Two jewels that sparkle in the summer

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A glorious year for sport has two outstanding events that will light up the summer - the Olympic Games and the European Championship finals. While Atlanta, Georgia, will stage the greatest multi-sports competition of them all, the honour of hosting football's showpiece falls to England.

Euro 96 is most the important sports event to be held in the country since the World Cup in 1966. Once again the ball starts rolling at Wembley, with England kicking-off against Switzerland on 8 June, and the tournament will reach its climax there 22 days later. Will that final see England play Germany again? Or will Scotland find the inspiration to spoil the Auld Enemy's party?

For the first visit of these finals to England there are a record 16 teams taking part. Germany, the Netherlands and Italy will be strongly fancied, but England will be out to emulate the French side of 1984 which, inspired by Michel Platini, swept to victory on home soil.

Apart from Wembley, seven league grounds will be hosting matches - Old Trafford, Manchester; Villa Park, Birmingham; Hillsborough, Sheffield; Anfield, Liverpool; St James' Park, Newcastle; Elland Road, Leeds; and the City Ground, Nottingham. The expanded format has given fans around the country a chance to see the best of the continent's players at close hand, and the prospect is mouth-watering. Players to look out will be the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann, returning in Germany's colours; the brilliant young Dutch side; Italy's Alessandro del Piero; and, of course, Eric Cantona and David Ginola, if they can break back into the French side.

Hardly will sports lovers have had the chance to consider the successes and failures on the football field than it will be time to unite behind the British Olympic team in Atlanta. A new 83,000 capacity main stadium awaits them for the opening ceremony on 19 July of the 23rd modern Olympics, the Centennial Games.

Athletics, swimming and boxing will, as ever, command most attention, while the newer Olympic sports like beach volleyball and baseball will give the Games an American flavour. But there will be high hopes for the British contingent among the 10,000 competitors from almost 200 countries, with athletes like Jonathan Edwards, Colin Jackson, Sally Gunnell and, perhaps, Linford Christie, the sculler Stephen Redgrave, going for a fourth gold in four Games, and the pursuit cyclist Graeme Obree leading British medal challenge.