Germany’s Kroos showing age is just a number

Euro 2024 is underway! Our daily files give you the latest reporting from around the tournament as well as betting lines, what to watch for and best reads.

Check in with ESPN throughout the tournament as we bring you the latest from Germany all the way up to the final on July 14.

STUTTGART, Germany — Jamal Musiala and Ílkay Gündogan found the net and will make the highlight reels (rightly) as Germany dispatched Hungary 2-0 to seal a place in the knockout round. But the game only reinforced how this is Toni Kroos’ team and how Germany boss Julian Nagelsmann is bending over backwards to accommodate him.

Kroos is 34, and it’s a battle-worn 34. He has played a remarkable 3,607 minutes (plus injury time) spread out over 53 games. That’s quite a feat for the midfielder in the twilight of his career. Indeed, Kroos himself revealed on the popular podcast he does with his brother that he thought he would miss the opening game because of a persistent pain in his neck.

But then, these are his final games as a professional — he’s retiring after the Euros — and the pain is evidently worth bearing. With his mobility reduced, Nagelsmann didn’t ask him to play in his traditional midfield role, and instead he turned Kroos into a point guard in possession. Kroos dropped deep to the left of the central defenders — Antonio Rüdiger and Jonathan Tah — and controlled the game. Probing, testing, giving and receiving the ball until he saw the opening for the sort of pass few can see and fewer still can deliver.

Writ large, it’s an adjustment for a coach whose critics accused him of being too rigid and system-obsessed. And it’s not the only one: Witness Musiala and Florian Wirtz being encouraged to cut inside from wide areas or Gundogan operating in the hole.

It worked against Scotland, partly because Steve Clarke’s crew — in addition to being terrible — also played down a man in the second half. Hungary was a much sterner test and, again, it paid off. What Kroos gives you in possession outweighs the fact that off the ball the best he can do is clog passing lanes. He was a steadying presence — the hub of Germany’s wheel — on a day when some of Nagelsmann’s other ballers (Musiala, Gundogan) were sublime and others were more muted (Kai Havertz, Wirtz). Which is probably why Nagelsmann left him out there for the entire game.

Kroos is too important, and the adrenaline will carry him through in any case. Though that neck is bound to smart tomorrow. — Gab Marcotti

– Euro 2024: Landing page | Schedule | Rosters | News
– Team previews | Predictions for every team (ESPN+)

COLOGNE, Germany — We’ve seen wondergoals from Xherdan Shaqiri before in the European Championship. Remember his bicycle kick against Poland in 2016? If not, look it up. He added another to his impressive one-man canon of incredible strikes as his first-half goal in Wednesday’s 1-1 draw against Scotland helped ease Switzerland toward the knockout stages of this year’s competition.

Shaqiri has spent the past couple of years in MLS with the Chicago Fire FC, and his 26th-minute strike earned him a slice of American history. He became the first MLS-based player to score in the Euros. So savour that, as he’s not sticking around. He said last week that he’s planning to leave Chicago and head back to Europe, and his goal against Scotland would’ve done his hopes for a contract no harm whatsoever.

While Scotland successfully nullified the threat of Granit Xhaka — perhaps in some sort of Toni Kroos-related PTSD — they lost Shaqiri for his first-half goal. Sloppy play at the back led to Anthony Ralston misplacing a pass straight into the path of Shaqiri, and without breaking stride, the diminutive, barrel-chested forward curled a beautiful effort past Angus Gunn and into the top left corner of Scotland’s goal.

“You knew when it was rolling towards Shaqiri, it was going into the back of the net,” Scotland manager Steve Clarke said after the match. “You don’t give top, top players that type of chance.”

Shaqiri wasn’t necessarily the best player on the pitch — those in blue had several candidates for that, while Manuel Akanji was outstanding — but he gave another reminder of his incredible skill set and why he’s still box office. With Switzerland now on four points from their first two matches, they should be safely into the knockouts, where Shaqiri will be looking to add further goals to his highlight reel. — Tom Hamilton

An investigation was opened by German police in Stuttgart on Tuesday after an unidentified drone was seen flying over VfB Stuttgart’s training ground during Switzerland’s training session before Wednesday’s game against Scotland.

The Swiss coaching team have two drones of their own that they use to film every session for manager Murat Yakin and his staff to analyse afterward. So imagine their surprise when, out of nowhere, they spotted a third one circulating over the pitch. The unexpected flying object remained above them for 10 minutes before flying off.

With Swiss suspicions of spying unable to be ruled out, police were called in to investigate, and the authorities are reviewing CCTV footage from around the complex. Judging by the good mood among Switzerland captain Granit Xhaka and his teammates after their convincing 3-1 victory in their first game against Hungary, the incident appears to have dampened their spirits. — Julien Laurens

Georgia manager Willy Sagnol was full of praise for his team despite their 3-1 defeat to Turkey in Tuesday’s thrilling match in Dortmund, but he was less than impressed with the actions of some of the rival fans.

The thousands of Turkey supporters inside Signal Iduna Park made for a raucous and intimidating atmosphere. Sagnol didn’t mind that at all, but after the game, he criticised those who had booed and whistled during the Georgian national anthem when it was played ahead of kick-off.

“You shouldn’t do that,” he said. “You should always respect your opponent. That didn’t reflect well on Turkey.”

With almost three million people of Turkish heritage living in Germany, their games at these Euros were always expected to attract feverish support. They turned Dortmund into a sea of red before playing Georgia, although their prematch partying was disrupted by torrential rain that continued during the game and after the final whistle. — Rob Dawson

If you are travelling to Germany by train, or using the rail network to move around the country during the Euros, be sure to double-check the names of each station that you pass through. As an honour for the players who have been called up in the host nation’s squad by coach Julian Nagelsmann, each player has had his name added to the signs of the railway stations of his hometown.

Stuttgart’s train station, for example, has “Heimatstadt von Jamal Musiala” (“hometown of Jamal Musiala”) added to its regular signage. While the claim is technically accurate as the Bayern Munich star was born in the city, he moved elsewhere in Germany soon afterward and also spent part of his childhood in England, for whom he first played international football at under-15 level.

The capital city of Berlin has done the same for Antonio Rüdiger, Essen for Leroy Sané and Greifswald for Toni Kroos to name but a few. So far, 11 stations have been updated to call out one of their most illustrious sons, with 13 more to get the same treatment over the next few days.

This is part of the “Home of Football Stars” campaign, led by the German football federation and DB, the national train company, with 24 cities involved in total. — Laurens

Frankfurt has turned out to be a melting pot of fans from many competing nations at Euro 2024 due to its well-connected international airport and proximity to other host cities including Dortmund, Stuttgart, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Gelsenkirchen.

But the national jerseys of Scotland, Denmark, England, Croatia and Albania were heavily outnumbered by the black T-shirts worn by followers of heavy metal band Five Finger Death Punch in Frankfurt on Monday.

The Las Vegas-based rockers, whose hits include “Wrong Side of Heaven” and “The Tragic Truth,” played to a sell-out 13,500 crowd at Frankfurt’s Festhalle while the football fans watched the Euro 2024 action in the city’s bars.

Posters advertising the concert had red “AUSVERKAUFT” (sold out) stickers emblazoned on them throughout the city, something that other acts such as Bryan Adams and Scorpions are yet to achieve for their gigs at the same venue later this year. — Mark Ogden

Klaus Gjasula of Albania is the first player in Euro history to come off the bench and have a goal and a own goal in the same match as Albania drew 2-2 against Croatia. — ESPN Stats & Information

Odds (via ESPN BET): Slovenia -360, Draw +240, Serbia -125

Slovenia face Serbia at the Allianz Arena full of confidence after earning a 1-1 draw in their opening game against Denmark.

Making their first appearance at a major tournament since the 2010 World Cup, coach Matjaž Kek suggested his team were nervous in the opening exchanges against the Danes. But settling down after half-time and finishing the game strongly has created a sense of optimism in the Slovenian camp. They have never been past the group stage of a World Cup or Euros as an independent nation, but victory over Serbia at the Allianz Arena would put them on the brink of qualification for the last 16.

One thing they may have to work on is getting 21-year-old striker Benjamin Šeško into better goal-scoring positions. He hit the post with a stunning long-range strike against Denmark but didn’t have one touch inside the penalty area. — Dawson

Odds: Denmark +425, Draw +250, England -145

These two teams last met in the semifinals of Euro 2020 at Wembley, when England came from a goal down to win 2-1 in extra time. Gareth Southgate’s side can qualify for the round of 16 with a win in Frankfurt, but their opponents’ need is greater, having been held to a 1-1 draw in their first game against Slovenia.

England’s 1-0 win over Serbia puts them in a position of strength from which to improve, but they will need to do just that to justify their status as one of the pre-tournament favourites. Their first-half performance in Gelsenkirchen was encouraging, with Jude Bellingham playing a starring role, but England slipped back into familiar habits as the game wore on, dropping deeper and losing the ball cheaply. Southgate blamed that on fatigue, so it is possible he may look to freshen things up, but wholesale changes are unlikely.

Christian Eriksen enjoyed a dream return to Euros football three years on from his on-pitch cardiac arrest by scoring Denmark’s goal against Slovenia. Here, he will come up against former Tottenham Hotspur teammates Kyle Walker, Harry Kane and Kieran Trippier, while fellow Manchester United midfielder Kobbie Mainoo might feature off the bench. — James Olley

Odds: Spain +110, Draw +120, Italy +270

The reigning European champions take on the UEFA Nations League winners as Italy and Spain meet in one of the most eagerly anticipated fixtures of the group stage. The fact both teams won their opening games slightly reduces the pressure, but the match represents a huge opportunity for coaches Luciano Spalletti and Luis de la Fuente’s sides to lay down a marker for the tournament.

There is plenty of recent history between these two nations, too. Italy beat Spain in the semifinal on penalties en route to lifting the trophy three years ago, while La Roja exacted revenge on the Azzurri in back-to-back Nations League semifinals in 2021 and 2023. Spalletti said Italy will attempt to play the attacking football he likes, but added that his team will be ready to “scuff up their Giorgio Armani suits” if necessary.

In a tournament where young players are playing a major role, all eyes will be on Spain’s Lamine Yamal — who against Croatia became the youngest-ever player at a Euros at 16 years and 338 days old — as well. The winger spoke this week of seeing the fear in opponents once he has beat them for the first time. Likely to be tasked with stopping him is Federico Dimarco. — Sam Marsden

For me, Spain were the most impressive side in the opening round of matches. We saw a different style to what we are used to, but boy did it work. I like Spain to win against Italy +110. — Dan Thomas

All of the teams in Euro 2024 have played their first games, and they gave us a bit of everything we could want.

Five teams scored at least three goals, and Germany scored five. Fans from Albania and Georgia, immense underdogs, each got to thunderously celebrate goals, one of which came just 23 seconds into Albania’s match with Italy. Another underdog, Slovakia, got to celebrate a huge win over Belgium. England got to both win and be miserable, two things they very much enjoy.

If you’re a fan of last-minute fireworks, we got all we could want in Group F, with Georgia nearly scoring to tie Turkey before giving up an empty netter to fall 3-1 and Francisco Conceição scoring in the second minute of added time to finally pull Portugal ahead of the Czech Republic. (And if you’re a fan of slapstick, we even got three own goals!)

The first round of matches at the 2024 European Championships was an absolute delight even if it didn’t change a whole lot about the competition. The betting favorites before the tournament — England, France, Germany, Portugal, Spain — remain the favorites, and Belgium was the only team that lost as even a moderate favorite.

But let’s overreact anyway. It’s fun. Here are some takeaways from the first 12 matches of Euro 2024.

– Connelly: Euro 2024 first-game overreactions (ESPN+)

As if slumping to a shock defeat in Belgium’s opening game at Euro 2024 wasn’t bad enough, Amadou Onana was further vexed when a case of mistaken identity during his postmatch media duties caused the midfielder to become so incensed that he temporarily changed language.

After slogging through a less-than-stellar 1-0 defeat against Slovakia, Onana was pressed into fielding media questions, which he did so fluently in several different languages, including French and German.

That was until one journalist mistakenly referred to him as “André,” which caused the Everton star to suddenly flip into a broad English accent in order to rebuke him.

“Andre’s not even my name, mate,” Onana snapped in crystal clear dialect, even chucking in a bonus “D’ya know what I mean?” for good measure.

This came after the journalist had presumably mixed him up with Manchester United goalkeeper André Onana — who isn’t featuring at the European Championship on account of being from Cameroon. — Chris Wright

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