What is common to Albania, Iceland, Northern Ireland, Slovakia and Wales? These teams are the first-time participants of a UEFA European Championship Finals, clearly benefitting from the organizers’ decision to enhance the number of teams from 16 to 24 for the Euro 2016 football extravaganza. The grand event unfolds on Friday June 10, 2016 in France, who is hosting the 15th edition of quadrennial European Championship for the third time. It doesn’t matter for the fans of world’s most popular sport that only the European teams are be playing in the month-long super-show of football. The appeal of the game is still global and the whole world will get involved in the game. Besides the five new entrants mentioned above, Austria and Ukraine will participate for only the second time and their qualifications came from having previously hosted the tournament in 2008 and 2012 respectively. Incidentally, Spain won both the 13th and the 14th edition of Euro Cup in Austria and Ukraine. With the culmination of a long European League season last fortnight, the football euphoria in the French summer will be highly welcome for global football fans. After all, Europe is the hub of the best football stars in the world and Wales’ maiden Euro appearance ensures football’s most expensive star Gareth Bale playing in the tournament.
More than 6 years ago, France earned the right to host the 2016 Euro Cup after a bidding process, in which Italy and Turkey missed out. Ten stadia in as many cities across France will host the competition. There are Paris, Nice, Lyon, Bordeaux, Lille, Lens, Marseille, Saint-Denis, Saint-Etienne and Toulouse. The 24 teams have been split into 6 groups of 4 teams each and they will play Round-robin games in each group. As per the new tournament format, besides two top teams from each group, four best third-ranked sides will also progress to the knock-out rounds. That means only 8 participants will leave the competition after the group phase. The 16 teams will fight for places in quarterfinals, semifinals and the final, thus generating a total of 51 matches in Euro 2016. Of these 51, 34 matches would form part of the Group Stage that would conclude on June 22 at Lyon. Knock-out phase begins on June 25 and the 8 quarterfinalists will be decided by June 27. The four quarterfinal games will be played during June 30-July 3; semifinals on July 6 & 7 and the final on July 10 at Saint-Denis, the largest stadium in France with a seating capacity of close to 82000 people.
Two-time defending champions Spain are bracketed in Group D with Czech Republic, Croatia and Turkey and they play their first Group game on June 13 with the Czech national team at Toulouse. Hosts France are in Group A with Romania, Albania and Switzerland. World champions Germany have Ukraine, Poland and Northern Ireland in Group C and other Groups are constituted as; Group B (England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia); Group E (Belgium, Italy, Ireland, Sweden) and Group F (Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary).
The first match of Euro 2016 will be played between hosts France and Romania in Stade de France, Saint-Denis at 2100 hrs. local time and for the next one month the global football fraternity will be witness to stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, Bruno Alvis, Blaise Matuidi, Paul Pogba, Manuel Neuer, Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Antoine Griezmann, Zlatan Ibrahamovic, Luka Modric, Robert Lewandowski, Wayne Rooney, Sergio Ramos and several others. Europe is full of terrific players and no wonder, the whole world will be looking forward to seeing their heroes in the 2016 Euro Cup. While Spain will strive to win their third straight title, hosts France are billed as the tournament favorites. The side, which can afford to leave out Karim Benzema should be brimming with talent. England are considered as the dark horse of the competition along with Croatia but only the turn of events will dictate the new winner this time round.