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Home / Spain the standouts as Euro 2024 heads into knockout stage

Spain the standouts as Euro 2024 heads into knockout stage

2024-06-28  Correspondent

Spain the standouts as Euro 2024 heads into knockout stage

Euro 2024 in Germany moves to the knockout phase this weekend after a group stage which saw all the continent’s biggest names advance to the last 16, even though some favourites failed to convince.

France and England were widely tipped as the leading contenders before the tournament, but both stumbled unconvincingly through the first round, each scoring only two goals in three matches despite boasting some of the best forwards in the world.

The most impressive team has been Spain, probably followed by the hosts Germany, even if their group stage performance was not flawless, in similar fashion to a strong Portugal team.

Yet those three sides now all find themselves in the harder half of the draw alongside Belgium and France, after the stuttering 2022 World Cup runners-up proved incapable of winning their section.

“We were in a very tough group. We beat Austria but they finished top,” pointed out France coach Didier Deschamps, whose side were not helped by Kylian Mbappe breaking his nose and missing the goalless draw with the Netherlands.

“We have achieved our first objective. A new competition starts now.”

A veteran of five previous major tournaments in 12 years as France boss, Deschamps also pointed out that the impressions left in the group stage “are not always the same later on”.

Had France finished first, they would have been on a collision course to play England in the semi-finals.

Instead, they meet Belgium in the last 16, with the winner of that possibly facing Portugal in the quarterfinals. Spain and Germany, meanwhile, are on course to meet in the last eight.

“It doesn’t cost anything to dream, but we need to keep our feet on the ground,” was the reaction of Spain coach Luis de la Fuente despite his team winning all three group games without conceding a goal.

That matched the performance of Italy at the last Euros, when they went on to win the trophy by beating England in the final.

There is now the prospect of England and Italy clashing again here in the quarterfinals, should both win their last-16 ties.

England defeated Italy twice in qualifying but have disappointed at the tournament despite winning their group. Gareth Southgate’s team were booed off after their 0-0 draw with Slovenia on Tuesday.

“I’ve not seen any other team qualify and receive a similar reaction,” pointed out Southgate, who is under pressure as star men Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane struggle to shine.

Beyond the leading names, Austria and Georgia have made the biggest impressions, but for different reasons.

Austria have built on promising form under coach Ralf Rangnick in recent months by running France close and beating Poland and the Netherlands.

Rangnick called his team’s achievement in winning their group “incredible”, and they suddenly seem serious candidates to make the semi-finals.

Georgia’s story is remarkable, that of a small country in political turmoil appearing at their first major tournament and qualifying for the knockout stages by beating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal.

They now face Spain, who beat them 7-1 and 3-1 during qualifying. Slovenia, a country of barely two million people, are also into the knockout phase for the first time at a major tournament, despite drawing all three group games.

2024-06-28  Correspondent

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