Perhaps it is because of the COVID lockdowns, the lack of sports and excitement, or even the one-year delay, but I have been looking forward to these European Championships. This despite the low expectations on quality and the continued xenophobia, greed and politics that continue to haunt football in general, but very specifically when it comes to national teams.
That said, I will enjoy focusing on football ranting over the next month or so, and delighted to see fans in the stadiums!
The opening match was as much a disappointment about Turkey, as about a warning about Italy. I had certainly expected more from the Turks' young team, but they did not seem like a team that wanted or even believed that they could win , and only one shot on goal throughout the match is only witness of a team that was there to defend.
And they defended well, but we can thank the Italians that it did not work, and Italy's 3-0 victory was not too big. Italy were deservedly rewarded for their patient pressure and dominance, and should indeed be considered one of the candidates to go all the way.
Who are these candidates anyway?
Let us start by saying that all teams can make it; there are no weak sides in the tournament, and on a good day the lowest ranked sides of Finland or North Macedonia can defeat the highest ranked of Belgium or France. And be certain that we will see surprises from smaller sides, as well as disappointments from some of the so-called "giants". That said, there are certainly some teams that I will personally find interesting to watch (in no particular order):
- France: the defending World Champions have the most complete squad of all, with perhaps the best player in the world, N'golo Kante, as well as super stars as Kylian Mbappe or Rafael Varane, even a returning Karim Benzema, who had been out of the world cup squad. If things work for them as they did in Russia in 2018, they will win
- Belgium: The side continues to be ranked number 1 in the FIFA world rankings, and continue to have a side that can defeat anybody. However, as in 2018, one has a feeling that they lack one last bit of something to go all the way. That said, personally, Belgium will be one of my favourite teams to watch, and as long as they don't face Denmark (which they will), to support
- Portugal: One cannot dismiss the defending champions from 2016, despite it being the most boring final of all time. Portugal are still led by the Great Cristiano Ronaldo, who despite his age is still brilliant and surrounded by hugely talented players. Portugal will go for the repeat for sure, and will be contender, although I hope it will be more entertaining than in 2016....
- Germany: The ever-strong German poor results lately have probably weakened expectations, but one would be silly ever to discount the Germans. This will be the end of the Joachim Low era, and no matter how they do, it will be interesting to see how it ends, and whether it lays a foundation for a new era of for German national football; the talented youngster are plenty. Personally I always look forward to watching Germany, but I never support them!
- England: I will not support England in any match. That said, any football fan should be excited about their talented young team; after so many years England is managing to get hugely talented youngsters from the best league in the world. After making it to the semifinals of the World Cup they must certainly be considered contenders for the title; expectations from English fans are always huge, but this time they are justified
- Croatia: I always love watching Croatia, simply because no matter what, they put so much passion into the game. After making it to the world cup final in 2018, they are nevertheless an older side, but still led by the Great Luca Modric, and many talented young players. Despite it all, they are unlikely to win the title, but could defeat anyone
- Denmark: Of course I am biased, as I will support Denmark, but beyond that, I think that after many years of not having a full first-rate side, Denmark now has a full contingency of solid players, all playing in big clubs in some of the best leagues. In particular defense looks world class (including one of best goalkeepers in Kaspar Schmeichel), and there are many promising young players. The attacking power is still weak, and although they will have to do their best, on a good day they can defeat anyone
Of course, all 24 sides are worth watching, and may I add that Italy (winning today) and Spain should probably also be considered (serious) contenders for the title. Additionally, it will be great to watch and welcome the fans from Finland and North Macedonia to their first international tournament ever, and hope for them that they get some good results and fun on the way!
And last of all: let us enjoy this with respect and friendship centered around our common love for football, and forget all the narrow-mindedness that keeps separating us.