Euro 2020 June 11-July 11

All set for the kick-off

France and Portugal favourites as Ceferin says 'Europe is alive' amid the pandemic

European champions Portugal are in good form following Wednesday's 4-0 friendly win over Israel in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored. Their star forward is five goals short of Iranian Ali Daei's all-time international record of 109 goals and level with
European champions Portugal are in good form following Wednesday's 4-0 friendly win over Israel in which Cristiano Ronaldo scored. Their star forward is five goals short of Iranian Ali Daei's all-time international record of 109 goals and level with Michel Platini's mark of nine European Championship strikes.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

LONDON • For the first time, the European Championship will be held in 11 cities and despite the obvious favourites like world champions France and top-ranked Belgium, the competition has historically been open, with 10 different winners from the past 15 editions.

The tournament, delayed by a year because of the Covid-19 pandemic, kicks off today with Portugal hoping to retain their title and the French seeking another rare double, which they achieved by winning Euro 2000 two years after their 1998 World Cup triumph.

West Germany and Spain are the only other teams to have done so.

France's fearsome forward line of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann makes them favourites to win a third European crown, but Belgium and England will also be big threats.

Les Bleus are not in action until Tuesday in the headline act of the first round, when they take on Germany in Munich.

Holders Portugal and Hungary complete Group F, dubbed the tournament's "Group of Death".

Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo is now 36 but is still going strong and is supported by a better squad than five years ago.

The current team boast the outstanding talents of Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Ruben Dias, the Premier League's Player of the Season.

England have the boost of knowing both semi-finals and the final will be played at Wembley and captain Harry Kane believes the Three Lions will start their bid to win the Euro in a "better place" than they were before reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

"I feel like now we've had a bit more experience, players in the biggest games for their club and obviously, players who have played in that World Cup have had that experience as well," he said.

"We haven't won a tournament as a country for a long time, so there needs to be a lot of good mentality along the whole way as it is a long, tough journey to get to the later stages of a major tournament."

Dark horses Italy and the Netherlands are equally eager to impress after failing to reach the last World Cup and Uefa president Aleksander Ceferin is bullish that Euro 2020 will be a spectacle.

"It will be the first event of a global dimension to be held since the pandemic struck," he said.

"It will be the perfect opportunity to show the world that Europe is adapting. Europe is alive and celebrating life. Europe is back."

Adding to the unpredictability will be several first-time changes instituted by Uefa to help the 24 teams deal with the demands brought about by the pandemic.

Concerns over the possible emergence of virus clusters led European football's governing body to allow nations to name expanded squads of 26 players, although 23 will remain the maximum number permitted for each game.

Teams will be allowed to use up to five substitutes per game during the June 11-July 11 tournament, with a sixth substitute allowed exclusively in the case of extra time.

Uefa has also said that any accidental handball by a forward in the build-up to a goal will not be penalised at the Euro.

Roberto Rosetti, the head of referees at Uefa, last week claimed there must be "clear evidence" before a video assistant referee (VAR) strikes off a goal given by the on-field referee.

"Football is about controversial moments and it is not always easy to define the line of intervention for VARs," he said.

"We want clear evidence to disallow goals - that's it.

"For factual decisions, we want interventions just if it's clear."

The top two teams from each group, plus the four best third-placed finishers, will progress to the round of 16, which will be followed by the quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final.

Of the 24 teams at Euro 2020, only nine - England, Scotland, Germany, Denmark, Hungary, Netherlands, Russia, Spain and Italy - will get to play in front of home fans.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 11, 2021, with the headline 'All set for the kick-off'. Subscribe