Has it really been four years already? It only feels like yesterday that we were watching Portugal shock the continent in becoming European Champions for the very first time, defeating soon-to-be World Champions France in a final that was a very convincing antonym for the word ‘pulsating’. That’s right, the 2020 UEFA European Football Championship is almost upon us.
Euro 2020 isn’t going to be your average summertime football extravaganza, far from it. To celebrate the 60th anniversary of the tournament UEFA has decided to take the show on the road, with 12 cities across 12 countries hosting a tournament that will run from June 12 to – of course – July 12. To round off the whole ’12’ obsession, the decision to have so many host cities was made on December 6, 2012 (6/12/12). 24 teams will vie for the trophy too, and we all know that 12 doubled is 24. Will the tournament itself be a 12 out of 10 success? It’ll be different, that’s for sure.
Which cities make up the list? Well, seven towns were unfortunate enough to be discarded throughout the selection process, so there’ll be no hosting for Minsk, Brussels, Jerusalem, Cardiff, Sofia, Stockholm or Skopje. The honour has been bestowed on London (Wembley), Rome, Bilbao, Saint Petersburg, Munich, Amsterdam, Budapest, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Dublin, Edinburgh and Baku. Only two of the 12 stadiums have hosted Euro Championship games before, so this will be a new and exciting experience for all and sundry. Rome will host the opening game, while Wembley gets both semi-finals and the final.
The 2020 edition of the tournament has quite the history to follow. This has long been one of the showcase tournaments on the footballing calendar, a highly competitive event that has launched careers and provided fans with some of the sport’s most iconic memories. All football lovers will have a defining Euros memory. The Dutch will talk of Marco van Basten’s incredible volley in the ’88 final, the English might remember Gazza’s solo special and ‘dentist chair’ celebration against Scotland in ’96. The Welsh? Well, it is difficult to look past Hal Robson-Kanu making the entire Belgian defence look very silly just four years ago. This is a special tournament that often provides special moments.
The Euros might not have the international flavour of the FIFA World Cup but there has long been an argument that it is a stronger competition, a more exciting tournament to watch with fewer one-sided games. That might be true, but the Euros also seems to throw up more surprise winners than its international equivalent. Think Denmark in ’92, Greece in ’04, Portugal in ’16. Will we see a first time winner in 2020?
Forgive us for our cynicism, but we’re going to go ahead and say ‘no’. The wacky host system in use for the tournament might give it a very different flavour, but there is a depressing predictability to the nations afforded the luxury of hosting games. Each group will feature two host cities and the draw has been constructed in a way that guarantees one side per group will play all of their round-robin games at home, and you can practice your shocked face for finding out that none of those nations are found east of Vienna. That’s right, traditional powerhouses Italy, Netherlands, Spain, Germany and England (plus 1992 winners Denmark) get to play all of their group games at home. It is almost as if the tournament is designed in a way that guarantees the success of the traditional powerhouses…
Okay, that might be a little too cynical, and we must not let our hopes be vanquished entirely. It is important to remember that Germany are going through a period of transition, France will struggle to match the heights of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Netherlands are overachieving somewhat and England will almost certainly lose to someone on penalties in the quarter finals. There is still plenty of room for surprises, with many supposed ‘smaller’ nations ready and primed to make a dent in some supersize egos. This is a continental tournament after all, not the Champions League.
Finland will make their debut at the tournament, and the northern Europeans will be joined as first timers by one of Georgia, North Macedonia, Belarus or Kosovo. If the latter manages to come through their qualifying playoff it will represent a quite incredible achievement, considering this is the first Euros qualifying campaign in Kosovo’s history. Bosnia & Herzegovina and Israel also have the chance to appear for the first time. Throw in dark horses like Wales, Turkey, Ukraine and others, and Euro 2020 might yet be more interesting than first assumed.
We’ll be watching whatever happens. The eyes of the footballing world will be on the 12 cities lucky enough to host the matches, as fans from Cardiff to Moscow and Stockholm to Rome will tour Europe on the trip of a lifetime, meeting new people and discovering the magic of travel, all through the beautiful game. So here’s to a good tournament featuring plenty of good football, some marvellous goals, the occasional hilarious bit of foul play and Wales once again going deeper in the tournament than England.