This article imagines a hypothetical alternative reality whereby COVID-19 thankfully did not ravage the world and EURO 2020 had gone ahead as planned this time last year.
After much humming and hawing, Euro 2020 will finally get underway this Friday...in 2021. The year's delay came, of course, due to the COVID-19 pandemic - and the tournament would have looked very different if it hadn't been for that year's delay.
We've turned the clocks back to March 2020, when lockdowns took over the world and major sporting events aplenty fell by the wayside. We've suspended our disbelief and imagined a world where Euro 2020 went ahead as originally planned, and had a look at the major differences we would have seen.
Potential Irish qualification
This one might be a bit of a stretch, but it's not outside the realms of possibility. The original plan with the Irish management set up was to replace Mick McCarthy with Stephen Kenny after EURO 2020 had run its course, but the FAI decided to jump the gun last April due to the pandemic and the impending delay to the tournament.
Ireland still had their EURO 2020 play-off semi-final against Slovakia to play when McCarthy left as manager last year and his win rate as manager was pretty solid, winning 5 out of his 10 games in charge and only losing one.
Who's to say that, with the momentum and stability under McCarthy, Ireland wouldn't have beaten Slovakia and gone on to win the play-off final against Northen Ireland or Bosnia, to qualify and face off against Poland and Sweden on two summer days in the Aviva? It might be unlikely but we can always wonder. Which brings us to...
Games in Dublin
This one hurts a bit. Dublin was due to host four games at EURO 2020 - three group games from Group E, as well as a last-16 game between the winners of Group D and the runners-up of Group F.
The slightly farcical notion of holding the Euros across the continent has been somewhat ridiculed since it's conception in 2012, but we can't pretend we weren't excited at the prospect of a major tournament coming to Ireland.
Sadly, the government couldn't commit to the crowd sizes UEFA were seeking from all host cities, and the four games were redistributed to Saint Petersburg and London.
The knockout game would have likely pitted England against one of France, Germany, or Portugal, in what would surely have been one of the headline fixtures of the tournament. What's more, if Ireland had qualified, they would have been guaranteed at least two games on home soil. That dream, sadly, has long since passed.
Absentees no more
The Euros this year will see a plethora of talent hit the field, but there will be plenty of players missing through injury who could have made a significant difference to their side's fortunes.
The two most notable are (unsurprisingly) both Liverpool defenders. Virgil van Dijk will be a major loss to the Netherlands this summer, as he continues his recuperation from a knee injury. Arguably the best centre-back in the world at the time of his injury, his presence would surely have seen the Dutch sitting much higher in the list of favourites for glory.
Despite all the fuss this year, Trent Alexander-Arnold would have been a nailed-on starter for England this time last year. Off the back of Liverpool's first league title in 30 years - in which Trent played a pivotal role - it's hard to imagine a world where he didn't start for England in 2020.
Elsewhere, Marco Reus and Marc Andre Ter-Stegen are both missing for Germany, while Zlatan Ibrahimovic's hotly-anticipated return to the Swedish setup has been curtailed by injury. It's also hard to see Sergio Ramos being excluded from the Spanish setup last year, after leading Real Madrid to the La Liga title.
It's hard to see any acceptable way back for Ryan Giggs as Wales manager after the criminal charges brought against him, but he would still have been in place as manager this time last year.
A different set of favourites
It's not just the English fans who think it could be "c*ming h*me" this summer. They're currently placed second on the list of favourites at just 5/1, according to Ladbrokes.
This time last year, though, their prospects may have looked very different. Plenty of young English talent has only properly emerged in the past 12 months, meaning their team looks very different to the June 2020 class.
Mason Mount, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham stand out as players who've only come into their stride over the past season, and it's hard to imagine them being discussed as potential starters this time last year.
Similarly, though Declan Rice would have been in contention last year, he now enters the Euros off the back of a season which saw him in plenty of Teams of the Year. Jack Grealish - a near-guaranteed starter this year - hadn't even been capped for England in June 2020. Those youngsters have suddenly created a wealth of talent in the England squad that places them as one of the favourites for the tournament - talent that wasn't as evident this time last year.
The Netherlands may well have been slightly shorter priced than their current 16/1 with Virgil van Dijk fit. Portugal (9/1) stand out as another team who may not have been as highly fancied last year. Bruno Fernandes, Ruben Dias, and Diogo Jota are all now essential parts of this Portugal team, but have only emerged as top-class talents over the past 12 or so months after excellent seasons at United, City, and Liverpool respectively. They now stand out as a team with much more than just Cristiano Ronaldo in their arsenal.
None of the favourites have fallen in the FIFA World Rankings since this time in 2020, but Portugal, Spain, and Germany have all climbed a few places - Italy's climb from 13th to 7th is of note though, especially considering they now sit as fourth favourites for the tournament with Ladbrokes.
The name would have sounded normal
Why don’t they just call it fucking Euro 2021
— Manny (@SuppressedSikh) June 8, 2021
The football world at large (us included) have committed to following UEFA's lead and continuing to call the tournament "EURO 2020", despite the fact it is in fact taking place in 2021. In years to come, we will remember this tournament with confusion, and future generations will struggle to understand why it wasn't simply renamed "EURO 2021". This, of course, could have been neatly avoided if the tournament had been held last year.
Alas, we will never know how EURO 2020 would have looked in 2020. The idea of a Europe-wide championships seems slightly farcical in the midst of a pandemic, even more so with widely varying spectator numbers across all of the venues.
Nonetheless, hopes are high that the quality on show will elevate the tournament and we'd be lying if we said we weren't excited. Roll on the next few weeks, and all the ill-fated "It's Coming Home" chants they may bring.