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Why Group F is ‘Group of Death’ in UEFA Euro 2020

The group has three former Euro champions—Portugal, Germany and France—and two-time FIFA World Cup runner-up Hungary.

Raman Bhanot

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The ‘World Cup of Europe’ is upon us, as 24 of the best teams in Europe battle it out for top honours in UEFA EURO 2020. The tournament, pushed back by one year due to the Covid-19 pandemic, will be played in 11 venues across Europe. The draw can go a long way in determining the passage of a team to the knockout stage and many times in international tournaments, one has seen good teams not progressing past the initial stages after being drawn in the aptly titled “Group of Death”. In EURO 2020, Group F deserves the tag of the “Group of Death”. It has defending UEFA EURO champions Portugal drawn together with two time winners France, who are also the 2018 FIFA World Cup title holders. To add to the list there is Germany, a team that has won the EURO title maximum number of times jointly (3 times along with Spain). 

The fourth team in the group is Hungary, who made the draw after winning the Qualifying play-offs. I recall the 2004 edition of EURO vividly, as I hosted the Pre & Post match show for India’s public broadcaster who relayed the EURO final on the National Channel. The final featured a very young and prodigiously talented Cristiano Ronaldo along with the experienced Luis Figo in the Portugal line-up. Playing in front of their home crowd, Portugal, the pre-match favorites were stunned by Greece who lifted their maiden trophy in the year in which the country also hosted the Olympic Games. Life came full circle in 2016, when I was a part of the Hindi commentary team for a private sports network that broadcast the tournament in India. Ronaldo and Portugal, won the EURO final in France, beating Les Blues in front of their home crowd. What was even more remarkable was that Ronaldo could not play the full match, as he was injured and substituted 25 minutes into the final. This time around, Portugal has more resources to rely on apart from just Cristiano Ronaldo and Pepe.

With Bruno Fernandes in great form for Manchester United, Bernardo Silva having had a solid season with Manchester City and Diogo Jota looking in good touch, the EURO title-holders can hope to stake a strong claim to progress in the playoffs. Moving on and talking about France, who look like they are the team to beat in this tournament. The French side has made it to at least the Quarterfinals of the last 3 major tournaments (World Cup & EURO) that they have played in. They also seem to have the most settled team amongst the contenders, with 14 players out of the 26 having been a part of the 2018 World Cup winning campaign.

Germany have won the UEFA EURO title 3 times and are one of only three countries that have held the title of European champions and World Champions together (though not necessarily in that order), as West Germany won the EURO in 1972 and the World Cup in 1974. France won the EURO in 2000 after winning the World Cup in 1998, while Spain went one better by winning the EURO in 2008 and in 2012, while also winning the World Cup in between in 2010. With their coach Joachim Loew set to relinquish command at the end of the tournament, Germany may just be looking to give him the perfect send-off with a title they last won 25 years ago. On paper, Hungary seems to be the weakest team out of the four. Their best performance in EURO was a 3rd place finish in 1964. In the last edition in 2016, Hungary not only qualified for EURO but also made it to the Round of 16, after beating Austria, and playing out draws against Iceland and Portugal. So to take them lightly might be a recipe for disaster.

The author is a sports commentator who has worked on assignments for leading sports networks in India & abroad and is on the Hindi commentary panel for the EURO 2020 broadcast on SONY TEN3.

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EURO 2020: GARETH BALE SHINES AS WALES BEAT TURKEY 2-0

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Goals from Aaron Ramsey and Connor Roberts gave Wales a 2-0 win in their Group A match over Turkey here at Baku’s Olympic Stadium on Wednesday to put them on the verge of a Euro 2020 Round-of-16 spot. Aaron Ramsey, who had already missed two excellent chances to score, finished a superb half-volley six yards out to give Wales the lead in the match just a handful of minutes from half-time. The Juventus man was picked up by Gareth Bale with a top-drawer pass as he made another inch-perfect run, brought it down over the shoulder onto his chest, and skittered it into the bottom-left corner past Cakir. Wales captain Gareth Bale had a chance to double the team’s lead when he was tripped by Zeki Celik and awarded a penalty, but the skipper skied up his effort towards the top-left corner. Welsh defence held firm from then on as Turkey went for the equaliser but it was Wales who scored right at the death in injury time as Connor Roberts was all set up to place the pass by Bale past goalkeeper Ugurcan Cakir to seal the victory.By adding a victory to their point earned against Switzerland on Saturday, Robert Page’s men are likely to reach the next round of the European Championship on Sunday.

With this victory against Turkey, only world champions France (six) have celebrated more wins across Euro 2016 and 2020 than Wales, who have now won five of their eight matches in the competition, boasting the highest winning percentage of all sides to have played at any European Championships (63 per cent). Wales now travel to the Stadio Olimpico in Rome to face Italy in their final group game on Sunday. Turkey faces Switzerland in a must-win match in the Baku Olympic Stadium at the same time.

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FLAWLESS ITALY CRUISES INTO ROUND OF 16, DEFEATS SWITZERLAND 3-0

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Manuel Locatelli bagged a brace as flawless Italy defeated Switzerland 3-0 here at the Stadio Olimpico to become the first side into the last-16 of the Euro 2020. Match started at a good pace for Italy as Chiellini had a goal ruled out for handball just minutes before Sassuolo midfielder Locatelli opened the scoring after 26 minutes with a close-range effort in the Group A clash.

He then doubled their lead in the second half, giving Sommer no chance of saving his low shot from outside the box. Lazio’s Ciro Immobile then wrapped it up late on, with the keeper unable to keep out his long-range strike despite getting both hands to it.Azzurri has now 10 wins in a row without conceding in a run of 29 without defeat in all competitions. Roberto Mancini’s side is now top of Group A with six points from two games, with six goals scored and none conceded, two points clear of Wales who beat Turkey 2-0 earlier.

Following 3-0 wins against Turkey and Switzerland, Italy is only the second side in EUROs history to open their tournament with consecutive wins by a 3+ goal margin, after the Netherlands in 2008 as stated by Opta.

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RAFAEL NADAL PULLS OUT OF WIMBLEDON AND TOKYO OLYMPICS TO ‘PROLONG CAREER’

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Spanish tennis player Rafael Nadal on Thursday announced that he has decided to skip this year’s Wimbledon and the Olympic Games in Tokyo. The 13-time French Open champion said his goal is to prolong his career and to compete at the highest level of the sport. “Hi all, I have decided not to participate at this year’s Championships at Wimbledon and the Olympic Games in Tokyo. It’s never an easy decision to take but after listening to my body and discuss (discussing) it with my team I understand that it is the right decision,” Nadal said in a statement on Twitter.

“The goal is to prolong my career and continue to do what makes me happy, that is to compete at the highest level and keep fighting for those professional and personal goals at the maximum level of competition,” he added.The Spanish superstar, who recently lost in the French Open semi-final, said the time between the Roland Garros and Wimbledon only made it difficult for him to get ready for the showpiece event, hence he decided not to participate in the tournament.“The fact that there has only been 2 weeks between RG and Wimbledon, didn’t make it easier on my body to recuperate after the always demanding clay court season. They have been two months of great effort and the decision I take is focused looking at the mid and long term,” said Nadal. “Sport prevention of any kind of excess in my body is a very important factor at this stage of my career in order to try to keep fighting for the highest level of competition and titles,” he added.

Nadal said the Olympic Games were always his priority and he had the honour of representing his country in three quadrennial events. “The Olympic Games always meant a lot and they were always a priority as a Sports person, I found the spirit that every sports person in the world wants to live. I personally had the chance to live 3 of them and had the honor to be the flag bearer for my country,” Nadal said. “I want to send a special message to my fans around the world, to those in the United Kingdom and Japan in particular,” he added. Tokyo Olympics will begin on July 23 and the Games will run up to August 8 this year. The event was slated to be held last year, but it was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Perfect mix of youth and experience in 16-member women hockey squad

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With final preparations underway for the much-awaited Tokyo Olympic Games 2020, Hockey India on Thursday announced the final list of players selected to represent the Indian women’s hockey team at the summer showdown in Tokyo.The 16-member squad strikes the perfect balance between continuity from the Rio Olympics 2016, and adopting a fresh approach for Tokyo. Eight experienced veterans have been named in the squad, while eight new players have been handed the chance to make their Olympic debut for Team India. Chief coach Sjoerd Marijne said, “This team has worked very hard over the last few years and has made progress consistently. There’s a good mix of experienced players and new talent, which is excellent. We look forward to taking on the best in the world in Tokyo. This is a team with a lot of potential and drive which we hope to channelise to our best performance yet.”

Hockey India President Gyanendro Ningombam said, “Over the past few years, leading up to this edition of the Olympics, the women’s team has worked very hard to achieve their current form. I am confident that this team will give a tough competition to any opponent. I wish them all the very best for their performance at the upcoming Tokyo Olympic Games 2020.” The final squad includes eight stalwarts in Rani, Savita, Deep Grace Ekka, Sushila Chanu Pukhrambam, Monika, Nikki Pradhan, Navjot Kaur and Vandana Katariya; who have had the experience of representing India at the historic appearance of the Indian women’s team at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games after a gap of 36 years.

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Battlelines drawn as Kohli, Williamson chase world title

Virat Kohli’s boys will definitely fancy their chances of winning the inaugural edition of the World Test Championship at the Ageas Bowl against top-ranked New Zealand.

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India might be second on the list in the latest ICC rankings for Test teams, but it doesn’t bear testimony to what the team has achieved under Virat Kohli in the last two years. And going into the final of the World Test Championship (WTC) against top-ranked New Zealand from Friday, Kohli’s boys will definitely fancy their chances of winning the inaugural edition of the championship at the Ageas Bowl.

The momentum lies with the Kiwis as they beat England 1-0 in the just concluded Test series and the same catapulted them to the top of the rankings. But then, cricket isn’t played on paper and all these things will take a backseat when Kohli and Kane Williamson head out for the toss on Friday. This Indian team under Kohli has shown they believe in playing to win and has time and again snatched victories from the jaws of defeat. Not to forget the depth in the bench which was visible on the tour of Australia at the start of the year. India was without the likes of skipper Virat Kohli, spinner Ravichandran Ashwin, Mohammed Shami, and pacer Jasprit Bumrah when the team defeated Australia by three wickets against all odds in the final Test at The Gabba to take the series 2-1. India will be riding on the recent performances in the longest format which also saw them clinching a series win against England after being one down in the Test series.

After cricket resumed amid the coronavirus pandemic in December 2020, India has won five out eight Tests with the recent win coming against England in which the hosts defeated the Joe Root-led side by an innings and 25 runs. But then, the only blip in an otherwise perfect report card is the series loss to the Kiwis in New Zealand in 2020. While they lost the first Test by 10 wickets, they lost the second one by seven wickets. On the other hand, New Zealand has won five out of the six Tests since December 2020 with the recent victory coming against England on Sunday. New Zealand who weren’t in contention to play the Test Championship final, first sniffed their chance when the ICC in November, last year, amended the WTC points system due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Zealand, who had half of the points India had, suddenly got a reprieve when the percentage points system was introduced. Since then New Zealand at home defeated West Indies and Pakistan to move to the top and qualified for the summit clash when Australia cancelled their tour to South Africa in February 2021. Some might argue that the road towards the WTC final was easy for New Zealand but that doesn’t deny the fact that the Kiwis didn’t just defeat West Indies and Pakistan, but left them gasping for breath by clinching games without even going into the second innings.

Same was the case with India when the Kohli-led side toured New Zealand before the pandemic. India’s highest score in the Test series was 242. The hosts New Zealand defeated India in back-to-back Tests as part of the current WTC cycle at the beginning of 2020. Who has the edge over whom certainly remains the favourite topic of cricket pundits, but one thing is for sure that New Zealand would like to heal all wounds of losing in the final in England in 2019 while for Kohli it is a legacy that awaits. The five-day game will allow India skipper Kohli multiple opportunities to etch his name in the annals of glorious history. The Indian captain hasn’t scored a century in Tests since 2019 and Kohli will be looking to take the centre stage to lead the charge as India get ready to lock horns with New Zealand in the ultimate clash. India and New Zealand have met each other 59 times in the longest format of the game.

While India has won 21 of those, the Kiwis have won just 12 matches. However, the recent trend seems to be evenly poised. In the last seven games, India and New Zealand have won three each and drawn one. So it will be fair enough to say the contest is evenly poised and whoever draws first blood might just take the Test mace home.

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DUTEE CHAND, ANNU RANI, MOHD ANAS MAY NOT GO TO TOKYO

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If Indian athlete Tejinder Pal Singh Toor makes a stellar performance of 20.92m in shotput, Javelin thrower Annu Rani reaches the finals of the World Championship, Mohammad Anas becomes successful to reach the final of the Rio Olympics after Milkha Singh and KM Binu in the 400 meters race and Dutee Chand competes in the 100 meters sprint at the Rio Olympics then looking at it, it is natural to have some hopes. But the reality is that their last Olympic qualifying events do not seem to be getting recognition, due to which the dream of all these athletes seems to be shattered.

Tejinder Pal Singh ToorMohammed AnasDuttee Chand

Actually, the Indian Grand Prix Meet is scheduled to be held on 21st June at Patiala and Inter State Meet which is Olympic Qualifying Meet from 25th to 29th June but the problem is that out of the seven countries, five countries have refused to participate. The devastation caused by Covid in India recently can be a big reason for this. The rule is that an Olympic qualifying event must have at least two countries in addition to the host.

In such a situation, many big athletes will not be able to participate in the Olympics. Tejinder Pal Singh Toor is the biggest name among them who is a national record holder in shotput with a performance of 20.92 meters. In the last Asian Games, with a performance of 20.75m, he won a gold. He also won a gold in the Asian Championship two years ago but the athlete from Punjab’s Moga district is yet to touch the qualifying level of 21.10 m. His performance declined due to the injury to his left hand.

Meerut’s Annu Rani finished 63.24m in the Javelin Throw last year and set a national record. She also reached the finals of the World Athletics Championships. Not only this, she has improved her own national record many times. At the same time, Mohammad Anas has made a national record in the 400 meters race with a performance of 45.24 seconds. He won silver medal in the 2018 Asian Games. While the Athletic Federation is trying to invite at least two countries to the event to maintain its Olympic qualifying existence, Indian athletes are looking at the International Athletics Federation to allow athletes to enter the Olympics on the basis of their rankings.

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