All set for big kick-off

Sports | AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE 11 Jun 2021

Euro 2020 finally kicks off as Portugal look to defend their title and world champions France seek a rare double a year after the tournament was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.

France's fearsome forward line makes them favorites to win a third European crown at the pan-continental event, while top-ranked Belgium and a youthful England side will be major threats.

For the first time, the tournament is taking place in 11 cities across Europe - instead of one or two countries - despite the shadow cast by the Covid-19 crisis.

Dublin and Bilbao were dropped from the list of host cities after being unable to give guarantees they could meet Uefa's requirement of accommodating limited numbers of spectators, but Seville stepped in for Bilbao while Dublin's games went to London and Saint Petersburg.

The action gets under way at Rome's Olympic Stadium tomorrow (HK time), where Italy take on Turkey in Group A.

France are not in action until Wednesday in the headline act of the group stage when the world champions take on Group F rivals Germany in Munich.

"All the other countries envy us," said a recent front page of French sports daily L'Equipe underneath pictures of Kylian Mbappe, Karim Benzema and Antoine Griezmann.

All eyes will be on 33-year-old forward Benzema, who was recalled after an international exile of 5 1/2 years following a prolific season for Real Madrid.

Holders Portugal and Hungary complete Group F, dubbed the group of death.

Cristiano Ronaldo is now 36 but is still going strong and is supported by a better Portugal squad than the one that won the title five years ago. Outstanding talents like Joao Felix, Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Ruben Dias surround Ronaldo.

The defending champions wrapped up their preparations with an impressive 4-0 win over Israel in Lisbon, where Fernandes scored two goals and assisted on Ronaldo's strike. Joao Cancelo scored their other goal.

England, in Group D, have the carrot of knowing both semi-finals and the final will be played at Wembley, while Italy and the Netherlands are eager to impress after failing to qualify for recent tournaments.

Captain Harry Kane believes England will start their bid to win Euro 2020 in a "better place" than they were before reaching the 2018 World Cup semi-finals.

"Now we've had a bit more experience, players in the biggest games for their club and obviously players who have played in that World Cup have had that experience as well," he said.

"We haven't won a tournament as a country for a long time, so there needs to be a lot of good mentality along the whole way as it is a long, tough journey."

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