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EURO 2024

France profit from own goal to edge Austria in Euro 2024 opener

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Kylian Mbappe of France, left, makes an attempt to score during a Group D match between Austria and France at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Duesseldorf, Germany, Monday, June 17, 2024. AP

Maximilian Woeber’s own goal was enough to give France a winning start to their Euro 2024 campaign on Monday as they edged Austria 1-0 in their opening game but Kylian Mbappe came off late on with a bloodied nose.

Woeber diverted Mbappe’s cutback into his own net seven minutes before half-time in Duesseldorf to allow the French, one of the leading contenders to win the tournament, to come through a stiff test.

Austria have been much-improved under Ralf Rangnick and their pressing game often made life uncomfortable for the 2022 World Cup runners-up, who saw Mbappe leave the field near the end after being hurt in a collision.

He had earlier failed to convert a glorious chance that would have allowed France to win by a wider margin.

While Les Bleus were not at their best, they will be relieved to have emerged victorious from the game after a build-up overshadowed by talk of politics rather than football.

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Mbappe and other French players had spent much of their time before the media in recent days answering questions about upcoming elections in the country which could see the far-right National Rally become the biggest party.

Any slip-up here would have led to suggestions their minds had not been fully focused on the competition, as France aim to become European champions for the third time, and first since 2000.

Instead, the result leaves Didier Deschamps’ team level on three points in Group D with the Netherlands, who defeated Poland 2-1 in Hamburg on Sunday.

France and the Netherlands meet next in Leipzig on Friday, while Austria face Poland earlier the same day in Berlin.

Austria had enjoyed some impressive results coming into the tournament on a seven-game unbeaten run and their team is on familiar ground during these Euros — their coach Rangnick is from Germany and eight of their starting line-up played in the German Bundesliga last season.

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Difficult night for Mbappe

The French, however, are arguably the most talented team at the tournament, led by their captain Mbappe.

He endured a miserable time at his only previous Euros three years ago, failing to score and missing the decisive penalty in a shoot-out defeat by Switzerland in the last 16.

The new Real Madrid signing will wonder how he did not score in this game, with his first big opportunity arriving inside eight minutes.

Antoine Griezmann and Theo Hernandez combined to release Mbappe, who cut in from the left as he loves to do and shaped to curl a shot into the far corner before instead aiming for the near post.

However, Austria goalkeeper Patrick Pentz was able to make the save.

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The Austrians settled into the contest and passed up a wonderful chance of their own to go ahead on 36 minutes.

Skipper Marcel Sabitzer touched down a Michael Gregoritsch cross from the left for Christoph Baumgartner, but he was foiled by goalkeeper Mike Maignan.

That proved crucial as France went ahead two minutes later.

Ousmane Dembele gave the ball to Mbappe on the right, and he produced a stepover to get to the byline before his cutback was nodded into the far corner of his own net by the unfortunate Woeber.

Mbappe was then thwarted by Pentz as he tried to go around the goalkeeper in first-half stoppage time, but that was nothing compared to the chance he squandered 10 minutes after the restart.

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Adrien Rabiot sent Mbappe away, bounding in behind the Austrian defence, but he somehow put his shot wide with just the goalkeeper to beat.

That left the game in the balance, and Austria continued to push for a leveller, but without success.

Their fans were less than impressed by what they perceived as timewasting late on from Mbappe, who needed treatment after colliding with Kevin Danso in the box.

He left the pitch with his shirt stained by blood, only to then come back on and sit down, earning himself a yellow card before being replaced by Olivier Giroud.

-AFP

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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

Gareth Southgate dares to dream as England eye end to long wait for Euros glory

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England manager Gareth Southgate said he does not believe that fate is guiding the Three Lions to Euro 2024 glory, but is dreaming of ending a 58-year wait to win a major tournament in Sunday’s final against Spain.

Three years on from losing the Euro 2020 final on home soil to Italy, Southgate’s men have another opportunity to become European champions for the first time in Berlin.

England have struggled on their road to the final, needing a series of late goals, fightbacks and a penalty shoot-out against Switzerland in the quarter-finals.

Southgate said that did not mean they were destined to beat a Spanish side who have been a class apart in the competition so far.

However, it would a reward for England’s consistency in never failing to reach at least the quarter-finals in the four tournaments Southgate has taken charge of.

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“I’m not a believer in fairy tales but I am a believer in dreams,” Southgate said at his pre-match press conference on July 13.

“We’ve had big dreams, we’ve felt the need and the importance of that but then you have to make those things happen.

“Fate, the run that we’ve had, the late goals, the penalties, that doesn’t equate to it being our moment, we have to make it happen tomorrow and perform at the level that we need to perform.

“Of course it would be a lovely story but it’s in our hands and our performance is the most important thing.”

AFP

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EURO 2024

Spain to offer relentless pressing against England

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 Euro 2024 - Semi Final - Spain v France - Munich Football Arena, Munich, Germany - July 9, 2024 Spain's Fabian Ruiz and Alvaro Morata react REUTERS/Annegret Hilse/File Photo

Spain go into Sunday’s Euro 2024 final as slight favourites over England after not only being the most attractive team to watch at the tournament but having won every match they have played.

The Spaniards have emerged as a team that can quickly adapt their strategy to their opponents without giving up their direct attacking game in favour of a results-based performance.

They outsmarted France in the semi-finals despite falling a goal behind and it took them just five minutes to score twice to take the lead with their relentless pressing game and vertical passing that forced the French to resort to long balls.

With Rodri as their midfield dynamo, a strategist matching Germany’s Toni Kroos in impressive passing efficiency but with a more attack-minded approach, the battle in the centre of the pitch is expected to play a key role in the outcome.

England will have to wrestle possession from Spain, who also have the outstanding Fabian Ruiz in midfield, a player who for many is already the player of the tournament.

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With lightning wingers Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal, who turns 17 on Saturday and is the youngest scorer at a Euros or World Cup, ripping up defences and able to score and provide assists, England’s fullbacks will have their hands full.

Spain are the first team to win six games at a single Euros following their victory over France, up to that stage the team with the tournament’s best defence.

A second successive Euro final for England and coach Gareth Southgate is no mean feat even though they had to endure weeks of criticism, especially in the group phase, for lacklustre performances and with little punching power up front.

England’s defence, however, has remained solid and with the pace of John Stones and Kyle Walker, when they do get exposed, they have proved adept at scrambling recoveries.

SPANISH POSSESSION

Spain’s ball possession and movement will likely give England their biggest test so far and key to Southgate’s side being able to stay in shape is the incredible work of defensive midfield screen Declan Rice.

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His anticipation of danger areas plus his movement, strength and determination have made him arguably England’s best player in Germany as he patrols in front of the back four, firefighting wherever the danger pops up.

The rest of England’s midfield also stepped up against the Netherlands in the semi-finals in terms of regaining possession, with Kobbie Mainoo, Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden all showing an appetite to spoil and stifle.

After their largely misfiring group stage, with two goals in three matches, Southgate will have been reassured by what he saw against the Dutch when his big names stepped up and started creating sustained danger from out wide and through the middle.

He will encourage Jude Bellingham to run hard at the same defenders the midfielder bullied en route to becoming LaLiga player of the year, while reminding Harry Kane how much more effective he was in the semi when he did his work in and around the box rather than going deep as he often did previously.

One area of concern is England’s failure to be dangerous at set piece situations. Defensively they looked vulnerable in the air against a very big Netherlands team but that is unlikely to be so much of a factor versus Spain.

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-Reuters

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EURO 2024

Euro finals facts and records

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Here are some facts and records of European Championship finals ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2024 showcase between Spain and England:

Most titles: Spain (3), Germany/West Germany (3)

If Spain win the title on Sunday they will be the only team to have won the title four times.

Most finals: Germany/West Germany (6), Spain (5, including Euro 2024)

Titles won by the Euro 2024 finalists

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Spain: 1964, 2008, 2012

England: –

Biggest win in final: Spain beat Italy 4-0 in 2012.

Finals decided in extra-time: 1960, 1996, 2000, 2016

Finals decided by penalties: 1976, 2020

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Final played twice: 1968. The final won by Italy was played twice after the first match against Yugoslavia ended 1-1 after extra-time. Penalties had not yet been introduced as deciders.

Defending champions winning the title: Spain 2012

Teams that won the title after reaching the final in the previous edition:

1980 West Germany (finalists in 1976)

1996 Germany

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England reached the 2020 final which they lost to Italy and are in the final once more.

Teams that won the title without requiring penalty shootouts during the tournament since their introduction:

France (2000), Greece (2004)

If England win they will be the seventh team in the last nine Euros to have triumphed after winning a shootout at some point in the tournament.

Third-placed team in group stage to win the title: Portugal (2016)

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Red cards in final: 1984 Yvon Le Roux (France)

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