Euro 2016: 5 talking points ahead of the European Championships


Euro 2016 kicks off when hosts France take on Romania in Saint-Denis on June 10. The European Championship will for the first time see 24 teams involved, with an expanded group stage and extra knock-out round before the quarter-finals. Here, we look at five talking points ahead of the showpiece tournament.

1. Football stands united

England and France players stand together ahead of a pre Euro 2016 friendly only days after the 2015 Paris terrorism attacks

Security will be tighter than ever in and around all 10 host venues following the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris. Football's response was unanimous in the aftermath as the games went on, and remains so ahead of the start of the tournament.

Just like the World Cup, the European Championship is meant to be a celebration of all things good about the beautiful game, both on and off the pitch. Fans, players and security staff alike will all be determined to make sure that continues.

2. England expects again, but maybe not a lot...

England manager Roy Hodgson talks to players

Usually when England head into any major tournament, the nation is whipped up into a frenzy, dreaming of finally ending the long wait for glory since 1966. This year, though, feels different. Perhaps it is the way Roy Hodgson and his squad have quietly gone about their business of rebuilding after a forgettable World Cup by qualifying with a perfect 10 record which, no matter the opposition, is no mean feat.

There is no major injury scare - as yet - surrounding key men, although what role will be played out by captain Wayne Rooney, so long the nation's talisman, remains to be seen. While there may be a touch more sense of realism around what can be achieved, you can bet if the Three Lions kick off with a win over Russia in Marseille, followed up by beating Wales in Lens, then it might just be time to dig out the St George bunting and car flags - if, of course, you can remember where you stashed them back in 2014....

3. Can Wales finally make an impact on the big stage?

Wales after qualifying for Euro 2016

It has been a long, long wait for Wales to reach another major international tournament. Generations of undoubted talent have fallen short since the 1958 World Cup. While the current crop may depend too heavily on the influence of Real Madrid maestro Gareth Bale, there is no doubt Chris Coleman's well-drilled squad possess plenty of players capable of producing a collective performance needed to trouble any national team.

Beating highly-rated Belgium, the group winners, 1-0 in Cardiff in June 2015 was a case in point. However, what lies ahead in a first taste of competitive tournament football will be a whole new ball game.

Nevertheless, Wales will fancy their chances of getting off to a positive start against Slovakia, and to still be within a shout of making the knock-out stages when they take on Russia in Toulouse after, of course, the small matter of a date with England....

4. Just what will Northern Ireland bring to the party?

Northern Ireland players in a pre Euro 2016 friendly

There is little doubt the efforts of Northern Ireland were, along with Iceland, the story of the qualifiers. There will not have been too many who fancied the chances of Michael O'Neil's men to make an impact on a six-team group containing Romania, Hungary and Greece.

Yet driven on by the goals of Kyle Lafferty, a striker who could not even get a game at Norwich, it was Northern Ireland who finished top of the pile, recording some unforgettable nights at Windsor Park along the way.

While Germany, Poland and Ukraine might not exactly be quaking in their respective boots, Northern Ireland should not be underestimated. Whatever the results, though, supporters of the Green and White Army will be out to have the time of their lives. And well deserved.

5. Will the Euro expansion work?

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger

While welcoming more nations into the European Championship finals may have opened the door to the likes of Albania and Iceland, from a purely footballing point of view, the tournament might take a while to get going, well according to Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger anyway.

"You have only eight teams going out of 24, so that could be a bit boring," he said. We will just have to wait and see whether fixtures like Switzerland versus Albania or Hungary against Iceland capture the imagination.

And you never know, there might yet be a few surprises along the way - some which could even keep the Gunners' boss happy, so long, of course, as France lift the trophy come July 10 back where it all started at Saint-Denis....