THE working week begins for most, but the action is in full swing in France.
Today is no exception as the Republic of Ireland join the party, holders Spain kick off in pursuit of a third successive European crown and the much-fancied Belgians have an intriguing encounter against those wily Italians.
Is Roy Keane wasted as No.2?
The Republic of Ireland begin their campaign when they face Sweden in Group E’s opening match at the Stade de France. No matter who is on the pitch though, there will be a sheer fascination to always keep an eye on Roy Keane on the sidelines.
No assistant manager at Euro 2016 will have quite the same attention as the former Manchester United midfielder. And while it goes without saying that he can offer words of wisdom to manager Martin O’Neill and the Irish players, there is a nagging feeling that Keane is in a halfway house.
This is not his team – it’s not his neck on the line if things go badly. TV viewers do not get to hear his interesting and acerbic views on the tournament. And Ireland do not have a modern player who seems to be the embodiment of Keane on the field.
The fascination with the character who stormed out of the 2002 World Cup shows no sign of ending, but it would be great if he had a more prominent role in France.
Player of the Day: Andres Iniesta
ANDRES INIESTA is one of the finest European players of the last decade. He has been at the centre of Barcelona and Spain’s success in that period and his CV shows eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, two European Championships and one World Cup.
Now he is captain of club and country, but while he can still call Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar team-mates at Barca, things have changed a bit for La Seleccion. Xavi, Xabi Alonso and David Villa have gone from the all-conquering team of 2008-2012, so Iniesta must assume extra responsibility in the final third.
Starting today against the Czech Republic in Toulouse, he must be the beating heart of the Spanish midfield that shows the World Cup of 2014 was a blip and not the beginning of a terminal decline. There are still gifted players around him, but the man who scored the winning goal in the 2010 World Cup is now the star, rather than one of many.
Time for Belgium to really make their mark?
THEY have a star-studded cast and reached No.1 in the FIFA rankings last autumn, but this is the moment for Belgium to really show their class. In international football, winning tournaments, and not positions in a phoney chart, is all that truly matters.
The Red Devils reached the quarter-finals of the last World Cup without ever reaching their peak, but the Euros offer a better platform as history tells us that a country of their size is more likely to win this than a World Cup.
Marc Wilmots can call upon Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku and has wild-cards like Atletico Madrid winger Yannick Ferreira Carrasco up his sleeve, as well.
But two things could hold them back – the lack of quality full-backs, with Tottenham pair Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen pressed into service, and coping with the expectation. Tonight’s opener against Italy in Lyon should provide a pointer as to how they will get on.
French of the day
La generation d’or (The golden generation)
2pm: Spain vs Czech Republic (Stadium Municipal, Toulouse, ITV)
5pm: Republic of Ireland vs Sweden (Stade de France, BBC)
8pm: Belgium vs Italy (Parc OL, BBC)
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