The moment millions of football fans have been waiting for is here. Today is the start of Euro 2016, hosted in France. For one month, 24 teams will face off in search for glory and an attempt to be crowned the best team in Europe.
Laureus legends Carles Puyol, Raúl, Fabio Capello, Marcel Desailly, Cafu, Jens Lehmann and Fredi Bobic know one thing or two about football at its highest level.
Earlier this year, at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Berlin, these football superstars discussed all things Euro 2016. One of the main topics was the likelihood of 2014 World Cup champions Germany winning the title and other “possible surprises” during the tournament.
Jens Lehmann, Euro 2008 finalist with Germany, is sceptical about his national team’s ambition to follow Spain in becoming both world and European champions in France.
“Right now the German mentality is like Spain, they have been the role model as they try to win another championship. But of course there are some problems, and the structure has produced a lot of midfielders, not too many strikers or defenders. That could prevent Germany from winning the tournament. Normally, they would be one of the favourites,” he said, adding that “when you have a lot of good strikers you have to feed them. In our case, we have ten good midfielders and that closes up the options.”
Fredi Bobic, a member of the German squad that won Euro 96 in England, also fears his team will not be at the same level as when they won the World Cup two years ago.
“I don’t think they are as strong as they were,” said Bobic. “The team is doing well, they are well prepared and they have the experience. But they have four or five teams that have a really good chance of winning."
Legendary manager Fabio Capello and former European Champion with France Marcel Desailly also believe Germany are among the favourites but warn not to count out some of the other teams.
“It will be really interesting with France, Germany and Belgium. The French play at home and Germany always make it to the finals.” said Capello.
Laureus Academy Member Desailly added:
“What is good in this Euro, is that you have potentially a lot of teams that can win it and a lot of surprise. France and it’s one of them. If all the players get together at the same time before – for sure France will be there. Belgium has quality players individually, but you don’t know if collectively all together at the same time they will match. And the surprise can be England, because nobody is expecting them. They said they might be tired because they don’t have a winter break, but they are so young that it is not really a problem, they will recover and they will potentially surprise everyone. And yes Germany, they are the one, the world champions, they can win the Euro again, so there are lots of possibilities.”
Legendary Spanish players Carles Puyol and Raúl both believe their own team can go all the way, while Brazilian icon Cafu settled for Italy: “It’s very difficult to predict, there are very good and strong national teams, but I will still bet on Italy.”
As Laureus Academy Members and Ambassadors, these football superstars also reflected on what sport means to them and how it has changed their life and the lives of others.
World Cup winner Marcel Desailly has visited many Laureus-supported projects and holds fond memories from his time at the Mathare Youth Sports Association in Kenya.
"As a footballer myself, I have been overwhelmed by what I have seen,” he said. “It gave me so much pleasure to be able to kick a ball around with some of the kids from the project. This is a classic example of how sport can make a big difference to the lives of so many young people.”
Laureus Ambassador Mesut Özil, who is playing in the Euro this year and visited the KICKFORMORE project in Germany, has also been inspired by how sport can change lives:
“There are children here from several different cultural backgrounds, but it’s obvious that they are all united among nations and that it works out well. Sport, in my case football, has changed my life and influenced me positively.”
Spanish football legend Carles Puyol also experienced first-hand the positive role that sport is playing in many young people’s lives. He visited the ‘Young Athletes’ project, based in Madrid, which has been developed in partnership with Special Olympics Spain and Laureus and focuses on instilling hope and developing young people with disabilities.
“Sport has given me so much throughout my life and being here with the kids from ‘Young Athletes’ really shows the power sport can have to give young people hope.” said FC Barcelona’s legendary captain after his visit.
The European Championships are a celebration of football and sport, bringing players and fans together, united under one passion. And amid the goals, celebrations cheers and tears that we will no doubt experience this month, this colossal sporting event will create heroes and legends that will inspire millions for generations to come.