The month-long competition is being staged as a pan-continental event for the first time with matches played in 11 cities spread all across Europe and limited numbers of spectators allowed into stadia.
The tournament was, of course, originally due to take place last summer before the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc and forced cancellation just three months before the scheduled start.
Despite the subsequent 12-month delay, the tournament officially retained its title of Euro 2020 with UEFA chief Aleksander Ceferin admitting organising a competition in stadiums spread across the continent was “symbolically a nice thing, but not an easy task for us, even regardless of the pandemic.”
Regardless, all eyes will be on Rome this evening as the month-long festival of football begins.
Roberto Mancini’s Italy had an outstanding qualifying record, albeit in a relatively weak group, and go into the tournament full of confidence.
Paris Saint-Germain’s Marco Verratti is their key man and if he can replicate his club form on the international stage then Italy should be able to qualify from the group. How far they progress after
that is anyone’s guess although many observers have them as potential outsiders.
Managed by Şenol Güneş who previously took them to the semi-finals of the 2002 World Cup, Turkey are many people’s dark horses.
Built on a solid defence marshalled by Leicester City’s Çağlar Söyüncü, they will be a tough nut to crack. Further upfield, Burak Yilmaz and Ozan Tufan are ones to watch and it would be no surprise to see The Crescent Stars venture deep into the competition.
Wales will look to emulate their fantastic achievement at Euro 2016 when they reached the semi-final although an ageing, injury-plagued squad could struggle. A lot rests on the shoulders of talisman Gareth Bale.
Switzerland, led by the ‘Alpine Messi’ Xherdan Shaqiri, make up the group and will be looking to their opening game against Wales tomorrow to ensure they get off to a good start to give them any chance of progressing.
Group B sees Finland make their debut in the competition where they will face off against fellow Scandinavian’s Denmark with the latter looking to the mecurial Christian Eriksen for inspiration.
Belgium are the overwhelming favourites to win the group if not the entire tournament with a
squad packed with superstars such as Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Kukaku. However, injury doubts the the former two and their ageing defence could potentially undermine their aspirations and pose a headache for coach Roberto Martinez.
Russia made the quarter-finals of the 2018 World Cup in their homeland although the squad has
changed greatly since and they do not enter the competition brimming with confidence, despite their coach Stanislav Cherchesov maintaining they can shine.
North Macedonia are another country making their tournament debut and in a group containing the indifferent Netherlands, Austria and Ukraine could possibly cause an upset or two.
Their captain, 37-year-old Goran Pandev, has just finished his 20th season playing for Genoa in Italy
and is their all time top scorer and appearance holder.
Much like his club side did last season, the Netherlands will rue the absence of defender and captain Virgil van Dijk. Regardless, it is great to see the ‘Oranje’ back in tournament football. Having missed out on Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup, this is the longest absence from major finals
for the Dutch since the mid-1980s – when they marked their return by winning Euro ‘88.
The Czech Republic, Croatia, Scotland and England battle it out in Group D. The latter go into every tournament with huge expectations and the Three Lions could possibly live up to their billing this time if coach Gareth Southgate can successfully fuse the dynamic between defence and an outstanding arsenal of attacking talents including Harry Kane, Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and
Mason Mount. At 17 years old, former Birmingham City academy graduate Jude Bellingham is one to watch and could shine, given the chance.
England play all their group games at Wembley which is a distinct advantage, particularly with a passionate, partisan crowd behind them.
Spain will be confident to top the group although they are a pale shadow of their former all-conquering selves. Much is expected of Barcelona’s 18-year-old Pedri, a prodigious talent who could light up the tournament.
Poland, led by lethal Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski, will be vying to beat Spain to top
spot in the group with Sweden and Slovakia, for which ensuring progression will not be a foregone
conclusion for either.
It is a tradition for every international tournament to have its ‘group of death’. Group F definitely adopts the mantle this time as holders Portugal, World Champions France, perennial powerhouses Germany and Hungary match up.
Germany have struggled of late, with a home defeat in March to North Macedonia in the qualifying round punctuating their demise, although they nearly always seem to find their groove come tournament time.
France boast an exceptional squad with talents such as Paul Pogba, Kylian Mbappe, N’Golo Kanté, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele and Karim Benzema placing them as many people’s favourites to win the tournament.
Portugal still have much to offer with the age-defying Cristiano Ronaldo still their most potent threat and important player although Liverpool’s Diogo Jota will also offer goals to lessen the burden on their megastar. Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes offer plenty of skill and craft in midfield too to suggest Portugal could go far.
The Euro 2022 finals start this evening with Italy versus Turkey (kick-off 2am Saturday, June 12,