Ukraine arrive at Euro 2024 to a patriotic welcome and vivid reminder of the war at home

Ukraine arrive at Euro 2024 to a patriotic welcome and vivid reminder of the war at home
Ukraine arrive at Euro 2024 to a patriotic welcome and vivid reminder of the war at home

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - 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.

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