Seven EURO 2020 games to get excited about

    Historic match-ups, finals debuts and heavyweight contests: UEFA EURO 2020 promises plenty of excitement even before the knockout stage begins.

    We pick out seven dates that should be circled in red in every football fan’s diary.

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    Claudio Villa Archive
    Antonio Conte scored against Turkey at Euro 2000 | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    Turkey take on one of the 11 co-hosts in the opening game of the final tournament, exactly 21 years after the nations’ only previous big-tournament encounter, when Italy beat Turkey 2-1 on the second day of UEFA EURO 2000 in Arnhem (though both sides got through their group).

    Two stats might concern Turkey: they have yet to beat Italy in ten past meetings and have also lost all four of their EURO opening games (including that 2000 showdown with the Azzurri). Will that bad run end in Rome?

    Christian Eriksen
    Denmark haven’t played Finland since 2011 | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

    After 110 years and more than 750 international fixtures, Finland finally make their debut in a major men’s tournament against very familiar opposition, facing Denmark for the 60th time.

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    Just two of those jousts have come in UEFA competition, a pair of 1-0 wins for Denmark during EURO ’88 qualifying, but under former schoolteacher Markku Kanerva, Finland can outsmart even the biggest opponents. Crucially, they managed six clean sheets in qualifying, the same number posted by Greece on their way to EURO 2004.

    Finland’s women are EURO regulars, and perhaps they can offer some encouragement for the men’s side; they made their finals debut at UEFA Women’s EURO 2005, and beat Denmark 2-1 to make it out of their group.

    Goran Pandev
    Goran Pandev is still going strong | Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    North Macedonia were pipped in their qualifying group by Austria before getting past Kosovo and Georgia in the play-offs to earn their first ever appearance at a final tournament – and this rematch. Austria beat North Macedonia home and away, their 2-1 win in Vienna on 16 November 2019, with goals from David Alaba and Stefan Lainer, clinching qualification.

    However, the backdrop is very different as they come together in Bucharest. North Macedonia’s star name, captain, all-time top scorer and most-capped player Goran Pandev scored the goal that took his side to the finals: does the 37-year-old have another landmark goal or two in him?

    Paul Gascoigne
    An iconic moment at the Euros | Stu Forster/Getty Images

    The last time England were EURO hosts in 1996, their second game was their first in a major tournament against Scotland. That Wembley encounter was a classic, Alan Shearer striking early in the second half before Gary McAllister had a penalty saved, laying the ground for Paul Gascoigne’s memorable clincher.

    This is Scotland’s first EURO finals appearance since then, with their last FIFA World Cup finals coming only two years later. In their 115th meeting with the Auld Enemy, they will be hoping for a famous win to help get them past a major tournament group stage for the first time in 11 attempts. The Scots produced a stirring rendition of Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie after they won their play-off final; will they be in the mood for a sing-song after this one?

    Robert Lewandowski
    Lewandowski is the best striker in the world | PressFocus/MB Media/Getty Images

    Robert Lewandowski knows all about the burden of expectation on co-hosts Spain: in 2012, he buried the opening goal of the tournament for Poland on home soil in Warsaw. Now heading into his third EURO, Lewandowski faces sky-high expectations of his own, and he will hope to transfer some of his stellar form against Liga teams in the UEFA Champions League to this encounter.

    He will not have happy memories of his only previous run-in with La Roja, a 6-0 friendly loss in Murcia in June 2010, just before Spain went to South Africa to win the World Cup.

    Surprisingly, these two nations have only met competitively twice before – ahead of the inaugural EURO finals. Contesting a round of 16 tie in 1959, Spain triumphed 4-2 away and 3-0 in Madrid, Alfredo Di Stéfano scoring three goals across the two games. Who will leave their mark on this encounter?

    Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe embrace on international duty | FRANCK FIFE/Getty Images

    In a sort of international version of the UEFA Super Cup, the EURO holders are coming up against the reigning world champions. This is only the second time the EURO champions have met the World Cup holders as part of their title defence, the Netherlands having set the precedent when they defeated global champions Germany in their last 1992 group game.

    Portugal had lost ten straight games against France before they turned the tables with that 1-0 extra-time win against the hosts in the EURO 2016 final, the latest in their many epic encounters in this competition. Since then France have lifted their second World Cup and also dethroned Portugal in the UEFA Nations League, a 0-0 home draw and 1-0 win in Lisbon taking Les Bleus to those finals. Who will come out on top this time?

    Joachim Loew
    Joachim Low’s Germany haven’t won the Euros since 1996 | Alex Grimm/Getty Images

    There is no hiding place in Group F, and having already welcomed Portugal and France to Budapest, Hungary then travel to face their co-hosts. Their mission: to once again navigate through to the knockout stage, having ended a 44-year EURO finals absence by reaching the round of 16 in 2016, when they topped a section including eventual winners Portugal.

    Hungary ended 2020 in fine form, conjuring a dramatic late comeback to beat Iceland in their play-off final and winning promotion to the UEFA Nations League elite by topping their group ahead of Turkey, Russia and Serbia.

    This will be just their third competitive meeting with Germany, but those past showdowns were both show-stoppers. The Mighty Magyars defeated West Germany 8-3 in the 1954 World Cup group stage, only for Sepp Herberger’s side to turn the tables in the final, winning 3-2 in Berne despite falling two down after eight minutes.

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