Euro 2020 (yes, we know we are now in 2021) kicks off on Friday with Turkey and Italy getting the tournament underway at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.
Here, we explain the ins and outs to those who may not have experienced the joys of a European Championship in preparation for what we all hope will be a festival of football this summer…
What is the European Championship?
It’s a quadrennial international football tournament, where the 24 best footballing nations in Europe gather to compete for the Henri Delaunay trophy. This year’s edition is due to start on June 11.
You say quadrennial, but the last one was in 2016, and it’s now 2021: what gives?!?!?
It was postponed last year because of something called COVID-19 that you might have read about in the news.
But they’re still calling it Euro 2020…
Look, they had all the signs ordered last year and frankly, we’ve all got bigger problems than the tournament being slightly mislabelled. Just deal with it.
How do you win it?
The tournament starts with six groups of four teams. Everyone in that group plays each other once, the two best in each group go through to the knockouts along with the four best third-placed teams. It’s then a straight knockout to the final.
Hang on, third-placed teams go through? So you don’t have to be the best, or even the second-best?
Nope. Very friendly and polite concept, isn’t it? In 2016, Portugal didn’t win a single game in the group stage, but scraped through and eventually won the whole thing (below).
Fun, isn’t it? You don’t actually have to be very good to be rewarded handsomely. It’s a reflection of society as a whole, in many ways.
Where’s it being held?
Everywhere! Usually, the tournament is held in one or two host countries, but this time its 51 games will take place in 11 different cities across Europe, specifically Glasgow, Seville, Rome, Baku, Saint Petersburg, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Budapest and Munich, all culminating with the semi-finals and final in London. Presumably, the UK was chosen for the finale because of its recent history of pan-European friendship.
It’s being held in 11 different cities in 11 different countries despite the fact we’re still in the middle of a pandemic?
Yeah, it seemed like quite a good idea when Michel Platini thought it up back in 2012. Make it a genuine pan-continental tournament, not put too much pressure on a single nation to stage the thing and perhaps remove the home advantage for the host nation (although the host hasn’t actually won it since 1984). Unfortunately, Platini is still serving a suspension from football for corruption and the pandemic has made 24 football teams haring around 11 different countries all with different COVID-19 regulations feel a bit… unwise.
Are any fans going to actually be allowed to watch these games?
Yes, some. In theory. UEFA decreed that all venues must be able to have at least a 25 per cent capacity in stadia, which meant Dublin was out and Bilbao’s games had to shift to Seville, much to the Basque city’s chagrin. London’s decision-makers are confident Wembley will be able to operate at full capacity by the time of the final, the Puskas Arena in Budapest could be full for Hungary vs Portugal on June 15, but most of the other venues will be 25 to 50 per cent full.
That said, technically anyone travelling from Britain to Germany has to quarantine for two weeks upon arrival and no foreigners, other than citizens from the participating countries of the games they’re hosting, will be allowed into Baku.
And of course, this is all at the time of writing. Lots can, and probably will, change.
Isn’t this all slightly ludicrous for a football tournament that, in the wider scheme of things, actually isn’t that important and we should probably all be concentrating on saving as many lives as possible rather than putting on what could be a pan-continental super spreader event?
Best to stay at home on the sofa, then. Why should I dedicate my valuable time to watching this?
It’s basically like the World Cup, but in many respects better, because of the capacity for unfancied teams to actually win the whole thing. The World Cup is always won by an established superpower, but in the last 30 years, three absolute outsiders have lifted the Euros: Denmark didn’t even qualify for the 1992 tournament but were called in at the last minute to replace Yugoslavia, Greece were 150-1 shots in 2004 and in 2016, Portugal were dragged to the final by a combination of luck, a friendly draw and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Important question: is there a mascot?
Of course! Meet Skillzy, a character inspired by “freestyling, street and panna culture” — which we think just means keepy-uppies, and balancing the ball on your neck and so forth. Showing off with a football, basically. Tournament mascots tend to be an anthropomorphised animal or imaginative character of some sorts, but Skillzy appears to be a man in the costume of an animated man, which feels quite disappointing.
Who’s going to win, then?
Hopefully, the winner is football and the real trophy is the friends we made along the way.
Who’s going to win, then?
Sorry. Interesting question. France are the reigning world champions, have arguably a stronger squad than three years ago in Russia and, just for yucks, have called up Karim Benzema after six years in the international wilderness, which hardly seems fair. Defending champions Portugal’s squad is cartoonishly talented. It’s not quite the last chance for Belgium’s golden generation, but we’re approaching the stage where they’ll probably be regarded as disappointments if they don’t win something. England have some brilliantly talented young players and if things go to plan then they’ll play all but one game at Wembley. Germany aren’t in the best shape but, well, they’re Germany. Italy were perfect in qualifying. Lots of good teams taking part, so maybe the winner will be football.
Who’s going to win, then?
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