Ancelotti confident of knocking PSG out, Kroos will only play if fully fit

By Sports Desk March 08, 2022

Carlo Ancelotti is confident Real Madrid will knock Paris Saint-Germain out of the Champions League and says Toni Kroos will only play if he is fully fit.

PSG will start the second leg at Santiago Bernabeu on Wednesday with a 1-0 lead courtesy of Kylian Mbappe's brilliant late winner three weeks ago.

Madrid might be facing a bigger challenge to reach the quarter-finals if Thibaut Courtois had not saved a Lionel Messi penalty at the Parc des Princes.

LaLiga leaders Madrid will be without the suspended Casemiro when they face Mauricio Pochettino's side and fellow midfielder Kroos missed the 4-1 thrashing of Real Sociedad on Saturday due to a hamstring injury.

Kroos has returned to training, but Ancelotti refused to state whether he will play against the Italian's former employers.

"If a player isn't 100 per cent fit he can't play, so we'll have to wait and see," he said.

Los Blancos have won three consecutive games since their defeat in the French capital and Ancelotti believes that run will continue.

The ex-PSG head coach said: "We want to stay alive in this competition. It's massive for us, massive for the club. we don't want to be knocked out of such an important competition.

"Life will go on and hopefully we will still be in competition. I am confident we will qualify, but PSG will also be confident."

Madrid look unstoppable in their quest to win LaLiga and Ancelotti is hopeful that will not be the only trophy they can get their hands on this season.

"I think we are having a good season, it has been good so far and every time we do something there is always a 'but'," he added.

"If Karim [Benzema] doesn't score [there is] a 'but', there are lots of opinions out there. I think we are having a good season and hopefully these last two months we can end the season on a high."

Benzema says Madrid were hurt by their loss in the French capital but does not expect more pain if Los Blancos play to the best of their ability.

The striker explained: "We are a proud team and that defeat hurt us, but we know that the best Real Madrid can compete with the best PSG. We saw the best PSG in the first leg and hopefully we will see the best Real Madrid on Wednesday."

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  • Mbappe, Kane or Ronaldo: Who will win the Golden Boot at Euro 2024? Mbappe, Kane or Ronaldo: Who will win the Golden Boot at Euro 2024?

    From Gerd Muller to Marco van Basten, Alan Shearer to Fernando Torres, some of the greatest strikers to have played the game have had the honour of winning the Golden Boot at a European Championship.

    When Europe's finest descend upon Germany for the 17th edition of UEFA's flagship international tournament, a mix of established greats and young prospects will vie to be the continent's best goalscorer.

    Can Cristiano Ronaldo mark what will surely be his final major tournament by becoming the first two-time recipient of the Golden Boot, or might Harry Kane or Kylian Mbappe upstage the Portugal legend? 

    As the build-up to Euro 2024 continues, we delve into the Opta data to assess the chances of the leading contenders, pick out a couple of potential dark horses and ask what lessons we can take from previous Golden Boot winners.

    THE FAVOURITES

    Kylian Mbappe

    Where else to start but with Mbappe? 

    The France captain is again among the favourites to top the goalscoring charts, having netted eight times to win the Golden Boot as Les Bleus came up just short at the 2022 World Cup.

    While Mbappe has 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches and looks destined to obliterate Miroslav Klose's record of 16, he failed to score at his only previous Euros, even missing the decisive kick as France went out to Switzerland on penalties three years ago. 

    At Euro 2020, only Alvaro Morata (six), Gerard Moreno and Kane (five each) missed more big chances (as defined by Opta) than Mbappe (four). His 14 total shots amounted to 1.7 expected goals (xG), with only Moreno (-2.25) and Dani Olmo (-1.86) underperforming their xG figures by a greater margin. 

    However, few would predict a repeat following a season in which Mbappe scored 44 times in 47 games, a tally only matched by Kane among players from Europe's top five leagues. 

    Mbappe also scored nine times in eight Euro 2024 qualifiers, though the depth of attacking talent available to Didier Deschamps – and the likelihood of Mbappe playing from the left flank – could mean they are slightly less reliant on one star than other nations. 

    France had the largest spread of goalscorers of any side during qualifying, with 14 different players scoring at least once for them, excluding own goals. 

    A testing Group D draw could also work against him; Austria and the Netherlands both conceded just seven goals in eight qualifiers, while Poland shipped 10 in their group games. However, should France go all the way, he will likely provide some big moments.

    Harry Kane

    As the only player in Europe's top five leagues to match Mbappe in 2023-24, many feel Kane was let down by those around him as Bayern Munich relinquished their Bundesliga crown.

    Having suffered final heartache at Euro 2020, Kane will be desperate to end his major trophy hoodoo in his new homeland.

    Kane is England's record goalscorer overall (63 goals) and their most prolific player at major tournaments (12 goals at World Cup/Euros). Across the last three tournaments (2018 World Cup, Euro 2020 and 2022 World Cup), Mbappe is the only player to match Kane's return. 

    He scored or assisted on all seven of his starts in qualifying (eight goals, two assists) and despite failing to capture silverware in his first season in Germany, he sent records tumbling in a brilliant individual campaign.

    Thirty-six goals in 32 games made Kane's debut campaign the most prolific in Bundesliga history, with only Robert Lewandowski (41 in 2020-21) and Muller (40 in 1971-72, 38 in 1969-70) ever scoring more in a single season. 

    A kind group-stage draw should allow Kane the chance to build some early momentum. Serbia are making their first Euros appearance as an independent nation, while Slovenia are embarking on their first campaign since 2000.

    Even Denmark – against whom Kane scored the winner in the Euro 2020 semi-finals – could give up plenty of opportunities.

    Their previous 33 matches at the Euros have produced an average of 2.79 goals per game (42 for, 50 against), the highest ratio among the 12 teams to have played at least 20 games.

    Cristiano Ronaldo

    Portugal's Euro 2020 campaign ended in last-16 heartache against Belgium, but in just four games, Ronaldo did enough to claim the Golden Boot with five goals and one assist, edging out Patrik Schick.

    In many ways, this is Ronaldo's competition. He holds the tournament records for most games (25), most goals (14), joint-most assists on record (six – starting in 1972) and most editions with at least one goal (five).

    Since 1972, Ronaldo has recorded twice as many goal involvements as any other player at the Euros (20 – 14 goals, six assists), with Michel Platini a distant second (10, nine goals, one assist).

    However, age catches up with everyone, and many have questioned the 39-year-old's value to the Selecao since he swapped Manchester United for Al-Nassr after the 2022 World Cup.

    Ronaldo may not be playing at the peak of the European game any more, but he set a new single-season record with 35 Saudi Pro League goals in 2023-24, overperforming his xG total of 30.68 even while missing more big chances than any other player in the league (33).

    Questions persist regarding Ronaldo's ability to fit into a coherent off-the-ball structure, but if chances fall his way, he is likely to take them. 

    He should not suffer from a lack of service. Of the top 10 players in Europe's top five leagues for open-play chances created in 2023-24 (all competitions), three were Portuguese – Bruno Fernandes (first, 111), Bernardo Silva (eighth, 84) and Rafael Leao (joint-10th, 82).

    Romelu Lukaku

    Lukaku became Belgium's all-time leading goalscorer all the way back in 2018 and now has 85 goals in 115 senior international appearances. 

    Eleven of those strikes have come at major tournaments (World Cup/Euros), though he struggled enormously in Qatar two years ago and has only netted twice in knockout games for his country.

    However, he should not be discounted from the Golden Boot race at this year's tournament.

    Lukaku scored an astonishing 14 goals in eight Euro 2024 qualifiers, setting a new record for a single qualification campaign. He scored every 39 minutes on average and converted almost half of his shots (29), accounting for 63.6 per cent of total goals scored by Domenico Tedesco's men (22).

    With Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine awaiting Belgium in Group E and a third-place finisher next up if they top their pool, Lukaku should be confident of a strong start.

    Like Ronaldo, he will also be serviced by some of the continent's best creators.

    Since the start of the 2014 World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne's nine assists at major tournaments (five at the Euros, four at World Cups) are the most of any European player, and he led all Premier League players for expected assists (0.42 xA) and chances created (3.37) per 90 minutes in 2023-24.

    Ranking second for xA per 90 (0.33) and third for chances created (2.49)? That would be De Bruyne's City and Belgium team-mate Jeremy Doku. Lukaku will not want for opportunities.

    Alvaro Morata

    Euro 2020 will live long in the memory of Atletico Madrid striker Morata, but perhaps not for the right reasons.

    He netted three times as Spain made the last four, but he was also criticised after missing more big chances (six) than any other player at the tournament. To make matters worse, it was his unsuccessful penalty which allowed Italy to beat La Roja in a semi-final shoot-out.

    However, Morata does have a decent pedigree at the Euros, ranking joint-fifth in the competition's all-time goalscoring charts, his six strikes equalling the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    Meanwhile, Joselu – Morata's understudy for this tournament – was the only Spain player to match his four goals in qualifying.

    Luis de la Fuente's approach does not differ greatly from that of Luis Enrique, so Spain will be patient in their bid to create chances.

    La Roja's last 50 goals at the Euros have all been scored from inside the box, their last long-range strike coming via Raul against Slovenia in 2000.

    Morata scored 15 goals in 27 LaLiga matches in 2023-24, making it his joint-most prolific campaign in one of Europe's top five leagues (he also netted 15 times for Real Madrid in 2016-17). 

    THE OUTSIDERS

    Florian Wirtz

    The likes of Kai Havertz and Niclas Fullkrug are battling it out to lead the line for Germany, but perhaps their main goal threat will come from deep if Julian Nagelsmann implements a fluid system.

    Bayer Leverkusen star Wirtz was crowned Bundesliga Player of the Year after scoring 11 goals and providing 11 assists throughout their unbeaten campaign, also netting four times on their run to the Europa League final.

    Gianluca Scamacca

    Leverkusen's European campaign ended in heartbreaking fashion against Atalanta in Dublin. While Ademola Lookman did the damage in the final, Scamacca also shone for La Dea and has a great chance of starting at the Euros, given Italy's lack of true striking options.

    Scamacca only has one goal in 16 senior appearances for Italy, but if Luciano Spalletti picks his team on form, the former West Ham striker should make it in. He scored 19 goals in all competitions in 2023-24, outperforming his xG total of 11.2 by a huge differential of 7.8.  

    Rasmus Hojlund

    Might a former Atalanta forward also find himself in contention? Hojlund endured an up-and-down debut season with Manchester United, but he ended it on a high by scoring in his last two Premier League games before helping them triumph in the FA Cup final.

    Hojlund top-scored for Denmark with seven goals in qualifying, also leading his team-mates for shots (23), shots on target (13) and xG (5.2). If Denmark are to push England close in Group C, they will need their number nine in top form.

    What does history tell us? 

    We are highly unlikely to see anyone match Platini's incredible nine-goal haul from Euro 1984, but looking at recent Golden Boot winners does allow us to draw a few conclusions about what is needed to come out on top. 

    Since the Euros expanded to 16 teams for 1996, the fewest goals needed to win the Golden Boot was three, with Torres taking the honours in 2012, after his team-mate David Villa did so with four in 2008.

    Antoine Griezmann's six goals in 2016 is the closest any player has ever come to Platini's haul, while four of the last seven editions have seen the leading scorer finish on five goals. 

    Griezmann and Platini, alongside Shearer in 1996, are also the only standalone winners to claim the award while representing the host nation.

    It is also interesting to note that team success does not necessarily translate to individual honours. 

    Spain duo Villa and Torres are the only players to claim the Golden Boot as tournament winners since 1992 (when Denmark's Henrik Larsen shared it with three other players).

    A deep run of sorts is usually required, though. Ronaldo won the Euro 2020 Golden Boot despite Portugal exiting in the last 16, but the previous four standalone winners all played for teams who reached the semi-finals as a minimum.

    As you might have guessed, having the best goalscorer in the competition helps, but it is no guarantee of glory.

    Few England fans will be consoled by a Kane Golden Boot if the Three Lions fall short.   

  • The Numbers Game: Euro 2024 hosts Germany aim to get off to a flying start against Scotland The Numbers Game: Euro 2024 hosts Germany aim to get off to a flying start against Scotland

    Euro 2024 kicks off on Friday as Germany take on Scotland in Munich, and a flying start is on the agenda for Julian Nagelsmann's team.

    Scotland, in their fourth appearance at the European Championships, would probably have been hoping for an easier start than going up against the hosts in the tournament's opening match.

    Steve Clarke's team qualified in second place, behind Spain and ahead of Erling Haaland's Norway, from their group.

    Germany, meanwhile, have picked up form under Nagelsmann since he was appointed as Hansi Flick's successor, and the former Bayern Munich coach has plenty of talent at his disposal, even if the Euro 2024 hosts are not considered to be among the biggest favourites.

    Mats Hummels, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka are three big-name absentees from Germany's squad, while Bayern youngster Aleksandar Pavlovic had to withdraw from the squad on Wednesday due to injury.

    But in Jamal Musiala, Florian Wirtz, Leroy Sane, Kai Havertz and Borussia Dortmund's Niclas Fullkrug, Germany have an exciting attack, while Toni Kroos will anchor the midfield before he heads off into retirement.

    This is Nagelsmann's first major tournament as head coach. Jupp Derwall was the last Germany boss to win a major tournament with them at the first attempt (Euro 1980).

    Here, we use Opta data to preview the Euro 2024 opener.

     

    What's expected?

    It's no surprise to see that Germany are the overwhelming favourites to win this match, with Opta's supercomputer ranking their chances of victory at 58 per cent. 

    Germany and Scotland are facing each other for the third time at a major tournament. Germany won the two previous encounters, in the group stages of the 1986 World Cup (2-1) and Euro 1992 (2-0). 

    Indeed, Scotland have won only one of their last 13 matches against Germany (D4 L8); it was in April 1999, with Don Hutchison scoring the only goal in a Bremen friendly (0-1).

    After losing to Turkiye and Austria, Germany have gone unbeaten in their last four matches. That being said, they were not particularly impressive in their warm-up matches. 

    Following a 0-0 draw with Ukraine, Germany beat Greece 2-1 last time out, though they mustered a disappointing 0.88 expected goals (xG), in contrast to their opponents' 2.14.

    The scoreline is the statistic that matters at tournaments, with Havertz grabbing an equaliser midway through the second half before Pascal Gross secured a late victory, but it should give Scotland some hope, even though they are handed just a 21 per cent win likelihood, with the draw threat also at 21 per cent.

    Scotland won their first five Euro 2024 qualifiers but then failed to win any of their final three (D2 L1), conceding seven goals in those games after only shipping one goal in their first five games.

    They beat Gibraltar 2-0 and then drew 2-2 with Finland in their warm-up friendlies, though they head into Euro 2024 without some key players, with full-backs Aaron Hickey and Nathan Patterson, and striker Lyndon Dykes, out due to injury.

    Germany have won only one of their last five matches played in Munich (D3 L1), a 4-2 victory against Portugal at Euro 2020, so while the smart money is on the hosts, Scotland should not go into this one without confidence, with captain Andrew Robertson and midfield duo John McGinn and Scott McTominay offering a threat, too.

    Home hopes

    This is the fourth time that Germany are sole hosts of a major international tournament, reaching the final four in each of the previous three editions: champions at the 1974 World Cup, semi-finalists at Euro 1988 and third place at the 2006 World Cup.

    Germany are taking part in their 14th Euros, more than any other team. They have won the trophy three times, the joint-most alongside Spain.

    Nagelsmann has been happy to lean on inexperience for his squad selection, and in Wirtz and Musiala, he has two of the most exciting youngsters in world football at his disposal.

    Wirtz scored 11 goals and added 11 assists during Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten Bundesliga title-winning campaign to claim Player of the Season honours in Germany's top tier.

    Musiala, meanwhile, scored 10 goals from an xG of 7.9 in the league.

    Behind them, the returning Kroos brings plenty of experience, alongside Ilkay Gundogan, who created the second-most chances of any player in Europe's top five leagues in all competitions in 2023-24, with 132.

    Havertz is likely to lead the line with support from Fullkrug, but Thomas Muller is another weapon in Germany's arsenal. He has scored 10 goals in 19 appearances at the World Cup (36 shots), but he has never scored in 15 appearances at the European Championships (31 shots).

    Will it finally be Muller time? 

     

    At the other end of the pitch, though, Germany do have some issues. On paper, Jonathan Tah, Nico Schlotterbeck and Antonio Rudiger are a fine trio to choose from in the centre of defence, while Joshua Kimmich can play at right-back, but Nagelsmann needs to make sure the team's defending is better than it was against Greece. Perhaps Hummels' experience would have been useful?

    Germany have conceded at least one goal in each of their last 12 games at major international tournaments. The last time they kept a clean sheet was against Slovakia in the round of 16 at Euro 2016.

    Fourth time lucky?

    This is Clarke's second major international tournament as a manager, after Euro 2020. He is the first Scotland boss to lead the team into two consecutive Euros.

    Scotland have never reached the knockouts of the Euros in any of their three previous appearances at the tournament.

    They have won just two of their nine Euro matches, with those victories coming over CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) in 1992 and Switzerland in 1996. Scotland have failed to score in six of their nine games at the European Championships.

    While Germany are one of the toughest possible opponents to face first up, if Scotland could get something from this match, then they would be in a great position ahead of meetings with Hungary and Switzerland.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH

    Germany – Toni Kroos

    Kroos' presence in midfield will be a major boost to a team that averaged 59.3 per cent possession at Euro 2020 – second only to Spain (66.8 per cent).

    The 34-year-old came out of international retirement to feature for Germany in their home tournament, though of course, it will now mark the final competitive event of his career.

    Kroos – who won his sixth Champions League with Real Madrid this month – played more line-breaking passes (214) and passes leading to final-third entries (69) than any other player in UEFA's flagship club competition in 2023-24.

    Scotland – Scott McTominay

    A strong defence helped get them through qualifying, with a sprinkling of quality from McTominay, who was the top scorer in qualifying Group A with seven goals – one more than Manchester City superstar Haaland managed for Norway.

     

    McTominay's goal tally is the joint most by a Scottish player in a Euros/World Cup qualifying campaign, along with Steven Fletcher (Euro 2016) and McGinn (Euro 2020).

    And what is even more impressive, is that McTominay's goals came from just 1.77 xG, an overperformance of 5.23.

  • 'Stranger things have happened' says Sctotland's Morgan on potential Germany upset 'Stranger things have happened' says Sctotland's Morgan on potential Germany upset

    Lewis Morgan believes Scotland can surprise Germany ahead of their Euro 2024 opener against the hosts this Friday. 

    Steve Clarke's side travel to Munich in search of their first victory over their opponents since 1999, having failed to beat Die Mannschaft in their previous four encounters.

    The New York Red Bulls winger was a late arrival in Scotland's provisional squad after it was announced Ben Doak had to withdraw through injury, and made it into the travelling group of 26. 

    Morgan ended his six-year absence from the international stage with a substitute appearance in a 2-2 draw against Finland at Hampden Park last week to earn his third cap for his country, 2,193 days since his last. 

    The 27-year-old has scored nine goals in 16 MLS appearances so far this season in the Eastern Conference, and believes his side have every chance of starting their Group A campaign with a victory. 

    "Absolutely, stranger things have happened in football," Morgan said about the possibility of Scotland upsetting the host nation.

    "We've got a really, really talented squad here, a good group of players playing at the highest level in world football.

    "There's no reason why we can't go there and get something, but we can only do that if we give the best version of ourselves and stick to the game plan."

    Following Friday's fixture against Germany, the Scots will face Switzerland before concluding their group campaign in Stuttgart against Hungary, with the hopes of reaching the knockout stages of an international competition for the first time in their history. 

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