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Time to decide Europe's best

Forward Thomas Mueller is part of a loaded German team that shares favorite status with host France.

Associated Press

Forward Thomas Mueller is part of a loaded German team that shares favorite status with host France.

PARIS — The second big continental championship of the summer kicks off today, and though Copa America features World Cup winners Brazil and Argentina, the European Championship offers more: Germany, Italy, Spain, France and England, not to mention a host of new faces and its own gallery of star players.

Who is playing?

France is the host, and locals remember that the last time Les Bleus hosted a major soccer event — the 1998 World Cup — they won it. Germany, the defending World Cup champion, and Spain, which claimed the past two Euros, are here, too. England, the Czech Republic and Portugal are among the other qualifying-group winners. And there are newcomers: Iceland, Northern Ireland, Wales, Albania and Slovakia debut in the tournament, which expanded to 24 teams this year from 16. One notable absence is the Netherlands, which finished third at the 2014 World Cup but failed to qualify for this year's expanded Euros.

Who will win?

It is hard to pick against Germany, which is so loaded — with Manuel Neuer, Thomas Mueller, Mesut Oezil and Toni Kroos, among many others — that coach Joachim Loew won't be troubled by having to leave out talented but injury-plagued midfielder Marco Reus. France, with home-country advantage and stars including Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, is right alongside the Germans — and even ahead of them — in many odds tables.

England has a long history of disappointment in major tournaments but brings several exciting young players to the Euros, including forward Marcus Rashford, Manchester United's teenage sensation, and forward Harry Kane, who scored a Premier League-leading 25 goals for Tottenham this season. Other teams with strong chances include Belgium and Spain.

If you're looking for a dark horse, you could do worse than Austria. Ranked 11th in the world, it has a slew of top players (including Bayern Munich's David Alaba and Leicester's Christian Fuchs), as well as a stable starting lineup and tactical approach.

Are there security concerns?

Yes. France has been in a government-declared state of emergency since the Paris terrorist attacks in November, and that status will be extended through the duration of the tournament. The police presence at stadiums, fan zones and in the 10 host cities is expected to be staggering, and officials have said that more than 100,000 police officers, soldiers and private security officers will be at work during the tournament.

Is there a mascot?

Of course there is. He's an animated, cheery young boy wearing soccer cleats and a cape. His name is Super Victor.

Time to decide Europe's best 06/09/16 [Last modified: Thursday, June 9, 2016 8:56pm]
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