Preview: England begin quest to deliver on great expectations at Euro 2024

AFP , Sunday 16 Jun 2024

England manager Gareth Southgate said his side must be "exceptional" to end a 58-year major tournament title drought as they kick off their Euro 2024 campaign against Serbia on Sunday.

Kane vs. Vlahovic
This combination of pictures created on June 14, 2024 shows England's striker #09 Harry Kane (L) celebrating after scoring his team third goal during the Euro 2024 qualifying group C football match between England and Italy at Wembley, in London on October 17, 2023; and Serbia's forward #18 Dusan Vlahovic celebrating after scoring his team's second goal during the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Serbia and Switzerland at Stadium 974 in Doha on December 2, 2022. Photo: AFP


England must cope with the pressure of being hyped as one of the favourites for the tournament as Southgate aims to finally steer a richly-talented generation to glory.

Tens of thousands of England supporters have arrived in Gelsenkirchen, in western Germany, eager to see a show from their team after a shock 1-0 defeat by Iceland in their final warm-up match.

England are aiming to make amends after losing the final of Euro 2020 to Italy on home soil at Wembley.

Under Southgate they have also come close at two World Cups and the England boss has acknowledged this could his final opportunity for major tournament success.

But strong performances from Germany and Spain in winning their opening games have shown the scale of the task awaiting England.

"There are a lot of good teams in this tournament. We have to be exceptional to progress through the group and have the opportunity to go further," said Southgate at his pre-match press conference.

"Our focus is to qualify from the group. When you're trying to achieve exceptional things you have to break it down into chunks.

"Our first priority is to get through the group and work from there."

Despite a remarkable goalscoring record at club and international level, England captain Harry Kane is yet to win a major trophy in his career.

"Winning a trophy for your country would be the pinnacle of every career," said Kane, who scored 44 times in his debut season at Bayern Munich.

"It hasn't quite happened yet but it makes me more determined and hungry to go out and do that, starting with this summer.

"We have the opportunity to go out and do that and I'm looking forward to trying to make that happen."

England are expected to cruise through Group C, which also contains Denmark and Slovenia, who face each other earlier Sunday in Stuttgart.

Mitrovic threat

There is little for Southgate to fear based on Serbia's performance in qualifying.

Dragan Stojkovic's side won just four of their eight qualifiers, losing twice to Hungary and being held on both occasions by Bulgaria.

However, they have a striker in form in Aleksandar Mitrovic, who is well known to Premier League fans from his eight years in England with Newcastle United and Fulham.

Mitrovic has scored 40 goals in 43 games since joining Saudi side Al Hilal, helping them to an unbeaten domestic treble.

"He's an outstanding goalscorer," said Southgate. "We have to be ready to deal with some exceptional players across the pitch."

Serbia coach Stojkovic is aware of the challenge facing his side, but said England had to prove their status as pre-tournament favourites once the action gets underway.

"The team that tries to be the champion of Europe," said Stojkovic on what he expects from England.

"They have to do it on the pitch. You can say this or that and make all kind of forecasts, but all that has to be shown on the field to prove yourselves."

The match has been declared as "high risk" by German police and the first real test of the tournament for the security forces.

Supporters will only be able to access reduced-strength beer at the Arena AufSchalke.

England's opening game at Euro 2016 against Russia saw running battles between hooligans.

The Euro 2020 final was also marred by ugly scenes as ticketless fans stormed the entrances to Wembley.

Hooliganism has also been a recurring theme at Serbian international matches and both managers called on the fans to enjoy what Southgate described as a "carnival of football".

Stojkovic added: "Football is something special for people to enjoy and I'm sure both sides will be very happy to be at the stadium."

Sunday's first game sees the Netherlands and Poland meet in Hamburg in Group D.

On Saturday, reigning champions Italy began their campaign by beating Albania 2-1 in Dortmund, despite falling behind to the fastest ever goal at the tournament, scored after just 23 seconds.

Spain beat Croatia 3-0 in Berlin in the same Group B, while Switzerland defeated Hungary 3-1 in Cologne in Group A.

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