Euro 2016 kicks off on Friday with the host France playing against Romania. This feels like a new era for European football. Spain, the winner of the last two Euros, has been toppled and, while it remains a serious contender to win the title, it does not go into the tournament with anything like the same level of expectation as it did four years ago, when it became the first nation successfully to defend the European crown.
Reigning World Cup champion Germany is flawed, England has a young side full of potential and Belgium hopes that its array of stars can at last find a coherence for the national team. This is a tournament without a clear favorite beyond the host, but such has been its habit of self-destruction there can’t be a huge amount of confidence in Didier Deschamps’s side, either.
Here's how the 24 teams stack up entering the competition:
Group Opponents: Albania, Romania, Switzerland
Even without Karim Benzema, left out because of the allegations of his involvement in a blackmail plot against his teammate Mathieu Valbuena, this is a France squad with enormous potential and strength in all positions, although the injuries to Raphael Varane and Jeremy Mathieu and the absence of Mamadou Sakho following his 30-day drug suspension leave it a little short at center back. France has a tendency for squad disharmony, but history suggests playing at home tends to pull it together.
Group Opponents: Croatia, Czech Republic, Turkey
Vicente Del Bosque’s side is not what it was, lacked fluency throughout qualifying and is yet to find a regular striker but it still has enormous strength in depth.
Group Opponents: Northern Ireland, Poland, Ukraine
It’s the world champion, but there are serious doubts about who will play at center forward and about the fullback positions, Defeats in qualifying to Ireland and Poland and in friendlies to England and Slovakia don’t bode well.
Group Opponents: Russia, Slovakia, Wales
The defense is in shambles, and the rest of the side is highly inexperienced, but the Tottenham core means Roy Hodgson’s side should be able to press, and there is significant attacking prowess. Winning 10 out of 10 in qualifying was not a fluke.
Group Opponents: Belgium, Ireland, Sweden
The squad is ordinary, lacking much in the way of creativity, but Antonio Conte has a knack of getting his team to do just enough.
Group Opponents: Ireland, Italy, Sweden
Packed with talented players, but short of fullbacks and coherence. The loss of the central defenders Vincent Kompany and Nicholas Lombaerts to injury is a major blow.
Group Opponents: Hungary, Iceland, Portugal
This is the best Austria side in probably 30 years, based around the left-sided triangle of Christian Fuchs, David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic.
Group Opponents: Germany, Northern Ireland, Ukraine
Beat Germany in qualifying and has a well-balanced side spearheaded by Robert Lewandowski, arguably the best European striker.
Group Opponents: Czech Republic, Turkey, Spain
The midfield is supremely talented, but background political issues within the federation could undermine its chances.
Group Opponents: Austria, Hungary, Iceland
Still very dependent on Cristiano Ronaldo, who looked unfit in the Champions League final despite converting the decisive penalty kick.
Group Opponents: England, Slovakia, Wales
This squad is aging and without injured playmaker Alan Dzagoev, but Leonid Slutsky has proved an inspirational appointment as coach.
Group Opponents: England, Russia, Wales
Beat Spain in qualifying, but then seemed to lose form. A friendly win away to Germany suggests how dangerous Jan Kozak’s side could be.
Group Opponents: Germany, Northern Ireland, Poland
Qualified well and in Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko packs a threat out wide, but the goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov’s display against Romania raises concerns.
14. Czech Republic
Group Opponents: Croatia, Spain, Turkey
Pavel Vrba has instilled an attacking style, and his record as a coach is remarkable, but this is a limited squad.
Group Opponents: Austria, Hungary, Portugal
Well-organized and euphoric after a first qualification, but there's a slight sense its form has waned since making it through a very tough group.
Group Opponents: England, Russia, Slovakia
Much depends on Gareth Bale, but Chris Coleman’s adoption of a back three has given Wales a solidity and provided a platform for the Real Madrid star.
Group Opponents: Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain
Qualified as the best third-place side, but with a sense of improvement towards the end of the qualifying campaign. Hakan Calhanoglu is a real threat from set plays.
Group Opponents: Albania, France, Romania
There’s plenty of attacking talent but under coach Vladimir Petkovic the Swiss have never quite managed the heights it reached under Ottmar Hitzfeld.
19. Republic of Ireland
Group Opponents: Belgium, Italy, Sweden
Likely to be solid but unspectacular, although Shane Long’s prowess on the break should not be underestimated.
20. Northern Ireland
Group Opponents: Germany, Poland, Ukraine
Riding a wave of optimism unknown in 30 years, Michael O’Neill’s squad is far greater than the sum of its parts and if Kyle Lafferty fires, it could upset a more favored team.
Group Opponents: Belgium, Ireland, Italy
A mundane side enlivened by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and, at 34, even he is finding age is preventing him from deciding games entirely on his own.
Group Opponents: Albania, France, Switzerland
Had the best defensive record in qualifying, but is short of attacking options and leaked four against Ukraine on May 29.
Group Opponents: Austria, Iceland, Portugal
Bernd Storck has done a remarkable job in getting Hungary to this point, but this is a very ordinary side.
Group Opponents: France, Romania, Switzerland
Beat Portugal away in qualifying but its path to France was smoothed by being awarded the abandoned game in Serbia.