MOTD finally kick off the UEFA Euro 2020
Friday:MOTD Live: UEFA Euro 2020; (BBC One, 7pm)
There’s something about an international tournament that sends football fans into a euphoric patriotic frenzy.
The domestic season may have only just finished, but excitement is at fever pitch ahead of the delayed European Championships, which were postponed for a year last summer due to the pandemic.
For the first time in its history, the competition will not be held in one or two countries.
Instead, the matches have been shared across member nations, with 11 stadiums across 11 different European cities hosting games.
Wembley Stadium is staging the semi-finals and final, while games will also be played at Glasgow’s Hampden Park, Seville, Budapest, Munich, Copenhagen, Baku, St Petersburg, Amsterdam, Bucharest and Rome.
On the pitch, there are five to six contenders who could win the tournament, with France and Portugal among the favourites before a ball is kicked.
The French World Cup champions haven’t looked back since that triumph and Les Bleus have their young star, Kylian Mbappe, in hot form, in front of a strong midfield containing the likes of Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kanté.
The team who beat France in Paris to win the Euros in 2016, Portugal, have added the Nations League to their trophy cabinet.
They have an even better team now with the emergence of Joáo Felix, Bruno Fernandes and Diogo Jota and should also be in the mix, despite a tough draw.
Among the countries trying to cause an upset are Germany who are always in with a shout but might struggle defensively, Spain who appear to be transition, and the talented Belgians, who may miss their captain Eden Hazard due to ongoing injury issues.
So what about the home nations?
Robert Page’s Wales get their campaign under way against Switzerland tomorrow, but they might face a challenge making it to the latter stages.
England make their bow against Croatia on Sunday, and many expect Gareth Southgate’s strong squad to go deep into the competition.
And finally, on Monday, Steve Clarke’s Scotland are playing in their first major tournament since 1998 and will be hoping to spring an upset or two. They take on Czech Republic in their opener.
The action begins tonight at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome, where Gary Lineker is joined by Alan Shearer, Rio Ferdinand and Thierry Henry to present coverage of Turkey v Italy in Group A.
The Turks will be looking for a better showing than 2016, when they finished third in a group also containing Croatia, Spain and Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, Italy, runners-up in 2012, are the group favourites this time around, with former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini leading the Azzurri to a major tournament for the first time, following their failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia.
They boast an impeccable qualifying record and have only conceded six goals in their last 18 competitive games while scoring an impressive 48.
With a mouthwatering midfield and 2020’s European Golden Shoe holder Ciro Immobile leading the line, they are some pundit’s dark horses for the tournament.
So, as the sun shines during long evenings over Europe, superstars Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane, Robert Lewandowski, Gareth Bale and Kevin de Bruyne are primed for action, and there is a real excitement ahead of tonight’s big kick-off.
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