Here are a few things you should know ahead of the 2016 UEFA European Championship in France.
1. France has been here before
The French host their first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup and their first European Championship since 1984. France exited both of those tournaments with titles, and they enter Euro 2016 among the favorites again. They’ll be without suspended Real Madrid star Karim Benzema, but the French have plenty of talent to make up for him, including Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann.
2. Spain looks for three straight
Spain is the two-time defending champions of this tournament, but it’s a new era of Spanish football. After a disappointing showing at the 2014 World Cup, Spain will rely on the emergence of young players like Alvaro Morata and Thiago Alcantara, while also leaning on some stalwarts of the glory days like Andres Iniesta and Cesc Fabregas.
3. Germany still atop the world
The 2014 World Cup champions were at their best in Brazil and are another popular pick to win at Euro 2016, but have struggled in qualifying and friendlies leading up to the tournament. Still, having the world’s best goalkeeper in Manuel Neuer is a massive boost, and Germany is as deep and skilled across the field as anyone.
4. What to do with Wayne Rooney?
Wayne Rooney continues to be the face of England, but where does he fit in with this current group? Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy will likely play up front after spectacular Premier League seasons, making Rooney an odd man out. That won’t matter, however, if the young England squad can’t fix its issues in the back.
5. Striking gold in Belgium
The current Belgian side is a few years this “golden generation” of talent, making its second consecutive major tournament after being absent since the 2002 World Cup. Premier League talents like Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Jan Vertonghen are just a few of the world-class players Belgium brings to Euro 2016. The Red Devils are expecting quality results, even without injured captain Vincent Kompany.
6. Ronaldo is still Ronaldo
Portugal still hasn’t been able to put together a full side that can truly compete in a major competition, but their not-so-secret weapon always keeps them in contention. Cristiano Ronaldo is likely the best player in Euro 2016, but he recently said he’s “not at his best” entering the tournament despite scoring two of the team’s seven goals in a friendly vs. Estonia.
7. Zlatan’s last ride?
After an impressive tenure with Paris Saint-Germain likely came to an end this year after four seasons, Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic is looking for an encore performance in France for Euro 2016. At 34, his could be the last chance for Ibrahimovic, the best Swedish player ever, to bring his country a win in a major tournament.
8. Longshots thrive in Euro
The European Championship has been the site of a few famous upsets. In 1992, Denmark only qualified 11 days before the tournament when Yugoslavia was disqualified due to the country’s breakup and war, but won the title. Greece upset host Portugal in the Euro 2004 final, just the second time it had qualified for the tournament. With an expanded field of 24 teams, 2016 could bring the next big surprise.
9. Iceland breaks through
Iceland has fielded a national team since 1930, but it’s taken until now to make a major tournament. In 2014, they came close to the World Cup, but fell in the playoff stage of qualification. Iceland’s population of 330,000 makes it the smallest country to ever qualify for a major tournament. Other teams making their European debut include Wales, Slovakia, Northern Ireland and Albania.
10. Sibling rivalry
When Switzerland faces Albania in their Euro 2016 opener, Granit and Taulant Xhaka will become the first brothers to play against each other in the Euro finals. Granit (left), who recently signed with Arsenal, will take the field for Switzerland, where both brothers were born. Taulant played for the Swiss team in his youth days, but represents his parents’ home country of Albania at the senior level.