Never have we needed an international tournament as much as Euro 2020. Bring on superstar strikers, upsets and the Tartan Army.
1. It HAS been a wait
Who even remembers the last World Cup? Wasn’t Robbie Williams/Morrissey at the opening ceremony? Exactly how long ago was this?
2. It's wide open
The last eight European Championships have had seven different winners, with another seven reaching the semi-finals or final. And none of them were current world no.1 Belgium, nor World Cup finalists Croatia.
3. Italy are back
Humiliatingly absent from Russia 2018, Italy go into May’s round of friendlies unbeaten in 25. Boss Roberto Mancini has the Azzurri’s best win percentage since the 1960s. Forza!
4. Group F (for Fun)
France vs Germany vs Portugal vs Hungary. Savage. The Magyars won’t roll over, either: they beat Iceland to qualify, then won promotion to the Nations League’s top tier.
5. The Golden Boot race
We’re unlikely to repeat the farce of Euro 2012, when Fernando Torres started two games but took home the Golden Boot as six joint-winners (three goals apiece) were separated by assists and minutes played. This year, Harry Kane is the bookies’ favourite, accompanied by the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Alvaro Morata, Cristiano Ronaldo and Timo Werner, but Memphis Depay, Ciro Immobile and especially Romelu Lukaku – scorer of 300 career goals before his 28th birthday – all have a shot… which is sort of the point.
6. An exciting new era
The days of CR7 vs Messi (and Zlatan vs the world) may be drawing to a close, but fortunately we have some serious talent coming through. On show at Euro 2020 will be Kylian Mbappe, Phil Foden, Jadon Sancho, Jude Bellingham, Jamal Musiala, Kai Havertz, Pedri and a clutch of other breathtaking youngsters. The future looks very bright indeed.
Their last tournament squad (France 98) featured a player born in the 1950s it was that long ago; this one will feature two of Europe’s best left-backs. Can Kieran Tierney play in goal?
Don’t dismiss the newbies. The Eagle-Owls won their 2018-19 Nations League group, then decided they didn’t need a play-off and qualified anyway. Teemu Pukki netted in three consecutive 1-0 wins and followed that up with 10 goals in qualifying, while scoring 20 goals per season for Norwich. Quite useful, then.
9. Saturday, June 19
France battle Hungary before Portugal play Germany, then Spain face Poland and Robert Lewandowski. Weekend vibes.
10. Heavyweight England clashes
Gareth Southgate’s men bantered their way into a World Cup semi-final by avoiding top opposition (topposition). Not this time. France, Germany or Portugal await in England’s knockouts bracket, with Spain also lurking. Good! That’s what it’s all about.
11. Goals! Goals! Goals!
Hectic club schedule = tired defenders = entertainment.
12. Low's last high
Joachim Low has managed Germany for 15 years now – incredible, especially as they’ve been awful for the past five. Since making them world champions, Low has delivered Germany their first World Cup group-stage exit, a dismal Nations League relegation prevented only by UEFA’s rejig, and their biggest post-war defeat: a 6-0 reverse to Spain. He’s finally leaving, but not before a final shot at redemption.
13. The mascot
Skillzy’s a celebration of street football and, unlike Euro 2016’s mascot, doesn’t share his name with a pleasure aid.
14. Luck of the draw
Reducing 24 teams to 16 adds a pleasingly random element to what could otherwise become a procession for the favourites. For example, if Belgium should top their group, they’ll face the third-placed side from Group A, D, E or F – which could realistically be anyone from Slovakia or Scotland to Germany or France.
15. England v Scotland (on a Friday night)
Lock up your crossbars.
16. Goran Pandev
Critics disliked UEFA guaranteeing one minnow a place. We romantics see newbies North Macedonia – play-off conquerors of Kosovo and Georgia, who stunned Germany in World Cup qualifying in March – being captained by 2009-10 Champions League winner Goran Pandev. His goal sealed qualification, too. And he’s their all-time top goalscorer. And their record appearance-maker. And his academy produced more than one of his team-mates. Critics can do one.
17. Robert Lewandowski
North Macedonia are one of four teams captained at Euro 2020 by their record appearance-maker and goalscorer. Alongside MVPs Pandev, Cristiano Ronaldo and Marek Hamsik is Robert Lewandowski, leading Poland on the back of 100 Bayern Munich goals in two years. Which is too many goals, if anything, Clive. Robbed of last year’s Ballon d’Or, Lewy can channel his injustice into destroying international defences.
18. Bob Martin's wheel of tactics
Lukaku on the wing! Hazard at wing-back! Chadli in midfield! How will Roberto ‘Maverick’ Martinez follow his freeflow Belgian jazz from Russia 2018?
19. Summer of love
Next year’s World Cup finishes just before Christmas. Enjoy summer football while we can.
On that note, the highlight will simply be watching football with friends again – wherever and however that may be.
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