23 reasons why Euro 2016 will be the best Euros ever!
1. More teams
Eight more than 2012, in fact. That’s 24 managers, kits and national anthems to get your head around, and 552 players’ names for Jonathan Pearce to mangle into something unrecognisable. Lovely.
2. More games
A whole 20 more, to be precise, so 51 in all. That’s 4,590 minutes of top-class football, plus the potential for extra time and penalties. If your boss asks, you’re block-booking holiday from June 10 to July 10.
3. Endless permutations
Remember the World Cups of 1986, 1990 and 1994, when four third-placed teams out of six qualified for the knockout stages? With a Round of 16 for the first time in European Championship history, almost anything could happen. Try predicting the routes to the final when the winners of Group D will face third place in Group B, E or F.
4. France as hosts, Part I
It was Frenchman Henri Delaunay who invented the Euros and they’re an old hand at this, having successfully hosted the first Euros in 1960, the 1984 tournament and, in 1998, the first 32-team World Cup.
5. France as hosts, Part II
Not content with this top tournament know-how, our Gallic neighbours are the world’s No.1 tourist destination. History, culture, food, wine, mountains, beaches, N’Golo Kante… what’s not to like?
6. A Nice new stadium
Paris is lovely, but if you’re looking to avoid the crowds, head south. As well as being the capital of the Cote d’Azur and birthplace of Giuseppe Garibaldi and Hugo Lloris, Nice boasts the brand new Allianz Riviera, built for Euro 2016. It’s hosting some cracking fixtures, too. Time to dig out your passport.
7. It’s all in one country
Since increasing to 16 teams in 1996, the Euros have three times been held across more than one country, and not for the better as far as FourFourTwo is concerned. Forget co-hosts – embrace one host. One identity, one vibe, one mascot. Speaking of which…
8. Three British teams…
…plus the Republic of Ireland equals an tantalising amount of Home Nations involvement. Whether you favour British brotherhood or good old-fashioned schadenfreude, there’s plenty to interest all fans from these noble isles. Yes, even Scotland – Glasgow’s Willie Collum is one of the refs.
9. Beatable holders
From unstoppable in 2012 to unravelled in 2014, Spain have lost their aura of invincibility but gained a point to prove – an intriguing combination.
10. The world’s No.1 team
Yes, Belgium – according to the FIFA rankings, anyway, which had them top from November until last month, when Argentina retook their place. But after a modest World Cup showing, it’s time for their golden generation to live up to its star billing.
11. The world’s actual No.1 team
One friendly defeat to England does not make Germany a bad outfit. And if the subsequent 4-1 thrashing of Italy is anything to go by, it has made them angry. You wouldn’t like the world champions when they’re angry.
12. Five debutants
13. Iceland making history
Among the new boys are Iceland, the smallest nation ever to play in a European Championship. The islanders’ residents – all 329,000 of them, numbering slightly fewer than Wakefield – will be well behind Gylfi Sigurdsson & Co.
14. England with nothing to lose
Despite qualifying handsomely and drawing a favourable-looking group, English expectations are low thanks to a disastrous 2014 World Cup in Brazil and a youthful squad. So throw them all in, Roy – this could be your last shot at glory.
15. Golden oldies
Major tournaments aren’t just about unearthing new stars. Iker Casillas recently became Europe’s joint-most capped player (166), and Gigi Buffon (156) isn’t far behind. Robbie Keane’s on 143. There’s life in the old dogs yet...
16. Zlatan’s swansong...
and none more so than Sweden’s totem. Pushing 35 and with one last payday in the Premier League on the cards, Ibrahimovic might not fancy Russia in two years’ time. Enjoy this maniac while you still can.
17. Austria gaffer Marcel Koller
18. Sibling rivalry
Switzerland midfielder Granit Xhaka could make Euros history on June 11 when he lines up against a familiar face – his big brother Taulant, who is a defender for Albania. Play nice, you two.
19. The fans
Supporters make tournaments – cast your mind back four years to Euro 2012, when Irish and Croatian fans had an energetic Poznan-off in, erm, Poznan – and they’ll be hitting France in their hundreds of thousands this summer, including record numbers from the British Isles. Book now to avoid disappointment.
20. It’s Lewy’s time
An absolute world-beater for Bayern, and the top scorer in qualifying with 13 goals, the stage
is set for Poland’s Robert Lewandowski to finally take a big tournament by storm. No pressure, Bob.
21. Loads of derbies
England vs Wales (and their rival brass bands) is just one of several border disputes that look set to break out on French shores later this year. Germany-Poland and Austria-Hungary, among others, should be just as tasty.
22. Goal-line technology
Thought all those controversies were just part of a tournament’s rich tapestry? Turns out getting the right decision in a matter of seconds is even better, and at last UEFA agree. Hooray.
23. A great ball
Words: Louis Massarella