UEFA Euro 2020 - Teams to watch and cigars to enjoy
Like most people around Europe, Cuban Cigar lovers have been waiting with bated breath for the start of the postponed UEFA Euro 2020 tournament. This special pan-European version of the European Championships, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the tournament, is being held in a variety of host cities across the continent. After a 12-month delay to allow the proper crowds to gather and attend each game battle will be joined on the pitch to see which nation will hold aloft the famous Henri Delaunay Trophy. Defending champions Portugal will be keen to retain their crown – they meet current World Cup holders France, whom they defeated in the Euro 2016 final in Paris, in the final match of their group stage campaign.
More than any other summer tournament before it, this edition of the Euros has been looked forward to by fans. Its place on the calendar this last 12 months has stood as a beacon of hope – a point in the future to focus on and know that someday, eventually life would begin to return to normal. In truth, normality has not quite returned, and each game played will see limits imposed on stadium capacity and strict social distancing protocols in place. While not ideal, this compromised version of the tournament is still a breath of fresh air some 15 long months after the postponement was confirmed. Football in front of passionate crowds is finally back.
So from our starting crop of 24 nations, who has a realistic chance of victory? Eyes will naturally turn to the traditional powerhouses of the European game, and smaller nations like debutants North Macedonia will likely struggle, but if one thing is certain at summer football tournaments, it’s that surprises lurk around every corner. Here we take a look at some of the teams to keep an eye on over the next month; perhaps not all capable of going the distance and raising the silverware come July, but ones to watch, nonetheless. Naturally, we’ve rounded up the best regional edition cigars to accompany each nation’s match.
France's young stars celebrate their World Cup win - will they repeat the triumph at Euro 2020? Image from Quartz. Lead image: The Henri Delaunay trophy. Image from UEFA.
France – Quai d’Orsay Capitolio
France are joint-favourites for the tournament, which is to be expected given their run to the final last time out and their comprehensive World Cup win. Kylian Mbappe is the stand-out performer – his pace, strength, movement and extraordinary composure and maturity for a man of only 22 lead many to hail him as the natural successor to Messi and Ronaldo at the pinnacle of the global game. France are not a one-man outfit though; Paul Pogba and N’Golo Kante provide silk and steel in equal measure in midfield, while a defence led by Real Madrid’s Raphael Varane and guided by the vast experience of keeper and captain Hugo Lloris provide a stable base. The big news from Clairefontaine ahead of the tournament was the return to the squad of Karim Benzema – left out for off-field reasons since 2015, he remains one of the best strikers on the planet and will only make this great team even greater. Ominous, perhaps, for the rest of the field. Enjoy the spectacle of his return with a Quai d’Orsay Capitolio – a French regional cigar from a brand first created specifically for the French palette. The Quai d’Orsay blend was originally designed to pair with champagne; we wouldn’t bet against many bottles being opened in celebration by French fans.
Can Harry Kane lead his England teammates to glory? Image from iNews.
England – El Rey del Mundo La Reina
It may come as a surprise to some that England are joint-favourites with France for Euro 2020. Their last tournament success was over 50 years ago, with only 3 semi-final appearances since then. The last of these, however, was in the last World Cup, where they lost out narrowly to a strong Croatian side. In their talisman Harry Kane they have a truly world-class goalscorer, and a crop of talented youngsters like Foden, Sancho and Mount to supply him. Questions still surround their defence: after a fine showing at Russia 2018, Harry Maguire has become erratic and was very recently injured, while John Stones looks solid at times and scared at others. Much has been made of the selection of 4 right-backs for the final 26-man squad, a decision defended by the manager, Gareth Southgate, as a testament to the versatility of all four, but criticised by some pundits as an indication Southgate himself is indecisive. One thing is not in doubt – this squad has talent, and could finally deliver what the “Golden Generation” of Beckham, Gerrard et al could not. They will make for an intriguing watch, especially when smoking the glorious El Rey del Mundo La Reina UK regional edition from 2018. These cigars are presented in the elegant Laguito No. 1 vitola made famous by the Cohiba Lancero - every stick was rolled at El Laguito, the famous home of Cohiba cigars - and should last well into the second half.
Veteran striker Ciro Immobile will be looking to fire Italy to success at the postponed UEFA Euro 2020. Image from Twitter.
Italy – La Flor de Cano Casanova
In 2018 the football world was shocked as 4-time champions Italy failed to qualify for the tournament for the first time since 1958. This was almost seismic for fans of the sport, and was certainly so for those in Italy – a nation so proud of its prowess and position on the international stage was heartbroken and outraged that it had not even the chance to compete at the finals. Influential figures, including the captain Gianluigi Buffon and midfielder Daniele de Rossi, announced their immediate retirement, before Roberto Mancini was brought in to oversee the recovery, and the team have begun to play more like Italian teams of old under him. A blend of youth and experience now runs through the squad, and in Ciro Immobile they boast a formidable target man. They have lost only 2 of the 31 matches since Mancini took charge, and hope is beginning to flow again amongst the fanatical supporters of Gli Azzurri. Watch their resurgence with a Flor de Cano Casanova, a release from 2016 that blends vanilla with pepper and spice in a sturdy Edmundo vitola.
Turkey are not among the favourites for UEFA Euro 2020, but they might be a dark horse. Image from Daily Sabah.
Turkey – La Gloria Cubana Unifree
Turkey may not often stand out in the build-up to summer tournaments, but have long been a nation who entertain once they are there. Their most memorable performance on this stage came during a run to the semi-finals of Euro 2008, where the vast majority of their games were rescued or won by dramatic last-minute goals. The strength of character and sheer determination displayed by the team won them a lot of admirers, despite the quality of their play not necessarily being up to the standard displayed by their opponents. The team of 12 years later is greatly changed in personnel, but no doubt similar in outlook. Head coach Senol Gunes and captain and star striker Burak Yilmaz lead their nation into the tournament on good form – Yilmaz recently crowned a champion of France with Lille, and the national team top of their World Cup Qualifying group after an impressive win against the Netherlands. Outsiders with the bookies at 66/1 but with the ability to cause a shock or two, and certainly to entertain, Turkey are ones to keep an eye on. The Unifree from La Gloria Cubana is the perfect regional edition cigar to light during their games: the Montesco vitola made popular by the Romeo y Julieta Wide Churchill translates perfectly to the medium-bodied flavours of the brand.
UEFA Euro 2020 is the first time Scotland have qualified for a tournament since France 1998. Image from Sky.
Scotland – La Gloria Cubana Britanicas Extra
It has been 23 years since Scotland last played at a major tournament and, if I’m honest, it has felt like 100. Many of the current squad were infants during France 1998 – 2 weren’t even born. The relief when David Marshall saved the final Serbian penalty to win the playoff to qualify was enormous, the sense of an entire nation holding its breath as one then erupting into celebration as at last – at long, long last – the country where the first international game in history was played (30th November 1872, we beat the English 0-0) would be at a major tournament again. We are not among the favourites, with good reason. A recent record as poor as ours does not earn a team the right to be spoken of alongside those looking to win the whole thing. We are not, however, to be taken lightly: the experience of Marshall and Craig Gordon in goal, the drive from defence of Arsenal’s Kieran Tierney and a midfield featuring English Premiership regulars like Scott McTominay, John McGinn and Stuart Armstrong can cause many teams problem. Captain Andy Robertson lifted the Champions League trophy in 2019, Billy Gilmour got his hands on it this year. There is a sense this squad can give a good account of themselves this summer; not necessarily capable of a run to the final, but a first-ever knockout match is not an unreasonable target. Such optimism, for the Tartan Army at least, should always be tempered by realism; there is no mistress as cruel as hope for a Scotland fan. A fine cigar is called for, then, to calm the nerves during the matches – the magnificent double figurado La Gloria Cubana Britanicas Extra will be perfect. Creamy and peppery in equal measure, it will suit commiseration or (hopefully) celebration. We are a team to watch less as potential champions than for the romance around our return to the international scene. Always remember: No Scotland, No Party.