Patrick Cantlay set the early pace on day one of the US Open at Pinehurst, with Rory McIlroy later matching his score to share the lead.

McIlroy, part of the headline group with world number one, Scottie Scheffler and Xander Schauffele, had the chance to equal the lead on the 17th but missed his birdie shot by inches.

However, he held his nerve on the final hole to finish a bogey-free five-under 65, giving him a share of the lead with Cantlay.

A tough round for Scheffler saw him card a one-over 71, while Schauffele missed his birdie putt on the final hole to finish on level par.

Five-time major winner Brooks Koepka briefly led after 10 holes, but a sloppy finish saw him finish on level par, with Collin Morikawa matching his score shortly after.

Meanwhile, Tiger Woods made a promising start with a birdie on the 10th, his first hole of the round, but he struggled as he went on, finishing with a four-over 74.

Bryson DeChambeau was among the later starters in North Carolina.

England got their much-needed win in stunning fashion as they raced to an eight-wicket victory over Oman inside four overs.

After a washout stopped their first game against Scotland, England lost to Australia and knew that a defeat on Thursday would see them knocked out of the World Cup.

Oman just could not get a foothold with only Shoaib Khan able to reach double figures with 11 as England put in a stellar bowling performance.

Adil Rashid was the standout with his 4-11, but Jofra Archer (3-12) and Mark Wood (3-12) helped to cap the performance as Oman were all out for 47 after 13.2 overs.

With a target of 48, England came out to bat on a mission, with Phil Salt hitting two sixes on the first two balls before being caught.

In the end, it would only take them 19 balls to hit their target, with captain Jos Buttler getting an impressive 24 off eight balls, though it was Jonny Bairstow who got the important four to take them to 50-2.

Data Debrief: England came out on a mission, and smashed it

Oman's tally of just 47 is the fourth-lowest total a team has managed in a T20 World Cup match, while it also proved to be England's best bowling performance in the competition.

With 101 balls remaining following England's successful chase, they set a new World Cup record.

England got their much-needed win in stunning fashion as they raced to an eight-wicket victory over Oman inside four overs.

After a washout stopped their first game against Scotland, England lost to Australia and knew that a defeat on Thursday would see them knocked out of the World Cup.

Oman just could not get a foothold with only Shoaib Khan able to reach double figures with 11 as England put in a stellar bowling performance.

Adil Rashid was the standout with his 4-11, but Jofra Archer (3-12) and Mark Wood (3-12) helped to cap the performance as Oman were all out for 47 after 13.2 overs.

With a target of 48, England came out to bat on a mission, with Phil Salt hitting two sixes on the first two balls before being caught.

In the end, it would only take them 19 balls to hit their target, with captain Jos Buttler getting an impressive 24 off eight balls, though it was Jonny Bairstow who got the important four to take them to 50-2.

Data Debrief: England came out on a mission, and smashed it

Oman's tally of just 47 is the fourth-lowest total a team has managed in a T20 World Cup match, while it also proved to be England's best bowling performance in the competition.

With 101 balls remaining following England's successful chase, they set a new World Cup record.

Julian Nagelsmann is confident his side can beat the pressure of being the host nation as they prepare to kick off the tournament against Scotland on Friday.

The 36-year-old is taking charge of his first major tournament with Germany after taking over from Hansi Flick in September and has lost just one of his eight games since taking over.

Germany have struggled in recent major tournaments, getting knocked out of Euro 2020 in the round of 16 before crashing out of the 2022 World Cup in the group stages.

However, Die Mannschaft are aiming to end that run, chasing a fourth European title and their first since 1996, with Nagelsmann confident his team can channel their nervous energy into positive performances.

"I think we're a bit nervous, but it's an important point, we have to have a certain nervousness," he said. "There was such a buzz [in the camp], a bit like in school. It was really loud: 'Can everyone please calm down a bit!'.

"I look in our players' eyes and see the belief and will to win. I want us to believe in ourselves: we have great players, good togetherness, home advantage, we've had great training sessions and a good mentality.

"We have everything: we just have to show it tomorrow, and that's why belief is very important.

"We can beat pressure, and we can beat Scotland as well."

Scotland arrive as heavy outsiders and are making just their fourth appearance at the Euros compared to Germany's record 14.

The Tartan Army qualified second in their group after a strong opening to their campaign, and Nagelsmann praised their performances under Steve Clark.

"They don't have world stars, but that makes them very dangerous," he added. "They work very hard and have a classic mentality, but it's not a kick and rush team. They can do that, but they can play football.

"We will have more pressure on us than Scotland, and they will want to capitalise on that."

Emma Raducanu cruised into the quarter-finals of the Nottingham Open with a straight-sets victory over Daria Snigur on Thursday.

After making her return from injury in the previous round, Raducanu made light work of the match, winning 6-2, 6-2 as her preparation for Wimbledon continued.

Despite a bright start from Snigur, which saw her break the Briton's serve in the opening game, she could not hold off Raducanu's challenge as she reeled off six games in a row to win the first set.

With her confidence back, Raducanu secured two breaks in the second set to ease through and will face Francesca Jones or Ashlyn Krueger in the next round.

Data Debrief: Raducanu easing back to full threat

After a slightly shaky first round against Ena Shibahara, Raducanu looked a confident figure on the court as she dispatched Snigur.

Her serve proved a highlight as she served 11 aces in the second set, and had a 70 per cent win rate on her first serve throughout the match.

Bayern Munich have announced the signing of Hiroki Ito from Stuttgart.

The defender becomes the first signing under new head coach Vincent Kompany, signing a four-year contract to keep him at the club until 2028.

Ito joined Stuttgart in 2021, on an initial loan from Japanese side Jubilo Iwata, before making the move permanent the following year.

He made 97 appearances for Stuttgart in all competitions, including 29 in 2023-24, as he helped the club to a second-place finish in the Bundesliga and Champions League qualification.

"It's a great honour for me to be able to play for one of the biggest clubs in the world," Ito told the club website.

"Bayern is also a big name in Japan. I always gave my all for Stuttgart and am grateful to the club. Now I'm looking forward to the challenge in Munich and I want to play my part in FC Bayern winning lots of trophies.

"It was time to take a new step, and for me, Bayern is the perfect club to do so."

Bayern finished below Stuttgart in the Bundesliga last season in third, ending their run of 11 consecutive league titles, while falling at the semi-final hurdle in the Champions League.

Bangladesh keep their T20 World Cup fate in their own hands after a 25-run victory over the Netherlands in St Vincent on Thursday.

Not only do Bangladesh take one step closer to the Super 8s with their emphatic victory, but they also ensure Sri Lanka are knocked out, while the Netherlands need a string of results to go in their favour.

The Tigers looked to be up against it after the Netherlands' strong start, as Liton Das made an early exit for just one run thanks to Sybrand Engelbrecht's diving catch.

However, Tanzid Hassan hit 35 off 26 balls, while Shakib Al Hasan plundered an impressive 64 not out, effectively taking control of the game.

Mahmudullah's 25 just about saw them over the line before Jaker Ali closed with 14 not out to see them to 159-5.

The Netherlands soon found their stride after losing two early wickets of their own and looked to be comfortably chasing down their target through Vikramjit Singh (26) and Engelbrecht (33).

Rishad Hossain soon intervened for Bangladesh though, finishing on 3-33 as the Flying Dutchmen lost four middle-order wickets for six runs and finished with 134-8.

Data Debrief: Bangladesh just too strong

Bangladesh narrowly missed out on a win against high-flying South Africa in their last game, but a win like this is exactly what they needed to get back on track.

Al Hasen was the standout, making a marked improvement on his three runs from the defeat to South Africa with a superb knock of 64 off 46 balls, including nine fours.

Xherdan Shaqiri is ready to take centre stage for Switzerland once again as he dismissed doubts about his match fitness ahead of Euro 2024. 

Shaqiri, who will feature in his seventh major tournament in Germany, will hope to continue his glistening career with his nation as they kickstart their Group A campaign against Hungary on Saturday. 

The 32-year-old has scored or assisted 46 percent of Switzerland’s goals at major tournaments over the last 10 years, becoming only the fifth player to reach 100 caps for his country two years ago. 

Despite his experience, coach Murat Yakin has questioned Shaqiri's ability to play back-to-back games in the competition, with the forward insisting he has not travelled to Germany to make up the numbers. 

"It's almost embarrassing to have to answer this question. Every player who comes into the national team can and wants to play -- over the full distance," Shaqiri said. 

"No one should only show up for work half the time. I don't see any problems with that. Did (Yakin) really say that?

"I gave the answer: I'm here with the national team because I want to help the team and play as much as possible. I didn't travel to the European Championships to take a vacation."

Shaqiri scored three times during qualifying as the Swiss finished five points behind group winners Romania, drawing five of their 10 fixtures in a group that included Israel, Kosovo and Belarus. 

But Switzerland have proved in recent tournaments they have the ability to compete against the top sides, most notably beating France on penalties at Euro 2020. 

The former Liverpool midfielder believes the group of players have the quality to succeed in Germany, and is hopeful his national team can lift an international honour in the years to come. 

"It's my seventh finals, and each one has its story," Shaqiri said. "I love the tension before tournaments, it doesn't exist anywhere else.

"Since I joined the national team, we have continually improved. The respect of the opponents and the public for us has grown, as has the quality in the national team. Many players have important roles at big clubs.

"To talk about the best national team of all time, we don't have the big exploit -- three years ago we were very close to the semi-finals. The next generation is in the starting blocks and I hope that at some point Switzerland can lift a trophy."

The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) has found itself embroiled in yet another controversy following the announcement of the Reggae Boyz squad for the upcoming Copa America competition. The squad, revealed on Wednesday, included Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey, who quickly took to social media to label the inclusion as "misleading information." This development has sparked confusion and debate among fans and stakeholders alike.

JFF President Michael Ricketts, in an interview with Sportsmax.TV early Thursday, provided insight into the selection process and the circumstances surrounding Bailey's inclusion. The president explained that no player is selected for national duty until there is dialogue with the player’s club or representatives.

According to Ricketts, the situation stemmed from complex interactions between the JFF, Bailey, and his father and agent, Craig Butler. Butler, he said, had attempted to negotiate Bailey's availability for the national team by seeking the selection of players from his Phoenix Academy for both the national senior team and the national U20 team.

"We don’t speak with the players; we speak with the player's club or the player's agent. In this case, (Craig) Butler, got in contact with the General Secretary Dennis Chung,” Ricketts said.  “He wanted other players [from Phoenix Academy] in the U20 squad and he wants players in the senior team in exchange for Bailey. The General Secretary told him no, I can’t deal with that."

The president explained that the general secretary does not play a role in team selection, that is the responsibility of the coaching staff.

Ricketts noted that following his conversation with Chung, Butler then placed a call to Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson and during their conversation assured him that Bailey would not be available for Jamaica’s game against Mexico but would be available for the second and third group-stage games of the Copa America. Consequently, the coach decided to include Bailey in the squad based on this assurance.

Ricketts said he is unaware of any other matters that arose between Butler and the Reggae Boyz head coach.

"Having told the coach that Bailey would be available for the second and third games, the coach named Bailey as part of the squad," Ricketts stated.

Bailey, who has been suspended since the November international break for breaking curfew, had not featured in Jamaica's recent matches, including the 2026 World Cup qualifiers against the Dominican Republic and Dominica earlier this month. Following his suspension, Bailey announced on a podcast that he was taking a break from international football.

On social media Wednesday, Butler reiterated Bailey’s stance, stating that posts suggesting Bailey’s willingness to participate in the Copa America were misleading. "Posts made on social media that are surfacing at this time is a misrepresentation of his position," Butler wrote. "We wish the Reggae Boyz well in the Copa America competition and he, along with his management team, will continue to support the Jamaica National Team at all levels … change must come…Respect and One Love for all."

The squad was announced at Tracks and Records in Kingston on Wednesday evening when Coach Hallgrimsson told media that discussions between Butler and the JFF had gone well, indicating that several issues of concern were addressed, which presumably led him to believe that the player was available for selection.

“So the talk was between his (Bailey’s) agent and the JFF, so I would like to give a lot of credit to Craig and Mr Chung so they sorted out whatever was the issue between him and the JFF so after that I think he has always wanted to represent Jamaica,” the head coach said.

“I don’t want to talk too much about what went on at a meeting I wasn’t attending but I’m just grateful  that this happened and this was resolved. We have been talking about some of the issues he was talking about so we shared some of the same thoughts in so many matters and hopefully it will just help us grow, continue to improve to become more professional…”

However, in an interview on CVM Television Thursday morning, hours after Bailey’s social media post, Butler explained that he met with the JFF and he explained his concerns and they long-term reparations of the damage (of the relationship between the player and governing body.

He said they did not commit to any player whether Bailey of (Dujuan) Whisper Richards rejoining the national team because “we felt that we should take a stand (against the JFF’s lack of professionalism) but more importantly that Leon is taking a break.

“Leon hasn’t had a break since 2016 and he is taking a break to spend time with family. We explained to them that he is not ready but we will speak to him and they (JFF) are not to make any attempts to include him in the squad until I got confirmation or a communication from Leon, who is at Disney World with his family.”

Jamaica is set to open its Copa America campaign against Mexico on June 22, followed by matches against Ecuador on June 26 and Venezuela on June 30.

President Ricketts emphasized the importance of moving forward regardless of the situation. "The show must go on," he declared, underlining the need for the team to remain focused amid the ongoing controversy.

Several calls made to JFF General Secretary went unanswered.

 

Luciano Spalletti hopes Italy can use their title of reigning champions to their advantage when they open their Euro 2024 campaign against Albania on Saturday.

The Azzurri secured Euro 2020 glory by upsetting England on home soil with a 3-2 win on penalties following a 1-1 draw to win their second European title.

After Roberto Mancini's shock departure last year, Spalletti stepped into his shoes, qualifying for Euro 2024, and he is confident they have what it takes to win the tournament for the second time in a row.

"It feels like heaven to be in situations like these," Spalletti told UEFA.com. "Matches come and go. These tournaments are really important, and this is why we need to be prepared for everything; as we say in our anthem, 'We are ready to die' for these matches.

"In my opinion, coming into the tournament as defending champions is an advantage. But we need to understand straight away that we need to behave like defending champions. We will only see whether or not we are up to the task during the matches.

"In a way, we are facing ourselves, not the outside world. We need to show what we are made of, to show what we have inside."

Albania, meanwhile, are making just their second appearance at the Euros, and their first since 2016 when they were knocked out in the group stage.

After topping a qualifying group including the Czech Republic and Poland, the Eagles have now been drawn into the 'group of death', also containing Spain and Croatia, but Sylvinho remains optimistic about their chances.

"We do all of this together and understand what we're all after," Sylvinho told UEFA.com. "We've achieved things, we've made it to the Euros: that's some feat.

"We've got this far, we know our size, we're improving. It's set to be a real challenge. However, we'll knuckle down to work.

"The games will be fantastic but hard, and if we're able to overcome our opponents, we want to keep going. We're doing well, but if we can take another step forward, then even better."

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Italy – Nicolo Barella

Barella registered more assists than any other Italy player during Euro 2024 qualifying (three) and created seven more chances than any other Italian player (15). Barella also assisted two goals during Italy's victorious Euro 2020 campaign. The Azzurri will be hoping he can get fit in time to start the tournament.

Albania – Jasir Asani

Asani was Albania's joint-top goalscorer during Euro 2024 qualifying, scoring three times (level with Nedim Bajrami). All three of his strikes were scored from outside the box.

MATCH PREDICTION: ITALY WIN

This will be Italy and Albania's first encounter at a major tournament. Italy have won all four of their previous meetings with Albania (seven goals for, one against), which have all taken place since 2014.

Italy have not conceded more than one goal in a match across their last two Euros participations, in 2016 and 2020: that is a total of six goals conceded across their last 12 matches in the competition.

Italy's 45 matches at the Euros have produced 1.84 goals on average (52 for, 31 against) – it is the lowest ratio amongst any of the 25 teams to have taken part in 10+ matches in the competition.

This is just Albania's second appearance at a major international tournament after Euro 2016 – their sole victory in this competition came against Romania in the final group match that year (1-0).

Indeed, after losing their first Euro 2024 qualifier against Poland, Albania did not lose any of their next seven (W4 D3).

OPTA WIN PROBABILITY

Italy – 66.3%

Draw – 19.6%

Albania – 14.2%

Top seed Jessica Pegula bowed out of the Libema Open following a three-set defeat by Aleksandra Krunic in s'Hertogenbosch.

The world number five was ousted 7-6 (7-3) 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 by the 2018 winner of this event, who claimed the fifth top-10 victory of her career and advanced to the quarter-finals.

Now ranked 400th in the world, Krunic recovered from an earlier break in the opening set to force a tie-break, in which she won five straight points to draw first blood.

The Serbian also cancelled out a break before heading into another tie-break, but Pegula reeled off five points on the spin this time to level.

The American was appearing in her first tournament since April, having missed the European clay-court season with a rib injury.

However, she saw two break-point opportunities go begging in the opening game of the deciding set, and Krunic crucially broke in game three before holding out for an impressive victory. 

Later on, Alex de Minaur booked his place in the quarter-finals of the competition after a straight-sets victory over Zizou Bergs. 

The world number nine had to work for his victory over the Belgian, overcoming his opponent 7-5 6-4 to earn his first triumph on a grass court this year. 

Bergs matched his opponent in the opening exchanges, but the Australian would eventually prevail, winning a break-point and following up without dropping a point in the final game. 

De Minaur would again endure a difficult set to confirm the victory as Bergs threatened to level the encounter, but the number one seed again showed his class, finishing the contest in style. 

De Minaur will face either Roberto Bautista Agut or Milos Raonic in the next round.

Data Debrief: Krunic rekindles special memories as de Minaur earns maiden grass win

Krunic will forever have an affinity with s-Hertogenbosch, where she won her only career WTA title six years ago.

And the 31-year-old claimed an impressive scalp here to reach her first WTA quarter-final since 2022 - and first on grass since that 2018 triumph.

De Minaur impressed once again, winning 86 per cent of his first serve points against the Belgian. 

Their meeting in s-Hertogenbosch was the first between the pair, with De Minaur able to overcome his quarter-final defeat to Alexander Zverev at the French Open. 

West Indies batsman Sherfane Rutherford rates his well-compiled half century against New Zealand at the ICC T20 World Cup on Wednesday as his best knock.

The 25-year-old came to the crease with the hosts teetering at 22-4 in the sixth over after bring put in to bat at the Brian Lara Stadium in Tarouba.

On a pitch that he described as “tacky” and “spongy” in the post-match press conference, Rutherford took his time in the early part of his innings before accelerating to a top score of 68* to help the West Indies post a match-winning 149-9 from their allotted 20 overs.

Rutherford described the innings as perhaps the best of his career, so far.

“I will put it as my best knock. It’s a World Cup. This is my dream. I’ve always wanted to play in a World Cup and this one is going to stay close to my heart. Hopefully, I can continue to take out good innings like this for my team and for myself,” he said.

At the halfway point of the innings, the West Indies were 49-5 and Rutherford says head coach Daren Sammy’s advice was to bat time and take it deep.

“He was just telling me to take it deep. I was batting with Akeal (Hosein) so I told him to keep going but my role was to basically take it to the 15th or 16th over but after we lost wickets I just told myself to try and take it to the 20th over and try and maximize those last two overs which they had to make up with two bowlers,” he said.

The Guyanese hard-hitter was recently a part of the Indian Premier League with the Kolkata Knight Riders and, despite not getting a game, he says he has been using that time to prepare for situations like the one he faced on Wednesday.

“I pattern my game off these situations. Even before the World Cup, I try to put myself in positions in the nets where I have to bat properly and then have to excel in the end so I think it’s good to see that my plans and my work are coming to show,” he said.

He faced a similar situation when the West Indies found themselves 79-5 batting first in the third T20I against Australia in Perth in February.

Rutherford and Andre Russell put on 139 for the sixth wicket with Rutherford finishing 67* off 40 balls.

He says the main thing he took from that innings was the importance of giving himself time at the crease.

“The innings in Australia is one that I kept close to me and, even though it was a good innings, I try to pick a few things out of it. One of the few things was give myself time. It’s always a process and when you look too far ahead you can forget about the process so, for me, it was just ball after ball, give myself time, run singles and get myself ready so that in the back end I can make up,” he said.

Finally, Rutherford made mention of the crowd at the Brian Lara Stadium.

“When batting I try not to worry about the crowd. I just try to look at what’s in front of me and focus on the process but it’s good to have some support. It’s good to have the home crowd with us and hopefully they can keep supporting us,” he said.

The West Indies will next take on Afghanistan at the Daren Sammy Stadium on June 17.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No tournament is complete without a 'group of death'. 

Euro 2024 may have two, with France and the Netherlands looking to fend off a challenge from Austria in Group D, while heavyweights Spain, Croatia and Italy battle it out in Group B.

It's Spain and Croatia who get the latter pool under way on Saturday, facing off in a huge tussle at the Olympiastadion in Berlin.

La Roja are the only team to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, achieving that feat in 2008 and 2012, yet they have only won two knockout ties across five major tournaments since that latter triumph.

Luis de la Fuente's team did, however, win the 2022-23 edition of the Nations League, overcoming Croatia on penalties in the final. Spain also memorably eliminated Zlatko Dalic's team from Euro 2020, winning an eight-goal thriller in the last 16.

Spain may have previous against Croatia, but few will be writing Dalic's team off following their third-place finish at the 2022 World Cup, at which an ageing but supremely talented side used all their big-game know-how to eliminate Brazil.  

The result of Saturday's game could go a long way to deciding both teams' fates in a group that could easily see a giant fall. Here, we use Opta data to preview the game.

What's expected?

The Opta supercomputer makes Spain favourites for this one, but La Roja's win percentage of 50 per cent suggests the outcome is far from a foregone conclusion.

Croatia were victorious in 24 per cent of match simulations conducted by the supercomputer, with 26 per cent ending level and potentially handing the initiative in the group to Italy.

There will certainly be plenty of familiarity between these two sides. Indeed, Spain and Croatia are facing each other at a fourth successive edition of the Euros.

That has only previously occurred on one occasion, when Spain and Italy met in four straight editions between 2008 and 2020. They will, of course, do battle at a fifth successive tournament when they square off in Gelsenkirchen on June 20.

La Roja have won two of their previous three encounters with Croatia (5-3 at Euro 2020, 1-0 at Euro 2012), while they were beaten 2-1 at Euro 2016.

If recent history is anything to go by, an entertaining affair could be in the offing. 

Three of the last five meetings between Spain and Croatia have contained at least five goals, and the most recent – a 5-3 extra-time win for La Roja three years ago – is the second-highest scoring game in Euros history, after France 4-5 Yugoslavia in 1960.

The supercomputer makes Spain Group B favourites with a 47.3 per cent chance of finishing top, to Croatia's 18 per cent, Italy's 29 per cent and Albania's 5.6 per cent.

With four third-place finishers reaching the last 16, La Roja (89.1 per cent), Italy (80.3 per cent) and Croatia (67.8 per cent) are all expected to progress.

Can Spain add punch to possession play?

At Euro 2020 and the 2022 World Cup, Spain won plenty of admirers for their patient, possession-based style, with Gavi and Pedri hailed as generational talents.

However, their approach did not win them enough matches. La Roja scraped past Switzerland on penalties at Euro 2020 before going out to Italy on spot-kicks, while a bold rearguard action from Morocco dumped them out in the first knockout round in Qatar. Before that, a shock defeat to Japan almost sent them out in the group stage.

Their patient approach is nothing new. Spain have had more possession than their opponents in each of their last 136 competitive games, last seeing less of the ball when they beat Germany with 46 per cent of the play in the Euro 2008 final.

They have also attempted 1,000 or more passes in four separate World Cup matches but only won one of those, beating Costa Rica 7-0 in Qatar.

Their last 50 Euros goals have all been scored from inside the area, with their last strike from outside the box coming via Real Madrid great Raul, against Slovenia in 2000's group stage.

De la Fuente will not stray too far from Spain's identity, despite Gavi missing the tournament due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The key to their success will be adding punch to their patient build-up play, and wide duo Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams could hold the key in that regard.  

Williams (second, 191) and Yamal (fourth, 141) both ranked among the top four players for dribbles attempted in LaLiga last season, also ranking third and fifth respectively for carries ending in a take-on (Williams 97, Yamal 82).

Athletic Bilbao's Williams has six goal involvements (two goals, four assists) in 13 senior appearances for Spain, while Yamal will become the youngest player in Euros history as long as he gets an outing before the final, which is one day after his 17th birthday. Few nations boast a pair of wingers as exciting as the Roja duo.

Tournament specialists set up to surprise

As is the case with Spain, control has long been the name of the game for Croatia, yet many would argue they do it with a level of savviness that deserted La Roja long ago.

At the 2022 World Cup, only Spain (135) recorded more sequences of 10 or more passes than Croatia, with Luka Modric, Marcelo Brozovic and Mateo Kovacic pulling the strings in midfield. 

Brozovic (509) and Modric (484), as well as centre-back Josko Gvardiol (505), ranked among the six players to play the most passes in Qatar, with Rodri out in front with 676 despite only playing four matches.

It was not everyone's cup of tea as Croatia relied on the penalty shoot-out heroics of goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic in their two knockout triumphs over Japan and Brazil.

Despite playing the full seven games, they only ranked seventh in the tournament for expected goals, their 7.05 xG some five fewer than Brazil, who managed 12.08 xG in five games.

But it was not simply a case of Croatia playing keep-ball until they could show their nerve from the spot. Dalic's team led everyone at the tournament for high turnovers (59), shots from high turnovers (10) and pressed sequences (109).

Andrej Kramaric, Lovro Majer and Ante Budimir are all comfortable doing the dirty work up top, and the latter was on target as Croatia scored an impressive friendly win over Portugal on Saturday – admittedly with Cristiano Ronaldo rested.

Difficult to beat and comfortable in transition and in possession, Croatia deserve their reputation as tournament specialists. Spain will underestimate them at their peril.

PLAYERS TO WATCH 

Spain – Alvaro Morata

Missed opportunities have been a theme for Spain at recent tournaments. At Euro 2020, Morata missed more big chances (six) than any other player and also fluffed his lines as La Roja were beaten on penalties by Italy in the last four.

However, after enjoying the joint-most prolific campaign of his career in Europe's top five leagues, scoring 15 goals for Atletico Madrid in LaLiga, Morata will be trusted to shoulder the goalscoring burden again.

 

He ended a five-match goal drought for his country as Northern Ireland were routed 5-1 in a warm-up friendly last week, and though he has his detractors, he has tournament pedigree.

Only Ronaldo (eight) and Antoine Griezmann (seven) have scored more goals than Morata's six across the last two editions of the Euros.

Croatia – Luka Modric

Modric personifies Croatia's measured approach, and despite playing a reduced role for Real Madrid in 2023-24, he will be their key man again at this tournament.

The 38-year-old only started 18 games in LaLiga last term, yet he ranked ninth in the league for total passes in the opposition half, with 923.

Among players with at least 15 starts, he ranked fourth for chances created per 90 minutes (2.94), joint-fourth for open-play chances created (2.14) and seventh for passes into the final third (10.9).

Modric versus Rodri and Pedri could be the most watchable midfield battle of the group stage.

Harry Kane believes the experience he gained playing for Bayern Munich last season has prepared him for Euro 2024 in Germany.

Kane made the move to Bayern from Tottenham in August last year, becoming the most expensive Bundesliga signing in history.

He enjoyed an impressive maiden season in the German top-flight, scoring 44 goals in 45 matches across all competitions.

Kane acknowledged how his time at Bayern has improved his game and given him valuable experience going into the tournament.

"It's been an incredible experience," Kane told UEFA.com.

"I think playing for a club like Bayern Munich can only improve you and only push you to another level because you're under huge pressure to be successful in every game and I think the standard of players, and the quality of coaches, you know, it's just a really high level, and I’ve really enjoyed that.

"And I just think playing, for me personally, it was time to play in different stadiums against different teams, and I've really enjoyed that experience.

"Some of the atmospheres here have been some of the best I've ever played in. So, I'm loving that part and I expect the games in the Euros to be the same as well."

Kane is set to become the first player to captain England at four major tournaments when he leads them out against Serbia on Sunday.

As the Three Lions' all-time top-scorer with 63 goals, Kane is set to be one of their key men once more, but he believes the team have earned the right to be labelled as one of the favourites.

"Being England captain and leading the boys out is probably the highest privilege I can have as a player, and I'll never take that for granted.

"That feeling is truly one of a kind. It's an honour to do it for a fourth time. We've had a semi-final, a final and a quarter-final, so I'm hoping we go to the very end and go on and win.

"I think this squad is one of the best, if not the best, we've had, going on form and the domestic seasons a lot of us have had.

"I hope that the guys can lean on me and ask me questions, and if I can help them get through anything, then great. But we have such a good togetherness, we're always talking or having dinner together and there's always conversations being had, so that helps us."

After their opening fixture, England will play Denmark and Slovenia in their other group games.

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