Clear your diary, fire up the barbecue and settle in for a fun-filled four weeks: tomorrow marks England’s kick off in the European Championship, as they play Croatia at Wembley Stadium. From players to presenters, WAGs to the weather (and how to watch the matches alfresco), SARAH RAINEY shares the ultimate guide to the Euros . . .
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship has been held every four years since 1960. Twenty-four teams, divided into six groups of four, make it into the championship through a series of qualifying rounds. The groups are determined by a draw; England are in Group D, with Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic. England’s group games are on June 13, 18 and 22.
At the first stage, each team plays the other three in their group. The two teams with the most points go through to the next round, as well as the four highest-performing teams finishing third in each group.
The Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) European Championship has been held every four years since 1960
Next, the 16 teams play eight matches, in which the losers are knocked out. The remaining eight enter the quarter-finals, with two teams making it to the final on July 11 and the chance to lift the Henri Delaunay Cup (right).
This year’s 36 group-stage matches will be played in different cities, including Amsterdam, Glasgow and St Petersburg. From the semi-finals onwards, they’re all at Wembley.
England famously reached the semi-finals in 1996, drawing 1-1 with Germany only to lose 6-5 on penalties. A painful memory for any England fan, it was catastrophic for now manager Gareth Southgate, who missed the crucial penalty. However, having never made the final of the 15 European Championships held to date, England go into this tournament as one of the favourites, with the latest odds placing them at 5/1 to win.
Where can you watch?
With pubs open again, there are plenty of places showing the matches on TVs and large outdoor screens.
Another weather-safe option is Showcase Cinemas, where screens across the UK are showing their home team’s games, as well as the final.
And, depending on what’s allowed come June 21, there are planned fan parks in London, Newcastle and Glasgow, offering free ticketed access to outdoor entertainment, food stalls and big screens.
If you’d prefer to stay home, BBC and ITV are splitting the 51 fixtures. Or why not consider renting your own big screen and enjoying the action alfresco? You can hire a 140-inch inflatable screen (above), with 15 pairs of headphones for your garden guests, for £299 from events company Poptop (poptop.uk.com).
The covid score
Although Wembley stadium can hold 90,000 fans, just 22,500 tickets have been sold for tomorrow’s match. Anyone over the age of 11 will be required to show proof they’ve had two doses of a Covid vaccine at least two weeks prior to the game, or a negative lateral flow test within the previous 48 hours. Both can be shown on the NHS Covid app. Fans will be asked to wear masks and remain in their seats at half-time.
Although Wembley stadium can hold 90,000 fans, just 22,500 tickets have been sold for tomorrow’s match
Host a Euro themed party
Invite the neighbours round and make a day of it with the help of themed food, drink and decorations. Aldi is offering a range of snacks, from meatballs to pizzas, while Tesco has a brisket and chuck beef burger. At Iceland, there’s a £5 deal on two pizzas and a range of drinks.
And don’t forget decorations: Party Pieces (partypieces.co.uk) sells a range of football-themed banners, plates, cups and napkins from £1.99, or buy Euro 2020 bunting from Amazon for £7.99.
Here comes the girls
They may have wardrobes dripping with designer labels, but many of England’s WAGs have their own careers, too.
Leading the posse is brunette beauty Fern Hawkins, 26, fiancee of defender Harry Maguire, who has a first-class degree in physiotherapy.
She’ll be joined by fitness instructor Kate Kane, 27 — wife of captain Harry — and law student Mia McClenaghan, 21, girlfriend of Reece James.
Harry Kane will be leading the England team out onto the field at Wembley tomorrow while his wife Kate, left will be the chief WAG
Reece James’ girlfriend Mia McClenaghan, pictured, will also be one of the leading tournament WAGs
England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford’s girlfriend Megan Davison will also be cheering on the team
Then there’s Megan Davison, 24, the label-loving wife of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, and make-up artist Ashleigh Behan, 26, partner of midfielder Kalvin Phillips.
The youngest WAG is Rebecca Cooke, 20, who’s expecting her second child with forward Phil Foden later this year.
Strict Covid-19 protocols mean the WAGs are banned from visiting the players at their hotel for the whole tournament.
Bringing the bling on the Croatian side for England’s first group match is model Adriana Durdevic, 29, who married Duje Caleta-Car in a lavish ceremony last month.
Izabel Kovacic, 28, wife of Croatian star Mateo, has been called the country’s Shakira in homage to the Colombian pop star. She is also a successful businesswoman, who runs an organic baby products company.
The stars you can’t miss
Each national team can register a squad of up to 26 players, but the 11-strong team isn’t usually revealed until one hour before each match.
England captain, top goal-scorer in the Premier League and all-round nicest man in football Harry Kane is the shining star of the home squad.
The 27-year-old father-of-three is married to his childhood sweetheart, Kate, abstains from drinking during the season and was made an MBE in 2019 for services to football.
You’ll also recognise defender Kieran Trippier, 30, the golden boy of the 2018 World Cup, and forwards Marcus Rashford, 23, and Raheem Sterling, 26. The latter found himself in hot water after partying with Usain Bolt last summer, three days before the sprinter tested positive for Covid-19.
On the Croatian team, 6ft 4in Duje Caleta-Car, 24, whose name translates as ‘Daddy-Emperor’, is one of their lead players
Marcus Rashford, pictured, will be hoping to end the season on a high following Manchester United’s loss in the Europa League final
Aston Villa midfielder Jack Grealish, 25, is the hunk of the squad. With his rugged facial hair and slicked-back locks, he’s been dubbed ‘Zac Efron’s better-looking brother’.
And not forgetting Jude Bellingham, England’s wunderkind, who — at 17 — is the team’s third-youngest international player; only Theo Walcott and Wayne Rooney have appeared earlier.
On the Croatian side, keep your eyes peeled for Luka Modric (the one with the hairband), widely regarded as the greatest Croatian footballer of all time, and 6ft 4in Duje Caleta-Car, 24, whose name translates as ‘Daddy-Emperor’.
A scorcher of a month
Expect glorious weather — highs of 28c and uninterrupted sun — at Wembley tomorrow. Even the North will see highs of 24c. Sunbathers can invest in a skimpy red-and-white England bikini from online retailer Pretty Little Thing for £6.
TV has got a massive female squad
Move over Gary Lineker; there’s a squad of female pundits on our screens this year — three times as many women presenters as there were at the last Euros in 2016.
On the BBC’s team are Gabby Logan, 48, and Eilidh Barbour, 38, as well as former internationals Alex Scott, 36, and Shelley Kerr, 51.
And Maya Jama, 26, is co-presenting Crouchy’s Year-Late Euros with former England striker Peter Crouch.
Former Arsenal player and England international Alex Scott is appearing on BBC
Gabby Logan, pictured, will also be a major presence in the BBC coverage
Maya Jama, 26, is co-presenting Crouchy’s Year-Late Euros with former England striker Peter Crouch
On ITV, Seema Jaswal, 36, and Reshmin Chowdhury, 43, head up the squad, with pundits including ex-player Eni Aluko, 34, and Soccer Saturday stalwart Michelle Owen, 30.
A half-time snack: Croatian doughnuts
How to make home made Croatian doughnuts
7g active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
960g plain flour
1 tsp salt
60g chopped walnuts
1 grated apple
2 tsp lemon zest
750ml warm water
750ml vegetable oil
Method: Dissolve yeast and sugar in 230ml warm water. When it foams, pour into bowl and add flour, salt, raisins, walnuts, apple and zest, and mix well.
Slowly add rest of the water until it forms the consistency of cake batter. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise for an hour or until doubled in size. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat vegetable oil to 190c — a crumb of bread dropped in should sizzle and float to the top.
Carefully drop tablespoons of batter into oil in batches and fry until golden, flipping over to brown both sides.
Remove with a slotted spoon, drain off excess oil and dust with icing sugar.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING; ELEANOR SHARPLES