Euro 2024 updates: Switzerland haunt woeful Italy again

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

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


The lead: Switzerland’s hunger and energy exposes Italy

BERLIN — Once again, the neighbours to the north haunt Italian nights. Italy‘s two draws against Switzerland — two games in which they dominated but missed penalties — cost them an automatic place at the 2022 World Cup. And now, this: the reigning European champions fell 2-0 in the round of 16 at Euro 2024.

The difference? This time Italy were roundly and comprehensively beaten by a Swiss side that might be less technically gifted (if so, not by much) but are more athletic, more intelligent and — dare we say it — better coached.

That’s a credit to Swiss boss Murat Yakin, though it wasn’t that long ago — October 2023, following a 3-3 draw against Belarus that saw his side needing goals in the final two minutes to avoid an embarrassing home defeat — that some were calling for his sacking. On that occasion, Yakin didn’t help himself after the match. He was asked about how his backline looked unprepared and said: “We don’t need to prepare against such teams [as Belarus].”

Switzerland certainly looked prepared against Italy … or maybe it was just because the Azzurri were THAT bad.

They punished Luciano Spalletti’s decision to drop Jorginho for Nicolo Fagioli in the playmaking role by shutting down his passing lanes; they blunted Italy’s press by having Ricardo Rodríguez join Remo Freuler and Granit Xhaka in the build-up; and the constant, pacy threat of Dan Ndoye and Ruben Vargas pinned the opposition full-backs deeper than they should have been.

You can, of course, chalk up both goals to defensive errors. Freuler wasn’t tracked quickly enough when he cut into the box to score the opener. And the entire backline suffered a defensive brain fart inside 27 seconds of the second half when giving Vargas all the time in the world to bend it around goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma for the second. But that would be exonerating the rest of the Italy side from responsibility for the way they were second best in every other area of the pitch.

The signature moment of the game? Not the goals, but one moment, late in the first half, with Switzerland a goal up and Italy pushing for an equalizer, when Xhaka went on a rampaging forward run, pressing one opponent, then another, until he got all the way to Donnarumma. The ball went out of play and Xhaka pumped his arms as the red half of the stadium roared.

When your 31-year-old captain, playing in his 64th game of the season for club and country, does something like that — with hunger, energy and intelligence — it sets the tone. And it underscored just what Switzerland had in droves and Italy lacked entirely. — Gab Marcotti


Sights and sounds around Euro 2024

VAR takes Andersen from hero to zero

DORTMUND, Germany — Poor Joachim Andersen. The Denmark defender went from hero to zero in the 2-0 round-of-16 defeat against Germany on Saturday in the space of two minutes and all because of VAR.

Germany ultimately coasted into the quarterfinals thanks to a Kai Havertz penalty and stunning Jamal Musiala goal, but it could all have been so different had Andersen not been the victim of an incredible, heartbreaking twist of fate in the Westfalenstadion.

The Crystal Palace defender thought he had scored his first international goal when he capitalised on a goalmouth scramble to put the ball past Germany goalkeeper Manuel Neuer in the 48th minute. Andersen celebrated as you would expect — he had just put his country into the lead against the Euro 2024 host nation and Denmark were ready to fight tooth and nail to hold onto their advantage — but those celebrations were cut short by referee Michael Oliver signalling that the VAR officials (Premier League referees Stuart Attwell and David Coote) were reviewing the goal due to a possible offside.

After an agonising wait, Andersen’s goal was ruled out. The semiautomated VAR footage showed Thomas Delaney to be perhaps a millimetre offside in the build-up. It was so close, and although the decision was correct, it was the kind of offside that would never have been given before VAR because the margin was so tight that it could not be spotted by the naked eye and the advantage so minimal that it wouldn’t have warranted being disallowed.

Yet those are the rules, and Andersen had his dream moment erased from the record books. It got worse for the 28-year-old less than two minutes later.

A cross into the penalty area by Germany defender David Raum brushed the fingernails of Andersen as he turned away. The ball did not deviate and nobody inside the ground shouted for a penalty.

Once again, though, VAR intervened. “Snicko,” the new tool at the VAR’s disposal that can record the slightest of touches, flagged up a possible infringement, forcing referee Oliver to watch it back.

If Oliver had been bold enough, he would have shaken his head and ruled out a penalty. Andersen’s arm was not in an unnatural position, but he was penalised nonetheless and the spot kick was awarded.

Havertz scored the penalty to put Germany ahead and they never looked back, but you can bet that Andersen will spend the rest of his career looking back and cursing VAR. — Mark Ogden

Austria birthday cake

Austria coach Ralf Rangnick was given a “pie and a beautiful song” by his squad to celebrate his 66th birthday on Saturday.

The former Manchester United interim manager has restored his reputation as one of the game’s foremost tactical thinkers by guiding Austria into the Euro 2024 knockout stages, topping a group that included France and Netherlands.

And Rangnick has also been credited with forging a tight bond within his squad, turning the Austrians into a formidable outfit at the tournament. The German’s popularity among his players was shown by winger Andreas Weimann promising to mark his birthday with a song.

As for the pie, Austria is famous for its pastries and cakes, so deciding whether to go for a strudel or a Sachertorte may have led to the first major disagreement among the players since arriving in Germany. — Mark Ogden

More than 40,000 march to Germany-Denmark

More than 40,000 Germany supporters performed a 3 kilometre fan march to Borussia Dortmund‘s Westfalenstadion ahead of Saturday’s round-of-16 clash against Denmark.

The march, led by the Germany Fan Club Bus, began in the city centre at 2 p.m. local time before arriving at the stadium three hours later, having swollen to its eventual size of around 40,000 supporters.

Fan marching to games is a tradition in German football, known as the FanMarsch, and although the march in Dortmund was a pre-planned event, supporters were encouraged to join in spontaneously with organisers handing out flags and drinks along the route. — Mark Ogden

Germany’s mosquito problem

On top of everything that his Germany team is going through as host of Euro 2024, coach Julian Nagelsmann could have really done without bug bites. But Germany’s training base in Herzogenaurach, near Nuremberg in the south of the country, has become infested by mosquitoes to the point that the players don’t want to leave their bedrooms.

The mosquitos arrived suddenly a few days ago — the camp is situated by a forest with a pond, while the humid weather hasn’t helped either — and don’t want to leave.

Some players have been bitten quite badly by the swimming pool where a big screen has been installed for them to watch the matches. The hotel has sprayed a cocoa-based repellent to try and help, but it has created a disgusting smell and doesn’t seem to have worked either.

“We are facing an unusual epidemic,” said Nagelsmann in his news conference Friday, ahead of the match against Denmark. “We need more wind so the mosquitoes go, otherwise we can’t stay outdoors.” — Julien Laurens


Stat of the day

Remo Freuler‘s opening goal for Switzerland came after a 31-pass sequence, the longest that ended in a goal at the European Championship since 1980.

Meanwhile, Ruben Vargas‘ second goal (45:27) for Switzerland is the second-fastest goal scored to start the second half of a European Championship match after Romania’s Marcel Coras vs. Germany (45:21) in 1984 — ESPN Stats & Information


Match previews for Sunday

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Should England drop Bellingham from the starting line-up?

Mark Ogden believes Gareth Southgate may have to sacrifice Jude Bellingham in his starting 11 in order to help England gel.

England vs. Slovakia (Gelsenkirchen; 6 p.m. local / midday ET)

Odds (via ESPN BET): England -230, Draw +333, Slovakia +700

England will want to take advantage of the so-called easier side of the bracket — France, Germany, Portugal and Spain all watch on from the other half — and their task begins in Gelsenkirchen against Slovakia. Gareth Southgate’s side will have positive recent memories of the Arena AufSchalke given that is where England won their only game so far at this tournament: a 1-0 victory over Serbia on matchday one. They might have ended up topping Group C, but England’s underwhelming level of performance in all three matches has attracted criticism for failing to match both pre-tournament expectations and the sheer quality of their individual attacking players. In that context, a game against the second-lowest-ranked team left in the competition only applies further pressure on this talented group to deliver.

Southgate knows that with his contract up at the end of the year, each knockout game could be his last in the job, and talks are set to take place over his future later this summer. The decision up until now has almost entirely been his alone to make, but fail to beat Slovakia and the judgements will be harsher than anything the 53-year-old has experienced so far. Kobbie Mainoo could come into the midfield, while Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer are pushing for inclusion after lively cameos.

Slovenia have never reached a major tournament quarterfinal since the country became independent in 1993. — James Olley

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Georgia coach hopes to learn from previous Spain defeats

Georgia coach Will Sagnol says he learned a lot from his side’s past heavy defeats at the hands of Euro opponents Spain.

Spain vs. Georgia (Cologne; 9 p.m. local / 3 p.m. ET)

Odds: Spain -500, Draw +550, Georgia +1000

Based on FIFA’s rankings, there is no bigger mismatch in the round of 16 than Spain vs. Georgia. The eighth-best team in the world takes on the 74th, and everything points toward a Spain win.

Luis de la Fuente’s side breezed through its group, beating Italy, Croatia and Albania without conceding a goal. Spain also know Georgia well, having beaten them 7-1 in qualifying for Euro 2024 in September. With Rodri dictating things in midfield and Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams adding a new dimension on the wings, Spain have emerged as one of the favourites to lift the trophy.

But, as Georgia coach Willy Sagnol says, “This is another game and so many things can happen.” Georgia’s energetic style had earned them the neutrals’ support even before they beat Portugal to make it into the knockout stages in their first appearance at a major tournament. And there is talent in the squad, too. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia is the danger man, Georges Mikautadze is the tournament’s top scorer with three goals, and young goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili has excelled.

“We have nothing to lose — for me, we have already won Euro 2024,” Sagnol said. — Sam Marsden.


Betting tip (odds via ESPN BET)

There are some great stories about this Spain side and one of the best is 16-year-old winger Lamine Yamal doing his homework in between matches. Yamal lit up LaLiga for Barcelona last season and doesn’t look the least bit intimidated on an even bigger stage. Yamal to score any time vs. Georgia comes in at +180. — Dan Thomas


One big read

Whether at Spain‘s Euro 2024 training camp in Der Öschberghof in the Black Forest or on a tram to one of their games in Germany, one player has emerged as the central figure: Marc Cucurella.

For the 1-0 group-stage win against Italy in Gelsenkirchen, Spain supporter Juanma Romero and four friends all sported wigs in admiration of the Chelsea left-back’s trademark long hair. “The Cucurella Boys,” Romero wrote on X with an image of them posing inside the Arena AufSchalke.

By the time Spain played their third and final group game against Albania, the wigs had multiplied. They were no longer just in black, either, but also in Spain red and yellow. A group of Germany fans had even adopted Cucurella’s hair for the game and, at any given opportunity, led Spanish supporters in chants of “Cucu-rella” on the tram on the way to the Arena Düsseldorf.

The wigs and chants have come accompanied with memes and songs. One meme is simple: legendary Brazil left-back Roberto Carlos with Cucurella’s hair superimposed on his head. “We’re alike in everything except the hair,” Cucurella joked this week in an interview with Spanish media.

– Marsden: Wigs, memes, songs: Welcome to Spain’s summer of Cucurella


And finally …

UEFA has compiled its statistics for Euro 2024’s group stage and found that Slovenia striker Benjamin Sesko is the fastest player at the tournament so far.

Sesko, 21, is yet to score at Euro 2024 but managed to reach a sprint speed of 35.9 km/hr to top the list, ahead of Valentin Mihaila of Romania (35.8 km/hr) and Switzerland‘s Dan Ndoye (35.7 km/hr). The striker was linked with a summer move to both Arsenal and Manchester United before deciding to extend his stay at RB Leipzig and signing a new long-term contract.

Other notable names on the list of Euro speedsters are Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund (fourth), Milan winger Rafael Leão (fifth) and Real Madrid summer signing Kylian Mbappé (ninth), while Nuno Mendes (Portugal), Jeremie Frimpong (Netherlands) and Kieran Tierney (Scotland) also feature inside the top 10. — Rob Dawson