After victory at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, Germany will be hoping to add the European title to their trophy haul at UEFA EURO 2016. For their part, defending champions Spain will be looking to make history by becoming continental kings for the third consecutive time. La Roja’s triumph at EURO 2012, following on from that of 2008, meant they became the first side to retain the trophy, and a fourth-ever title would make them the most successful nation in the history of the competition, one ahead of Germany. The winners of EURO 2016 will join the world champions at the FIFA Confederations Cup Russia 2017. And with just hours to go until Europe’s showcase tournament kicks off, FIFA.com runs the rule over the title contenders.
Hosts France are confident of becoming three-time winners of the competition, having previously prevailed in 1984 and 2000. Les Bleus won the last two major tournaments they staged, the 1998 World Cup and EURO 1984, and if they are to make it third time lucky they will need to emerge from Group A, where they face Romania, Albania and Switzerland. "Who are the favourites? I think all the top nations are, but people will say France because we are at home and we have a side that can win it," said France striker Antoine Griezmann.
English youth, Italian doubts
Aside from Germany and Spain, Belgium would also feature prominently on any list of 'top nations', having recently featured at the summit of the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking for a few months before dropping to second spot behind Argentina. England are in with a chance too, and are able to call on a strike-force that will trouble their opponents in Group B - Russia, Wales and Slovakia. Young guns Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford join the sensational Jamie Vardy and veteran Wayne Rooney in targeting defences in France. "We feel very relaxed and in good form,” said England coach Roy Hodgson. “We may not have a lot of experience but we can call on the belief, energy and enthusiasm of all our young players," he added.
Italy intend to justify their status as a traditional force but will be hampered by the absence of their injured midfield trio of Marco Verratti, Claudio Marchisio and Ricardo Montolivo. Coach Antonio Conte, who is leaving his post after the tournament, has to guide the Squadra Azzurra through a tough-looking Group E that also includes the Belgians, Republic of Ireland and Sweden. Portugal, meanwhile, were handed an easier draw, and will hope to cruise through Group F, which also contains Iceland, who are making their first-ever appearance at a major tournament, Austria and Hungary, all of whom will be delighted just to make the knockout stage.
The so-called top nations do not always rule the European roost however. Rank outsiders Denmark famously won the trophy in 1992, as did Greece in 2004, so the likes of Croatia, Turkey, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Russia and Ukraine all harbour hopes of going all the way this time around. Sweden, Poland and Wales each have a truly world-class performer in their ranks in the shape of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski and Gareth Bale respectively, and as a result are capable of beating any team on their day. Wales’ main man Bale put it another way, saying: "Our aim is to win all our games, and if we do that we will win the Euro.”
Records may tumble
A number of individual records may well be broken at the tournament. Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Spain’s Iker Casillas stand to become record appearance-makers at a European Championship in their third game at this year’s event, thereby beating the current mark of 16 appearances held by Lilian Thuram and Edwin van der Sar.
Having found the net at the continental showpiece six times already, Ronaldo and Ibrahimovic need another four goals to become the event's all-time top scorers, thereby overtaking French legend Michel Platini’s mark of nine. The all-time scoring target is in both players’ sights then, but given that Platini’s nine goals all came in the 1984 tournament, his record for top scorer in a single edition will take some beating!
France won their first European title in 1984, but were not rewarded with a place in the FIFA Confederations Cup as the event was only introduced in 1992. Now though, the contenders for the EURO 2016 title have the added motivation of securing a spot at Russia 2017, where they will enjoy the honour of representing a very competitive continent on the world stage.