Rui Patricio
There are no standout keepers in, Group F, but that shouldn’t take away from the fine job Rui Patricio has done with Portugal the last few years. With over 200 caps for his club team Sporting Lisbon and 45 caps for his country, Patricio has been consistent, if not brilliant. He allowed 4 goals in 5 matches in the 2012 Euro Campaign, and while his one match in the 2014 World Cup was a disaster(4-0 loss to Germany), he’s easily the best keeper in group F. Though an honorable mention to Ramazan Özcan of Austria who had a great season with FC Ingolstadt in Germany this year, but he’s unlikely to actually start for the Austrians.
Best outfield player — David Alaba
Let me preface this by saying David Alaba is not better than Cristiano Ronaldo, Ronaldo is the best outfield player in this group. However, enough has been written about him, and you know what he’s capable of, while Alaba is something entirely different when he plays for his national team. Alaba, a left back nearly every game for Bayern Munich except for some of those avant-garde formations from Pep Guardiola, plays as a central midfielder for Austria. He’s the engine in the middle of the park for Austria, and if they want to get out of the group stage for the first time in history, he’s going to need to be exceptional. Alaba is capable of that, and while Ronaldo is one of the game’s great talents, in Group F Alaba might be the one player who can affect the table more than any other.
Player to watch — Renato Sanches
If Portugal is going to make it very far in this competition they have to shake the moniker of Ronaldo plus 10. Renato Sanches is only 18 years old but he’s already a big name in Portugal. He helped Benfica make it to the last 8 of the Champions League this season, before being knocked out by his future employer Bayern Munich. Renato Sanches has begun to impress within the national team as well. In recent friendlies, he’s been a dynamic addition to the Portuguese midfield. He hasn’t started much, and likely won’t at first, but as the tournament progresses he seems poised to demand more and more play time.
Most important match— Portugal vs Austria
Coming in first place in this group is going to be very important. The second place team is put on the side of the bracket with potentially Germany, Belgium and Frace, provided those three teams win their group. It’s rather apparent that Portugal and Austria are the two best teams in this group so a victory in this match could make the road for a deep run into the tournament a much smoother one. For the loser and second place finisher, it could make the path to the final a brutal ordeal.
Biggest story line — Can Ronaldo ever win a trophy with Portugal?
Portugal has never won an international tournament. Their closest chance was at the 2004 Euros when they lost on home soil to a defense first Greece side. Ronaldo, who was in the starting 11, was just 19 when Portugal lost that final. 12 years later and in his 30s now, Ronaldo hasn’t been as close as he was on that day. He’s the captain now, and one of the best players on the planet and if Messi is judged on what he’s won with Argentina, then Ronaldo will have to deal with those same judgments. He wasn’t at 100% at the last World Cup, and Portugal suffered for it. If Ronaldo is fit enough for this tournament then he’s capable of leading the charge for his country. But if he’s going to ever receive a winners medal with Portugal, he’s going to need help.
Teams to move on — Austria and Portugal
Schedule (all times Eastern)
Austria vs. Hungary, 12 p.m. on ESPN
Portugal vs. Iceland, 3 p.m. on ESPN
Iceland vs. Hungary, 12 p.m. on ESPN
Portugal vs. Austria, 3 p.m on ESPN
Iceland vs. Austria, 12 p.m. on ESPN2
Hungary vs. Portugal, 12 p.m. on ESPN