Football (soccer) fans rejoice…the second of this summer’s major international sporting events kicks off this Friday! Get set for the 2016 UEFA European Championship (or Euro 2016 for short) with the lowdown on the background, teams to watch, match locations, and analysis.
What is Euro 2016?
The UEFA European Championship is a competition held for European national men’s soccer teams (plus a couple UEFA members in Asia – such as Israel). Like the World Cup, it is held every 4 years – taking place halfway between World Cup cycles. The 55 national squads that make up UEFA (the Union of European Football Associations) must undergo a rigorous qualification process over approximately a year and a half leading up to the tournament to eventually whittle the number down to 24 (expanded this year from the previous 16).
The Euros are arguably the second most prestigious soccer tournament for international teams after the World Cup – although South American teams playing in the Copa América might disagree. Indeed, it is without a doubt the most widely followed after the World Cup.
Where are the Euros being held?
This year, the Euros are being held throughout France. Games will be played in 10 different cities across the country, ranging from the capital to the Mediterranean coast. With excellent public transportation and a long established infrastructure for soccer, it is an ideal place to host a major tournament such as this.
Who is participating in Euro 2016?
2016 is the first year in which 24 teams (including automatic qualifiers France) will partake in the championship, though there are a few notable omissions nonetheless (cough…the Netherlands). The teams that did qualify are divided into 6 groups of 4 (A through F), and are as follows:
Group A: France (host), Romania, Albania, Switzerland
Group B: England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia
Group C: Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland
Group D: Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia
Group E: Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden
Group F: Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary
How do the Euros work?
Each team will play the other members of their group once (90 minutes, with draws allowed), following which the top 2 teams in each group will automatically advance to the Round of 16. In addition, the 4 (out of 6) 3rd place teams with the most points will enter the Round of 16. 3 points are awarded for a win, 1 each for a draw, and 0 for a loss – while tiebreakers will be used to separate any teams equal on points. Once the knockout rounds start, one-off games will be played to completion with a 30 minute extra time followed by penalty kicks if necessary – until we get to the final match on July 10th.
Teams to Watch
As with most tournaments, there is always the possibility of a shock. The Euros have had more than their fair share of upsets with Greece winning in 2004, and Denmark winning in 1992 having only being added to the tournament after Yugoslavia was disqualified. That being said, here are a few of the teams to watch out for:
Germany is undoubtedly one of the favourites going in, and for good reason. While the may not be the reigning European champion, they won the World Cup in 2014 and are rightly considered one of, if not the best, national teams in the world. The Germans have some scarily good players, including Bayern Munich’s Manuel Neuer (perhaps the world’s best goalkeeper) and Thomas Müller (who always seems to be in just the right place for a goal). In addition, midfielders Mesut Özil, Toni Kroos, and aging captain Bastian Schweinsteiger are sure to have a large impact.
There are some question marks however. While Jérôme Boateng and Mats Hummels are rightly considered world-class defenders, the options thin out a bit especially when you get to the fullbacks. Up top, Germany could go either way. Since scoring the 2014 World Cup winning goal in extra time, Bayern Munich’s Mario Götze will have a point to prove after not locking down a regular starting spot with his club. 30-year-old veteran Mario Gómez returns to the squad after an absence, and will be hoping to make an impact up front. Despite a few concerns however, it would be no shock if Germany comes out on top.
The hosts are arguably the co-favourite alongside Germany. While the pressure of playing at home can be overbearing (Brazil in 2014), it can also be a great boon (France in the 1998 World Cup). Since a spectacular implosion in the 2010 World Cup (which included striking players and a group stage exit), France has righted the ship and improved as of late. They are perhaps the squad most blessed with natural talent and youth. France’s up and coming superstars, alongside established veterans, will hope to make an impact sooner rather than later.
The midfield is led by Paul Pogba of Juventus, who at only 23 is already one of the most in demand players in the world. Dimitri Payet is coming off a great year at West Ham while N’Golo Kanté of Leicester City (the surprise English champions) will look to continue his amazing year. As for goals, France lost their number 1 striker Karim Benzema of Real Madrid to a well-publicized blackmail scandal (which we won’t go into here), however they do have other options. Antoine Griezmann is perhaps the main man while Olivier Giroud can be a streaky player, but scores when he’s on form – and will look to do so to silence his critics. Meanwhile Kingsley Coman of Bayern Munich (19-years-old) and Anthony Martial of Manchester United (20) will hope to provide both skill and speed down the wings. Finally, France has a strong keeper in captain Hugo Lloris, although there are questions in defense.
Spain is the 2 time defending European champions (while also throwing in the 2010 World Cup for good measure). Despite this, most of the attention seems to be on the above two teams. Well, the reason for this is that what many perceive as the ‘golden age of Spanish football’ came to end at the 2014 World Cup – where a 5-1 thumping from the Dutch paved the way for a disappointing group stage exit. Many of the superstars of Spain’s 3 major championship wins are aging (Andrés Iniesta) or no longer part of the national team (Xavi).
However, the squad has undeniable talent and a further group stage exit looks unlikely (despite a disappointing loss to Georgia in their last warm-up game). Iniesta can still have a huge impact alongside Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets in midfield. Meanwhile, defenders Gerard Piqué (also of Barcelona) and Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid) remain at the top of their game. In goal, Spain have David de Gea, who has grown into one of the world’s best keepers, at their disposal, but it remains to be seen if he’ll start over Spanish legend and captain Iker Casillas.
Goals will be the main concern, with only Pedro having more than 10 international caps amongst the forwards. The search for a reliable striker has been troubled since the glory days of David Villa and a top of his game Fernando Torres. It has not been uncommon to see Spain play without a recognized striker at all in recent years.
Ah, long suffering England. The birthplace of football has struggled over the decades to add to their sole international triumph (the 1966 World Cup at home). Perceptions in the country often fluctuate wildly between massive confidence and extreme pessimism – often with a so-so result in the end. England have had some hugely talented players over the years, but always seem to underachieve when it matters. The 2014 World Cup was especially disappointing, as England crashed out in the group stages.
Could this year be different? Well there’s no denying that the squad is dotted with more promising and exciting young players than usual. Up top, Tottenham’s Harry Kane is likely to lead the line after ending the year as the Premier League’s top scorer, while Jamie Vardy can look to build on his fairytale year at Leicester City alongside Daniel Sturridge (who is perhaps England’s most talented striker, although often beset by injuries). 18-year-old Marcus Rashford also makes the squad after coming out of nowhere at Manchester United towards the end of the season.
Perhaps the difference maker though is Manchester United and England captain Wayne Rooney. The team’s biggest star, and best English player of his generation, Rooney has often disappointed in major tournaments since a strong Euro 2004. Now 30 years old, he no longer possesses the pace that once tore defenders apart, and looks likely to be pushed back into a deeper, more creative role in midfield. Whatever the case, this could be his last chance to make a major impact at an international tournament.
Moving further back, England will hope that 20-year-old midfielder Dele Alli and 21-year-old winger Raheem Sterling can provide some magic. Injury prone midfielder Jack Wilshere of Arsenal will also hope to stay fit and live up to the hype. The defense will be led by Chris Smalling (coming off a great personal year) and Gary Cahill – which should be solid, though they will certainly be tested. In goal, the squad have a reliable number 1 in Joe Hart. Will England finally bring the trophy home to a country in need of football glory? Well you can bet it’ll be an interesting ride no matter what.
In the last few years Belgium have been referred to as ‘dark horses’ so many times, I don’t think they can really be considered as such anymore. This is without a doubt the most talented Belgian squad ever, and they know their time to make an impact is now. It speaks volumes that a quarterfinal exit to Argentina in 2014 was considered a modest disappoint for this dangerous team.
The team has great goalkeeper in Thibaut Courtois while Tottenham defenders Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen make a formidable pair. Kevin De Bruyne is perhaps the Belgian’s most important player, and is rightly considered amongst the game’s foremost midfielders. Marouane Fellaini and Divock Origi have been known to make an impact for their national team too.
The team’s hopes of success could rest of the mercurial midfielder Eden Hazard of Chelsea and striker Romelu Lukaku of Everton. When on their game, these two are unplayable – but we’ll have to see which versions of them show up. Firing on all cylinders, the Belgians could just take the whole thing.
Portugal looked set to win the Euros back in 2004. In front of their home fans, they reached the final only to lose to the un-fancied Greeks. Portugal may not be as strong top to bottom as some of the above teams, however they do have one thing – the best player in the tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo.
Often touted as the best in the world alongside Messi (who is currently playing for Argentina in Copa América), the Real Madrid star can still dominate teams like no one else even at the age of 31. Alongside a supporting cast which includes the volatile but world-class defender Pepe, veteran João Moutinho, the skilled but inconsistent Nani, and the young up and comer Renato Sanches – Ronaldo will hope to drag this Portuguese squad to European glory for the first time.
You can never discount the Italians, but you also never quite know what you’re going to get. A runner-up performance in the last edition of the Euros in 2012 (where the fell to Spain) was sandwiched between 2 group stage exits at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. While the squad is made up of some very talented players, it is a perhaps weaker team than most Italians are accustomed to.
The loss of midfielder Claudio Marchisio to injury is tough to swallow and longtime conductor Andrea Pirlo has been passed over; however mainstay Daniele de Rossi will hope to have an impact. Up front is a worry, with the volatile Mario Balotelli not meriting a call up, and the remaining strikers either unproven at an international level or out of form.
At the back, Juventus pair Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci are both very good, while the legendary Gianluigi Buffon looks like he could play in goal until he’s 50. Overall, it’s a solid if unspectacular side that has left many observers writing them off. That being said, Italy has been known to turn it on come tourney time – so we’ll see what happens in the coming weeks!
There are many decent teams in Euro 2016 that have the potential to play above their perceived stature thanks to an individual, a few players, or a generally organized system. These include Sweden who are led by the always-entertaining superstar striker Zlatan Ibrahimović and Wales who have Real Madrid’s Gareth Bale, Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey, and Swansea defender Ashley Williams among their ranks. Other dangerous teams include Austria who have arguably their most talented squad in a long time (including Bayern Munich’s David Alaba) and Croatia who have a midfield that includes Luka Modrić (Real Madrid) and Ivan Rakitić (Barcelona). You can’t count out Poland either, who are led by one of the world’s best strikers – Robert Lewandowski of Bayern Munich. When it comes right down to it, you really can’t discount anyone pulling off a Greece and stealing the trophy from the favourites!
Stadium and Match Guide
If you’re lucky enough to be close to France, or you’re planning on heading there now, here is a list of all the games sorted by stadium and city. Decide what matches you want to see and book now!
Saint-Denis: Stade de France
The national stadium located in a suburb just outside of Paris is, unsurprisingly, the host of both the opener and the final. In addition, it is playing host to a couple knockout games and a great matchup between Germany and Poland.
June 10 (3pm): France vs Romania
June 13 (12pm): Republic of Ireland vs Sweden
June 16 (3pm): Germany vs Poland
June 22 (12pm): Iceland vs Austria
June 27 (12pm): Round of 16 – Winner Group E vs Runner-up Group D
July 3 (3pm): Quarterfinal
Paris: Parc des Princes
The home of Paris Saint-Germain that actually resides in the city limits hosts some good group matches featuring potential favourites as well as a Round of 16 match.
June 12 (9am): Turkey vs Croatia
June 15 (12pm): Romania vs Switzerland
June 18 (3pm): Portugal vs Austria
June 21 (12pm): Northern Ireland vs Germany
Lille: Stade Pierre-Mauroy
This city in the north of France sees some big group games, including one featuring the host, as well as a couple knockout games.
June 12 (3pm): Germany vs Ukraine
June 15 (9am): Russia vs Slovakia
June 19 (3pm): Switzerland vs France
June 22 (3pm): Italy vs Republic of Ireland
June 26 (12pm): Round of 16 – Winner Group C vs Third-Place A/B/F
Lens: Stade Bollaert-Delelis
Another city in northern France sees three group games and a knockout one played here – with the pick being an all-British matchup between England and Wales.
June 11 (9am): Albania vs Switzerland
June 16 (9am): England vs Wales
June 21 (3pm): Czech Republic vs Turkey
Lyon: Parc Olympique Lyonnais
The first game between Belgium and Italy that will set the tone for both team’s tournaments is the standout in Lyon, at least until the semifinal.
June 13 (3pm): Belgium vs Italy
June 16 (12pm): Ukraine vs Northern Ireland
June 19 (3pm): Romania vs Albania
June 22 (12pm): Hungary vs Portugal
June 26 (9am): Round of 16 – Winner Group A vs Third-Place C/D/E
Saint-Étienne: Stade Geoffroy-Guichard
Saint-Étienne sees Portugal taking on Cinderella story Iceland and England’s last group game, among others.
June 14 (3pm): Portugal vs Iceland
June 17 (12pm): Czech Republic vs Croatia
June 20 (3pm): Slovakia vs England
Bordeaux: Matmut Atlantique
The standout is probably Spain taking on a dangerous Croatian squad, but any of these could be worth a watch leading up to the quarterfinal.
June 11 (12pm): Wales vs Slovakia
June 14 (12pm): Austria vs Hungary
June 18 (9am): Belgium vs Republic of Ireland
June 21 (3pm): Croatia vs Spain
Toulouse: Stadium Municipal
The Italy and Sweden matchup could be a decider as both teams try to get out of a tough group, while the others are all equally important.
June 13 (9am): Spain vs Czech Republic
June 17 (9am): Italy vs Sweden
June 20 (3pm): Russia vs Wales
Marseille: Stade Vélodrome
One of the most storied stadiums in France sees England attempting to get off to a good start against Russia, the hosts playing Albania, two important knockout games including a semifinal, and more.
June 11 (3pm): England vs Russia
June 15 (3pm): France vs Albania
June 18 (12pm): Iceland vs Hungary
June 21 (12pm): Ukraine vs Poland
June 30 (3pm): Quarterfinal
Nice: Allianz Riviera
Sweden, Belgium, and Spain all pay a visit to the south of France, which could see the fate of some loaded groups decided.
June 12 (12pm): Poland vs Northern Ireland
June 17 (3pm): Spain vs Turkey
June 22 (3pm): Sweden vs Belgium
June 27 (3pm): Round of 16 – Runner-up Group B vs Runner-up Group F
Where do I get tickets?
While many tickets have already been sold out, you can see what’s still available at the official ‘Tickets and hospitality’ section of the Euro 2016 website. If you’re stuck on this side of the Atlantic with us, you can watch the proceedings on TSN or RDS in Canada and on ESPN in the United States.
Staying safe at Euro 2016
One of the storylines dominating the lead-up to the tournament has been the terrorist attacks in and around Paris last November, and the elevated threat of another attack during the Euros. In the attacks, one of the bombings occurred just outside the Stade de France as Germany and France were playing. As such, you can expect security to be extremely tight across the country. If you are travelling to France, be sure to follow the instructions of all security personnel and remain vigilant at all times. For more information, check out the official Canadian government travel advisory website for France.
Enjoy the Football!
Now that you know what Euro 2016 is all about and who to look out for, it’s time to break out those replica kits and cheer your team on! Enjoy the tournament!
Learn more about Euro 2016 at the official website.
Plan your ultimate Euro 2016 getaway with our France Travel Guide! You can also check out our Currency Spotlight for more on the euro. Once you’ve done that, we’ll be happy to help you get some of your own online at FXtoGO or at your nearest branch.
If you’re interested in reading a bit more about the beautiful game, check out our guide for the ongoing Copa América Centenario or see what we picked as our 11 most iconic soccer stadiums around the world!
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