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EURO 2024

Goal drought and bloodied nose underline Mbappe’s Euros misfortune

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Euro 2024 - Group D - Austria v France - Dusseldorf Arena, Dusseldorf, Germany - June 17, 2024 France's Kylian Mbappe holds his face after sustaining a facial injury REUTERS/Thilo Schmuelgen TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY 

A bloodied nose, a booking for unsportsmanlike conduct and an unfathomable miss that silenced a stadium – France’s Kylian Mbappe underlined his troubled relationship with the European Championship on Monday amidst uncertainty over his injury.

The France captain, to his credit, was sublime in creating the goal that beat Austria 1-0, but his failure to score at a Euros will weigh heavily on a player who has found the net 12 times at World Cups, including a hat-trick in the 2022 final.

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Mbappe’s last match at a European Championship ended in acrimony for France, with his miss in a shootout the trigger for their shock second-round exit to Switzerland at Euro 2020 after his side squandered a two-goal advantage late in the game.

Goal droughts do not come often for Mbappe but France’s opening Group D match on Monday marked his fifth successive Euros game without scoring after a combined 18 goal attempts.

The 25-year-old was impressive and involved in just about every France move, but it just was not his night.

He ended it with a bloodied nose after a nasty collision with the shoulder of Austria’s Kevin Danso while attempting to head home an Antoine Griezmann free kick, which Mbappe had won when he took a blow to the face moments earlier.

After receiving treatment he left the field initially but in a bizarre move Mbappe returned minutes later then sat down on the pitch, prompting boos and jeers from the Austria fans and a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct.

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“It’s very bad news for us tonight,” France manager Didier Deschamps said. “If you had Kylian who is in a difficult situation… Obviously, the French team with or without him, this is not the same thing. I hope he can be there.”

Given Mbappe’s performance on Monday France will be hoping it won’t be long before he is firing again and that he recovers in time for France’s next game with Netherlands on Friday.

Mbappe was the standout French player, reeling off perfectly weighted passes, coolly spreading the ball around and injecting bursts of lightning pace to leave his markers for dead.

He threatened to score after nine minutes with a fierce low shot from an angle that tested goalkeeper Patrick Pentz.

Mbappe then created a goal from nothing near halftime with a quick shimmy to skip around three players before delivering a cross that was headed into his own net by Maximilian Wober.

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The forward chased everything, starting one move in his own half with a pass before sprinting two-thirds of the way down the field to try to finish off the move.

He stunned the crowd in the 54th minute when he accelerated past an opponent at the halfway line before darting into the area and uncharacteristically firing a shot wide with time, space and only the goalkeeper to beat, prompting a cheeky grin.

-Reuters

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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