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Sport

France, England lead the contenders as Germany hosts Euro 2024

todayJune 4, 2024 12

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Euro 2024, beginning in Germany on June 14, is a mouth-watering prospect, as France and England lead the heavyweight contenders for a tournament which will be played out in some of the continent’s finest stadiums across a football-mad nation.

The setting for the month-long competition is important, given the underwhelming nature of the last Euros three years ago, held all over the continent rather than in one country, and played before limited crowds during the Covid pandemic.

This time all fans will descend on 10 stadiums in Germany, many with memories of the unforgettable summer of 2006 when the country last staged a major tournament.

The hope is this competition will be just as memorable, and for the right reasons, despite security concerns in a tense global climate and complaints about Germany’s creaking rail network.

That 2006 World Cup was won by Italy, who come into this European Championship as title holders, but it also saw Germany emerge again as a force to be reckoned with after years in the doldrums.

Back then there were question marks about the host nation’s chances, yet they reached the semi-finals.

There are similar doubts this time surrounding Julian Nagelsmann’s team, given Germany have exited the last two World Cups in the group stage and lost in the last 16 at the last Euros.

However, it would be foolish to talk down the three-time European champions too much given the players at their disposal.

“I have the feeling that we can win the tournament. And most of the time, my intuition is not too bad,” said Nagelsmann, whose team play Scotland in the opening game in Munich.

There are good reasons why France and England are widely seen as the favourites to raise aloft the Henri Delaunay trophy at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium on July 14.

France are Europe’s top-ranked nation and have been in the last two World Cup finals. Their team has evolved since Qatar in 2022 but the quality at their disposal, beyond Kylian Mbappe, is fearsome and they are eager to win a first European Championship since 2000.

“Like other nations we have the potential to maybe go all the way, but we must not already be thinking about the semi-finals or a possible final,” warned coach Didier Deschamps.

It is not always the case that everything goes to form. But if it does, and France and England top their groups, they will be on a collision course to meet in the semi-finals at Borussia Dortmund’s Signal Iduna Park.

England carry the burden of never having won the Euros. Beaten on penalties by Italy in the 2021 final, Gareth Southgate’s team lost a nail-biting quarter-final to France at the last World Cup.

The two men who could give them the edge are Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham.

Kane will be at home in his surroundings having just scored 44 goals in his first season for Bayern Munich.

Munich’s Allianz Arena hosts the first semi-final. The other semi-final venue was Bellingham’s home ground for the three years he spent at Dortmund, but he comes to the Euros after a fine first campaign at Real Madrid, fresh from winning the Champions League.

“Are we one of those teams who can win? Of course,” said Southgate, whose team are in Group C with Denmark, Serbia and Slovenia.

“I’d be an idiot if I said no, but if I said yes, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work ahead of us.”

Absent from the last two World Cups, Italy will be in Germany to defend their European crown, despite losing twice to England in qualifying.

The Azzurri are in a group with Spain, semi-finalists at the last Euros but who have not won a major tournament knockout game in 90 minutes since Euro 2012.

There may be as many as eight realistic potential champions, including 2016 winners Portugal, still led by Cristiano Ronaldo, even though he is now 39.

Belgium and the Netherlands will hope to make an impact too, but the Euros — the third edition since expanding to 24 teams — is richer for the presence of less-fancied nations.

Ukraine will be afforded widespread sympathy and have a decent team under Serhiy Rebrov.

Albania, under the Brazilian Sylvinho, appear at only their second Euros, while Georgia make their debut.

Managed by former France and Bayern Munich defender Willy Sagnol, and led by Napoli winger Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, they will be worth watching.

Their tournament starts on June 18 against Turkey in Dortmund.

bur-as/gj

AFP

(NAMPA / AFP)

Written by: Staff Writer

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