A month of football madness starts tonight with the kick-off of the UEFA European Football Championship (commonly known as The Euros) leading up to the final at London’s Wembley Stadium on Sunday, July 11. England, in tandem France, are favourites to lift the trophy with the bookmakers. Personally, I can’t see it. An England win, that is (France – maybe!). But I have been saying that for every major tournament since 1966, each time hoping to be proved wrong.
Yes, I was around in 1966 but, unfortunately for me, my Irish father decided to visit his home city of Cork mid-way through the finals. I was dragged, kicking and screaming away from the telly halfway through the England V Argentina quarter-final when it was still 0-0. I had to wait until the following day to discover that we had beaten the ‘animals’ as Sir Alf Ramsey called them. Remember, no internet, no mobile phones, I had to wait the best part of 24 hours to arrive by boat in Ireland and get to a TV.
So, as is the norm, I’m pessimistic this time around. The tournament may be ‘coming home’ again, but that’s about it. The whole team has looked knackered in their build-up friendlies and some of the players, especially from Chelsea and the two Manchesters, have hardly had time to draw breath. Rashford looks out of sorts and there are question marks over the fitness of others such as Henderson (the Jordan variety, not the keeper) and Maguire. I won’t hold my breath.
But, at least England have the very real advantage of both semi-finals and the final being staged in London. There’s just the (not inconsiderable) question of them managing to get that far and Wembley being allowed to have enough fans in to constitute the so-called 12th man. At the time of writing, the Government seems to be wavering about lifting restrictions completely.
The England team would seem to have an okay initial grouping. In Group C they face the team that beat them in the previous World Cup – Croatia plus the Czech Republic and the “old enemy” Scotland. Could be better; could be worse. I expect the Scots to raise their game against England, but I can’t see them getting much from their other two matches. The Scots will take great delight if they can create a dent in the English hopes. For them, it would be like winning the whole thing. For me, with several good friends from Scotland, I would be happy if both teams got through to the latter stages of the competition. Pity my Scottish friends are unlikely to feel the same.
I wonder how many times the TV companies will roll out Paul Gascoigne’s wonder goal against the Scots in 1996? Just enough to tick off everyone from north of Hadrian’s Wall is my guess.
Remember, there are six groups and the top two teams from each and four teams with the best third place records will make up the final 16.
Wales also managed to avoid some of the historic big boys. Group A sees them up against Italy, Switzerland and Turkey. Will Wales make it into the last 16? With a fit Gareth Bale, I wouldn’t write them off. Without, I can’t see it.
In my estimation the most difficult foursome is Group F – formed of current World Champions France, current Euros champions Portugal, Germany and Hungary. A “Group of Death” if ever I saw one. That said, I expect the third placed team to make it through as one of the best four outside the top twos.
In that group, Germany are scheduled to play all three of their games in Munich. Indeed, such is the set-up of these finals that many teams will enjoy some home advantage (provided Covid regulations allow the fans in).
The full list of venues is as follows:
- Wembley Stadium – London, England
- Allianz Arena – Munich, Germany
- Stadio Olimpico – Rome, Italy
- Olympic Stadium – Baku, Azerbaijan
- Krestovsky Stadium – Saint Petersburg, Russia
- Arena Nationala – Bucharest, Romania
- Johan Cruyff Arena – Amsterdam, Holland
- Estadio de la Cartuja – Sevilla, Spain
- Puskas Arena – Budapest, Hungary
- Hampden Park – Glasgow, Scotland
- Parken Stadium – Copenhagen, Denmark
Dublin’s Aviva stadium had been scheduled to host a couple of games, but these were snapped up by others after the Irish were unable to give the required Covid assurances. Bilboa in northern Spain also missed out for similar reasons with Seville getting the nod instead.
Tonight’s opening match will be in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico when the Italians face Turkey at 8. England face Croatia on Sunday; Wales are in action tomorrow against Switzerland and Scotland play the Czech Republic on Monday. All three games start at 2 in the afternoon.
Here’s to a great Euros. Just wondering how many six-packs of lager to get in…
By the by … tomorrow, with the input of Michael Owen and Harry Redknapp, we will be looking at the best all-time England team. Some of the players omitted by the pair may cause outrage. If nothing else, their choices should get a few debates going in the county’s pubs.