After a year’s postponement due to the Covid pandemic, the curtain is finally to be raised tonight on the 2020 European Championship, with Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal aiming to defend their title.
Turkey take on Italy tonight (at 2am Cambodian time) in Rome’s Stadio Olimpico as 24 nations vie to be crowned champions of Europe and lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy.
Matches will be played in 11 cities across Europe – in a departure from the tradition of one or two countries hosting the competition – to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the inaugural championship in 1960.
Reigning World Cup holders France enter the tournament as favourites, a youthful England are next with the bookmakers, while Fifa’s No1 ranked side Belgium are third, with Portugal, Germany and Spain joint fourth.
“To win [the European Championship] again would be incredible, and of course we go to the tournament with that as our ambition.
“We have a good team, but also we know there are a lot of very strong teams there,” Portugal captain Ronaldo told Livescore ahead of the competition.
Ronaldo will be looking to make up for a disappointing domestic season in which his Juventus side were only able to finish fourth in Serie A by helping his nation retain their European crown.
He will be joined by English Premier League-winning Manchester City duo Bernardo Silva and Ruben Dias, and Manchester United midfielder Bruno Fernandes.
However, “A Selecao” have been handed the toughest possible start as they bid to join Spain as consecutive winners, having been drawn in the “group of death” alongside France, Germany and Hungary.
The French boast a strike force including Paris Saint-Germain forward Kylian Mbappe, Real Madrid striker Karim Benzema and Barcelona forward Antoine Griezmann.
This attacking threat is backed up in midfield by Manchester United star Paul Pogba and the dynamic N’Golo Kante, who won this year’s Champions League with Chelsea.
Alongside them in Group F, Germany have a wealth of experience, with goalkeeper Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Matthias Ginter, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels all members of the squad that won the World Cup seven years ago.
The three-time Euro winners’ squad also includes four players who played in this year’s Champions League final – Chelsea’s Antonio Rudiger, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner – while Ilkay Gundogan, a loser in Porto, won the English Premier League with Manchester City.
Joachim Low is stepping down as coach of “Die Mannschaft” after the tourn-ament and will be looking to leave his post on a high.
England also face a tough test in Group D, having been drawn against Croatia – who beat them in the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup – the “Auld Enemy” Scotland and Czech Republic.
“The Three Lions”, however, enjoy three home group games and the most promising talent pool in perhaps a generation, although there are concerns over defence.
Despite Covid restrictions, all 11 stadiums hosting matches will reverberate to the sound of fans, with attendances set to allow a minimum of 22-45 per cent of capacity, while Budapest plans for 100 per cent capacity but with strict entry requirements.
Games are to be played in Amsterdam, Azerbaijani capital Baku, Bucharest, Budapest, Copenhagen, Glasgow, Munich, Rome, St Petersburg and Seville – with the final set for London’s Wembley Stadium on July 11.
While the pan-continental format is a new development, another is that the 2020 European Championship will be the first to feature the controversial video assistant referee (VAR) technology.