Euro 2021: Can we kick it? Your big fat Euros guide

·7-min read
 (Your big fat Euros guide )
(Your big fat Euros guide )

Remember that all-too-brief summer of 2018, where Love Island was on every night, it was marvellously hot and England were actually doing quite well in football? Remember how carefree (and mask-free) we all were and how we crowded into pubs without a mention of coronavirus? Mercifully, some good news — the temperature’s rising, Love Island is returning and yes, football is back with a bang… it’s Euros time! While the most dedicated footie fans might be rolling their eyes and brandishing their “football’s for life, not just for major tournaments” tattoo, the rest of us mere mortals are digging out our ’96 Euros training shirts, bulk buying the beers and humming “football’s coming home” because we only know the chorus. So, if you want to impress those eager “you don’t even know the offside rule” attendees, may we present the ultimate cheat sheet. Read, repeat, and casually recount at a moment’s notice. You’re welcome.

How does it work?

The competition is made up of 24 teams in six groups of four. At the first stage of the competition each team plays the other three in their group. The two teams with the most points in each group automatically go through to the next round and the teams in fourth place are knocked out. The four highest performing teams finishing in third place in their groups will also make it into the next round, which is round of 16. Next, the 16 teams play eight matches, in which the losing teams are knocked out of the competition. The remaining eight then enter the quarter-finals. The four winning teams then progress to the semi-finals, which, as before, knock out the losing teams, leaving only two remaining for the grand final. Let’s hope England, who are in Group D, make it through.

The favourites

(and wild cards)

Before you rush off to Paddy Power with your life savings in tow, let’s talk through the favourites to win — and the wild cards that might just pull through. Hotly tipped to win are everyone’s love-to-hate team, France. With Kylian Mbappé said to be the player of the tournament and the addition of Karim Benzema to the mix, they’re looking pretty formidable. But following closely behind are neighbouring Italy, with nifty kicker Ciro Immobile on their side. Belgium are also ones to watch. The team hasn’t changed much since 2016 and they are expected to play the same 3-4-3 system. Eden Hazard is back on form. The Belgian chants are also among the most creative — Freed from Desire by Gala is their song and when the team aren’t attacking, fans shout “stop knitting!”. Want to take a punt on the dark horse? You’ve got a good chance with our old enemy, Croatia. Said to be the biggest threat to England and with Luka Modrić as their star player, they could well rise up the ranks quickly. You could also go for underdogs Turkey. After beating France in qualifying and with Lord Farquaad lookalike Çağlar Söyüncü playing for them, they could be in with a chance this year.

The groups

Obviously, the most important group stage is the one with England in — Group D. We’re up against some serious arch-enemies, including Croatia and Scotland. Will — God forbid — Irn-Bru be spilled? Let’s hope things stay friendly in Wembley for the matches, the first of which is on Sunday between England and Croatia. And whilst Group D might be hotly anticipated for us in old Blighty, the rest of the world has eyes on Group F, with the F standing for “f***ed if we have to play any of them”. France, Germany and Portugal are all in the “group of death” — and we could be up against any one of them in a round-of-16 tie.

The pundits

ITV and the BBC are going head to head for Euros coverage, taking turns to show games but both showing the final. On the Beeb, famous faces will join Gary Lineker and Gabby Logan, including Alan Shearer, Rio Ferdinand and Jermaine Jenas. But, in a bid to become the most nickname-heavy show ever, ITV has borrowed Gary “G-Nev” Neville, Roy “Keano’”Keane and Graeme Souness (OK, he doesn’t have a nickname) from Sky, plus Ian “Wrighty” Wright from the BBC and former Lioness Eni Aluko. Will it be enough to pip the BBC on views?

Five players to look out for

⬤ Billy Gilmour, 19, Scotland

Billy Gilmour (Getty Images)
Billy Gilmour (Getty Images)

He was an unused sub in Chelsea’s Champions League victory, but his inclusion in the Scotland squad is raising the hopes of this beleaguered team. Turning 20 on Friday, here’s hoping youth is on his side as he’s reportedly had a taste of success and is hungry for more.

⬤ Phil Foden, 21, England

Phil Foden (PA)
Phil Foden (PA)

“Man City’s wonderboy” is strong praise indeed, but it seems to be warranted for Foden, recently shortlisted for the PFA player of the year prize. He may have been a late addition to the squad, but was Gareth Southgate saving the best for last?

⬤ João Félix, 21, Portugal

Joao Felix (Getty Images)
Joao Felix (Getty Images)

Any player known for their “acrobatic abilities” is one to be watched, even if you just want to see a nifty backflip. Atlético Madrid paid £113 million for him, so he must be half decent at least.

⬤ Ruslan Malinovskyi, 28, Ukraine

Ruslan Malinovskiy (AFP via Getty Images)
Ruslan Malinovskiy (AFP via Getty Images)

The midfielder is apparently in the sights of a Chelsea transfer after his impressive performance with Italy’s Atalanta.

⬤ Ryan Gravenberch, 19, Netherlands

Ryan Gravenberch (Getty Images)
Ryan Gravenberch (Getty Images)

The Ajax-trained midfielder is reportedly like an antelope to watch with his smooth co-ordination and easy strides across the pitch.

Dates for your diary

June 11: Kick off!

Let the Euros commence with Italy versus Turkey at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico at 8pm.

June 12: See Bale in action

Group A teams Wales and Switzerland face off at the Baku Olympic Stadium, Azerbaijan, at 2pm.

June 13: England get stuck in

Clear the day and catch England against Croatia at Wembley, kicking off at 2pm.

June 14: Scotland’s showcase

Fellow Group D team Scotland are on home turf as they face the Czech Republic at Hampden Park, Glasgow, at 2pm.

June 15: Keep an eye on the 2016 winner

The stakes are high for reigning champions Portugal as they play Hungary at the Puskás Aréna, Budapest, at 5pm.

June 18: The battle of Great Britain

Watch the nail-biting England v Scotland at Wembley at 8pm.

June 23: The former finalists

Don’t miss 2016’s finalists, France and Portugal, kick about once again at the Puskás Aréna, Budapest, at 8pm.

July 6 and 7: The semi-finals

Let’s hope England bring it home for these Wembley matches, both at 8pm.

July 11: The final

Prepare for some serious atmosphere in the capital, because whoever plays are battling it out at Wembley at 8pm.

The stadiums

For those lucky enough to secure a ticket for a game at Wembley, there are plenty of measures to keep fans safe. Currently scheduled to hold 22,500 fans for the first three matches and the first round of 16 match, only a quarter of seats will be occupied (UEFA is hopeful the stadium could later reach up to full capacity). UEFA has no plans to conduct on-site testing or ask for proof of a negative test, but this may change. Fans will be given a 30-minute timeslot for arrival and are required to wear a mask and stay in their allocated seats, so make sure you get the beers in before the game.

WHAT TO SAY TO SOUND LIKE A SUPERFAN by Susannah Butter

Don’t say

“I thought the European Super League got cancelled?”

“This VAR thing’s pretty clever.”

“Brazil are going to win. Definitely.”

“Harry Kane, pride of Manchester.”

“Why’s Tierney playing for Scotland when he’s an Arsenal player?”

“Come on Hazard!”

“I could’ve scored from there.”

Anything patronisingly man-splaining the game to any women in your party. You will only end up sounding like Alan Partridge.

Do say

“VAR is ruining the game.”

“Grealish is the new Beckham.”

“With boy wonder Saka on our side we can go all the way.”

“It’s looking a bit touch and go in central midfield, sort it out, Southgate.”

“Referee’s a wanker” or the Italian version, “Arbitro venduto!”, which sounds more exciting.

For all the latest on the Euros, visit standard.co.uk/sport

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