Still agonising over which teams to pick in our Euro 2016 sweepstake with a difference? Well help is at hand! We've asked Zonal Marking editor and Guardian writer Michael Cox to devise a mini-strategy to help you and your friends pick a winning selection for Euro Pontoon – but will you agree with his chosen four teams?
Pontoon is a gloriously simple game. Euro Pontoon is simple on paper, but the more you assess the nature of the game, the trickier it becomes to decide upon your four picks. 21 goals isn’t much between four teams – and it’s generally best to ere on the side of caution in the knowledge that anything above 21 means you’re bust.
It’s also particularly tricky given the nature of Euro 2016, the first 24-team European Championships. It’s difficult to look back at past tournaments for guidance. There’s an extra knockout round this time around, there are more smaller nations competing from the outset, and there will be a few unspectacular sides that reach the final 16 as one of four ‘best third-placed sides’. There’s much to consider.
Even qualifying is an extremely unreliable barometer. Switzerland, for example, managed 24 goals in qualifying – but all 24 were scored against teams who failed to qualify. They’ll be up against a different class of side here. Will they be free-scoring, or struggle to find the net?
There are various ways to approach the game, but selecting a tournament favourite probably makes little sense.
Teams which reach the final will probably score 10 or more goals in the tournament, which means the other three teams need to be relative minnows. If one over-performs, you could be in trouble.
Besides, you don’t want to be reliant upon one particular team too much – major international tournaments are unpredictable.
Take France at World Cup 2002, for example. They went into the tournament with Thierry Henry, David Trezeguet and Djibril Cisse in their squad – the top scorers from 2001/02 in England, Italy and France.
They were, of course, world and European champions. Yet they were eliminated without scoring – and they would have ruined your pontoon selection.
The best approach is probably to select a spread of teams, but avoid anyone likely to win the tournament for fear of them scoring too many goals.
After hours of thinking, I’ve decided upon my quartet…
My weakest side will be coming from group A. Albania and Romania are probably the two most defensive sides in the competition, and it’s doubtful their contest on 19 June will be particularly enthralling. In qualifying, Albania scored just 10 goals, Romania only 11, from ten matches apiece.
I’d be hugely surprised if these two sides didn’t finish third and fourth in the group. Although there’s a danger, of course, the third-placed side will progress, but then I doubt they’d score in the second round.
Although they’re considered of the tournament’s dark horses, I’m doubtful they’ll progress further than the quarter-final stage and are likely to be eliminated by the first serious opponent they face.
They’re in a fairly weak group alongside Portugal, Iceland and Hungary but don’t have many goal threats. Overall, I’m expecting five goals from Austria.
Italy might progress reasonably far but I can’t see them scoring many goals. They have no world-class attackers and without Andrea Pirlo, Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti, little creativity in midfield either.
A quarter-final spot could beckon, but they’ll be relying upon their defence to get them through. I don’t think Italy will score more than five.
This leaves me searching for around seven goals from one other side, which appears perfect for Portugal. They’re a good side with the best goalscorer in the competition. But they probably won’t have the strength to get past the quarter-final stage, and tend to become rather defensive in the knockout phase anyway. Cristiano Ronaldo will probably get around four goals, the others will contribute roughly three, and Portugal will get seven overall.
That leaves me with Romania (2) + Austria (5) + Italy (5) + Portugal (7). It’s probably slightly too bold, and I risk overshooting 21 and going bust. The more people you play against, however, the more likely you’ll need to hit 21 exactly so I’m taking an all-or-nothing approach.
So what approach will you and your friends take? Download our Euro Pontoon tool and get recruiting players!