Matches to watch at Euro 2016

Matches to watch at Euro 2016

Euro 2016

Matches to watch at Euro 2016

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The expansion of the European Championships to 24 teams means we will see more must-watch matchups earlier in the tournament.

The group stage of the competition, which begins Friday in France, contains plenty of regional rivalries as well as a few heavyweight clashes between the top nations on the continent.

Here’s a look at the matches to watch over the next 12 days of action in the group stage.

ALBANIA vs. SWITZERLAND (June 11)

The second game of the competition pits two foes with plenty of ties against each other in Group A.

A good amount of players who will take the field on Saturday in Lens are of Kosovan descent, including the Xhaka brothers, Taulant and Granit, who are set to line up across from each other at the Stade Bollaert-Delelis.

Taulant Xhaka plays for Albania, who will appear in a major tournament for the first time at Euro 2016. Granit Xhaka, who recently signed for Arsenal, is one of the stars in the Switzerland squad.

Switzerland’s Xherdan Shaqiri and Albania’s Lorik Cana are among the other stars of Kosovan decent who are set to play on Saturday in Lens. Adding to the plot, Switzerland have never lost to Albania.

BELGIUM vs. ITALY (June 13)

Any contest in Group E is worth watching, but the opening day of play in the group could provide a glimpse into what the tournament holds for a nation chock full of world-class talent and one that is a perennial contender in major tournaments.

Belgium are looking to improve on their quarterfinal finish from the 2014 World Cup. There’s no better way for the Red Devils to prove their worth on the highest stage than by knocking off a trio of strong sides in Group E, starting with Italy.

The Azzurri come into their Group E opener with a reliable back line and an inexperienced strike corps. If Italy can start the competition off on the right foot, it will help with the side’s confidence, especially if the playmakers in the final third are able to create scoring opportunities on a consistent basis.

PORTUGAL vs. ICELAND (June 14)

The second match in Group F provides Iceland with a chance to make a statement after their strong Euro 2016 qualifying campaign.

The major tournament debutantes are led by Swansea City’s Gylfi Sigurdsson and former Chelsea forward Eidur Gudjohnsen. Iceland may not carry the same quality as a whole as Portugal on paper, but they will give the Group F favorites a run for their money.

From the Portugal perspective, the opening match is key for Cristiano Ronaldo to assert his dominance on the competition as he looks to bring Portugal back to the semifinals.

The winner of this match should top Group F, but that might not be as big a reward as you think since the runner-up from a crowded Group E will face the Group F winner in the round of 16.

ENGLAND vs. WALES (June 16)

England has long been the best national team on the British Isles, but there is hope in Wales that Gareth Bale will lead Chris Coleman’s Wales side to a respectable finish in their first major tournament since the 1958 World Cup.

The Three Lions should be the overwhelming favorite to win the Group B showdown in Lens, but don’t count out Wales if Bale is at his best.

The match between regional rivals could also play a major role in deciding the Group B participants in the knockout round. If Wales earn a point against England, they could sneak into one of the four spots designated for third-place teams in the knockout round.

GERMANY vs. POLAND (June 16)

Germany and Poland are no strangers to playing high stakes matches.

Germany downed Poland at the 2006 World Cup, Euro 2008 and once during he qualification process for Euro 2016. The hope for a Poland win in the second Group C match for each side comes from their win over Germany in Warsaw on October 11, 2014 during Euro 2016 qualifying.

A second win in three years over Germany for Robert Lewandowski and Poland could hand them first place in the group. A victory for Germany in their toughest test of the group stage should set them up for an easier round of 16 match against a third-place side from Group A, B or F. A defeat to Poland could set Germany on a difficult path to the final that could see them face Spain in the quarterfinals.

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