Mbappe delivers for France again in first game as captain

France's Kylian Mbappe scores his side's third goal during the Euro 2024 Group B qualifying soccer match between France and the Netherlands at the Stade de France in Saint Denis, outside Paris, on March 24, 2023. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 25 March 2023
Follow

Mbappe delivers for France again in first game as captain

  • Romelu Lukaku underlined his enduring value to Belgium by scoring all three goals in a 3-0 win at Sweden in the other notable victory on Friday

PARIS: Kylian Mbappe delivered for France again, this time wearing the captain’s armband.

Leading a new era for Les Bleus, there was something very familiar about the way Mbappe slotted home two unforgiving finishes to headline a 4-0 win over the Netherlands in European Championship qualifying on Friday.

France showed no lasting effects from that painful penalty-shootout loss to Argentina in the World Cup final three months ago. Nor did Mbappe, the scorer of a hat trick in a losing cause that day.

One of his first touches against the Dutch was to slip a pass inside for Antoine Griezmann, his hair dyed pink, to finish first time for the opening goal inside two minutes at the Stade de France. The two stars embraced, showing there was no lingering feud after Griezmann — the more experienced of the pair — was overlooked for the captaincy in favor of Mbappe following Hugo Lloris’ retirement.

Dayot Upamecano bundled in the second in the eighth minute, and the third goal in a dazzling opening 20 minutes by France was scored by Mbappe. He ran in behind the Netherlands defense and shot inside the near post after Randal Kolo Muani let a pass from Aurelien Tchouaméni roll past him.

Mbappe completed the thrashing in the 88th with a solo goal, picking up the ball 40 meters out and producing a series of feints on the edge of the area before blasting a low shot beyond goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen.

It took the Paris Saint-Germain striker onto 38 international goals, above Karim Benzema into fifth place on France’s all-time list. While Benzema’s time might be up for the national team, Mbappe — aged 24 and the leader of the new wave of soccer superstars after Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — is really only getting started.

Speaking of starts, this was a disappointing way for Netherlands coach Ronald Koeman to begin his second spell in charge of the team. Robbed of key midfielder Frenkie de Jong because of injury and five players during the week because of a flu virus, the Dutch were swarmed all over in a one-sided Group B game as qualifying for Euro 2024 continued.

Their misery was complete when Memphis Depay had a penalty saved by France goalkeeper Mike Maignan with virtually the last kick of the match.

Lukaku hat trick

Romelu Lukaku underlined his enduring value to Belgium by scoring all three goals in a 3-0 win at Sweden in the other notable victory on Friday.

It was a successful start to Domenico Tedesco’s tenure as coach of Belgium, which is also playing under a new captain in Kevin De Bruyne.

Tedesco will know the importance of having Lukaku healthy if the Red Devils are to finally win an international trophy.

The striker wasn’t fully fit at the World Cup and that was a big reason why Belgium went out in the group stage. Lukaku has been playing regularly for Inter Milan since then, and was a constant threat against Sweden as he scored in the 35th, 49th and 83rd minutes.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden’s 41-year-old striker, came off the bench for his first national team appearance in nearly a year and had a couple of chances to score.

Loss for Lewandowski

Euro 2024 could be the last major international tournament for 34-year-old Barcelona striker Robert Lewandowski, though Poland’s bid to make it to Germany got off to a sticky start.

Poland lost 3-1 at the Czech Republic, which went ahead when Ladislav Krejcí scored after 27 seconds — the earliest goal netted by the national team in its history.

Tomas Cvancara and Jan Kuchta also were on target for the Czechs as Lewandowski was kept scoreless in the Group E game.

Austria beat Azerbaijan 4-1 in the group containing Belgium and Sweden, with on-loan Manchester United midfielder Marcel Sabitzer scoring twice, and Greece won at Gibraltar 3-0 in France’s group.

There were wins for Serbia (2-0 at home to Lithuania) and Montenegro (1-0 at Bulgaria) in Group G.


Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

Updated 21 June 2024
Follow

Dominant Spain brush past Italy to reach Euro 2024 knockouts

  • For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: Spain qualified for the last 16 of Euro 2024 with a match to spare on Thursday after beating Italy 1-0 in a dominant display which ensured that La Roja would go through as Group B winners.
Riccardo Calafiori’s own goal nine minutes after half-time was the difference between the two sides at Gelsenkirchen in the biggest match to date at the tournament in Germany.
But the slender margin of victory didn’t reflect a statement performance from Spain who completely nullified Italy and should have had the game won by half-time, as they did in their opening round thumping of Croatia.
Nico Williams was the star for Spain as he ran Napoli right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo ragged and supplied the cross from which the unfortunate Calafiori poked the winning goal into his own net.
Luis de la Fuente’s team have a perfect six points at the top of the group and take on Albania on Monday knowing that they are already in the knockout rounds and playing like potential champions.
For Italy Thursday’s deserved defeat was a reality check as vibrant Spain peppered the brilliant Gianliugi Donnarumma’s goal throughout the match while the Azzurri failed to have a single attempt on target.
It was a performance reminiscent of the Euro 2012 final between the two teams when Spain crushed Italy 4-0 in the last international hurrah for tiki-taka football.
However all is not lost for Luciano Spalletti’s team, who are second on three points, as a draw with Croatia on Monday will be enough to guarantee qualification behind Spain.
Spain could have been ahead twice in the first 10 minutes but squandered two great headed chances.
Less than two minutes were on the clock when an unmarked Pedri nodded Williams’ pinpoint cross straight at Donnarumma.
And then Williams, who had a field day against Di Lorenzo, was the guilty party by somehow heading wide Alvaro Morata’s superbly delivered, inswinging ball from the left flank.
Spain were clearly on top as Italy struggled to get out of their half, Gianluca Scamacca toiling on his own up front with little support and wasting possession when it did come his way.
Donnarumma had to be at his best twice within a matter of seconds when he first stuck out a foot to deny Morata and then pulled off a superb fingertip save which kept out Fabian Ruiz’s powerful drive from distance.
Meanwhile at the other end of the pitch Spain goalkeeper Unai Simon was a virtual spectator as Italy’s sole shot in the first half came just before the break when Federico Chiesa blazed a poor effort over from a difficult position.
The same pattern of Spanish possession and Italian defending continued after half-time and Pedri again wasted a great chance in the 51st minute, slamming wide after Marc Cucurella pulled back a perfect low cross.
But Spain got the breakthrough soon after and it came through more sensational play from Williams on the left, who made mincemeat of Di Lorenzo before fizzing across a ball which Calafiori couldn’t help but divert into his own goal.
La Roja went close to doubling their lead with two distance strikes from Morata and teen sensation Lamine Yamal, before the superb Williams smashed an effort past Donnarumma which came crashing out off the crossbar in the 71st minute.
Italy pushed forward in hope of an equalizer after Mattia Zaccagni and Mateo Retegui replaced the ineffective Chiesa and Scamacca.
But in the dying moments Donnarumma again made two superb saves to twice stop Ayoze Perez making the scoreline better reflect a one-sided contest.


Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
Follow

Lacklustre England held by Denmark at Euro 2024

  • Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error
  • Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory

FRANKFURT: England failed to guarantee their place in the knockout stages of Euro 2024 after Morten Hjulmand’s spectacular strike earned Denmark a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
A point was the least the Danes deserved as England again flattered to deceive in Frankfurt after an underwhelming 1-0 win over Serbia to open their tournament.
Harry Kane had given the Three Lions an early lead as England pounced on a Danish defensive error.
Hjulmand’s rocket from outside the box levelled before half-time and Denmark were left to rue missing late chances to secure a famous victory.
England remain on top of Group C, two points clear of Slovenia, who they face in Cologne on Tuesday, and Denmark.
Serbia’s late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with Slovenia earlier on Thursday also keeps their destiny in their own hands.
England boss Gareth Southgate said on Wednesday that he avoids media coverage during tournaments to escape negative stories.
But will be braced for more criticism after another flat display from one of the pre-tournament favorites.
Denmark coach Kasper Hjulmand and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel claimed on the eve of the game they would not be fueled by revenge for their Euro 2020 semifinal heartbreak to England three years ago.
However, the Danes were a different beast from the side that disappointed at the 2022 World Cup and in drawing against Slovenia to open their tournament in Germany.
Denmark had made the brighter start as both sides struggled to cope with a bobbly pitch in Frankfurt that cut up badly in just its second game of five at Euro 2024.
Yet, England capitalized on a howler from Hjulmand’s men to take the lead on 18 minutes.
Victor Kristiansen was caught unaware of Kyle Walker’s run down the right and his deflected low cross fell perfectly for Kane to roll in his 13th goal at major tournaments.
Failing to build on early 1-0 leads has been a consistent criticism of England under Southgate.
In the 2018 World Cup semifinal and final of Euro 2020, Croatia and Italy were able to wrestle away momentum from the Three Lions.
This time Denmark were not deterred by conceding, although it took a spectacular strike to bring them level.
Hjulmand was given far too much room by the England midfield to take aim but he took full advantage form long range with a blistering shot that clipped the inside of the post on its way in.
Southgate made no changes at the break, but the future of his experiment of playing Liverpool right-back Trent Alexander-Arnold in a midfield role is in doubt after he was hooked for Conor Gallagher on 55 minutes.
Phil Foden’s form for England had been a source of much debate after he again failed to shine at international level against Serbia.
The Manchester City playmaker looked much more like the man that won Premier League player of the year awards this season and was inches away from restoring England’s lead with a low drive that came crashing back off the post.
Southgate’s caution has been criticized in the past, but he was bold with his changes in the search for a winner as Kane, Foden and Bukayo Saka were sacrificed for Eberechi Eze, Ollie Watkins and Jarrod Bowen.
Watkins nearly made an immediate impact as he was denied by Schmeichel after a brilliant through ball from Jude Bellingham.
Yet, it was Denmark who had the better chances to take all three points in the closing stages.
Andreas Christensen spooned over when unmarked from a corner before Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg curled inches wide.


Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

Updated 20 June 2024
Follow

Ukraine seek to bounce back against Slovakia after surprise opening loss

  • Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin
  • Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021

DUESSELDORF, Germany: Slovakia face Ukraine on Friday in Duesseldorf in their second Group E match at the European Championship.

Slovakia are second to Romania on goal difference, and Ukraine are last. Romania and Belgium play on Saturday.
Ukraine had a shock 3-0 loss to Romania that included costly errors from Real Madrid goalkeeper Andriy Lunin. Another loss could mean elimination for Ukraine, which were a quarterfinalist in 2021.
Ukrainian players apologized to their fans for the Romania loss, and held a team meeting in the locker room after that game without coach Serhiy Rebrov present to work out what went wrong. That was “absolutely normal,” the coach said Thursday.
Slovakia are riding high after surprising Belgium 1-0 but needed two video reviews to overturn Belgium goals. One was deemed offside and a sensor in the ball detected a handball on the second.
The Slovakians know not to get too excited by an opening win. At the last European Championship they beat Poland but then lost to Sweden and Spain and didn’t advance. That meant there was only “a bit of euphoria for a few short hours” when Slovakia beat Belgium this time, coach Francesco Calzona said.
Ukraine coach Rebrov indicated he will make changes to the lineup which lost to Romania and said some unnamed players were carrying “micro-injuries.”
Defender Vitaliy Mykolenko sustained severe bruising in a pre-tournament friendly with Moldova and was an unused substitute against Romania but was expected to train with the team Thursday evening, Rebrov said.
One option for Rebrov could be to replace 34-year-old captain Taras Stepanenko with the 22-year-old Volodymyr Brazhko in defensive midfield. Brazhko debuted for the team only in March as Ukraine qualified for Euro 2024 through the playoffs.
Slovakia coach Calzona says his players are all available but he has yet to decide on his starting lineup.
The average age of Slovakia’s starting lineup in the win over Belgium was over 30 as the team relied on the experience of two 37-year-olds, defender Peter Pekarik and Juraj Kucka, and the 35-year-old goalkeeper Martin Dubravka. Ukraine’s players against Romania were on average four and a half years younger.
The teams have a fairly even record, with three wins for Slovakia, two for Ukraine and three draws. Slovakia won their last game 4-1 in 2018.
A second win would make history for Slovakia, which have never won more than one game in any tournament they’ve played as an independent nation. As part of Czechoslovakia, they did win the 1976 European Championship, though.
“We want to turn the page and concentrate 100 percent on the Slovakia game... (The Romania game) is a very painful result for us but we need to learn the lessons and get ready for tomorrow’s game,” said Ukraine left back Oleksandr Zinchenko.
“I think our greatest quality is humility. We know that we always need to give 110 percent because we’re a small nation and we always want to put a big smile on the faces of our fans and our people,” said Calzona.
Slovak defender David Hancko said: “Ukraine has wonderful, young, talented players. They have a good system, they’re strong on the ball. ... We must play to the best of our abilities to be able to beat them.”


France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

Updated 20 June 2024
Follow

France coach says team doing all to ensure Mbappé available for Netherlands match at Euro 2024

  • “He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday,″ Deschamps said

LEIPZIG, Germany: France coach Didier Deschamps says his team are doing all “to ensure” Kylian Mbappé is available for the Euro 2024 clash against the Netherlands on Friday.
“Everything is going well, after the shock we had. He was able to take part in some light exercises yesterday and that will be the same this evening″ Deschamps said Thursday. “We’ll do all we can to ensure that he’ll be available tomorrow.”
Mbappé broke his nose in France’s opening 1-0 win over Austria on Monday when his face collided with Austria defender Kevin Danso’s shoulder. Blood stained his white France jersey. If he plays, he’ll need to wear a mask. But it remains uncertain.
Mbappé returned to light training on Wednesday and was expected to continue preparations on Thursday.


Late leveler by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

Updated 20 June 2024
Follow

Late leveler by Serbia denies Slovenia first Euros win

  • Žan Karničnik’s 69th-minute goal put Slovenia on the brink of a historic win until substitute Luka Jović levelled deep in stoppage time
  • The goal sent the Serbia fans into raucous joy but also saw them throw flares and other objects onto the field

MUNICH: A late strike denied Slovenia a first ever win in a European Championship as Serbia snatched a 1-1 draw on Thursday.
Žan Karničnik’s 69th-minute goal put Slovenia on the brink of a historic win until substitute Luka Jović levelled deep in stoppage time.
The goal sent the Serbia fans into raucous joy but also saw them throw flares and other objects onto the field.
The equalizer was virtually the last action as the referee blew fulltime immediately after the players restarted. The Slovenia players collapsed to the ground in disappointment.
It also would have been their first win in a major tournament since victory over Algeria in the 2010 World Cup.
Slovenia play England in their final group match on Tuesday, when Serbia face Denmark. Serbia lost to England in their opener.
With both teams needing a win to boost their chances of progressing, the match started at a fast pace and Serbia goalkeeper Predrag Rajković had to make two early saves.
Those two shots on target in the first eight minutes were as many as Slovenia had in total in their draw with Denmark.
Serbia withstood the waves of Slovenia attacks and had their first chance in the 27th minute but Dušan Vlahović’s header was straight at goalkeeper Jan Oblak.
Serbia went even closer moments later when Dušan Tadić whipped in a fabulous corner to the far post but Aleksandar Mitrović — who scored in his previous two matches against Slovenia — couldn’t get a proper touch.
The best chance of the half fell to Slovenia in somewhat fortunate circumstances. Timi Elšnik tried to pass to a teammate, but the ball came off a Serbia defender and fell kindly back to him for a thunderous effort which crashed off the right post. Benjamin Šeško fired the rebound woefully over.
Serbia started the second half with three great chances to break the deadlock inside the first five minutes, including Slovenia defender Jake Bijol almost scoring an own goal.
This tournament has seen plenty of stunning long-range goals and there was almost another in the 58th but Rajković did well to push Šeško’s strike over the bar.
Slovenia eventually broke the deadlock with a move started and finished by Žan Karničnik. The defender won the ball deep inside his own half and ran some 40 yards before picking out Elšnik on the left and racing into the box to collect the cross and tap home at the back post.
Serbia almost levelled immediately but Elšnik hit the crossbar.
Serbia threw everything at Slovenia in the final stages. Even Rajković came up for the final corner but it was Jović who leapt highest to head it past Oblak in the fifth minute of added time.