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EURO 2024

England’s soccer fortunes add sporting drama to UK election

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Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak poses with England striker Harry Kane and England Manager Gareth Southgate during a visit to St George's Park in Burton-on-Trent, Britain, October 10, 2023. DARREN STAPLES/Pool via REUTERS/files

Does British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak risk scoring an own goal by calling an election during the 2024 European Championship soccer tournament in July?Sunak, himself a soccer fan, might be hoping for a boost to his struggling campaign if England do well, although whether there really is a link between sport and elections is disputed by experts.

Given the national team’s habit of morale-busting defeats in major tournaments, the chance of another hit to the English psyche appears just as likely a backdrop to the election.

On a positive note, however, England, runners-up three years ago, are among the favourites under manager Gareth Southgate with a team full of in-form attacking players including Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka.

Sunak unexpectedly called a national election for July 4 when the European Championship in Germany will be entering its most exciting phase.

Voters will head to the polls four or five days after England’s first knockout match, assuming the team avoid the embarrassment of elimination in the group stage.

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There is also a chance England will have been pitted against their hosts and old rivals Germany in that last-16 game, a prospect that will fill many fans with dread.

Scotland are competing in the tournament too, potentially offering relief to the ruling Scottish National Party which, like Sunak’s Conservatives, is floundering in opinion polls.

Political pundits have offered non-sporting explanations for Sunak’s decision to call an early election, including a fall in Britain’s once double-digit inflation to close to 2% and signs that his flagship plan to send asylum-seekers to Rwanda might not get off the ground.

The timing has raised eyebrows, however, for the unusual overlap of an election campaign with the summer sporting calendar.

That has raised memories of one of the most painful of England’s defeats.

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In June 1970, a 3-2 loss to West Germany in a World Cup quarter-final was followed four days later by a shock election defeat for incumbent Prime Minister Harold Wilson, triggering debate about the impact of the match.

LINK OR NO LINK?

Much has been written since about a possible link between sport and elections.

A 2010 paper by academics at Stanford and Loyola Marymount University in the United States said wins for local college American football teams earned political incumbents an extra 1.61 percentage points of support in subsequent Senate, gubernatorial and presidential elections.

Others have found no clear connection.

Stefan Mueller and Liam Kneafsey, at University College Dublin and Trinity College Dublin, mapped Irish election outcomes over decades with Gaelic football and hurling match results and found no correlation with support for incumbents or ruling party politicians.

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Kneafsey said there were signs that some kind of influence on voters did occur.

“Whether they actually switch their votes, that’s probably a higher bar to clear and certainly the results there are inconclusive,” he said.

While that debate continues, it is clear that politics do weigh on the minds of soccer fans.

At a Euro 2016 match, three days after Britain’s shock Brexit referendum decision, many England fans joined in a crude chant directed at the European Union which ended with the words: “We all voted out”. England were beaten 2-1 by underdogs Iceland and were knocked out of the competition.

Another risk for Sunak is that sports fans resent his scheduling of the election at a time when not only Euro 2024 is taking place – from June 14-July 14 – but also the Wimbledon tennis championships which run from July 1-14.

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Campaigning will also overlap with cricket’s T20 World Cup involving England and Scotland from June 2-29.

Some academics will be happy, however, as they will be able to do more research into the links between sport and voting patterns.

“We could actually do with politicians having more elections during this time to definitively test this,” Kneafsey said.

-Reuters

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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EURO 2024

Mbappe fit to face Netherlands

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Euro 2024 - France Training - Paderborn Arena, Paderborn, Germany - June 19, 2024 France's Kylian Mbappe is seen with nose plasters as he speaks to coach Didier Deschamps during training REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

France captain Kylian Mbappe should be available for their second European Championship group game against the Netherlands after breaking his nose in their opening 1-0 win over Austria, manager Didier Deschamps said on Thursday.

The striker was injured in a collision with Austria’s Kevin Danso, and the 25-year-old forward took to social media to ask for help in finding a protective mask so he could face the Dutch in Group D on Friday.

“Everything is going in the right direction after this major shock he had, with the consequences, of course,” Deschamps told reporters.

“Yesterday, as you could see, he was able to go out and do some activity. That will be the case tonight too.

“So it has evolved in the right direction to ensure that he can be available tomorrow.”

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Mbappe tried on the specially made mask on Thursday.

“Kylian Mbappe will be wearing a mask yes, you don’t really need to know the details about this mask,” Deschamps said.

“I think you’ve got enough moles to find out where these masks come from anyway.”

The French are willing to leave it as late as possible before deciding on whether Mbappe will start, just four days after his injury.

“Kylian is doing well. The swelling has come down on his nose,” France forward Antoine Griezmann said.

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“We’ll see the last minute, depending on how he’s feeling.

If Mbappe is unable to play, Griezmann is confident the French side can cope with his absence.

“I think the entire team would have to adapt. I really don’t know if he’s going to be playing. Having one of the best players in the world on the pitch or not definitely changes things,” he said.

“But you always have to adapt to each match. And that’s what I really love to do. So it doesn’t matter what the technical choices are for tomorrow.”

For Deschamps, whether Mbappe plays or not does not change the way he approaches the game.

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“I try to talk to the players who are going to start the game, and the players who are not going to start the game,” Deschamps said.

“We are a group. You need to manage the group. It was the same with the first match, the players who will start and those who will be on the bench.

“Everyone has to be ready. I don’t think it’s anything special.”

The Netherlands also won their opening game, coming from behind to beat Poland 2-1.

-Reuters

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EURO 2024

Teammates hopeful Mbappe can make Friday’s match against Dutch

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Kylian Mbappe’s teammates are hopeful he might yet be available for Friday’s European Championship clash against the Netherlands after suffering a broken nose on Monday.

France have made no announcement on their captain’s availability for their next match at the tournament in Germany but French media reports on Tuesday ruled him out of the encounter.

Both Adrien Rabiot and William Saliba, however, sounded an optimistic note at a press conference on Wednesday, not giving up hope Mbappe could play despite the fracture suffered late in the 1-0 win over Austria in Duesseldorf.

“I met him this morning, he was a little better. He had gone to do other tests. I don’t know more. But when I saw him this morning, he was better,” defender Saliba told reporters.

Rabiot highlighted the example of his Juventus teammate Wojciech Szczesny, the Poland goalkeeper who also suffered a broken nose in April.

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“I don’t know exactly if it’s the same as Kylian. He had surgery the next day or two days later and he was available for the following match,” Rabiot recalled.

“That’s why when they told me about Kylian’s nose being broken, in my head it wasn’t so serious, because I told myself that he could be available quite quickly.”

But if Mbappe does not make it, Rabiot said France would still be confident of their chances against the Dutch, who won their opening match against Poland in Hamburg on Sunday.

“Of course, he’s a very important player and that will inevitably have an impact, particularly on the preparation of opposing teams, but we have an exceptional group,” insisted the midfielder.

“On the bench, we have more than enough means to replace Kylian. I have complete confidence in our quality on the bench.”

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Reuters

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EURO 2024

Like Osimhen, Mbappe will wear a mask!

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 Euro 2024 - Group D - Austria v France - Dusseldorf Arena, Dusseldorf, Germany - June 17, 2024 France's Kylian Mbappe receives medical attention after sustaining an injury REUTERS/Kacper Pempe

France captain Kylian Mbappe suffered a broken nose late on in his side’s 1-0 victory Euro 2024 victory over Austria on Monday, the French Football Federation confirmed after the game.

The 25-year-old, one of the biggest names at the tournament, suffered the injury when he collided with the shoulder of Austrian defender Kevin Danso while challenging for a header.

He was substituted near the end and left the stadium in an ambulance to undergo X-ray

“Kylian Mbappe suffered a broken nose during the second half of the Austria v France match this Monday in Duesseldorf,” a statement from the federation said.

“The captain of the French team was first taken care of by the medical staff and doctor Franck Le Gall, who diagnosed a broken nose. Diagnosis confirmed during radiological examinations at the Duesseldorf hospital.

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“Kylian Mbappe has returned to the base camp of the French team. He will undergo treatment in the coming days, without undergoing surgery immediately.”

France face the Netherlands on Friday and Mbappe is now a doubt for that clash – a huge blow for France.

“A mask will be made so as to allow the number 10 of the French team to consider resuming competition after a period devoted to treatment,” the FFF said.

-Reuters

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