The Euro 2020 finally kicks off tonight, and promises to be one of the most exciting and exhilarating international football tournaments since the last World Cup, three years ago. To be played across a record 11 cities from as many countries spread all around Europe, the games are expected to see crowds ranging from  25 percent capacity of the stadium to a full 100%, depending on the Covid-related restrictions in each country.

With the postponement of the competition by a year and the absence of fans inside grounds during the domestic football season all around Europe since last year, you can be sure that the atmosphere at the Euro games is going to be electric.

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Out of 24 teams participating in this 16th edition of the European Championship, nine have won the tournaments in the past, some multiple times. Spain (3), Germany (3), and France (2) lead the way; Portugal, Italy, Denmark, Netherlands, Czechoslovakia and Russia have all won it once. Among the notable football powerhouses that are still chasing their maiden title are England, Belgium and Croatia. 

The 24 teams have been drawn into six groups of four. Top two teams from each group and the four of the best third-placed teams will qualify for the Round of 16. From then on, it will be a classic knockout tournament.

ALSO READ: Confirmed venues, groups, formats and squads for EURO 2020

With the likes of  Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes and Ruben Diaz in top form, defending champion Portugal who beat France 1-0  to take the title five years ago, go into the tournament with an exceptionally strong team. Bookies, though, have other ideas. According to Oddschecker, a site that tracks the 21 biggest betting platforms, France is the overwhelming favourite, followed by England, Belgium, Germany and Portugal. 

Here’s our list of contenders:

  • FRANCE

Head Coach – Didier Deschamps

European Championships – 2 (1984 & 2000)

Key Players – Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema

 

Fresh off their 2018 World Cup victory, France are the heavy favourites to go one better than their runner-up performance in 2016. Les Bleus are loaded with talent in every position and are blessed with some of the best players in the world. Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante will be desperate to lead their country to their first Euro Championship victory since 2000.

The French have also received a massive boost in the lead up to the tournament. Karim Benzema, who had a fall-out with head coach Didier Deschamps in 2015, recalled the squad. The Real Madrid striker, one of the best footballers on the planet, has not represented his country in the last six years. Him and Deschamps have successfully reconciled and decided to put the past behind them for the sake of their country.

France had a relatively straightforward qualification process. They topped their group with a record of eight wins, one draw and one loss from their ten qualifying matches.

  • PORTUGAL

Head Coach – Fernando Santos

European Championships – 1 (2016)

Key Players – Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes

 

 

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The defending champions will look to become just the second team ever to retain the Euros. Led by the magnificent Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal is easily one of the best teams in the tournament. After their disappointing World Cup 2018, where they crashed out at the Round of 16 stage, the Iberian nation will hope to be once again crowned kings of Europe.

However, Portugal did have a shaky qualification run for the tournament. They finished second in their qualifying group behind Ukraine with five wins, two draws and one loss.

  • BELGIUM

Head Coach – Roberto Martinez

European Championships – 0

Key Players – Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku

 

 

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Euro 2020 is viewed by many as the last chance for Belgium’s golden generation to win an international trophy. Never before has a country with such a stellar group of world-class players failed to win any major international tournament (maybe England in the 2000s).

They reached the quarterfinals at Euro 2016 and the semifinals of the 2018 World Cup and will be aiming to go much further this time. However, time is running out for their stars. Kevin De Bruyne is 29, Eden Hazard is 29 and Romelu Lukaku is 28. This will be the last competition where most of them will be in their physical prime, and the Red Devils will hope to make full use of their key men.

Along with Italy, Belgium is the only team with a perfect qualification record for Euro 2020. They topped their group with a record of 10 wins from as many matches.

  • GERMANY

Head Coach – Joachim Löw

European Championships – 3 (1972, 1980 & 1996)

Key Players – Joshua Kimmich, Thomas Muller

 

 

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Germany has had a  surprisingly poor record in the tournament in recent times, considering their overall record in Euros. They did reach the finals in 2008 but were beaten by an excellent Spanish side, and have not done anything significant since.

Die Mannschaft also had a horrible 2018 World Cup. They were the defending champions, having won it in 2014, but failed to even qualify from the group stages, in Russia. They will be eager to start a new era of German dominance on the international stage, mainly because their head coach Joachim Löw is set to step down after this tournament.

61-year-old Löw has been Germany’s head coach since 2006 and has won a World Cup and a Confederations Cup. His players will be fired up to win the only trophy missing from his cabinet and end his reign on a high.

Like France, the German team also sees the return from the wilderness of some of their stalwarts from the past. Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels were the 2018 World Cup scapegoats and were banished from the national team for a long time. However, their impressive performances at the domestic level have convinced Löw to recall them to the national setup. Both will be determined to set the record straight and prove their doubters wrong. 

Germany enjoyed an excellent qualifying campaign, finishing first in their group. They ended up with a record of seven wins and one loss from their eight qualifying matches.

  • ENGLAND

Head Coach – Gareth Southgate

European Championships – 0

Key Players – Harry Kane, Mason Mount

 

 

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Is it coming home? On the back of their clubs’ domestic success in the recent Champions League, England is rightfully considered one of the tournament’s favourites. Just last week, Chelsea and Manchester City faced off in an all-English Champions League final. Both sides were led by young English stars Mason Mount and Phil Foden, respectively. England captain Harry Kane is also coming off the best season in his career so far, with 33 goals and 17 assists for Tottenham Hotspur.

The Three Lions have been poor in international tournaments since their one and only World Cup victory in 1966. They failed to even qualify for the Euros in 2008. However, this new batch of Englishmen is seen as technically gifted, passionate and hungry for success. They reached the 2018 World Cup semifinals and will expect to go all the way this time around.

England had a straightforward path to the tournament, topping their qualifying group. They finished with seven wins and one loss from 8 games.

The Dark Horses

  • ITALY

Head Coach – Roberto Mancini

European Championships – 1 (1968)

Key Players – Ciro Immobile, Lorenzo Insigne

 

After their disastrous World Cup 2018 qualifying process, where they failed to qualify for the tournament, some form of normalcy has finally returned to the Azzurri. Head coach Roberto Mancini was appointed in the wake of their failure to qualify and has successfully managed to steady the ship. They are a well-drilled team, capable of defeating any opponent on their day. What they lack in star power, they make up in grit, determination and steel.

Italy’s attack will be spearheaded by their two veterans Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne. Immobile, who plays for Rome-based club Lazio, is the winner of the European Golden Shoe 2020. This award is given to the top scorer among all domestic European leagues, and Immobile was successfully able to fend off competition from the likes of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, as he scored 36 goals for Lazio.

Insigne, the captain of Napoli, is coming off his best-ever club season. He finished the campaign with 19 goals and was Napoli’s top scorer. Both players will be well aware that this may be their last chance of representing Italy at an international tournament. The Italians are starved of success, having last won the World Cup back in 2006, and a new generation will be raring to go.

Italy was one of the two teams to have a perfect qualification record. They topped their group with ten wins from as many games.

  • SPAIN

Head Coach – Luis Enrique

European Championships – 3 (1964, 2008, 2012)

Key Players – Thiago, Aymeric Laporte

 

It’s strange not considering the most successful European footballing nation of the last decade to be among the favourites. But Spain is suitable where it deserves to be. They were European Champions in 2008 and 2012 and also won the World Cup in 2010.

However, the Spanish have been living off past glories for far too long now. They have been abysmal in every competition since 2012, with a group stage exit at the 2014 World Cup followed by successive Round of 16 defeats at Euro 2016 and the 2018 World Cup. La Roja will also be without captain and talisman Sergio Ramos for this tournament as he is sidelined due to injury. His absence will be keenly felt.

It will be up to the new generation of Spaniards to lead their country towards potentially their record-breaking fourth European Championship. Although without Ramos, the Spanish side will be allowed to call upon the services of another world-class defender in Aymeric Laporte. Laporte, who plies his trade for Manchester City in England, was consistently recognized as a French national throughout his career. However, France has overlooked Laporte time and again. Laporte was eligible to play for Spain since his family is from the Basque region. He had never played for  France. In May 2021, the Spanish Council of Ministers granted Spanish nationality to Laporte. He will undoubtedly be fired up to show France his worth. 

Spain was unbeaten throughout their qualification process, topping their group with a record of 8 wins and two draws from 10 matches.

Image: Instagram/@belgianreddevils, @equipedefrance, @portugal