FOOTBALL has come home… at last!
The Euros are here, and with eight games at Wembley and three at Scotland's Hampden Park, fans are really being treated in the UK.
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England last hosted a major tournament 25 years ago for Euro 1996 – one current boss Gareth Southgate won't need reminding about.
The gaffer missed the crucial penalty in the semi-final against Germany as the Three Lions fell agonisingly short.
Now Southgate is hoping to lead his youthful and exuberant squad to glory under the Wembley arch.
The coronavirus pandemic delayed the tournament for a year – but now there's no stopping the Beautiful Game taking centre stage.
Here, SunSport takes a look at the big players at the festival of football that kicks off tonight at the Stadio Olympico in Rome with Turkey against Italy.
ENGLAND and Southgate can step up
By SunSport's Chief Football Writer Dave Kidd
When Southgate was appointed England boss in 2016 – following Euros humiliation by Iceland and the embarrassment of Sam Allardyce's butterfly reign – many regarded him as a soft touch and an FA yes man.
They mistook Southgate's decency and good manners for a lack of leadership qualities.
Those myths were dispelled by England's march to the World Cup semi-finals and a series of tough, unpopular decisions on the way.
He enjoys that unique pressure and, despite the horrible outcome, the fact that Southgate took England's sixth penalty 25 years ago is testament to his willingness to accept responsibility.
However England fare at this tournament, Southgate will not dodge responsibility.
SunSport has signed up the legendary Jose Mourinho for this summer's competition. He gives his verdict on England and the rest…
Jose on England: "It has to be now, because it was in 1966. It wasn’t in Euro 96, because of a penalty shootout which is something very unpredictable.
"They have to push with everything this time."
England's famous fan: Prince William
ROUTE TO THE FINAL
It might actually be BETTER if England finish second in Group D.
That way they would likely play Sweden in the round of 16. If they win the group they could be paired against France, Germany or Portugal.
Come through that potential Sweden tie, there's no avoiding one of France, Germany or Portugal in the quarter-finals though.
If Southgate guides his troops to the semi-finals, potential opposition could be Italy or Belgium.
Taking in all the big guns, it then could be a final showdown against Luis Enrique's Spain in the final.
We can but dream!
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SCOTLAND – Steve and the boogie men
By Graeme Bryce
Ally McCoist once claimed he felt sorry for Brazil and Germany fans at major tournaments.
"Where is the excitement and drama, travelling halfway across the planet when you know the only game you might lose is at the final?
"Where's the fun in that? Give me Scotland any day – we don't have a bloody clue what is going to happen from one minute to the next."
If Ally is right and it is better to travel in hope rather than expectation, then Scotland fans can look forward to the usual rollercoaster of emotions this summer.
They secured their spot at this year's tournament with a nail-biting penalty shootout win against Serbia. That was soon followed by boss Steve Clarke's squad belting out 'Yes Sir, I can Boogie' in Belgrade, before doing the conga.
As McCoist said, Scotland simply don't do dull.
Jose Mourinho's verdict: "They are not candidates for the title, not even the semi-finals. But it is going to be very hard to beat them."
Famous Scotland fan: Andy Murray
WALES – New Page and chapter
By Martin Blackburn
Wales will play at a major tournament for only the second time since 1958 this summer.
But they will have to do it without the man that led them there
Ryan Giggs was temporarily stood down from his role as Dragons head coach when he was arrested following a domestic incident back in November.
Rob Page, a member of Giggs' backroom staff is the man charged to lead Wales this summer.
Skipper Gareth Bale and Juventus star Aaron Ramsey are likely to be key, with all they achieved for both club and country over the years.
A place in the knockout stages is the target and, if everything clicks, it is not beyond them.
Jose Mourinho's verdict: "With the small group of players they are doing amazingly well, so lots of respect.
"But it will be hard for them even to qualify for the next phase."
Famous Wales fan: Tom Jones
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ITALY – Is Roberto the Man?
By Phil Cadden
Roberto Mancini delivered Manchester City's first league title in 44 years back in 2012 – and now he wants to complete the resurrection of the Italian national team.
Mancini took charge in May 2018, six months after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 60 years.
The 56-year-old transformed Italy's fortunes, winning all ten of their Euros 2020 qualification games, with only Belgium matching that feat.
The Azzurri will be the favourites to reach the knockout stage from Group A, consisting of Wales, Turkey and Switzerland.
Once there, Mancini's Italy could even be a shrewd bet to win the Euros.
Jose Mourinho's verdict: "Italy have talented players, but they have a very good tactical knowledge. They’re able to play in different ways.
"I think they will be always in in the final four."
BELGIUM – Golden chance for Kev and co
By Tom Barclay
This tournament is viewed by many in Belgium as a last chance of success for their golden generations.
Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku may be in their prime but the majority of Roberto Martinez's squad are past their peak.
And Eden Hazard's fitness if the hot topic going into this tournament.
Belgium do not consider themselves favourites but a semi-final is the minimum expectation.
Jose Mourinho's verdict: "I think it’s now or never for them because lots of the players are reaching this perfect age to make it.
"They can do it."
HOLLAND – Time to turn it around
By Jordan Davies
After failing to qualify for the last two major tournaments, the Oranje are looking to win a Euros game for the first time since 2008.
It is their longest absence from international finals since the 1980s, when they returned to lift the 1988 Euros.
But under boss Frank De Boer, who took over from Ronald Koeman back in September, that feat appears unlikely this time around.
Virgil van Dijk is a huge loss, with the Liverpool defender ruling himself out with injury.
Given their fall from grace – not winning a game at Euro 2012 – many fans would settle for making the knockouts.
Jose Mourinho verdict: "Holland should get out of the group but to reach semi-finals or the final? I don’t see that."
SPAIN – Write them off at your peril
By Oscar Paul
Unfancied and overlooked, this could be the year for the great Spanish revival.
While going in as fifth-favourites, La Roja will fear no-one and have been boosted by defender Aymeric Laporte's late switch of allegiance from France.
It is not quite Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets, but the midfield trio of Koke, Rodri and Pedri offers guile, protection and the passing needed to get Luis Enrique's side humming.
They are likely to adopt a 4-3-3, with Ferran Torres a constant danger on the right.
On the left, Mikel Oyarzabal is coming off a stellar season with Real Sociedad, while Chelsea flop Alavaro Morata is set to be the focal point.
Jose Mourinho verdict: "Luis [Enrique] was my player when I was in Barcelona a long time ago. He has great leadership qualities. He will have the team around him altogether.
"They can beat anyone but I don’t see them playing in the final."
LATE TO THE PARTY
These five players have benefited from the delayed Euros
Since moving to Real Madrid, the Belgian star, 30, has had a torrid time with injuries – and he was touch and go to make it last summer.
But after a long season of rehab, the former Chelsea winger is creeping back to full fitness.
This time last year the Manchester City starlet, 20, had not yet made his Three Lions debut.
Now it would be hard to imagine an England starting XI without him.
The winger, 18, is Barcelona's youngest-ever scorer at 16 years and 304 days.
The Spanish FA soon swooped in to prise him away from his country of birth – Guinea-Bissau.
After a six-year absence, Benzema will be back scaring defences for France this summer.
And at the age of 33, the Real Madrid striker is somehow in the form of his life
Born in Stuttgart but raised in London, the former England U21 forward had a tough decision to make.
It paid off – after the 18-year-old was included in Joachim Low's Germany squad.
FRANCE – The frightening favourites
By Duncan Wright
Les Bleus are tournament favourites for a reason.
Boss Didier Deschamps can call on some of the biggest stars in world football.
With N'Golo Kante, Paul Pogba and Adrien Rabiot in midfield, they will look to dominate possession and stop opponents getting at their defence.
Going forward they look frightening, as Antoine Griezmann's guile provides the perfect foil for the blistering pace and finishing of Kylian Mbappe.
Real Madrid's goal machine Karim Benzema, 33, has also been given a shock call-up for the first time since 2015.
Add Kingsley Coman, Thomas Lemar and Ousmane Dembele to the mix, and there are plenty of wild cards on offer.
Jose Mourinho's verdict: "I cannot see any weakness. If I had to say one team to win it, I will say them – because the group of players is fantastic.
"They have to win it. If not, it is an unsuccessful Euros."
GERMANY – Low's swansong
Germany come into the Euros as an unsung threat – though outgoing boss Joachim Low could have done without being drawn in the Group of Death alongside France, Portugal and Hungary.
The dismal group-stage exit at Russia 2018 still lingers in the minds of many but this new squad is littered with the kind of talent other nations could only dream about.
Manuel Neuer is a rock in goal and any squad boasting the attacking threat of Ilkay Gundogan, Leroy Sane, Kai Havertz and Timo Werner is something to be wary of.
But unlike German teams of old, there is not the same confidence in the defence – that is Low's big challenge.
Home advantage could be the key to qualification for the knockout rounds.
Jose Mourinho's verdict: "The Germans are the Germans.. and I think this says everything.
"I think they can be out in the group phase. It can happen. But I think if they go through the group phase, they can go all the way."
PORTUGAL – Not just a one-man team
Write Portugal off as a one-man team at your peril. The defending champs are a force to be reckoned with.
Cristiano Ronaldo will attempt to raise himself to new levels one more time – but unlike in France in 2016, there is far more to the squad managed by the wily old Fernando Santos.
Not least in the shape of brilliant Manchester City trio Joao Cancelo, Bernardo Silva and Ruben Dias.
Throw in Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota and Joao Felix and they have the creativity to unlock the best defences, so long as they do not get into the habit of relying too heavily on veteran Ronaldo.
And a rearguard partnership of the superb Dias alongside the conniving Pepe is a tough one to beat.
Jose Mourinho's verdict: "We play France in France, Germany in Germany and Hungary in Hungary.
"So it’s an incredible situation but if we go through, we are capable of going until the end.
WHERE ARE THE FAN ZONES?
There will be fan zones in TRAFALGAR SQUARE and FOOTBALL VILLAGE IN POTTERS FIELDS PARK in London.
A select number of matches will be shown at both venues throughout the tournament.
The Trafalgar Square venue will show ALL the games played at Wembley.
Both venues are ticketed.
If you can't make it, SunSport will be live blogging EVERY game.
We'll make sure you won't miss a thing during the next month of unforgettable football.
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