Spotlight back on the soccer pitch for expanded Euros

Wed Jun 8, 2016 10:46pm EDT
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By Martyn Herman

LONDON (Reuters) - Bigger than ever, the European Championship kicks off in Paris on Friday with a four-week feast of soccer that promises to elevate the game above the corruption scandals and security fears that have overshadowed its build-up.

All eyes will be on hosts France when they get the ball rolling against Romania in the Stade de France -- 210 days after suicide bombers at the same venue triggered a night of horror across the capital which killed 130 people.

It should have been a proud moment for former UEFA president Michel Platini.

The France great, who inspired his country's 1984 title on home soil, achieved his wish of expanding the tournament to a record 24 nations.

But a four-year ban, handed down after becoming engulfed by the FIFA corruption scandal that has rocked the sport, means his presence at the tournament will be in a purely unofficial capacity.

Against such a backdrop it can only be hoped that the tournament, the first since the sleaze hit the fan last summer and the last with a single host before it goes continent-wide in 2020, can deliver some memorable moments on the pitch.

It certainly has the potential to do so with 51 matches in 31 days spread across France from the coal-mining country of Lens in the north to the Mediterranean port of Marseille.

Unfamiliar qualifiers will be hoping to show they belong and vindicate Platini's brainchild, criticized by some as substituting quality for quantity.   Continued...

A general view shows the Stade de France in Saint-Denis before the start of the UEFA 2016 European Championship in Paris, France, June 8, 2016. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes