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France kicks off Europe's biggest football party
FOOTBALL fans in Singapore and around the world have begun a four-week binge in front of the TV as they savour their favourite sport well into the middle of the night.
The quadrennial European Football Championships, known as Euro 2016 this year, began on Saturday morning (Singapore time) as hosts France battled Romania at the sold-out 81,000-seater Stade de France in Paris.
This tournament is the world's third-largest sporting event after the Fifa World Cup and the Summer Olympics; France expects some 2.5 million fans to attend the 51 matches at 10 stadiums across the country. A record 24 nations are taking part this time - up from 16 previously - and the top two teams will meet in the grand final on July 11 for the right to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy and be crowned kings of the continent.
With a six-hour time difference between France and Singapore, most of the games will kick off at either midnight or 3am, with seven fixtures set to begin at the saner hour of 9pm.
What this means is that many fans here will probably be trudging in to the office, school or elsewhere bleary-eyed and out of sorts. Some people have their ways of dealing with the sleep deprivation, be it by chugging cans of Red Bull or downing an espresso shot or two.
Others will set multiple alarm clocks by their bedside to be sure they don't miss a second of the action, in case they doze off while waiting for the game to start.
Germany fan Patrick Ang already has his usual fast food chain's delivery hotline stored on his speed dial, should the hunger pangs strike in the wee hours of the morning. The 35-year-old sales executive will be heading to a friend's place to watch the matches, because he chose not to fork out the S$88 to get the Euro 2016 package on cable TV. "It's too expensive to subscribe, and I probably can't catch more than half the games any way because I have to be at work the next morning," he said.
There is no shortage of options to watch Euro 2016 this year - legally, of course. Apart from Singtel TV and StarHub, Eleven Sports Network has a paid streaming service for subscribers to tune in via its website or mobile app.
The opening match, one semi-final and the final will be streamed free on the Singtel TV GO app.
Many restaurants and watering holes will be screening the games, and fans can also head for one of 26 community clubs islandwide for "live" screenings, free of charge.
There are three fixtures on Saturday - Albania opens their campaign against Switzerland (9pm), Wales battles Slovakia (midnight), while England takes on Russia (Sunday 3am).
The six group winners, six runners-up and four best third-placed teams will qualify for the round of 16.
Spain won the last edition in 2012 and are one of the bookmakers' favourites to retain their title, although one should not rule out the likes of France, Germany, England and dark horses Belgium.
For those who fancy a flutter on an underdog to go all the way, Singapore Pools is offering odds of 200-to-1 on tournament debutants Albania to win the trophy.
Stranger things have happened in football recently, with Leicester City winning the English Premier League in May for the first time in their 132-year history. As the old cliche goes, the ball is round and each of the 24 nations will fancy their chances of making history on European football's grandest stage.
READ MORE: BT Infographics: Euro 2016