KEIR RADNEDGE in MUNICH: UEFA Euro 2024, kicking off imminently in Munich, is European by name and but worldwide by reach though fans elsewhere may reject a popular local assessment that Germany is staging the “World Cup without Brazil and Argentina”.

Indeed, the Copa America may end on the same date as the European party but it starts almost a week later, next Thursday, leaving the stage free for the Euro kickoff.

For four weeks all the negative issues haunting European football – racism, corruption, illegal betting and sportswashing – can be largely set aside while the stage is claimed by the 24 teams who have made it here.

The European Championship was launched in 1958 so the stars of UEFA Euro 2024 are building on a tradition whose foundations have been laid down by the likes of Lev Yashin, Gigi Riva, Franz Beckenbauer, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten, Xavi, Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest. They are also celebrating the event’s escape to freedom after the pandemic-imposed restrictions of Euro 2020-in-2021.

Germany beat Turkey, at a UEFA exco vote in September 2018, for hosts rights to the tournament’s 17th staging. This is a solo first for the unified nation after West Germany’s pre-reunification finals of 1988 and its share in last time’s pan-European staging.

Nine of the host cities welcomed the sun-glazed 2006 World Cup: Berlin, Cologne, Dortmund, Frankfurt, Gelsenkirchen, Hamburg, Leipzig, Munich and Stuttgart. The additional city is Düsseldorf, a host in 1988. Munich sees Germany kick off against Scotland with the final in Berlin in exactly one month’s time, July 14.

By then fans and media will have answers to the most pressing questions: Will hosts Germany, under Julian Nagelsmann, end a sequence of tournament disasters? Can France succeed where they failed, albeit only penalties, at the World Cup in Qatar? Can England’s attacking talent surmount troubles in defence? Who will provide the inevitable shocks and upsets? Who will let themselves down?

The magnetism of the European Championship has been evident at every step of its evolution. As with so many other major sporting extravaganzas it was a Frenchman, in this case Henri Delaunay, who drove the creation of a European championship amid the momentum which created UEFA in the mid-1950s.

France played host to the inaugural finals in 1960 when the Soviet Union defeated Yugoslavia in the final in the original Parc des Princes in Paris.

Initially the finals were contested between four teams, in two semi-finals, a third place-off and the final. In 1980 UEFA welcomed more countries to the party and doubled the complement to eight teams. A further 16 years and England, in 1996, was the first host to boast a 16-team tournament. The event’s fast-growing popularity – plus the expansion of UEFA after the fracturing of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia – prompted a move to 24 teams in 2016 in France.

Euro 2020 was the first tournament to incorporate the newly-founded UEFA Nations League into the qualifying system. The concept was retained in the latest chase for the 23 finals slots alongside hosts Germany. This provided a “lucky losers” route for Poland, Ukraine and Georgia who are the only newcomers.

Usual set-up: six groups of four teams with the group winners, runners-up and the best four third-placed teams advancing to the knockout round of 16. The quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will be held over the concluding 10 days of competition. Extra time and penalties if necessary. No third-place playoff.

The strength in depth of European football down the years is illustrated by the fact that 10 different nations have triumphed. Top of the table sit Germany and Spain with three successes each; the first German victory was as the former West Germany in 1972. France and Italy have both won twice with the Azzurri being reigning champions after edging England on penalties at Wembley in July 2021.

The inaugural European Championship kicked off with 17 entrants when the Soviet Union’s Anatoly Ilyin scored a historic first goal on September 28, 1958, in a 3-1 victory over Hungary. This time around some 54 nations – suspended Russia the only absentee – attacked the qualifying competition.

Belgium, England, France and Portugal as well as Hungary and Romania were all unbeaten in qualifying. Portugal were the only team with a 100pc record while also conceded fewest goals (two) and scoring the most (36). Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku was the 14-goal top individual marksman followed by Cristiano Ronaldo (10).

Prize money on offer to the 24 finalists totals €331m. All 24 finalists will benefit from a participation fee of €9.25m plus match bonuses of €1m for a win and €500,000 for a draw.

Qualification for the Round of 16 is worth €1.5m, qualification for the quarter-finals €2.5m and entry into the semi-finals €4m. The runners-up will receive an additional €5m with the eventual champions being rewarded with €8m.

Thus the maximum cash prize possible for the champions, if they win all three of their group matches, is €28.25m. But the glory of raising the Henri Delaunay Trophy is beyond price.