A year later than planned, Euro 2020 finally kicked off on Friday.
While England will be looking to lay to the rest the ghosts of 2016, Wales will be desperate to recreate the form that saw them reach the semi-finals.
For Scotland, it’s a first appearance at a major tournament for 26 years and they will make history if they can qualify for the knockouts – something the Tartan Army have never managed. They’ll also meet England at Wembley in their second group game, with Gareth Southgate and his side looking for a repeat of Euro 96.
Ahead of each nation’s opening game, Sportsmail got the thoughts of Glenn Hoddle, Mark Hughes and Gordon Strachan, who were speaking at a Betfair event, on how they think their country will get on at this summer’s tournament.
Mark Hughes, Glenn Hoddle and Gordon Strachan gave their view on this summer’s Euros
Hoddle – ‘The crossroads moment could come in the last 16, we have to raise our game from the World Cup’
England are the favourites to top Group D but face three tricky opponents in Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. Should they finish first, they will play the runner up from Group F – containing France, Germany and Portugal … and Hungary.
‘It’s a strange scenario, we’d prefer to be second but you cannot play like that as a manager and a player,’ says Hoddle.
‘If we win the group we’ve got a semi-final there and then playing against Germany, France or Portugal. That for me is the key round.
‘I think if we come up against one of them teams and we don’t perform well on the day we’ll go out there, which will look like a disaster. But because of the quality of the opposition, you hit much higher and better teams earlier in the group stages than you do in the World Cup.
‘In the World Cup there is usually a given in the group. You’re really hitting the last 16 in the Euros straight away. If we beat one of those in the last 16 then I think that will give us such a boost and belief that I think we’ll go on and win it.
Hoddle believes England could face a crossroads moment in the last 16 if they top Group D
‘That is the crossroads in the tournament. France, Portugal and Germany – all three are good enough to win it and make the final. We have to raise our game and go to the next level, which we didn’t do in the World Cup – that question mark is still there.’
Three Three Lions will face Croatia in their opening game in a re-run of the World Cup semi-final, which Southgate’s side losing out in extra-time.
‘It’s vital that at any tournament you play, it’s a sprint, seven games (to win it) – seven furlongs if you like, it’s not a two mile race. But you’ve got to get out of the tracks quick,’ Hoddle says.
‘This Croatia side are a decent side, they’re not a great side. They’re not as good from when we played them and we’re a stronger side from the World Cup, maybe not defensively at the moment. But certainly going forward I can see us causing them problems.
‘Modric now is 36, he can be smothered, I think we’ve got legs in our team that can smother him. Modrich has been a fantastic player but he doesn’t make runs behind you, he’ll play in front of you all the time.
‘I’m sure Gareth will be saying to Rice and whoever else is in that midfield area, you just have to go and close him down very quickly and make sure he can’t pass forward, make him play square and backwards and you’ve done your job.’
The ex-England boss says the Three Lions have to raise their game from the 2018 World Cup
Phil Foden took inspiration from Euro 96 by dying his hair blonde ahead of the tournament
Much has been made of the attacking options available to the England boss including Phil Foden, who decided to take a bit of inspiration from Euro 96 this week by dying his hair blonde. The Manchester City star has often been compared to Paul Gascoigne and now the ‘Stockport Gazza’ has the look to match his on the field talent.
‘You don’t know what goes through these kids’ minds at the moment,’ Hoddle jokes.
‘I’m sure he’ll look back on that in years to come and think “what was I thinking?”, but I don’t think it will affect him because he’s such a good player.
‘It’s all new to him, he’s going into his first tournament and the last thing you want to do before a tournament starts is to put an added little bit of pressure on yourself. But if that’s really how he wants his hair then good luck to him!’
Hughes – There’s plenty of life left in Gareth Bale, he should be raring to go
Wales gave their country a summer they’d never forget when they went all the way to the semi-finals at Euro 2016.
While some of the heroes from that tournament are no longer with the squad, captain and star man Gareth Bale will be leading them out once again.
Bale had an indifferent season on loan at Tottenham and there has even been talk the the forward could retire after this tournament.
Hughes believes there is plenty of life left in the 31-year-old says his quiet campaign in north London could actually benefit Robert Page’s side.
‘I think he’s premature if that (retiring) is what he’s thinking at this moment in time. He can certainly do another tournament, ideally the World Cup if we can qualify.
Hughes believes there is plenty of life left in Gareth Bale and that retirement talk is premature
The ex-Wales boss believes the forward should be fit and raring to go at the tournament
‘I can understand if he’s thinking of retiring from international football, less so if he’s contemplating retiring altogether, I can’t see that happening.
‘For whatever reason the loan deal to Spurs hasn’t gone how Gareth wanted it to if he’s honest.
‘I’ve been disappointed because I was looking forward to seeing Gareth Bale playing week in week out in a good Spurs team, it hasn’t panned out like that unfortunately. But as a consequence we might reap the benefits because he should be fit, he hasn’t had too much time in his legs.
‘I know how he is when he meets up with the Welsh team. He seems like a different character, he takes on this different role and he seems to grow as a player and a person and relishes being in that role with his mates and trying to win games for Wales so he should be raring to go.’
Wales will also be looking towards Aaron Ramsey and Dan James to cause problems further up the pitch.
‘Dan James has clearly got pace to burn, another one that hasn’t had a lot of game time along with Aaron Ramsey,’ Hughes says.
‘We’ve got players in those key areas at the top of the pitch who have got good energy and Dan James, because of the pace he’s got, top defenders and top clubs will always fear pace.
Dan James and a number of other tournament debutants could be key players for Wales
‘Maybe at times a long ball over the top to a Dan James, chasing after lost causes, that might get us up the pitch and relieve a little bit of pressure.
‘I hope he has a good tournament, if he does, that will probably coincide with the team doing well. Aaron Ramsey will always affect games because he’s an intelligent player. ‘
So how does this Wales team compare to 2016?
‘That group of players came together and were together for a long time. The team picked itself for about three years prior to the tournament,’ Hughes says.
‘It’s a little bit different this time around. It’s not as settled as it was so that could be a negative for us but you’d like to think some of the younger players coming through can make a name for themselves and be the difference for us.’
Strachan – We might not have a Bale but we shouldn’t be feeling inferior… we’re the penalty kings of Europe!
Scotland will be hoping they can follow in Wales’ footsteps by causing a shock at this summer’s tournament.
Strachan, who is one of Sportsmail’s columnists for the Euros, is feeling confident that Steve Clarke’s men can unsettle a few teams, despite not having a ‘star’ player.
‘I think Scotland are in a place where, when teams play them, they’ll be thinking “I really didn’t want to be playing you”,’ says Strachan.
‘We’ve got strength, organisation, we’re hard to beat and we’ve added a couple of strikers who people don’t know much about – Che Adams who has come in from Southampton and Kevin Nisbet from Hibs who has developed late.
‘We’re in a strong position now. We really shouldn’t be feeling inferior, especially in the midfield area where we have some good players in there. It’s different in other areas where we’re not so strong but I think the midfield can carry us attacking wise and defensively.
Strachan says Scotland should not feel inferior and believes they can cause an upset
‘We don’t have a Bale, it helps if you’ve got a Bale or a Lewandowski or an Eriksen or a Modric. They can change games on their own. We’ve not got players that can do that, we’ve got players who are good within a team unit, can get forward to score goals and we have an organisation. Everything we do is as a unit.
‘We’re good on penalties now, we’ve suddenly become the penalty kings of Europe!’
Much has been made of England’s right back options but Scotland boast two of the best left backs in the competition with Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney.
Clarke has opted to play his captain at left-wing back while Tierney plays as a left-sided centre back.
‘I always felt it was important to have two of your best players on the pitch. I played Kieran at left centre back against England. He’s willing to go and engage people.
‘I’m sure Kieran could play left centre back in a back-four as well as a back-five, he’s that good. He can sniff danger, he’s a top lad.
‘With Andy, I think when he first got to Liverpool he thought “am I good enough to be here?” then he played 10 games and he hasn’t looked back. He just seems to have got faster, it’s amazing what confidence can do to you.’
Scotland have found a way to accomodate left backs Andy Robterson (left) and Kieran Tierney (right) into the same team
Strachan says the Tartan Army must no get caught up in the emotion when they play England
Scotland play England in their second group game and Strachan believes the absence of a sell-out crowd will help the Scots remain focused rather than being drawn into the emotion of the battle.
‘When there’s 100,000 there and most of them are Scotsmen, I think the Scottish players, one or two, used to get caught up in the emotion of the game.
‘They were desperate because they hear the fans screaming and shouting and they react to that, rather than stick to the team plan and it’s not easy. I think it will help that it’s not a full house for Scotland, that will help them stick to the plan.’
Strachan experienced battles with England in both his playing and managment career, with the latter proving far more stressful.
‘It’s absolutely night and day,’ says Strachan. ‘I slept as a player, as a manager, sleep was not great. You’re picking teams, you’re up at night, at 1 o’clock you’re wandering your room thinking “I need to pick that one, that one.”
‘First thing in the morning as soon as your eyes open you’re going “who am I picking?” As a player you share the disappointment, it’s much easier as a group. But as a manager it’s on you. It’s hard to take when you know you’ve had an opportunity to make four and a half million people happy and you’ve made them disappointed. That’s the swings and roundabouts of international management.’
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