Everything you need to know about Euro 2016
THE 15th UEFA European Championships football tournament kicks off in France tomorrow. With both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland qualifying fans are assured of a festival of football over the next month. Here's everything you need to know...
What is it?
The European Championships is an International tournament held every four years. Being hosted in 2016 exclusively in France the action kicks off on Friday June 10, with the final to be played in Paris on July 10. The European Championships format has been running since 1960 and the reigning champions are Spain, who defeated Italy 4-0 in the 2012 final. For the 2016 tournament the format has changed slightly with 24 teams instead of the 16 team system in operation since 1996. Under this new format, the finalists will contest a group stage consisting of six groups of four teams, followed by a knockout stage including three rounds and the final. 19 teams qualified from nine groups and joined France, who qualified automatically as hosts. A series of two-legged play-off ties decided the final four places in the tournament.
Who is playing?
For the first time in 30 years Northern Ireland has qualified for a major International tournament. It is the first appearance at a European Championships for Northern Ireland and they are joined by neighbours Republic of Ireland who reached the France tournament via a play-off win over Bosnia. Northern Ireland topped their qualifying group, which contained the 2004 champions Greece. Holders Spain are there, so are World champions Germany and the traditionally strong Italy.
A number of underdogs have also qualified for the 2016 tournament including Albania, Iceland and Hungary.
Who plays who?
England and Wales are pitted against each other in Group B, alongside Russia and Slovakia and the two home nations will fancy their chances of qualification. Northern Ireland have drawn World champions Germany along with Poland and Ukraine in a difficult group. Much will depend on the form and fitness of star striker Kyle Lafferty, who scored seven goals in qualifying.
The Republic of Ireland arguably face the toughest challenge to qualify as their group contains two of the pre-tournament favourites in Belgium and Italy and a Sweden side who defeated Wales 3-0 in a recent friendly match.
Where to watch?
If you can't make it to France to cheer your team on all of the games will be broadcast on either BBC or ITV, including the Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland matches. If you fancy the party atmosphere, without the lengthy travel fan zones are in operation across Northern Ireland, with big screens to watch the action.
The biggest of these is at the Titanic in Belfast. The 10,000 capacity open air arena in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter will be broadcasting all Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland group games live. Entry on all days is free and the fun begins with Northern Ireland’s opening game against Poland on Sunday June 12.
Dates for your diary
Sunday June 12
Poland v Northern Ireland - 5pm
Monday June 13
Republic of Ireland v Sweden - 5pm
Thursday June 16
Ukraine v Northern Ireland - 5pm
Saturday June 18
Belgium v Republic of Ireland - 2pm
Tuesday June 21
Northern Ireland v Germany - 5pm
Wednesday June 22
Italy v Republic of Ireland - 8pm
Players to watch
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) - Considered one of the greatest players to play the game the 2016 tournament offers one of the last opportunities to see 31-year-old Ronaldo on the International stage. With 56 goals for his country and a superb season for his club which culminated in Champions League glory Ronaldo will be eager to impress.
Antoine Griezman (France)- The favourites and tournament hosts will rely on Griezmann if they are to lift the trophy for the first time in 16 years. The 25-year-old has had a stellar season for Atletico Madrid scoring 32 goals in all competitions and will look to translate his club form on to the International stage.
Zlaltan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) - The mercurial forward represents a major threat to the Republic of Ireland's chances of qualification. Now 34 this is his last chance to guide his country to glory. Known for his brash persona and outspoken comments off the field, he is a genius on it and already has 62 goals for Sweden in his International career.
Gareth Bale (Wales) - The most expensive player on the planet almost single-handedly brought Wales to their first major tournament in 58 times. He is their talisman and their main source of goals. He is arguably the most important player for any team at the European Championships.
Kyle Lafferty (Northern Ireland) - Lafferty is arguably Northern Ireland's most important player and his seven goals helped guide them to this summer's finals. If he can fire in France then there is every chance Northern Ireland can qualify from their group and be this year's surprise package.
Shane Long (Republic of Ireland) - The Southampton striker had a fantastic club season and will lead the line for the Republic of Ireland. Long came off the bench to score the famous winner in qualifying against Germany in Dublin and more important goals like that will ensure he goes down in Republic of Ireland folklore.
Who is going to win?
If you fancy a flutter hosts France are the favourites for the tournament and are around 3/1 to win. They are closely followed by Germany at 9/2 and then Spain (5/1), England (9/1) and Belgium (11/1). Wales can be backed at 80/1, while Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland are both very much viewed as outsiders. The Republic are 150-1 to take home the trophy while Northern Ireland can be backed at a massive 400-1. Albania are seen as the ultimate long shot at 500/1.
Tips for the travelling fans
Remember to drive on the right! France has different road laws to those here.
The official currency is the Euro
Make sure you have an European Health Insurance Card (EHIC), check that it hasn't expired and understand what it covers.
Look after your passport while travelling. Keep it in a safe place and make two photocopies, taking one with you.
Be careful on the booze - fans deemed to have drunk too much may not be admitted to stadiums.
Get your tickets from a credible source. Selling tickets outside stadiums is illegal in France.
Some useful French phrases
Bonjour - Hello
Merci - Thank you
Ou est la stade? - How do I get to the stadium?
Ou est la gare? - Where is the train station?
Ou est le pub? - Where is the pub?
Je voudrais une bière - I would like a beer.
C'est combien? - How much is that?