Germany braced for Euro 2024 kick-off with France, England the favorites

France players during a training session in Paderborn, Germany. (AP)
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Updated 13 June 2024
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Germany braced for Euro 2024 kick-off with France, England the favorites

  • Germans are hoping for a repeat of 2006
  • England have never been European champions

MUNICH: Euro 2024 kicks off on Friday in Germany as the continent’s footballing heavyweights prepare to fight it out over the next month with the aim of taking the crown away from reigning champions Italy.
Germany play Scotland in the opening game in Munich and the host nation are hoping their journey will continue all the way to the final in Berlin on July 14.
It is the first time the country has hosted a major men’s international tournament since the 2006 World Cup, and it is a mouth-watering setting after the underwhelming nature of the last European Championship.
Euro 2020 was delayed by a year because of the pandemic, finally taking place in 2021 in front of limited crowds.
It was also staged in cities all across the continent, from Seville to Baku, and those factors stripped away much of what makes these tournaments so special.
This time all supporters will descend on Germany, where matches will be played in 10 stadiums, from Hamburg in the north to Munich in the south.
Germans are hoping for a repeat of 2006, when many fell in love with their national team again after a period in the doldrums similar to what they have experienced in the years leading up to this competition.
Philipp Lahm, the captain of Germany’s 2014 World Cup-winning team and now Euro 2024 tournament director, also hopes the competition will bring people together at a time of division and disunity across the continent.
The tournament begins less than a week after far-right parties made significant gains in EU parliament elections, while Europe is still dealing with the crisis of the war in Ukraine.
“I hope at the very least the Euro will lead to a more united Germany again,” said Lahm.
A good performance by Germany on the field would help, and the outlook is more positive for Julian Nagelsmann’s team now than a few months ago.
A group also containing Hungary and Switzerland should be straightforward enough given the quality in Germany’s ranks, from veteran playmaker Toni Kroos to younger stars Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala.
“We have gone through difficult phases as a national team, but something big can happen here,” Musiala, of Bayern Munich, told Sportbild.
However, there are good reasons why France and England are so strongly fancied to raise aloft the Henri Delaunay trophy on July 14.
France are Europe’s top-ranked nation and have been in the last two World Cup finals. Fresh from sealing his move to Real Madrid, Kylian Mbappe is eager to make up for a disappointing showing at the last Euros, when his penalty miss sealed a shoot-out defeat to Switzerland in the last 16.
“Kylian is our captain and a great leader. We will need him to be at his best,” admitted France coach Didier Deschamps.
England have never been European champions, although they came mightily close in 2021 when they lost the final on penalties to Italy.
Optimism about their prospects this time is fueled by the fact that star players Harry Kane, of Bayern, and Jude Bellingham, formerly of Borussia Dortmund, should feel so at home on German soil.
“We want to make history,” said England midfielder Declan Rice this week.
“We say it all the time, but genuinely we have a group, a manager, that really believes. We have a confidence that we can go there and do something really special.”
England begin their tournament against Serbia on Sunday in Gelsenkirchen, home of fallen German giants Schalke 04.
The French and English will be on course to meet in the semifinals if they both top their groups.
The prospect of Italy — who are in the same group as Spain — successfully defending their title seems slightly remote, but it would be foolish to rule them out.
“This Italy team is underrated and very competitive,” insisted legendary former Azzurri goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Portugal, champions in 2016, are genuine contenders even if they are still led by Cristiano Ronaldo, now aged 39 and playing club football in Saudi Arabia.
This Euros is the third since the competition was expanded to feature 24 teams, a move that has afforded a chance to some smaller nations, including Georgia, debutants this time.
However, injuries at the end of a long season are taking their toll on some leading players.
Frenkie de Jong, the Barcelona and Netherlands playmaker, has been ruled out with an ankle injury, while his club colleague Robert Lewandowski will not play in Poland’s opening match due to a thigh problem.


Spain winning Euro priority not Golden Boot race with Kane: Olmo

Updated 12 July 2024
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Spain winning Euro priority not Golden Boot race with Kane: Olmo

  • Olmo and Kane are tied on three goals with four other players and if either score in the final on Sunday in Berlin they will likely claim the prize
  • However, with Spain angling for a record fourth European Championship, Olmo said the team’s target was far more important than his own individual glory

DONAUESCHINGEN, Germany: Spain playmaker Dani Olmo is vying for the Euro 2024 golden boot with England’s Harry Kane, but said Friday he doesn’t care about winning it as long as his team lifts the trophy.
Olmo and Kane are tied on three goals with four other players and if either score in the final on Sunday in Berlin they will likely claim the prize.
However, with Spain angling for a record fourth European Championship, Olmo said the team’s target was far more important than his own individual glory.
“It’s an extra motivation, if there’s even room for that, but look, as long as we win, I don’t care if I score or if (Spain goalkeeper) Unai Simon does,” Olmo told reporters.
“I don’t care at all, the important thing is winning the game, but I always have the objective of helping to chip in.”
Olmo has also created two goals for his team-mates but unlike in the past when that was used as a tie-breaker, the award will be shared by any players joint-top of the charts.
The RB Leipzig midfielder did not start the tournament as part of Spain coach Luis de la Fuente’s first choice side but made a strong impact off the bench when given the chance.
Olmo replaced the injured Pedri in the quarter-final win over hosts Germany, scoring and setting up the winner for Mikel Merino.
The midfielder also struck against France in the semifinal and has scored in all three knock-out rounds Spain have played.
“In this tournament I feel very good, in a great moment of form, so I have to keep taking advantage of it,” continued the 26-year-old.
“It’s true (Kane and I) are tied, but there are other players too who have helped us get here, with goals and good play.
“Speaking of goals, Fabian (Ruiz) has two goals, Alvaro (Morata) has one — if he scores a hat-trick then he will win it, and we’d be just as happy — it doesn’t matter who scores, the main thing is the team.”
Olmo scored a hat-trick for Leipzig as they beat Bayern Munich 3-0 in the German Supercup final on Kane’s debut for the Bavarian giants last August.
The England captain has still not won a trophy in his career at club or international level, finishing a runner-up with England in the Euro 2020 final.
Kane, 30, has struggled for form and peak fitness at the Euros despite managing three goals.
“Of course it would be a dream to score a hat-trick (again) and win it,” added Olmo.
“But I repeat, the goal is just to win it.”


CONMEBOL open probe into violent clashes at end of Copa semifinal

Updated 12 July 2024
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CONMEBOL open probe into violent clashes at end of Copa semifinal

MIAMI: Copa America organizers CONMEBOL have opened a disciplinary investigation into the “acts of violence” at the end of Wednesday’s semifinal between Uruguay and Colombia in Charlotte.

Uruguay’s Liverpool striker Darwin Nunez was among the players who waded into the stands at the Bank of America Stadium and exchanged punches with fans during what CONMEBOL called “unacceptable” scenes.

Uruguay central defender Jose Maria Gimenez said players had leapt into the melee out of concern for the safety of family members and loved ones watching the game in that section of the ground.

Uruguay are scheduled to face Canada, at the same stadium, in the third place game on Saturday and it remains to be seen if any of their players are suspended for that game.

“In light of the acts of violence that occurred at the end of the match between the national teams of Uruguay and Colombia, the Disciplinary Unit of CONMEBOL has decided to open an investigation to clarify the sequence of events and the responsibilities of those involved,” the South American confederation said.

CONMEBOL said they would not accept any repeat of the incidents, which saw fighting between the two sets of supporters, for Sunday’s final between Argentina and Colombia at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami.

“On the eve of our Copa America final, we want to reaffirm and warn that no action that tarnishes a global football celebration will be tolerated, involving both the protagonists and the fans present in the stadium for a final viewed by hundreds of millions of spectators worldwide.

“It is unacceptable that an incident like this turns passion into violence. Therefore, no behavior that violates the spirit of the sport and the world’s most beautiful spectacle, which belongs to the whole family, will be tolerated,” they added.

Gimenez said that the players had got involved to protect their family members and was critical of the local police in the venue.

“Our family was in danger. We had to go to the stands to take out our loved ones, with tiny newborn babies,” the Atletico Madrid player said.

“There was not a single police officer... I hope those who are organizing this are a little more careful with the families,” he said.

As well as the incidents in the stands, there were also clashes on the field at the final whistle involving players from both teams.


SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

Updated 11 July 2024
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SPL outlines priorities for player acquisitions, club development before new season

  • League remains committed to providing a supportive, centralized approach to transfers
  • Clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks

RIYADH: The Saudi Pro League, in collaboration with all 18 clubs, announced on Thursday its comprehensive preparations and key priorities for the upcoming summer transfer window and the 2024-25 season.
As part of the Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, which was launched in 2023, the SPL held meetings with all top-flight clubs in the final months of last season to understand more fully their targets and requirements. The program was launched as one of seven in the SPL’s transformation strategy.
The SPL remains committed to providing a supportive and centralized approach to transfers. This includes assisting clubs with squad mapping and player care by offering expertise, governance, and sustainability measures.
The SPL’s priorities for the season and transfer window include supporting existing contracts by prioritizing current deals to ensure the success of players by providing the necessary resources.
Other aims include strategic acquisitions to address clubs’ technical gaps and secure top talent.
Another priority is its sustainability policy, which is to ensure players are signed for technical needs, supported for success, and fairly valued.
Off the pitch, the SPL clubs continue to attract top-tier talents to their administrative ranks.
Al-Shabab recently appointed Domenico Teti as sporting director, while Al-Nassr appointed Fernando Hierro. Both sporting directors join Esteve Calzada, Al-Hilal’s CEO; Ron Gourlay, Al-Ahli’s CEO; Lee Congerton, Al-Ahli’s sporting director; Ramon Planes, Al-Ittihad’s sporting director; and James Bisgrove, Al-Qadsiah’s CEO, as new appointments ahead of the new season.
In addition, the SPL has conducted a series of workshops with partner leagues in Europe and Asia to further develop areas of cooperation and mutual benefit. Discussions have covered topics such as mutual promotion, broadcast development, and alignment on transfer window dates.
The Player Acquisition Center of Excellence program, according to the SPL, serves as a collaborative tool with clubs to enhance their acquisition capabilities.
The program has so far recruited 97 players and reviewed over 200 contracts, significantly reducing contract termination costs and lowering the average age of signed players from 29 to 27.5 years. The ultimate aim is to focus on signing players under the age of 21.


One year after failed bid, Bayern Munich finally sign Portugal midfielder Palhinha

Updated 11 July 2024
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One year after failed bid, Bayern Munich finally sign Portugal midfielder Palhinha

  • Palhinha joins Bayern from English Premier League club Fulham for a reported fee of nearly $54.2 million
  • Bayern board sporting director Max Eberl said: "João really wanted to come to Bayern, and we need players like that"

MUNICH: A year after a high-profile failure to sign Portugal midfielder João Palhinha, Bayern Munich finally made the deal happen on Thursday.
Palhinha joins Bayern from English Premier League club Fulham for a reported fee of nearly 50 million euros ($54.2 million) on a contract through June 2028, the Bavarian club announced.
Palhinha, who helped Portugal to the quarterfinals at the European Championship, is the latest signing in a Bayern rebuild after the club's first season without a trophy since 2012.
“Palhinha was highly sought after by FC Bayern even last summer, and rightly so. It was important that we never lost touch,” Bayern board sporting director Max Eberl said." João really wanted to come to Bayern, and we need players like that. He’s an important building block for our future."
Bayern seemed sure to sign the player last year and the midfielder even traveled to Munich for a medical but the deal — reportedly worth 65 million euros ($70 million) at the time — collapsed just before the end of the transfer window.
Thomas Tuchel, Bayern coach at the time, was keen to sign a more defensive-minded midfielder like Palhinha in a squad packed with midfielders like Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka who liked to make attacking runs into the opponent's box.
Two weeks after that, Palhinha signed a new contract at Fulham through the 2027-28 season.
Palhinha is the third new signing to be confirmed at Bayern since Vincent Kompany was hired as coach in May, after Stuttgart defender Hiroki Ito and Crystal Palace forward Michael Olise. Bayern have yet to sell any of their current first-team players in this transfer window.


French referee François Letexier picked to handle Spain-England final of Euro 2024

Updated 11 July 2024
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French referee François Letexier picked to handle Spain-England final of Euro 2024

  • Letexier has refereed three games at Euro 2024 including Spain’s 4-1 win over Georgia in the round of 16
  • There was no video review controversy in any of Letexier’s games, including the 2-2 draw between Albania and Croatia

BERLIN: French referee François Letexier was picked by UEFA to handle the European Championship final between Spain and England.
At 35, he’s one of the youngest referees to take charge of a major final. The game is on Sunday at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.
The referees for the past three men’s Euros finals were 48, 41 and 41 at the time.
Letexier has refereed three games at Euro 2024 including Spain’s 4-1 win over Georgia in the round of 16.
In those games, he did not award a penalty kick and did not send off any player. He showed just 10 yellow cards, including one for Serbia forward Aleksandar Mitrovic, who was judged to have dived in the penalty area in a 0-0 draw against Denmark.
There was no video review controversy in any of Letexier’s games, including the 2-2 draw between Albania and Croatia.
The VAR specialist for the final is also French, Jérôme Brisard.
Letexier rarely shows red cards, with just one in the nine games he handled in the Champions League or Europa League last season from the group stage onward. That was to Bayern Munich’s French defender Dayot Upamecano.
His previous highest profile games for UEFA this season include Real Madrid and Manchester City drawing 3-3 in the Champions League quarterfinals, Bayer Leverkusen winning at Roma 2-0 in the Europa League semifinals, and the season-opening Super Cup last August between Man City and Sevilla.
Letexier joined the FIFA list of referees for international games seven years ago.
The fourth official for the final will be Szymon Marciniak of Poland, the referee at the 2022 World Cup final and 2023 Champions League final who had a controversial season.
Marciniak and his match officials team made consequential stoppage-time decisions in Champions League games between Bayern and Real Madrid in the semifinals and Paris Saint-Germain and Newcastle in the group stage.