The continent’s top stars will be out for glory, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal looking to make it back-to-back wins
THE long-awaited Euros kick off on Friday night after a year’s delay due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The continent’s top stars will be out for glory, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal looking to make it back-to-back wins and the man himself looking to break the world record for most international goals.
Out to stop him are favourites France, Germany, England and Belgium. But don’t write off others. Here we size up the titans of Europe.
Hot favourites France come into the tournament as world champions and with virtually no weaknesses.
Armed with the experience of winning on the biggest stage of all, almost any of Didier Deschamps’ squad members can be a starter.
Stars like Kylian Mbappe, Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante are match winners.
But Olivier Giroud can’t stop scoring for Les Bleus, while Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema have the knack of getting important strikes.
With little peril in their “group of death” with France and holders Portugal, Joachim Low’s manne have the luxury and talent to overcome a slow start to make the knockouts as the third-best qualifier if necessary.
Serge Gnabry is a killer upfront with 16 goals in 22 games for Der Mannshaft, while Joshua Kimmich, Kai Havertz, Toni Kroos and Leon Goretzka can boss the midfield.
Experience will be another huge plus for the Germans, having tasted the embarrassment of a first-round World Cup exit three years ago.
Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Thomas Muller will be out to set the record straight.
Holders Portugal will have a target on their backs, but this time around not all the burden will be on skipper Cristiano Ronaldo.
He may just be five goals short of the record for most international goals, but Bruno Fernandes, Joao Felix, Diogo Jota and Bernardo Silva are stars in their own right.
Watch out for defensive midfielder Danilo Pereira and Renato Sanches to make a big splash again after being the breakout star in 2016.
The world’s top-ranked side for the last three years have to make good on their promise with time running out for this stellar generation.
Star playmakers Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard are injury concerns for coach Roberto Martinez. Romelu Lukaku is in beast mode at the moment and can add to his 60 goals in 93 games.
Youri Tielemans could prove himself a genuine star and 19-year-old winger Jeremy Doku is the young blood who is keen to make a name for himself.
Packed with Premier League stars, England (and the world) expects something from them now.
The bookies’ favourites alongside France, the Three Lions will have to overcome decades of hurt – having won their only tournament in 1966.
With the final at Wembley again this time around, the omens seem good.
Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Jordan Henderson and Harry Maguire have been to a World Cup semi-final.
But will youngsters like Jude Bellingham, Bukayo Saka, Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount and Phil Foden step up on the big stage?
Like Jack Grealish with his tiny shinpads, England will have to be brave.
Spain have been flying under the radar since their dominance over the early part of the last decade faded.
Only Covid-hit skipper Sergio Busquests of the Europe and world conquerors is left with Sergio Ramos being dropped by coach Luis Enrique.
While they may be defensively solid, they will be heavily reliant on Thiago Alcantara for inspiration in a style that uses more physicality than ball movement.
This is no tiki-taka Spain and they may still be able to spring a few surprises with no big obstacles to the knockout stages.
Italy, Netherlands, Poland
Darkhorses Italy, Netherlands and Poland have the talent to cause some big upsets.
The Azzurri, though, need a goalscorer to go on a run to add some star quality to a team who are unbeaten in two years.
The Oranje might have to take the game by the scruff of the neck to keep bumbling coach Frank de Boer from causing a trainwreck.
And Poland will need goal machine Robert Lewandowski at his best to go all the way.