After the frustrating and necessary postponement of the scheduled 2020 edition, one of the world’s most anticipated football tournaments is finally upon us.
The European Championship of football begins tonight as Italy and Turkey do battle, with the eyes of a continent fixed on a host of venues and desperate for some sense of normality to return to their lives. Football is certain to provide that for the millions of Europeans who are slowly but surely moving towards a COVID-19 safe future.
A total of 24 countries have been split into six groups of four and eleven cities will host matches over the next month. It, as always, will be a mad flurry of action and The Roar will once again provide you with the inside running on the tournament; with insight, predictions and commentary from our panel of experts.
One of Australia’s most trusted football writers Mike Tuckerman returns, British Isles expert, player, referee and football author Texi Smith is also on board and the European game has few keener followers than Pablo Bateson, a man who has covered the game at all corners of the globe.
Of course, I’ll be making up the numbers and hoping Scotland produce something special during the tournament.
Each day presents an opportunity for you to match wits with the experts by entering your tips into the sheet below.
An updated leader board will appear each morning and as usual, the voice of the crowd will prove extremely difficult to beat.
Good luck with your selections during the tournament and be sure to start well in the first match, where the Italians will go in as strong favourites against Turkey.
Tournament winner: France
Golden Boot: Romelu Lukaku
It’s not like France needed any extra incentive to win another major title, but their Euro 2016 final defeat to Portugal on home soil invariably still stings.
They’ve got the best player in the world Kylian Mbappe and with Les Bleus looking like they’ve finally buried the hatchet with enfant terrible Karim Benzema, this looks like being France’s championship to lose.
I reckon Mbappe is a decent shout to finish as the tournament’s top scorer, however Belgium’s relatively straightforward group stage means Romelu Lukaku should score goals aplenty. The trouble with the Red Devils is they’re a real rocks and diamonds sort of a team, so they’ll either stroll through to the semis or crash out in a blaze of unexpected ignominy early on.
After years of underachieving, Italy are arguably dark horses to surprise everyone at the Euros. They enjoy the distinct advantage of playing this game at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and while Turkey are a deceptively decent side in their own right, this is a game Italy should win.
If anything derails the Azzurri, it’s the fact that their central defensive pairing is about a thousand years old and there are still a few question marks around their optimal starting eleven.
Tournament winner: France
Golden boot: Harry Kane
In spite of a potential semi-final match-up with Belgium should both countries top their groups, there is no reason to doubt that the French remain the cream of world football.
Turkey, North Macedonia and Finland will be three countries looking for dream runs, however the last eight will be composed of the usual suspects, with England and Spain potentially the biggest dangers to the Belgians and French.
I took Harry Kane as my golden boot winner during the World Cup in Russia three years back and see no reason to ditch him now.
With his penalty efficiency and an England squad likely to top its group with ease, Kane should have at least four goals knocked away by the time the Three Lions reach the knock-out phase. There, he will add a couple more.
The first match of the tournament sees many people’s sneaky prediction for the title Italy, up against an improving and dangerous Turkey.
Without defeat in 27 matches, the Italians will enter as favourites, yet also be well aware that the young Turkish team presents them with a potential banana skin game in Rome. A single goal will win it for the home side.
Tournament winner: Belgium
Runner-up : Netherlands
Golden boot: Memphis Depay
Belgium were everyone’s favourites in 2016 and managed to get undone in spectacular fashion by Wales. The golden generation of Belgian football was left rueing that missed opportunity.
No such problems this time, coasting through their group and beating Italy and France on their way to the final.
Joining them in the final, the Dutch, knocking off Germany and Spain en route, while emerging as the free-scoring machine that we once knew them as.
Memphis Depay is rumoured to be heading to Barcelona. Is it any wonder? He’s filled his boots in Ligue 1 this season and he will take that form into the Euros.
Put him down as my golden boot winner and let’s watch those Manchester United fans squirm as their ‘worst striker in EPL history’ knocks in goals for fun.
I fancy Russia to cause a few headaches – their monster striker Artyem Dzubya is the kind of anti-hero who does things his own way, and Mario Fernandes has a chequered past that will make a great autobiography in everyone’s future bookshelf.
Also watch for goalkeeper Martin Dubravka of Slovakia as he almost single-handedly scrapes them through to the round of 16.
The first game of a major tournament is often filled with drama, I’m thinking Greece v Poland in a bonkers game in 2012 or even Portugal losing to the Greeks in 2004 on home soil.
This time it’s Italy playing at home against rank outsiders Turkey. The notorious slow-starting Azzurri have been smashing in goals all over the place in the lead-up to this game, but Turkey have beaten France in qualifying and beaten border control in Iceland, so anything is possible.
Veteran Burak Yilmaz, champion in Ligue 1 this season, will score to get the arms waving and fingers pinching from the home fans.
Ciro Immobile will score an equaliser to tee up a frantic finish, but a draw will be a fantastic result for Turkey and a wonderful opening fixture for this long-awaited tournament.
Tournament winner: England
Runner up: France
Golden boot: Olivier Giroud
It’s hard to go beyond one of the big guns of European and world football to take the title of Euro 2020, and yes it’s curious for UEFA to retain that label in 2021!
The reigning World champions France should get out of their ‘group of death’, and if they do ‘Les Bleus’ will charge towards the final.
It’s difficult to see any of the so called ‘minnows’ making a big run late in the tournament, although it’s almost inevitable that upsets will occur in some group games. As a ‘dark horse’, Denmark could make inroads well into the knock out stages.
Belgium is finding it tough to fulfil their undoubted potential despite getting into title winning positions for major tournaments, while Spain has experienced a very disrupted final preparation including star midfielder Serio Busquets going into quarantine as COVID-19 positive.
Let’s hope this does not have even broader implications for their squad, nor extend to other aspects of an unprecedented Euro spread across 11 venue cities and nations.
If England can make it through to the semi-finals then home advantage will count for much, and they are highly capable of breaking their 55-year-old drought since the last major trophy success. It’s an incredible new experience that I’m tipping them!
Germany are perennial achievers and will want to reward their national team coach of 15 years, Joachim Low, who steps down in the role after the finals.
Current title holders Portugal will probably struggle to repeat their surprise (to most) success of five years ago, although veteran star striker and captain Cristiano Ronaldo is still in fine goal scoring form.
Early games of any tournament can be perilous to predict, even though the ‘Azzurri’ has the form lines and pedigree to justify being hot favourites for prevailing over Turkey in Rome.
However, I’m tipping the ‘Crescent Stars’ to grab at least a point, on the basis of being able to carry on from their fine form in the late March qualifiers for the Qatar 2022 World Cup.
|Match Week 24||Mike||Stuart||Texi||Pablo||The Crowd|
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