There have been two occasions when Belgium could be considered the best team in international soccer. The first was in 1920, when they won the Olympic gold medal in Antwerp. The second was from last November to this March, when the Red Devils were No. 1 in the FIFA rankings. In between? Heartache, mostly.
Unfortunately for Belgium, they've run into more turmoil just in time for Euro 2016. Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Lombaerts, Dedryck Boyata and Bjorn Engels have all succumbed to injury, leaving the Devils at +900 to win the championship and –105 to win Group E. But there's good news for Belgium: This could be the softest group in the entire tournament.
A World of Hurt
Belgium's top threat during the Group Stage should come from Italy (+150 to win Group E), a program that's fallen on hard times since finishing runners-up to Spain at Euro 2012. The Azzurri have slipped to No. 15 on the World Football Elo Ratings, three spots behind Belgium at press time. Their manager, Antonio Conte, will step down after Euro 2016 and take the top job at Chelsea. And they've had injury problems of their own with Marco Verratti, Andrea Barzagli and Ciro Immobile, among others.
This should leave Belgium with some betting value when they open Euro 2016 versus Italy, coming up on June 13 at the Stade de Lyon. The Devils are favored at +150 to Italy's +205 and the draw at a very low +210. Both teams are stout on defense and injured up front, so the dreaded goalless draw could be worth a closer look at +550 on the Correct Score prop.
There may be some value in the remaining two Group E teams, but Sweden (+650 to win Group E) and Ireland (+1200) both have their issues. Sweden has dropped eight spots this past year to No. 28 on the Elo ratings; they'll only go as far as Zlatan Ibrahimovic will take them, and at age 34, he might not have much left following a very long season with Paris Saint-Germain. Ireland is two spots back of Sweden at No. 30 in the ratings, and they're in much the same box with their captain, 35-year-old Robbie Keane.
Which sets up a very interesting match between the two sides on June 13 at the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. Sweden is a +140 favorite, with Ireland at +230 and the draw pegged at +205. Yet however talented Ibrahimovic may still be, his presence makes the Blue-Yellow a compelling fade target; Sweden failed to escape the Group Stage in their last two European Championships, and even with the new 24-team format, it could happen again this year.
*Odds as of June 8, 2016