BY Ayyaz Malik
With Euro 2016 ready to kick off tonight (10 June), the excitement of the tournament is certainly building steam. This year’s tournament sees sides such as Wales, Northern Ireland and Iceland competing in the biggest European footballing showpiece, which this year will be held in various host cities across France.
Euro 2016 will see 24 teams compete against each other, aiming for European supremacy.
Certain sides such as Northern Ireland and Wales, with the greatest respect to them both, have exceeded expectations getting this far. Wales have not been to a major tournament since 1958 and Northern Ireland have not been involved in International tournaments since the 1982 world cup, which was held in Spain.
And yet this tournament will be one in which some of the more ‘fancied sides’ such as Holland, won’t be at the finals in France. As for the sides that are in the tournament such as England, Germany, and Spain, they have just recently announced their 23 man squads for the tournament.
The Spaniards come into this tournament somewhat different to their previous two consecutive tournaments, but still dangerous never the less. Gone are the days of Xavi, gone are the days of David Villa – but what the Spaniards do have are exceptionally talented players such as Koke and Alvaro Morata.
Other absentees from the Spanish squad include Fernando Torres and Diego Costa, but with the Spaniards being under-20 champions recently, there’s a lot of talent in their squad. Players such as Saul Niguez and Vazquez have promising futures ahead of them, so expect them to impress in France.
Rivals Germany and England have drawn surprises in their squads as well. The Germans have seen two key players Miroslav Klose and Philip Lahm retire from internationals, with Emre Can and Mario Gomez stepping up as replacements. Notable absentees include Marco Reus who is injured, but rather surprisingly Sebastien Schweinsteiger has been included, Schweinsteiger himself was injured for a huge part of the season.
The Germans, who are reigning world champions since the FIFA World Cup 2014, maybe a tad under strengthened by the injury to the Borussia Dortmund man, but one thing in life you never do is to write off the Germans in football tournaments. Having last tasted European success on English soil 20 years ago, Germany will be hoping to challenge for the title here to make it a world cup and European cup double in France.
Arch rivals England, who were semi-finalists in 1996, have opted to pick young forward Marcus Rashford for their squad, much to the surprise of some. The Three Lions have also selected Jack Wilshere, who missed most of the season through injury.
Leicester’s Danny Drinkwater misses out as a result of Jack Wilshere’s inclusion. The Leicester man has every right to be disappointed after such a great season, but what falls in Wilshere’s favour is that he has been named the man of the match in the last six games he has been picked for England. With the exciting crop of young players Roy Hodgson has at his disposal, one would expect England to shine.
One side we can’t forget to mention is, of course, France. France, who are the hosts of the tournament are seen as favourites by some observers. Here at the Asian Sunday sports desk, as much as we admire the French side and the quality it possesses, we’re not as naive to say that any one side can be favourites when a ball hasn’t even been kicked yet.
As the current hosts however, France might have a slight edge – after all, they did win France ’98. But with the calibre of teams that are here and the way this football year has panned out, especially with Leicester City winning the Premier League, ‘favourites’ doesn’t have the same meaning as it once did.
Despite some big players missing the tournament, an exciting run of games is in store, despite some household names who won’t be at the tournament in France. Euro 2016 kicks off tonight at 8pm BST, with France up against Romania for the first match.