The biggest European Championship ever is now less than two days away, with a field of 24 teams set to compete in 51 matches over 31 days, for the goal of lifting the trophy at the Stade de France on the outskirts of Paris on July 11. Having been a quality-intense competition of just 16 teams since 1996, UEFA has opted to expand the participants, with Euro 2016 offering a chance for some newcomers to make their mark on a competition that ranks second in size and prestige to only the World Cup.

With outsiders like Iceland, Albania and Northern Ireland making an appearance and three of the six third-placed teams in the group stage set to make it into the knockout phase, the hope now is that the quality is not diluted.

Here's how the groups shape up:

Group A (France, Romania, Albania, Switzerland)

France could not have wished for a kinder draw and should have every chance to ease their way into the tournament without initial pressure on home soil. That could prove hugely beneficial with several issues for France to resolve, notably in defense, where injuries to Raphael Varane, Mamadou Sakho and Kurt Zouma are likely to leave an unconvincing center-back partnership of Laurent Koscielny and Adil Rami. But, even with the controversial absence of striker Karim Benzema, further forward France could be scintillating. They should certainly have too much for Romania and Albania, two of the weaker teams in the tournament. Switzerland have more quality about them, with the likes of new Arsenal man Granit Xhaka and former Bayern Munich attacking midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri, and look likely to claim the runners-up berth.

Prediction: 1. France, 2. Switzerland, 3. Romania, 4. Albania

Group B (England, Russia, Wales, Slovakia)

England will certainly start as favorites to progress, but Group B is far from straightforward. England possess the youngest squad in the tournament and exciting newcomers without the baggage of past tournament failures, such as Tottenham trio Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Eric Dier. But coach Roy Hodgson has showed in the warmup games that he is not sure of his best lineup, and the desire to fit captain Wayne Rooney into it promises to be problematic. Slovakia, meanwhile, are trending upward thanks to a 3-1 friendly win over world champions Germany. In contrast, Russia and Wales have both suffered problems in the buildup to the match. Russia have lost influential duo Igor Denisov and Alan Dzagoev to injury, while Wales are still sweating over the fitness of Joe Ledley and lost their final warmup game 3-0 to Sweden.

Prediction: 1. England, 2. Slovakia, 3. Wales, 4. Russia

Group C (Germany, Ukraine, Poland, Northern Ireland)

In what could be a tricky group, world champions Germany  have sufficient talent to progress as winners. Yet they do not go into Euro 2016 without problems. Injuries to Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan are a blow, and the presence of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Lukas Podolski shows how keen Joachim Low is for some veteran leadership following the retirement of key figures after the 2014 triumph in Brazil. In addition, a lack of strikers and full-backs remains an issue and was shown up in a less than commanding qualifying campaign. Poland got a win over Germany in qualifying and with Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski leading the attack could be a dark horse to make a deep run in the tournament. Ukraine, which enters the tournament on the back of four successive wins, have real quality in Yevhen Konoplyanka and Andriy Yarmolenko and cannot be written off. Northern Ireland, though defensively solid, may struggle, especially with an injury doubt over their top scorer in qualifying, Kyle Lafferty.

Prediction: 1. Germany, 2. Poland, 3. Ukraine, 4. Northern Ireland

Group D (Spain, Czech Republic, Turkey, Croatia)

Due to their disastrous performance at the last World Cup, two-time defending European champions Spain have been almost overlooked in talk of the favorites for Euro 2016. Yet there is plenty of quality in the squad, with a new generation being given the chance to make their mark, even if there are doubts about where the goals are going to come from up front. Group D promises to be far from straightforward, however. In Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic, Croatia have one of the best midfields at the tournament to go along with the reliable Mario Mandzukic up front. Under Fatih Terim, the man who guided them to the semifinals of Euro 2008, Turkey go into the tournament having lost just once in 16 matches. Despite topping both Turkey and the Netherlands in qualifying, the Czech Republic may struggle in arguably the most evenly matched group.

Prediction: 1. Spain, 2. Croatia, 3. Turkey, 4. Czech Republic

Group E (Belgium, Italy, Republic of Ireland, Sweden)

The opening round of fixtures in Group E provides one of the most anticipated matches of the group stage when Belgium, ranked No. 2 in the world, take on 2012 runners-up Italy. Belgium, although missing captain and defensive lynchpin Vincent Kompany, have a phenomenal collection of talent, but there remains the sense that coach Marc Wilmots has not yet managed to harness its full potential. In contrast, Italy, not helped by injuries, has a hugely uninspiring squad on paper. Yet the Azzurri do have a solid defense and a shrewd coach in Chelsea-bound Antonio Conte. Those two should battle for top spot, with Sweden and the Republic of Ireland likely vying to be one of the best third-placed teams. Both are similarly hard-working teams lacking in inspiration, with the notable exception of Swedish star Zlatan Ibrahimovic who will be determined to leave his mark on what could be his last international tournament.

Prediction: 1. Italy, Belgium, Sweden, Republic of Ireland

Group F (Portugal, Iceland, Austria, Hungary)

Portugal could be a candidate to go far at Euro 2016 but so much depends on Cristiano Ronaldo. If the three-time Ballon d’Or winner is at his best then he can be a true talisman and difference maker. But if he cannot shake off the injury problems that hampered him in the Champions League final, then his presence could be a hindrance to team chemistry, as it was at the 2014 World Cup. Austria, led by Bayern Munich’s David Alaba, will be a threat to Portugal’s hopes to top Group F after winning nine and drawing one of their 10 qualifiers. As for the smallest country ever to qualify for a major tournament, Iceland showed in qualifying that they can cause an upset, yet have been less impressive of late. Hungary could find their first tournament since 1986 hard going with a squad lacking in real quality.

Prediction: 1. Portugal, 2. Austria, 3. Iceland, 4. Hungary

TV schedule (all times EDT)

Friday, June 10

France vs. Romania -- Saint-Denis (3 p.m., ESPN)

Saturday, June 11

Albania vs. Switzerland -- Lens (9 a.m., ESPN)

Wales vs. Slovakia -- Bordeaux (12 p.m., ESPN)

England vs. Russia -- Marseille (3 p.m., ESPN)

Sunday, June 12

Turkey vs. Croatia -- Paris (9 a.m., ESPN)

Poland vs. Northern Ireland -- Nice (12 p.m., ESPN)

Germany vs. Ukraine -- Lille (3 p.m., ESPN)

Monday, June 13

Spain vs. Czech Rep -- Toulouse (9 a.m., ESPN)

Rep of Ireland vs. Sweden -- Saint-Denis (12 p.m., ESPN)

Belgium vs. Italy -- Lyon (3 p.m., ESPN)

Tuesday, June 14

Austria vs. Hungary -- Bordeaux (12 p.m., ESPN)

Portugal vs. Iceland -- Saint-Etienne (3 p.m., ESPN)

Wednesday, June 15

Russia vs. Slovakia -- Lille (9 a.m., ESPN)

Romania vs. Switzerland -- Paris (12 p.m., ESPN)

France vs. Albania -- Marseille (3 p.m., ESPN)

Thursday, June 16

England vs. Wales -- Lens (9 a.m., ESPN)

Ukraine vs. Northern Ireland -- Lyon (12 p.m., ESPN)

Germany vs. Poland -- Saint-Denis (3 p.m., ESPN)

Friday, June 17

Italy vs. Sweden -- Toulouse (9 a.m., ESPN)

Czech Rep vs. Croatia -- Saint-Etienne (12 p.m., ESPN)

Spain vs. Turkey -- Nice (3 p.m., ESPN)

Saturday, June 18

Belgium vs. Rep of Ireland -- Bordeaux (9 a.m., ESPN)

Iceland vs. Hungary -- Marseille (12 p.m., ESPN)

Portugal vs. Austria -- Paris (3 p.m., ESPN)

Sunday, June 19

Switzerland vs. France -- Lille (3 p.m., ESPN)

Romania vs. Albania -- Lyon (3 p.m., ESPN2)

Monday, June 20

Slovakia vs. England -- Saint-Etienne (3 p.m., ESPN)

Russia vs. Wales -- Toulouse (3 p.m., ESPN2)

Tuesday, June 21

Northern Ireland vs. Germany -- Paris (12 p.m., ESPN)

Ukraine vs. Poland -- Marseille (12 p.m., ESPN2)

Croatia vs. Spain -- Bordeaux (3 p.m., ESPN)

Czech Rep vs. Turkey -- Lens (3 p.m., ESPN2)

Wednesday, June 22

Hungary vs. Portugal -- Lyon (12 p.m., ESPN)

Iceland vs. Austria -- Saint-Denis (12 p.m., ESPN2)

Italy vs. Rep of Ireland -- Lille (3 p.m., ESPN)

Sweden vs. Belgium -- Nice (3 p.m., ESPN2)

Round of 16

Saturday, June 25

RUA vs. RUC -- Saint-Etienne (9 a.m., ESPN)

WB vs. 3A/C/D -- Paris (12 p.m., ESPN)

WD vs. 3B/E/F -- Lens (3 p.m., ESPN)

Sunday, June 26

WA vs. 3C/D/E -- Lyon (9 a.m., ESPN)

WC vs. 3A/B/F -- Lille (12 p.m., ESPN)

WF vs. RUE -- Toulouse (3 p.m., ESPN)

Monday, June 27

WE vs. RUD -- Saint-Denis (12 p.m., ESPN2)

RUB vs. RUF -- Nice (3 p.m., ESPN2)


Thursday, June 30

W37 vs. W39 -- Marseille (3 p.m., ESPN2)

Friday, July 1

W38 vs. W42 -- Lille (3 p.m., ESPN2)

Saturday, July 2

W41 vs. W43 -- Bordeaux (3 p.m., ESPN2)

Sunday, July 3

W40 vs. W44 -- Saint-Denis (3 p.m., ESPN)


Wednesday, July 6

W45 vs. W46 -- Lyon (3 p.m., ESPN)

Thursday, July 7

W47 vs. W48 -- Marseille (3 p.m., ESPN)


Sunday, July 10

W49 vs. W50 -- Saint-Denis (3 p.m., ESPN)

Live stream: All matches will be available through Watch ESPN.