Euro 2024 first week highlights: A long-distance love affair

Xherdan Shaqiri smashes home from long-range against Scotland (Picture: Shutterstock)

We’re deep into the second round of group games and, while it may be too soon to say whether football is coming home or not, it’s clearly having a great time out in Germany. So here are a few early impressions of an enthralling European Championship.

The crowds

After the Covid restrictions of Euro 2020 and the weirdness of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (which, in fairness, produced some great atmospheres), the volume has been turned up to 11.

Germany is the perfect host, a ‘proper football country’ surrounded by other football countries, meaning fans have flocked to the large stadia – if they can find a tram.

A 24-team format has its drawbacks and makes comparisons with previous achievements difficult – when Germany hosted in 1988, England crashed out in the eight-team group stage – but the very fact it allows fanatical armies of fans from the likes of Albania, Georgia, Scotland and Romania and their hungry teams to join the more world-weary usual suspects is enough to justify the swollen field to me, a certified group-stage tragic.

Scotland fans have travelled to Germany in big numbers (Picture: Shutterstock)

The games

Because the enlarged format works. The acknowledgment that four points are likely to get you into the last 16 has seen everyone playing for wins, particularly lesser teams against similar opposition.

That sense of ambition has turned potential afternoon snoozefests into certified bangers while Slovenia, Austria and the Czech Republic have all had a decent pop at supposedly superior opposition and established forces like Croatia and Belgium have foundered. Croatia will probably go on to win the final after a penalty shoot-out but, for now, everything seems possible and we’re drinking it in.

The goals

A great game can do with some great goals and we have had plenty of them. There’s been the odd well-crafted team effort but, after years of possession-based football in search of the perfect chance, Euro 2024 is the tournament which got an early sight of goal and decided to have a crack, again and again and again.

Is it the ball, which seems to be an absolute pinger and encourages arrow-straight efforts (as well as dreamy curlers)? Or is it just a case of seeing it done and trying to emulate it? Who knows, who cares? The bulging net is all that matters.

Arda Guler announced his promise with a superb curling goal for Turkey (Picture: Getty Images)

Niclas Fullkrug, Nicolo Barella, Nicolae Stanciu (all the Nics), Mert Muldur, Arda Guler, Lukas Provod and Xherdan Shaqiri, you have our long-distance thanks.

The players

Ah, yes, Arda Guler. The first week in Germany has seen a new generation light up the stage, some already stars despite their tender years, some not so well-known.

Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala dominating for Germany, Lamine Yamal wreaking havoc for Spain, Guler sparkling for Turkey, Francisco Conceicao making headlines for Portugal and, of course, Jude Bellingham marching around like a teenager in a field of toddlers.

Spain teenager Lamine Yamal has made an instant impact (Picture: Getty Images)

It’s not all about the kids – Luka Modric may be creaking but Toni Kroos is enjoying his retirement party immensely, Shaqiri has made a splash and the remarkable Cristiano Ronaldo is appearing at his sixth Euros – but the men driving the game forward now are 20 years younger, in some cases more, than Portugal’s superstar. Still, if Yamal and Guler are still sparkling at Euro 2044 we’ll be more than happy.


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