Tue 8 Jun by Mark Gleeson
One year late because of COVID-19, the 2020 European Championship gets underway on Friday.
Given that the four World Cups since 2006 have all been won by European teams, it can also be called a mini world championship and pits 24 countries against each other in search of the continental title.
A total of 51 matches in 31 days at 11 venues is a zany idea, dreamt up by former UEFA boss Michel Platini to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the tournament.
It is the second time there is a 24-team field. This resulted in the last Euro finals in France in 2016 sagging at times, but the quality of the field this time ensures it should be a much more thrilling tournament.
Six of the seven top teams in the FIFA rankings participate - led by Belgium, who are in search of their first major tournament success.
France, Portugal, Spain and England are the other favourites, but given the tournament’s history of upsets, TAB soccer punters should not shy away from selecting wins by the likes of Croatia, Denmark, the Netherlands, Poland and Switzerland.
If you are looking for a tournament victor, however, it is difficult to see beyond reigning world champions France. An attack comprising Karim Benzema, Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann is enough to terrify any opposing defence. And with Ngolo Kante, Kingsley Coman and Paul Pogba in midfield, they have another set of match winners.
Belgium have a sound chance too, but Kevin De Bruyne suffering a double facial fracture in the Champions League final is a blow. He is expected to play but surely will not be at his best after the setback.
HIRED/FIRED: Joachim Low was not exactly fired, but after last November’s 6-0 loss to Spain and an embarrassing home defeat by North Macedonia in March, he decided to leave his role as Germany coach at the end of Euro 2020.
MISSING: Netherlands captain Virgin van Dijk had hopes of being fit in time for the Euros. But after missing most of the season at Liverpool following knee surgery, he decided not to tempt fate.
BACK IN ACTION: Karim Benzema’s return to the French team after a five-year absence was a shock. But his ability is undoubted and he is fifth on Real Madrid’s all-time goal-scoring list.
WHO’S HOT: Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski has beaten Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to the 2020-21 European Golden Shoe and hopes to show that form for Poland at Euro 2020. The 32-year-old claimed the award for the first time by scoring a record-breaking 41 goals in the Bundesliga.
WHO’S COLD: Eden Hazard has played just 10 minutes for Belgium since November 2019 and goes into Euro 2020 on the back of an injury-plagued season at Real Madrid.