The stage is set, the stadium bursting with life, sound, and colour, and drenched in an air of expectancy I pray won't weigh down my talented Belgium team. For many of them, it'll either be the one of the best or worst matches of their playing careers. Personally, I'm hoping for the former.
It's the opening game in a historic European Championship - the first of its kind to feature 24 teams - and as my squad prepares to belt out their national anthem, I wonder if it'll continue to be a tournament of firsts? The first, perhaps, to see Belgium crowned champions?
After four games, an unbelievable Cristiano Ronaldo hat-trick, and a heartbreaking penalty shootout, I'll have my answer.
Fairytales and heartache
The above isn’t a premonition I had about Belgium’s showing at the upcoming European Championships, but rather what happened during my first playthrough of Pro Evo’s official Euro 2016 tie-in.
Assuming you already own PES 2016, you’ll be able to start your own European journey right now by downloading the Euro content free-of-charge. Those of you who didn’t pick it up will have to drop some cash on the Euro 2016 standalone edition, but don’t feel too hard done by, because the physical version also comes packed with a copy of the main game.
So far then, it’s win-win. But whether you’re planning on downloading the DLC or buying it in-store, there’s one question that remains: is it really worth your time, or your money? For me, the answer became obvious as soon as my Belgium side limped out on penalties.
You see, a defeat in a soccer-sim has rarely felt so exhilarating, and that's because PES 2016's core gameplay is just as slick as it was when I first got to grips with it last September. Attacking is still the name of the game, and when you're not jinking around defenders or smashing goals past the opposition, you'll be staring, jaw agape, as their attackers throw everything but the kitchen sink at your bewildered defence.
Actually, bewildered might be putting it too kindly, because watching players trying to defend in PES is akin to watching a Sunday League match where everyone, including the hungover centre backs, thinks they're Lionel Messi. Tackling feels sloppy and inconsistent, and there's nothing more frustrating than watching your world-class players struggle to win the ball back before finally regaining possession and going on to beat three defenders themselves. It’s baffling stuff, and something Konami should’ve tightened up by now.
Attack is the best form of defence
Luckily, you can account for the inevitable sloppy goal by setting your team up accordingly, and although Pro Evo might not be quite as slow-burning or as tactical as its FIFA-licensed counterpart, that's not to say that its teams and players don't feel unique.
Even on the international stage every nation plays to its strengths, meaning you’ll have to tweak your line-up accordingly if you want to capitalise on their weaknesses and avoid being put to the sword yourself. During my initial playthrough, it was great to see Italy calmly pass the ball around, watch Ireland sit back and defend deep, and tremble with fear as Sweden hoofed everything towards their talismanic target man, Ibrahimovic.
It's clear Konami has spent time diligently replicating the playing styles of individual players and teams using PES 2016’s Player ID and Team ID systems, and while it’s a subtle mechanic, it’s one the biggest football fans - the ones clamouring to get their hands on this DLC - will appreciate.
Adding to the tournament's sense of authenticity are the new player faces, which, for the most part, put their FIFA doppelgängers to shame. There are hundreds of new models in the Euro 2016 update, and players now look more like their real life counterparts than ever before. Once someone works out how to get rid of that eerie dead-behind-the-eyes expression, it'll be a case of job done.
Beautiful on the inside
Still, for all of the tie-in’s flashy updates and stylish branded trappings, such as a new intro sting, official match balls, and advertising hoardings, the Euro 2016 expansion doesn’t manage to address any of PES' biggest failings.
Indeed, while I appreciate that the competition has expanded this year, there are still only 24 teams taking part, so it's almost unforgivable that the official DLC only features 15 fully licensed sides. Proper kits for the likes of Belgium, Sweden and the Republic of Ireland are all missing, although you can download the correct designs from a third-party source and then add them in through the game's edit mode.
More annoying is the fact that the expansion only features one authentic tournament locale in the form of Paris' Stade de France, which will host the Euro 2016 final on July 10. It also fails to do away with joyless commentators Peter Drury and Jim Beglin, who deserve an award for being the most tepid football fans at a European Championship.
Unlike FIFA’s previous World Cup and Euro tie-ins, there are also no qualifying campaigns, so if your team didn’t make it to the finals in France, you won’t even be able to right that wrong in the digital world. This is bread and butter stuff, and PES' inability to secure the rights for an wholly official tie-in or offer an expansive package is an embarrassing faux pas.
UEFA EURO 2016 Pro Evolution Soccer verdict
Fortunately, just like Steven Gerrard's infamous slip, these are forgivable failings. PES 2016 does, after all, remain one of the best entries in the long-running series, and licensing issues and questionable goal-fests aside, it's hard to deny that Konami have served up a tie-in that gets more right than it does wrong. If you want to live out your own Euro 2016 dreams, then this DLC gives you the chance to do just that in thrilling fashion.