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Belgium in 2019. Its expectations have not always been matched by its results.
Credit…Francois Lenoir/Reuters

Officially, Euro 2020 started yesterday: the opening ceremony, the fireworks, the first sight of an Italian defender celebrating a tackle. Strictly speaking, though, the first real day of the tournament — when one game seamlessly folds into another, and by the end you have forgotten who played in the first one — is today.

Only one of the major contenders is in action. After Wales against Switzerland and Denmark’s meeting with the Euro newcomers Finland, Belgium faces Russia. The fact that the match is in St. Petersburg makes it a far tougher proposition than it might ordinarily be for Belgium, the world’s top-ranked team. But Belgium goes into this tournament with the highest of expectations; if it cannot overcome a Russian home-field advantage, then it will probably not fulfill its ambitions when the games matter more.

There is an element of last-chance saloon for this Belgian team. The country has been in possession of a golden generation for almost a decade now — personally, I wrote my first assessment of Belgium’s talent explosion as far back as 2012 — and all it has to show for it, so far, is a couple of semifinals. That is not a bad return for a country of 11 million people, but it still runs the risk of being perceived (rightly or wrongly) as an underachievement.

No team other than France is quite as well-stocked across the board as Belgium, even if will run out in St. Petersburg today without the injured playmaker Kevin De Bruyne. Belgium has a miserly defense, a balanced midfield, and a potent attack, led by Romelu Lukaku.

And yet no team is quite so, um, experienced. It is possible that this Belgian generation has passed its peak. Certainly, for some members of the squad, this may represent a final major tournament. This is now or never, for some, and it all starts today.

Italy’s Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne got a head start in the race for the Golden Boot on Friday.
Credit…Pool photo by Mike Hewitt

You can bet on which teams will win at Euro 2020, of course. But you can also bet on how individual players will perform.

One of the most popular betting markets is for the tournament’s golden boot, awarded to the player with the most goals, but the race is always a tricky one to handicap. Players whose teams go deep in the tournament have more games to increase their goal totals. And betting on a goal machine who plays for a weaker team likely to go out in the group stage is usually a good way to separate a gambler from their money.

This year, the pretournament favorite was Harry Kane of England, but given the uncertainties of prediction, he was still a square price at 7-1.

Other favorites included Romelu Lukaku of Belgium (8-1), who will look to open his scoring account against Russia on Saturday; Kylian Mbappé of France (12-1), who lead the tournament’s most fearsome attack; and Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal (14-1).

Mbappé is also the favorite to win the player of the tournament award (8-1), while Phil Foden of England is the leading choice to be named its best young player (5-1).

Italy dominated Turkey, 3-0, on Friday in Rome to open the European Championship, but the tournament will really start hitting its stride with three games today, three more on Sunday, three more on … you get the idea.

Here are some basics on how to watch.

In the United States, the bulk of the games will be on ESPN, with a few on ABC. When two games are played simultaneously, one will run on ESPN2 instead. Games also will be streamed on ESPN+. Univision holds the Spanish-language rights.

Not in the United States? Here’s a complete list of UEFA’s broadcast partners, which will sort you out from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe.

Here’s the full list of Euro 2020 matches and venues and some more details about the tournament, its format and its history.

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