England head coach Sarina Wiegman believes her side have “moved on” from the heartbreak of missing out on Olympic qualification.

The Lionesses face Austria on Friday and Italy next Tuesday in a pair of friendlies which have replaced what they hoped would be Nations League semi-finals.

A 6-0 thrashing of Scotland looked to have secured top spot in Group A1 in December, only for the Netherlands to score twice in added time against Belgium to pip England on goal difference and end Team GB’s hopes of qualifying for Paris 2024.

“This is really the start of our Euros campaign and after the very disappointing result of not qualifying for the play-offs to qualify for the Olympics we moved on,” said Wiegman, whose side will bid to defend their European title in Switzerland next year.

“This is the start, with two friendlies which is really good for us because we can try out some things.

“We are also very close to the Under-23s [also training in Spain] so we can see them, we can connect with them and we get a lot of players that we can see where they are at this moment.

“This is a great start because in April the Nations League starts which are the qualifiers for the Euros.”

Euro 2022-winning captain Leah Williamson had been named in Wiegman’s squad for the first time since suffering an anterior cruciate ligament rupture, but the Arsenal defender withdrew with a hamstring injury on Sunday.

Asked if club coaches had requested a limit on player minutes amid a three-way Women’s Super League title race and a spate of high-profile injuries, Wiegman said: “Not this time.

“We are in contact with each other all the time, we update each other and of course we know how important the Women’s Super League is too but also the German League for Georgia [Stanway] and the Spanish league for the players who play in Spain at the moment.

“Of course, we want to take care of the players but we want to do lots of things. We play to win but we also have the opportunity now to try out things and also manage minutes. With a busy calendar I think that’s something to be aware of.

“The issue of injuries is a bigger picture and it’s about the load on the players. The calendar we talk about a lot, that we really have to address the calendar. I spoke up about that last week – we really ask FIFA and UEFA to change things.

“But we are doing a job as good as possible with all the expertise we have in our team and staff. We have a programme and we monitor the players really well.

“You’re in an environment where an injury can happen because it’s a physical sport, but if you can diminish the risk of injuries as much as possible, that’s also what we try to do.”

England boss Sarina Wiegman is happy to have Leah Williamson back in her squad.

Williamson has been named in a 23-player group for friendlies against Austria and Italy in Spain later this month.

It marks a first return to the Lionnesses’ camp for the 26-year-old since she suffered an ACL injury last April, which ruled her out of last summer’s World Cup.

Wiegman said: “It is really nice, especially for her, she is back, she is gaining minutes at Arsenal, doing well, she is happy at Arsenal and they are of course happy too.

“It is really nice to have her back because she is a very good player, even though she has been out for months, now she has come back her decision-making is still really good.

“She is still building. The team picked up very well, players stepped up but it is still really nice to have her back.”

Williamson captained her country to Euro 2022 success, but Wiegman did not say whether she will still have the armband.

“I have to talk to the players first about that,” she said.

“We come in and we have to start again, we will revisit that and have a conversation with the players first.”

There was no room in the squad for in-form Manchester United forward Nikita Parris, who has been overlooked despite scoring 15 goals in the last 16 matches for her club.

Wiegman spoke to the 29-year-old to explain her decision but says she has tough choices to make.

“The competition up front is really high, in the autumn she didn’t play much,” Wiegman said. “Since the new year she has played in the nine position and has done really well, of course we have noticed that too.

“We have had a little chat and I hope she shows consistency because we are talking about her again but I made some other choices now for this camp.

“With the players we have, they have done well so it was a hard decision.

“I had conversations with her in the autumn, that was a different situation. I had a short conversation with her yesterday and I explained a little bit and that is now just the way it is.

“We have many players up front, it is so competitive that I have to make choices and some players who are doing really well will be kept out. She is available and she knows we are watching her closely.”

The Lionesses take on Austria on February 23 and Italy four days later.

Fly-half Paolo Garbisi believes Italy are ready for the “most difficult match in world rugby” and expects facing Ireland to be twice as tough as taking on England.

The Azzurri meet the reigning Guinness Six Nations champions in Dublin on Sunday after beginning their campaign with a narrow 27-24 loss to Steve Borthwick’s side in Rome.

Ireland are overwhelming favourites for victory at a sold-out Aviva Stadium to keep themselves on course for back-to-back Grand Slam titles following a five-try demolition of France.

Montpellier man Garbisi, who acknowledges his country have been underdogs in almost every match since joining the championship in 2000, is braced for the ultimate test.

“Of course we were pretty proud of our performance (against England),” he told the PA news agency.

“We knew that that wasn’t perfect, otherwise probably we would have won that game, so a lot of points to improve on and to work on.

“But we know that this week is going to be probably twice harder. We know what’s coming and I think we’re ready.

“I think it’s the most difficult match in world rugby right now. We play one of the best sides at their place.

“It’s the first time they play at home in this Six Nations so it’s probably the most difficult thing to do in rugby this time.”

Italy have never won a Six Nations match on Irish soil, with their only championship success in the fixture a 22-15 Stadio Olimpico victory in 2013.

Pundits and bookmakers give the Azzurri, who endured a miserable World Cup campaign before Gonzalo Quesada replaced Kieran Crowley as head coach, little chance of changing that statistic this weekend.

“We try not to put that much attention on those things,” said Garbisi.

“I think it’s 20 years that people don’t give us chances so we don’t really care about that. We try to prepare as well as we can so we can perform as well as we can.

“We know that they’re very good in everything they do: attack, defence, kicking game. But I think what impressed me the most are the rucks, how they can reach the rucks to slow the ball down for the opposition – that’s something they’re really good at.

“If we can keep the pace of our breakdowns quick, we could manage to put them in trouble.”

Garbisi will be pitted against rival number 10 Jack Crowley this weekend after former Ireland captain Johnny Sexton retired following the World Cup.

The 23-year-old feels the departure of the influential Sexton has left a void but thinks 24-year-old Crowley has a “very, very bright future”.

“It’s quite a difference because the leadership that Sexton could provide to their team was amazing,” said Garbisi.

“I think it was a different team when he was playing and when he was not.

“Crowley is a very good number 10 and he’s quite young – I think he’s my age – so I think he has a very, very bright future to lead Ireland forward.”

Italy have lost back-row forwards Sebastian Negri and Lorenzo Cannone to injury but mercurial full-back Ange Capuozzo is back from illness.

“We hope he’s going to make a big difference for us,” Garbisi said of Capuozzo.

“But it’s not only on him, it’s on us as well to try to give him good balls to attack and to put him in good spaces where he can have one on ones against defenders so he can use his feet and his quickness.”

Ireland are hopeful centre Garry Ringrose will be available for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations match against Italy in Dublin.

Leinster co-captain Ringrose is “progressing nicely” in his recovery from the shoulder injury which caused him to miss his country’s 38-17 round-one win over France.

The 29-year-old was again absent from training on Wednesday but Ireland’s coaching staff expect to have a fully-fit squad in contention for the Azzurri’s visit to the Aviva Stadium.

“We are pretty confident that everyone will be fit to train fully tomorrow,” assistant coach Mike Catt told reporters, according to RTE.

“There are a few guys obviously with a few bumps and bruises from Friday night. There are a couple that are still rumbling around.

“Calvin (Nash), Hugo (Keenan), Ringer is coming through nicely. He obviously didn’t train today, but he is progressing nicely.

“We will see how they pull up over the next couple of days.”

With Ringrose sidelined, Robbie Henshaw partnered Bundee Aki in midfield for Friday evening’s impressive bonus-point triumph in Marseille.

The statement success over the pre-tournament favourites fuelled talk of Andy Farrell’s Ireland becoming the first team to win back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.

Attack coach Catt urged players to ignore the “external noise” and focus on immediate challenges.

“There’s no need to (get ahead of ourselves), is there,” he said.

“Andy has always spoken about the next performance, that’s been the key thing.

“From the players’ point of view, too, the Grand Slam will take care of itself if we perform to a level we are capable of performing.

“It’s making sure we put our focus on that and don’t worry about the external noise.”

Head coach Farrell is contemplating changes for the clash with Gonzalo Quesada’s side.

Italy have only once beaten Ireland in the Six Nations – 22-15 in Rome in 2013 – but pushed England close in a 27-24 defeat on the opening weekend.

“What I liked about the Italy performance (against England) was, they didn’t have a great World Cup,” said Catt, who was part of the Azzurri’s coaching staff between 2016 and 2019.

“I think they put their hands up to that as a group of players.

“And for them to turn around and put in a performance like that against a good England side was very impressive.

“They are obviously trying to impress the new coach as well and I just thought the way they played, they didn’t go away from their DNA in terms of (how) they’ve played over the last couple of years.

“I think with Quesada, they’ll tighten things up a little bit but when they get going, they caused some serious problems by scoring some very, very good tries.”

Ireland are hopeful centre Garry Ringrose will be available for Sunday’s Guinness Six Nations match against Italy in Dublin.

Leinster co-captain Ringrose is “progressing nicely” in his recovery from the shoulder injury which caused him to miss his country’s 38-17 round-one win over France.

The 29-year-old was again absent from training on Wednesday but Ireland’s coaching staff expect to have a fully-fit squad in contention for the Azzurri’s visit to the Aviva Stadium.

“We are pretty confident that everyone will be fit to train fully tomorrow,” assistant coach Mike Catt told reporters, according to RTE.

“Ringer (Ringrose) is coming through nicely, he didn’t train today, but progressing nicely.

“(There are) a few guys with bumps and bruises, a couple that are still rumbling around.”

England have revealed Marcus Smith could miss the entire Guinness Six Nations because of the calf injury that has ruled him of at least Saturday’s opener against Italy and Wales a week later.

A clearer picture over Smith’s fitness will emerge next week, but in the meantime veteran George Ford has been installed at fly-half for the Stadio Olimpico showdown with Fin Smith deputising from the bench.

Fin Smith is one of five uncapped players in the matchday 23 and should all of them get time on the field, it will be the highest number of new caps awarded in a single match since Stuart Lancaster’s first game in charge in 2012.

Centre Fraser Dingwall and flanker Ethan Roots are included in the starting XV while Smith, back row Chandler Cunningham-South and wing Immanuel Feyi-Waboso feature on the bench.

In a boost to England, Alex Mitchell has recovered from a leg wound to take his place at scrum-half, but the player who was expected to partner him at half-back faces an anxious wait to see if he will be involved at all over the coming weeks.

“Marcus will go back to England today (Thursday) and have further investigations later this week. He won’t be available next week,” Borthwick said.

“We’re not sure exactly when. Hopefully he will play in the latter part of the Six Nations, but it will be a number of weeks. We’ll know more next week.”

Mitchell’s immediate prospects of building on becoming first-choice scrum-half at the World Cup were thrown into doubt when he felt unwell as a result of the infected wound he took into England’s camp in Girona, preventing him from training fully until Thursday morning.

“Our medical team took great care of him over the weekend and at start of the week to get the infection under control and he looks brilliant,” Borthwick said.

“He played a lot of minutes for us during the World Cup and has played a lot of time for his club, so he is match sharp and ready to go. He looked fantastic in training today (Thursday).”

Experienced faces such as Ford, Joe Marler and Maro Itoje are present throughout the 23, but the rare inclusion of five debutants indicated the post-2023 World Cup rebuilding phase is under way, even if some of the picks were forced on Borthwick.

Dingwall starts at inside centre having been included in nine previous England squads without winning a cap, giving him the opportunity to prove he is the solution to the team’s problem position.

Although lacking the raw power of the injured Manu Tuilagi and Ollie Lawrence, the 24-year-old is a classy runner who is comfortable at 12 or 13.

Roots, a former jiu-jitsu champion who qualifies for England through his father, represented the Maori All Blacks but having left New Zealand in 2021 he has proved a hit at the Ospreys and now Exeter.

If Finn Smith, Cunningham-South and Immanuel Feyi-Waboso join them on the field, it will be an injection of fresh faces not seen for 12 years.

“Each one of those guys has earned his place in the matchday 23. Each one of them is an exciting young player,” Borthwick said.

“I didn’t think I’d be naming a 23 with five debutants. I’ve asked when the last time was England named a 23 with five new caps in it!”

England will play matches against Austria and Italy during a training camp in Spain next month, the Football Association has announced.

Both games will take place at the Estadio Nuevo Mirador in Algeciras, with the Lionesses facing Austria on February 23 before taking on Italy four days later.

Sarina Wiegman’s side were last in action in December when they saw their bid to reach the Nations League semi-finals – and secure a Paris Olympics place for Great Britain – end despite winning 6-0 against Scotland at Hampden Park.

The February double-header of friendlies comes ahead of the Euro 2025 qualifying draw taking place on March 5, and that campaign getting under way in April.

Wiegman, who earlier this month signed a contract extension running to the 2027 World Cup, said in a statement from the FA: “This will be our kick-off to get ready for the Euro qualifying campaign beginning in April, so there’s no time to waste in February.

“Heading to Spain with hopefully warmer weather and great facilities will allow us to maximise every minute together. Playing two games against good opposition in Austria and Italy, should be excellent preparation for another big year ahead.

“They are two good and different opponents who will want to start the year strong too, so it will be important to come together again as a team and use these games to prepare for the qualification matches starting in April.”

Reigning European champions and World Cup runners-up England will be joined in Marbella by Emma Coates’ Under-23s, who are set to play matches against Spain and the Netherlands.

Former Napoli midfielder Antonio Juliano has died at the age of 80, the Serie A side have announced.

Juliano made more than 500 appearances in all competitions for the Partenopei from 1962 to 1978, helping the club win the Coppa delle Alpi, the Coppa Italia and the Anglo-Italian League Cup.

He retired in 1979 after a season with Bologna and returned to Napoli as sporting director, a role in which he played a key part in the signing of Diego Maradona in 1984.

Former Napoli owner Corrado Ferlaino recalled how the deal was secured in an interview with CBS Sports last year.

“Before my arrival I had sent two of my men to Barcelona to talk with Maradona, his agent and the club,” Ferlaino said.

“Antonio Juliano, a former Napoli player who at the time was a member of our board and with him I sent a businessman as well, Dino Celentano, a friend of mine and a person I could trust for the negotiations.

“The two of them had the task to find an agreement with both Barcelona and the player. We arrived late in the evening and the final signature on the contracts arrived around midnight.”

During his playing career Juliano won 18 caps for Italy and was part of the winning side in the European Championship in 1968, but made just one World Cup appearance as a substitute in the 1970 final defeat to Brazil.

“Today is one of the saddest days in Napoli’s history and for our supporters,” a statement on Napoli’s official account on X – formerly known as Twitter – read.

“Antonio Juliano, who was Mr Napoli for two decades, has passed away. If you are not familiar with him, it is worth finding out more about him and what he represented in our city. Rest in peace, Totonno.”

Lionel Messi's arrival at Inter Miami has brought more attention to MLS, with Giorgio Chiellini hailing the impact of the World Cup winner and likening his move to when David Beckham arrived.

Former Manchester United, Real Madrid and England star Beckham left the Spanish capital for LA Galaxy in 2007 as the dazzling midfielder's move captured the imaginations of many in the United States.

Beckham has since retired and created his own MLS franchise in the USA, bringing the likes of Messi, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba to his newly established Miami side.

Juventus great Chiellini also joined MLS, signing for Los Angeles FC, winning the MLS Cup Final last year before defeat in this season's edition on Saturday to Columbus Crew.

And he vouched for the impact of Messi's move to Miami.

"I think that when Messi joined it was comparable to when Beckham joined," Chiellini told Stats Perform.

"And it's something that the league, but also the players, are very happy about because there is a lot of possibility for the future.

"What Messi did was huge for everyone and now there is much more consideration for the league, much more attention and it helps everyone."

Former Italy centre-back Chiellini announced his retirement on Monday, with reports suggesting the 39-year-old will move back to Juventus to take up a boardroom role.

The European Championship-winning defender will at least be thankful he does not have to face Beckham's Miami again next season.

A Messi-inspired Miami powered to a Leagues Cup triumph, with the Argentina captain scoring 10 goals.

"I don't know how every team could face and beat Miami next year," Chiellini added on Miami, who are reportedly close to signing former Barcelona and Liverpool forward Luis Suarez.

"Fortunately this year I met with Messi when they were at the bottom of the table and then he had one month out.

"They were still a really good team, it was one of the best nights and atmospheres. That's very good for the league, very good for the future of the league."

Former Italy and Juventus defender Giorgio Chiellini has announced his retirement.

The 39-year-old has called time on his career following the end of the MLS season, where his side Los Angeles FC lost the MLS Cup to Columbus Crew at the weekend.

Chiellini, who won Euro 2020 with Italy, says it is time to “start new chapters” in his life.

“You have been the most beautiful and intense journey of my life,” he wrote on social media.

“You have been my everything. With you I have travelled a unique and unforgettable path. But now it is time to start new chapters, face new challenges and write further important and exciting pages of life.”

The centre-half made over 700 career appearances after making his debut for Livorno in 2000.

He spent the mainstay of his career at Juventus, winning nine Serie A titles, before heading to LA to see out his career in America.

Juventus said in a statement on their official website: “You were always by our side, like a superhero ready to intervene if necessary. In your case, however, there was no shield, red cloak or bat-mobile: a blow to the head was enough – you took a lot of them – and off you went, all bandaged up.

“Once you wore that, there was no escape for our opponents: it was Kryptonite for any Superman who tried to challenge us, from the “Romeo Neri” of Rimini to the “Santiago Bernabeu” of Madrid.

“Even in the MLS, where you’ve brought to an end your stellar 23-season career, they had a little taste of what you could still do, at 39 years of age. On the slopes of Hollywood Hill they know how to tell the deeds of heroes from other times, of apparently normal men who later turn out to be extraordinary.

“Should they ask us which is our favourite, we have no doubt: with Giorgio from Livorno by our side, complete with that iconic bandage around his head, no one ever scared us. Wishing you all the best, captain!”

Italy great Giorgio Chiellini believes the Azzurri have a bright future ahead of them and says critics have been overly pessimistic regarding their chances at Euro 2024.

Chiellini captained Italy as they overcame England in the final of Euro 2020, but the Azzurri have not been widely tipped to retain their crown after enduring a difficult few years.

Having missed out on the last two World Cups, Italy somewhat scraped their way through qualifying for next year's tournament in Germany, losing home and away to England and requiring a nervy 0-0 draw with Ukraine on the final matchday to avoid the playoffs.

Ahead of Luciano Spalletti's first major tournament in charge, Italy have been drawn to face Spain, Croatia and Albania in a difficult-looking group, but Chiellini believes reports of the Azzurri's demise have been greatly exaggerated.

"I know the Italian draw very well. Croatia and Spain are good teams with experience, with good players," the defender told Stats Perform.

"Albania is our biggest friend that we face. We are very happy that they joined the Euros. I have a lot of Albanian friends and they deserve it. We have to respect that. 

"Obviously, we will try to pass through the group, arrive in the quarter-finals and then we'll see. We have seen also in the last [Euros], we were lucky. 

"I guess also in the round of 16 [against Austria], and we were lucky to win on penalties in the last two games, but at the end we deserved to win. 

"There is a good cycle, a new cycle, with good young players. I think that could be a good spine for the national team. 

"I don't know if they need maybe more time to be in the right moment and in their prime to win, but there is a bright future for the Italian national team."  

Asked who excited him most in the current Italy setup, Chiellini said: "I think [Gianluigi] Donnarumma is by far the best young goalkeeper that we could have and he's really special.

"[Alessandro] Bastoni is a fantastic defender and we have a lot of amazing midfielders. [Marco] Verratti is just 31, he's not 40 like me! We have a good midfield.

"[Federico] Chiesa is someone that could break every line in every moment of the game. Italy have a good team. 

"Now I hope that there are new faces arriving because we have a good academy for the national team, with players coming through. 

"We have a good coach, everything is good. Sometimes in Italy, we are too pessimistic with the team and we talk badly, but I think that we have a bright future and a really good team."

Giorgio Chiellini has discovered a new love for football with Los Angeles FC as the Italian centre-back aims to guide his side to a second straight MLS Cup triumph.

The Columbus Crew will prove the final obstacle on Saturday in LAFC's quest to go back-to-back with MLS Cup successes, having defeated the Philadelphia Union on penalties in last season's final.

Chiellini has lifted nine Serie A titles and helped Italy win Euro 2020, but the hunger remains for the 39-year-old to add another success in the United States to his trophy-filled cabinet.

"I'm enjoying every day I spend here – training and everything," the former Juventus defender, who joined LAFC in 2022, told Stats Perform.

"It's my life. I love what I do. I've watched more MLS games this year and a half than most of my team-mates in their career and I love that.

"But it's not something I do for me. It's something normal. It's my way of life, this job, I live this life. I'm enjoying it a lot and there's no heavy situation for me about this stuff, I just enjoy it and it's very fun."

Chiellini created the opening goal as Los Angeles booked their place in the MLS Cup Final with a 2-0 win over Houston Dynamo, with his flick-on from a corner-kick finding Ryan Hollingshead.

Their final challenge comes against the Crew in what will be the 53rd game of the season for Steve Cherundolo's LAFC, who were knocked out of the Leagues Cup in the quarter-final and suffered CONCACAF Champions League final heartbreak against Mexico's Club Leon.

Columbus' Lower.com Field hosts the MLS Cup showpiece, offering Wilfried Nancy's men an edge of home advantage, but Chiellini fancies Los Angeles' chances after two hard-fought campaigns.

"We are so happy because last year was a different journey," the veteran centre-back continued. "We were top of the league all season, playoffs for just three games before the World Cup. That was easier.

"We skipped the first round. We played all the games at home and it was very different. This year we pushed harder until June because of the CONCACAF Champions League where we lost the final.

"We spent a lot of energy on that, we had some injuries, some periods where we were not so focused.

"But we arrived in good condition for the playoff in the third game [against Houston]. We fought till the end for the second [goal] that I think we deserved for what we showed during the season.

"We won in Vancouver, we won in Seattle, and now to lift the cup, we have to win in Columbus, and we know how hard it will be, but we are very happy to be here.

"We respect that team a lot and the way they play, that style of play, the players, but for sure we want to go there and try to go as far as possible to win."

With Saturday's Euro 2024 group-stage draw done and dusted, Europe's elite know what awaits them in Germany next year and all eyes will turn to the opening game in Munich on June 14.

Steve Clarke's Scotland will be Germany's first opponents as they kickstart their bid to become the first sole host nation to win the tournament since France in 1984.

Elsewhere, England can be content with a somewhat kind draw as Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and company look to bring football home, while Group B looks set to earn the title of 'group of death', with defending champions Italy pitted against Spain and Croatia.

As fans across the continent begin plotting their nations' routes to the final, to be held in Berlin on July 14, Stats Perform runs through the best facts and figures from each of the six groups. 

Group A: Germany, Hungary, Scotland, Switzerland

Germany have endured a troubled build-up to their home tournament, with Julian Nagelsmann parachuted in after the dismissal of Hansi Flick in September. The last Germany boss to win a major tournament at his first attempt was Jupp Derwall, who led the team (then West Germany) to Euro 1980 glory.

They will face a familiar foe in the form of Switzerland, who they will meet for the 54th time in senior internationals – no other team has faced Germany as often, but the teams have never met at the Euros before.

Germany's matchday one opponents will be Scotland, who will be making their fourth appearance at the Euros after also qualifying in 1992, 1996 and 2020. They have never reached the knockout stages. 

However, they may fancy their chances of edging out Switzerland and Hungary in what could be a battle for second place this time around. Hungary took bronze when they first appeared at the Euros in 1964, but they have only won one of their nine games at the tournament since then (four draws, four defeats), beating Austria in the 2016 group stage.

Group B: Spain, Albania, Croatia, Italy)

All eyes will be on Group B ahead of the tournament, with three-time winners Spain drawn alongside defending champions Italy – who they beat in the 2012 final – and 2022 World Cup bronze medallists Croatia. 

Excluding penalty shoot-outs, La Roja have only lost two of their last 22 matches at the Euros, winning 13 and drawing seven. The last two teams to beat them? Croatia and Italy in 2016.

Spain are the only nation to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, doing so in 2008 and 2012. Luciano Spalletti's Italy are looking to replicate that feat, having inched past Ukraine to claim second place in their qualification group.

The Azzurri have now qualified for eight successive editions of the tournament, though this is the first time they have reached a major competition while losing two or more games in their qualifying group, having been beaten home and away by England.

While Spain and Italy will feel unfortunate to have landed in such a difficult group, the omens are good for teams that face Croatia when it matters. They have lost to the eventual winners at four of their last six major tournaments, being beaten by Spain at Euro 2012, Portugal at Euro 2016, France at the 2018 World Cup, and Argentina in Qatar last year.

GROUP C: England, Denmark, Slovenia, Serbia

Gareth Southgate may be relieved to have avoided some of the heavy hitters with England landing in Group C, where they will start against Serbia on June 16 before taking on Denmark and Slovenia.

England's rematch with Denmark – who they beat in the Euro 2020 semi-finals – could be decisive in the battle for top spot. The Three Lions are unbeaten in all three of their meetings with Denmark at Euros/World Cups (two wins, one draw), with Switzerland the only team they have faced as often at tournaments without ever losing.

With Kane thriving at Bayern Munich and Bellingham a former star at Borussia Dortmund, two of the Three Lions' star players are no strangers to German turf.

 

They also have an excellent record against Slovenia, winning five and drawing one of the teams' six all-time meetings. The only one of those games to take place at a major tournament came at the 2010 World Cup, when Jermain Defoe hit the winner in a 1-0 victory for Fabio Capello's team.

Serbia, meanwhile, will be featuring at the Euros for the first time as an independent nation. They competed as Yugoslavia or FR Yugoslavia in five editions, finishing as runners-up in 1960 and 1968.

Group D: France, Austria, Netherlands, play-off winner A

With Kylian Mbappe spearheading their star-studded team, France head to the Euros among the favourites. Boss Didier Deschamps captained his country to glory at Euro 2000, and he could become the first person to win the competition as both a player and a head coach.

Les Bleus, however, face a tough set of opponents in Group D, none more so than the Netherlands.

France have faced the Oranje more often at the Euros without ever winning than they have any other side, losing their last two such matches against them at the 2000 and 2008 tournaments.

Ronald Koeman might be pleased to see his team drawn alongside Austria, with the Netherlands winning their last seven matches against them, averaging 2.9 goals per game throughout that run (20 in total).

The final team in Group D will be decided via the play-offs in March, with Wales, Finland, Poland and Estonia vying for a ticket to Germany. France have met any of those nations at the Euros.

Group E: Belgium, Romania, Slovakia, play-off winner B

Belgium headline Group E, with Domenico Tedesco at the wheel as the last members of the Red Devils' so-called golden generation look to finally deliver on their promise.

Since losing to West Germany in the final of Euro 1980, Belgium have never reached the semi-finals of the tournament, being knocked out in the last eight at each of the last two editions – versus Wales in 2016 and Italy at Euro 2020.

They will be content with a kind-looking draw, with Romania the team drawn into Group E from pot two. Their win ratio of just six per cent at the Euros is the worst of any nation to qualify for more than one edition, winning just once in 16 games at the tournament. 

Slovakia, meanwhile, have only won two of their seven games at Euro tournaments (one draw, four defeats), also failing to score in four of their last five games.

Ukraine, Israel, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland will battle for the final spot in this group in March.

GROUP F: Portugal, Turkiye, Czech Republic, play-off winner C

Group F contains 2016 winners Portugal, the only team to reach the knockout stages of the last seven editions of the Euros, a run that stretches back to the 1996 tournament. In fact, they have always progressed from the group stages in their eight previous appearances at the Euros.

Cristiano Ronaldo seems set to be sticking around for this tournament. He will be 39 by the time it rolls around. The Al Nassr attacker holds the records for most games (25) and most goals (14) at the Euros, has also managed a joint-record six assists (since records began in 1972).

Ronaldo's 20 total goal involvements at the Euros are twice as many as any other player since assist records began, with Michel Platini second on 10 (nine goals, one assist).

Roberto Martinez's team open their campaign against the Czech Republic, who are featuring at an eighth successive edition of the Euros (including appearances as Czechoslovakia). Only Germany (14) and France (nine) are currently on longer runs of consecutive appearances.

One of Georgia, Greece, Kazakhstan and Luxembourg will join Turkiye in rounding out the group. They are looking to improve on their dismal showing at Euro 2020, and have qualified for three successive editions of the Euros for the first time. However, they have lost six of their last seven matches at the tournament (one win).

Spain boss Luis de la Fuente believes La Roja have received the toughest draw for the group stage of Euro 2024, having been handed games against Italy, Croatia and Albania.

As one of five teams with the best records across the qualification groups, Spain joined hosts Germany, as well as England, France, Portugal and Belgium in pot one for Saturday's draw in Hamburg.

That did not stop them being handed a tough set of opponents, however, with reigning champions Italy and 2022 World Cup bronze medallists Croatia joining La Roja and Albania in Group B.

Spain are the only team to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, triumphing in 2008 and 2012, and excluding penalty shoot-outs, they have only lost two of their last 22 matches at the Euros, winning 13 and drawing seven.

The only two teams to beat La Roja at the tournament during that time are Croatia and Italy, both of whom did so in 2016.

While De la Fuente says there is no such thing as a straightforward group, he believes Spain will face a particularly difficult challenge in Germany.

"The level is very high. All the groups are tough, complex, but ours may be the highest level," the Spain boss told reporters at Saturday's draw ceremony.

"There are other complicated ones, like France and the Netherlands [in Group D], but I think ours is the most complex. 

"We are playing in a European Championship, and we all know that the difficulty is at the maximum, including for teams playing against Spain.

"But that will make us concentrate from the first moment. We know perfectly how to play Italy and Croatia, and Albania are a very dangerous team. 

"Italy was not in the favourites' pot, but it was guaranteed that no one wanted them. Their potential is better than the moment they are going through." 

Gianluigi Buffon believes Italy should be confident of going far at Euro 2024, despite being drawn into a difficult-looking group.

Reigning European champions Italy were placed into Group B during Saturday's draw in Hamburg.

That means Luciano Spalletti's team, who rather scraped through in qualifying, will go up against heavyweights Spain, 2022 World Cup semi-finalists Croatia and Albania.

While acknowledging the draw might have been kinder, former Italy stalwart Buffon – the most-capped player in his nation's history – was bullish about the Azzurri's chances.

"It was wonderful putting that trophy back in the circle, as we feel pride and responsibility going into this competition as reigning champions," Buffon told RAI Sport, as reported by Football Italia.

"Seeing as we were in pot four, a tough draw was always going to be probable.

"This group is a bit like the one we had at Euro 2012 with Spain, Croatia and the Republic of Ireland. We went through second and reached the final.

"In the format this time, the four best third-placed sides qualify too, so that increases our chances. We are concerned, but the other teams won’t be jumping for joy at drawing Italy either.

"There will be time until June for this team to improve. In terms of individuals, there are three or four teams in the competition who have stronger squads, but when we are working as a single unit, with one mind, I don't know how many teams are really stronger than us."

Italy will open their campaign against Albania on June 15 in Dortmund, before facing Spain five days later and Croatia on June 24.

Coach Spalletti echoed Buffon's sentiments, albeit perhaps not with quite as much confidence.

"It could've gone better, but then we were in pot four. And never forget that we are Italy," he told RAI Sport.

"Anyone who loves this sport must enjoy the challenge, otherwise you lose all the pleasure of it.

"Within a match there are going to be various moments where the squad has to defend, even with 10 men around the edge of the box if necessary, but the intention is always to play attractive and attacking football."

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