The Premier League Season has drawn to a close with one of the sporting stories of the century – unlikely underdogs Leicester winning the top flight in English football. But the fun isn’t over if you’re a football fanatic. The UEFA European championships begin today and last for exactly a month. It’s a once-every-four years tournament that sees the countries of Europe battle it out for footballing supremacy, and for the first time they will be contested by 24 teams – up from the usual 16.
For at least the past decade England have disappointed us at major tournaments, but for 2016 there’s a little more optimism around. We’ve finally got a group of players who seem to be able to deliver on both the domestic and world stage – and Roy Hodgson has been in the unlikely position of having to leave some big names out of his squad. But now that he’s made his decision, we thought it was the right time to preview the next big sporting event of 2016…
Roy Hodgson began final preparations for the Euro’s announcing a provisional 26 man squad for 3 friendlies, since whittled down to 23 for the Championships themselves. There are a few familiar faces, but also a lot of young and exciting talent. With both of the 2016 Premier Leagues top Goal scorers – Jamie Vardy (24 goals) and Harry Kane (25 goals), we’ve got a formidable attacking force, but pundits voiced a few more doubts over our defensive strength – especially after a fairly shaky 2-1 victory in the first friendly against Turkey. The second match – against Australia on 27th May – also ended 2-1.
Young call-up Marcus Rashford scored a maiden international goal – becoming the youngest ever t do so (at 18 years and 208 days), but the defensive difficulties were still there. So whilst we might be playing some entertaining attacking football – is it leaving us vulnerable on the counter attack? Let’s hope Roy can sort out the backline.
A 1-0 victory against Portugal in the third warm-up game came in a less than convincing fashion. Roy’s major problem seems to be a glut of strikers and a difficulty in finding working formation at the front. The net result seems to be most of them being played out of position, much to the ire of BBC Pundits Gary Linker and Alan Shearer.
Whether you agree with Roy’s squad choices or think he’s mad to have left out Phil Jagiella (Defence), Theo Walcott and Jermain Defoe, it’ll still be a riveting tournament. England beat World Cup holders Germany in a friendly back in March. We won our qualification group (admittedly it was a fairly easy group – if there is such a thing in European football) so there are some encouraging early signs for this tournament and we look set to play some attacking attractive football.
The Euro’s begin at the Stade de France, with the hosts taking on Romania, kick off is at 9pm CET.
For England Group Games, we’re in Group B along with another home nation – Wales – they qualified for the first time ever. Along with Russia and Slovakia. We open our account in the competition on 11th June in the pleasant surroundings and architecturally interesting venue of the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, all at a very civilised 6pm CET. Perfect for a Saturday evening in the pub.
The Wales game will be a sporting rivalry more accustomed to Rugby. It is our second game of the tournament and kicks off at 3pm on Thursday June 16th. Expect plenty of duvet days, or people phoning in feeling like they might be coming down with something and leaving early for that one!
Our third and final group game – against Slovakia – is on June 20th in Sainte Etienne. Let’s hope we progress through to the known-out stages. We can but dream of victory for the three lions.
Of course, one fly-in-the-ointment is the In/Out referendum taking place in Britain on June 23rd right in the middle of the competition on June 23rd – between the groups stages and first round of 16 which begin on 25th. Whether it’s Brexit or Bremain the result will surely colour the rest of the competition for all of our sides still in the competition at that point (Scotland and Norther Ireland qualified too – making it a full house of home nations to cheer on).