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All eyes on Mbappe as France aim to live up to Euro 2024 billing

All eyes on Mbappe as France aim to live up to Euro 2024 billing

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All eyes on Mbappe as France aim to live up to Euro 2024 billing

France head into Euro 2024 as quite possibly the standout candidates to lift the trophy but their prospects may to a large extent depend on Kylian Mbappe not being distracted by his club future.

Mbappe’s long goodbye from Paris Saint-Germain and switch to Real Madrid have dominated headlines in France and Spain in recent months.

The 25-year-old’s presence for PSG over the last three months of the season could no longer be taken for granted and he did not look at his sharpest in his final appearances for the French champions.

However, he still scored 44 club goals in the campaign just finished and France coach Didier Deschamps has no doubt that his captain will be firing on all cylinders at the European Championship.

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“The context around the France team is different,” Deschamps said last week as his squad started to gather to prepare for the Euros at their Clairefontaine training base deep in the forest an hour outside Paris.

“Kylian has always considered himself to be part of a collective. Obviously he has responsibilities with his club. He also has responsibilities, if not more, with France.”

Mbappe has scored 46 goals in 77 appearances for his country, including an astonishing hat-trick in the memorable final of the 2022 World Cup in Doha, which France lost on penalties to Argentina.

However, neither Mbappe nor his country have happy memories of the last Euros three years ago. He did not score a goal as Les Bleus were eliminated in the last 16, losing on penalties to Switzerland after Mbappe missed the crucial kick in the shootout.

Before that, Mbappe had only just emerged at Monaco, and had not yet played for France, when Deschamps’ team agonisingly lost the Euro 2016 final on home soil, going down in extra time to Portugal.

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“It is true that I have not won the Euros as a coach, but then lots of coaches have not won it,” Deschamps, who led France to glory at the 2018 World Cup, pointed out to AFP in a recent interview. “Demands on us are so high because we have made so much progress.

“After the World Cup there is nothing bigger than the Euros. And there is some logic to the idea that we are among the favourites, like other teams, after everything we have done.”

France breezed through qualifying, winning seven straight games before a 2-2 draw in Greece which came after their place at the finals in Germany was already secured.

But performances in recent friendly matches, while perhaps not enough to set alarm bells ringing, were a reminder that the top-ranked team in Europe should not take anything for granted.

They were well beaten 2-0 at home by Germany in March, before labouring to a 3-2 win against Chile a few days later.

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Kante back, Griezmann key

Deschamps’ team has changed since the Qatar World Cup, with goalkeeper and captain Hugo Lloris having retired along with centre-back Raphael Varane.

Olivier Giroud is now 37 and Marcus Thuram, scorer of 15 goals for Italian champions Inter Milan in the season just ended, looks set to lead the line.

Deschamps will hope key midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni recovers fully from the foot injury which saw him miss the Champions League final with Real Madrid last weekend.

Concerns about Tchouameni were what led Deschamps to recall N’Golo Kante, who is now playing in Saudi Arabia and had not appeared for his country in two years. Antoine Griezmann, at 33, will again play a big role in the middle of the park, just as he did so majestically in Qatar.

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“We are going to be the favourites, certainly, but we need to prove it on the pitch,” pointed out the Atletico Madrid man, as France prepare to take on the Netherlands, Austria and Poland in Group D.

Deschamps insists it is “a difficult group”, although if all goes to form they could find themselves on a collision course to face England in the semi-finals.

“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,” the coach said. “The Euros are very difficult, with eight of the top 10 teams in the world rankings involved.” 

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Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

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Moment of truth for revamped Italy as Euros title defence begins

Italy kick off their European Championship title defence against Albania on Saturday as a new-look team tries to rebuild the reputation of one of the world’s most important football nations.

Luciano Spalletti’s Italy take on Albania in Dortmund in the first of three clashes in a fiendishly difficult Group B which also contains Spain and Croatia.

And those two later fixtures make Saturday’s hugely important, as with the four best third-place finishers in the six groups reaching the knockout stages, a win over Albania would give Italy a great chance of going through.

Italy come into the tournament in quietly confident mood, with delegation chief Gianluigi Buffon insisting that the Azzurri are “an underrated team” despite being holders and four-time World Cup winners.

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Buffon was one of the stars of the show when Italy won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, when a golden generation of players including Francesco Totti, Alessandro Del Piero, Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro took their country to one of its greatest ever football triumphs.

Since then the national team has been going through something of an identity crisis, unsure of its position in the global game and no longer feared as in decades past.

Italy might be reigning champions but after winning the last Euros three years ago they missed out on qualification for a second straight World Cup.

And qualification for this summer’s Euros, which begins on Friday, was complicated by Spalletti’s predecessor Roberto Mancini jumping ship to Saudi Arabia in August last year.

‘Future greats’

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Spalletti has been entrusted to guide his nation out of another bout of deep soul searching and he has done so by casting aside the team which became national heroes by beating England at Wembley in the Euro 2020 final.

“I can see that we have players in the squad who will become future greats. They have the quality,” Federico Chiesa said on Thursday in an interview with UEFA. “We want to show what we’re made of at the Euros. Let’s see what we can do.”

Juventus forward Chiesa is one of the few graduates of the victory in 2021 still assured of a starting place, alongside Nicolo Barella, assuming he recovers in time from a thigh injury.

Spalletti is also sweating on the fitness of Barella’s Inter Milan teammate Davide Frattesi, who scored Italy’s only goal in Sunday’s encouraging warm-up win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Albania meanwhile are taking part in just their second Euros and the Eagles will be swept along by the enthusiasm of their supporters.

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Armand Duka, the head of Albania’s football federation, claimed in an interview with Sky that “more than half” of the Westfalenstadion will be taken up by his countrymen.

And with 10 of Sylvinho’s squad playing in Italy, there will be plenty of familiar faces for the Azzurri to deal with. “Italy will be a special match. In Dortmund we will play probably the most important match of our lives,” said Duka.

“We’d be delighted to get out of the group, but we’ll be happy in any case just to have taken part in the Euros.” 

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Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

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Lee leads LPGA Meijer Classic by two

Alison Lee fired a seven-under-par 65 to take a two-shot lead after the first round of the LPGA Tour’s Meijer Classic on Thursday.

The 29-year-old from California relied on a red-hot putter and a steadily improving swing to reel off seven birdies and an eagle to pull clear of a crowded leaderboard.

Lee, who is still looking for her first victory on the LPGA Tour just under a decade after joining the professional ranks, revealed afterwards she spent the build-up to this week’s tournament in Michigan attempting to iron out kinds in her swing.

Yet despite long hours on the driving range last week, she remained uncomfortable even after teeing off at Blythefield Country Club on Thursday in suburban Grand Rapids. “There can be some days I don’t feel quite confident,” Lee said after her round.

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“You just have to work with what you got. That’s how I felt today. As the round went on I would say the last four, five holes, definitely felt a lot better with my swing.”

The highlight of Lee’s round came on her penultimate hole, the par-five eighth, where she nailed an eight-iron to within 15 feet with her second shot, before rolling in the eagle putt.

“It was definitely really nice to shoot a low one today,” Lee said. “Giving a lot of credit to my putter. I made a lot of really, really good par saves, and a lot of good birdies. “Overall really happy and pleasantly surprised about my round.”

No fewer than nine players are tied for second place behind Lee on five under after shooting 67s. The chasing pack includes Canada’s Brooke Henderson, who eagled the 18th to move up the leaderboard. Eleven players are a further shot back on four under.

This week’s tournament is the final tune-up before next week’s Women’s PGA Championship, which is being held at the Sahalee Country Club in Sammamish, Washington from June 20-23. 

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Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

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Haidar Sultan grabs gold medal in Brics Games

 Haidar Sultan of Pakistan has bagged the first gold medal in the Weightlifting event of the Brics Games at the Kazan city of Rusia.

Sultan, who outclassed the Russian weightlifters in a tough fight and won the first gold medal for Pakistan in the Games, said a press release.

He contested in the 61kg weight category and lifted a total weight of 261kg i.e. 115kg in Snatch and 146kg in the Clean & Jerk.

It was his outstanding performance at any national or international competition. Sultan was far behind his Russian competitors in the Snatch event, but his third and final lift of 146 kg in the clean & jerk event turned conclusive, for his maiden victory at the international BRICS Games.

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Sultan was accompanied by the seasoned and professional coach Shuja Ud Din Malik, who himself had been the Commonwealth Games 2006 Gold Medalist and Record holder.

The motivation by Imdaullah Meman, the chef-de-mission, and the technical expertise of the coach Shuja ud Din Malik, maintained the fighting spirit of the Sultan, who was very happy about his victory.

Sultan thanked Pakistan Sports Board PSB for the financial and administrative support for the tour. Sultan hails from Gujranwala district of Punjab and represents the Pakistan Army at the national level. 

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