clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 4 first-round games from Euro 2016 you have to watch

New, comments

France vs. Romania is an excellent opener, but there's a lot to love in the first set of fixtures.

Daniel Kopatsch/Getty Images

Naturally, the official SB Nation Soccer recommendation is that you watch every single game of Euro 2016. International football tournaments are beautiful things and should be gorged upon to the point of bursting, and beyond. But if that proves impossible, if real life rudely impinges on your soccer-watching time, then these are the four games from the first round of fixtures that we strongly recommend you find the time to take in.

France vs. Romania

10 June, 9pm local time (3pm Eastern), ESPN2, Stade de France, Saint-Denis

If anybody asks, tell them that of course you'll be watching the first game of the tournament. You'll be looking to get an early sense of how France's talented and excited squad is shaping up, and you'll be anticipating that they'll be tested by a probably boring but probably well-organised Romania side. You'll be hoping that Paul Pogba is feeling good and playing well, because that's always fun to watch. And you'll be watching because, well, it's the polite thing to do. France is having the rest of the continent over for a kickabout. Least you can do is pay attention.

Secretly, though, you can admit to yourself that you're watching for the opening ceremony. Because you know that opening ceremonies rank alongside penicillin, the wheel and Nice 'n' Spicy Nik-Naks as one of the great innovations of humanity.

Precise details are shrouded in mystery, but we know it's going to be a tolerance-stretching half an hour long, it's going to involve several hundreds of volunteers, and David Guetta's going to be making at least some of the noises. We can also assume that there will be flags and smiling children and at least some passing gestures towards France's history and traditional costumes. Though maybe not: last time France hosted a major footballing tournament, the 1998 World Cup, everything went a little bit peculiar.

Spain vs. Czech Republic

13 June, 3pm local time (9am Eastern), ESPN, Stadium Municipal, Toulouse

Having checked with the hosts, the natural thing to do is catch up with the holders. Spain are tilting for an unprecedented third consecutive European Championship, though they are doing so in less-than-perfect shape. They bombed out of the 2014 World Cup in shambolic, bizarre and highly amusing fashion, and their squad for Euro 2016 is as notable for who's missing as who's present: Xavi and Xabi Alonso have both been claimed by age, while sundry others, such as Atletico Madrid's Saul Niguez and Bayern Munich's Javi Martinez, have been left behind.

Group D is perhaps the most intriguingly balanced of the six groups, and while Spain are favourites to finish on top, there's enough talent in the squads of the Czech Republic, Turkey and particularly Croatia that any slip-ups could be punished. So this first game should be an interesting insight into whether Vicente del Bosque has found the answer to the problem of building the team that comes after the best in Spain's history. Or maybe, if we're really lucky, it could be another 5-1 gubbing.

Belgium vs. Italy

13 June, 9pm local time (3pm Eastern), ESPN, Parc Olympique Lyonnais, Lyon

Probably the biggest clash of the first round of fixtures, Group E kicks off with a clash between two theoretically strong teams in odd moments of transition. Belgium are now a little bit too good to be considered dark horses in the traditional sense, and so have to be taken seriously as competitors even in the absence of half their first choice defence. Meanwhile Italy's squad is light on both star power and goals. However, Major Soccer Tournament Logic -- which is a little bit like normal logic but isn't overburdened with the need to make sense -- insists that the worse an Italian squad looks, the more likely they are to end up accidentally winning the competition. That process starts here.

Austria vs. Hungary

14 June, 6pm local time (noon Eastern), ESPN, Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux

Though this game might not look like anything special, there are two very good reasons to tune in to Group F's opener. The first is that Austria, built around the marvellous David Alaba, were one of the surprise packages of qualifying, strolling through their group unbeaten, bumping Russia down into second place and forcing Sweden through the playoffs. In the process they've risen to a giddy 11th in FIFA's rankings, so they're probably worth a look.

The second and arguably more important reason is so you can use the following joke to impress your friends, colleagues and loved ones. "Austria-Hungary?" [pause for effect] "But who are they playing?" Ho ho ho.