Wane to remain England coach despite World Cup semi-final exit

By Sports Desk February 28, 2023

Shaun Wane has signed a new contract with England to remain as head coach until the end of the 2025 Rugby League World Cup.

There was disappointment for England at last year's World Cup on home soil as they lost to Samoa in golden-point extra time to exit the tournament in the semi-finals.

Australia went on to defeat Samoa in the final, with the competition – officially the 2021 edition – having been held one year later than planned due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.

But following a thorough review, which included the Rugby Football League (RFL) consulting with senior players, former Wigan Warriors boss Wane will retain his job, with France set to host the next World Cup in 2025.

"The RFL Board received and considered at length a detailed review of the performance of each of the England teams at RLWC2021," RFL chair Simon Johnson said.

"No stone was left unturned in the review, which included submissions from coaches, players and staff alike.

"The report generated a good, robust and lengthy discussion at our February board meeting. We are confident that we have the right people in place."

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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.   

  • Southgate: England not pinning Euro 2024 hopes on Bellingham Southgate: England not pinning Euro 2024 hopes on Bellingham

    England will not be overly reliant on Jude Bellingham at Euro 2024, so says Gareth Southgate.

    Bellingham has shined for Real Madrid this season, helping Los Blancos win LaLiga and the Champions League, scoring 23 goals in the process.

    He has also become an increasingly important figure for the Three Lions, who are among the favourites at Euro 2024.

    Bellingham was given a break in the wake of the Champions League final, and so sat out England's friendlies against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iceland, with the Three Lions failing to impress in a 1-0 loss in the latter match.

    When the topic of Bellingham was raised following that defeat at Wembley, Southgate said: "We are not putting everything on Jude.

    "We've got a lot of good players and it is a collective thing to go and try to win this tournament.

    "If we are relying on one person that isn’t going to be a team that wins.

    "I'm sure he will give the squad a lift but it is not his responsibility to do that. It is for all of us to get the focus right, to make sure individually our mentality is right."

    England face Serbia in their opening match of Euro 2024 on June 16, before they take on Denmark and Slovenia.

  • Nevin backs England and France for Euro 2024 glory Nevin backs England and France for Euro 2024 glory

    England and France must be considered as the favourites to win Euro 2024, so says Pat Nevin.

    Both Les Bleus and the Three Lions topped their respective groups, scoring 51 goals between them and going unbeaten in the process. 

    Gareth Southgate's side kick-off their tournament campaign at the Arena AufSchalke against Serbia on June 16, while Kylian Mbappe will lead the French out for the first time at a major tournament against Austria the following evening. 

    The two sides last faced off at the Qatar World Cup in 2022, with Didier Deschamps masterminding a quarter-final triumph to extend their winning record at major tournaments over England to three matches. 

    Speaking ahead of the tournament, Nevin, who represented Scotland for a decade between 1986 and 1996, believes that both teams are favourites to lift the trophy on July 14, but pinpointed one major factor that could decide either sides' fate. 

    "I think there are two favourites. I think they're joint, just about, but it's England and it is France," Nevin told Stats Perform. 

    "The French are pretty spectacular. Their second XI would go far in this tournament, they're that good. They've got that much quality, and they've been there and done that before.

    "England, middle to front, are off the scale. And all the types of players that England could never develop before, the creatives. They're there, they've finally arrived.

    "Foden and Cole Palmer are there, and you've got [Jude] Bellingham as well. Harry Kane is probably the most complete centre-forward in world football. I always say to people, see if you put Kane for the last 10 years at Manchester City as centre-forward, he'd probably outscore [Erling] Haaland.

    "So, with that up front, if I could only say one thing, I think to win championships, you've got to be brave. That is what you need to be. When you watch the Man City's, etc of the world, it's about attacking, it's about positive play. If England does that, I'll put them as favourites. I don't think they will, so it's France."

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