In May, some fans saw their faith in their favourite club fetch them rich returns. They took their chances -- even though they were a low 5,000/1 -- and one of them, Mandy Clarke, went on to make £50,000 from the 10 pounds she had bet on Leicester City winning the Premier League.
Just two years ago, Atletico Madrid had stunned La Liga monopolists Real Madrid and Barcelona to clinch the Spanish La Liga title. Borussia Dortmund dared to challenge Bavarian kings Bayern Munich to be crowned Bundesliga champions in 2011 and the following year.
As teams battle it out in France for European supremacy, one can’t help but wonder if this will be the Year of the Underdogs. What are the odds of Croatia or Sweden ending up as Euro 2016 champions? What if Albania has a dream debut? Or, would you much rather be conservative and stick to the well-oiled German machinery and the calm Spanish stream?
We believe the beautiful game can be ruthless and unpredictable in equal measure. Here’s our version of fantasy football -- where we ‘pick’ the final four. Feel free to take your chances:
#1 Germany, Spain, England, France
In Chandler’s words, could it BE any safer than this! It is the most probable outcome, as qualifiers and favourites go. Yes, Portugal will be up against England once again but the Ronaldo Army won’t succeed in subduing the Three Lions. An aging Spain is unlikely to withstand the German might.
A probable scenario, but not a dull one -- it is a clash of the titans and who doesn’t enjoy legends mounting waves of attacks.
#2 Germany, Spain, France, Belgium
It was the Year of David in English football. Belgium is exactly that. With a team boasting of stars such as Eden Hazard, Kevin de Bruyne, Marouane Fellaini, Romelo Lukaku, Thomas Vermaelen, there aren’t any reasons why Belgium can’t take the fight to big boys.
The hosts might perform well but only if allegations of racism by Karim Benzema, who was left out of the French squad over a sex tape scandal, don’t derail their run. Being the host nation, France didn’t have to qualify for Euro but they would have topped Group A if results for its practice matches are counted.
#3 Germany, Portugal, Italy, Sweden
This combination is a spoonful of bold, and more. Three of the contenders are not among the favourites but we’re banking on Zlatan Ibrahimovic to turn into an enraged Hulk and Ronaldo, a befitting Spartan. From the Italian side, let the force be with Chelsea-bound Antonio Conte, whose managerial genius is capable of surprise resurrections.
#4 Albania, Croatia, Belgium, England
Professor X mixed a bagful of goodies and chemicals to create the Powerpuff Girls (Google if you aren’t a 90s kid). If fan support counts for anything, Albania can go all the way. And in this season of fan madness, we are betting big on the Balkan nation to spring a shock at Euro 2016.
It will be optimistic to believe that Real Madrid’s Luka Modric and Barcelona’s Ivan Rakitic can lead Croatia, but if the last season is anything to go by, the race isn’t over till it is over.
For those playing safe, Wayne Rooney-led England is their team, having won all the 10 qualifiers on the way to Euro 2016.