Toni Kroos. Photo: Imago
Toni Kroos. Photo: Imago

EURO 2024, round one: Toni Kroos to pull a Zizou?

EURO OlyBet 11.06.2024

We have been waiting for this moment. The Fussballliebe will soon be kicked for the first time, and EURO 2024 will be underway. Some are going to thrive while others can easily wilt under pressure. Heroes and villains will emerge. Sometimes, one player can fill both shoes at the same time.

What Barca does with 40 passes, Toni Kroos does with one.

Those words are attributed to Zinedine Zidane, without doubt one of the greatest playmakers of all time. When Kroos announced his retirement from football in May, Zizou dedicated a post on social media to the German, thanking “a top-class player and person”. Between 2016 and 2021, they spent almost five years together at Real Madrid as player and manager. They clearly rate each other.

But the links do not end there. A 34-year-old Real Madrid playmaker retired from international play will return to represent his national team for one last hurrah before hanging his boots up for good. Sounds familiar? It should. Depending on when you were born, you either remember – or have seen on YouTube – how Zinedine Zidane quit football 18 years ago.

It is somewhat forgotten then that Zidane was the creative hub of that France team, the main reason they even made the 2006 World Cup final. In his very last tournament, Zidane quite possibly played the best football of his life, winning the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament. What an ending. What a story.

Sure, not everything lines up perfectly. Kroos has already gone one better by winning the Champions League in his final club game and has the chance to say his goodbyes on home soil. Admittedly, it is also difficult to see Kroos headbutting an Italian defender in the final. But win the tournament, and why not the Ballon d’Or then? His last chapter remains to be written.

Germany will play Scotland in the tournament opener. What to expect and which other games to enjoy in the first round of the group stage?

All times listed below are in Eastern European Summer Time (GMT+3).

Germany – Scotland

Friday, June 14th 22:00

The first game of the tournament is always special. It is not quite Germany vs England, but it will have to do! The last time Germany hosted an international tournament in 2006, it was a thriller of a match vs Costa Rica (4-2). This century, fans have seen an average of 2.9 goals on opening nights of major tournaments; the two teams will meet for a third time at major tournaments, with Germany winning in 1986 (2-1) and 1992 (2-0).

The Germans have failed at recent tournaments, having conceded at least one goal in each of their last twelve games – they last kept a clean sheet at EURO 2016! At home soil, this will not do. They most recently defeated Greece 2-1 while Scotland wrapped up preparations with a 2-2 draw vs Finland. Neither opponent will be at EURO 2024.

Thomas Müller has scored 10 goals in 19 appearances at World Cups. Photo: Imago

Player to watch: Bayern striker Thomas Müller has scored 10 goals in 19 appearances at World Cups (from 36 shots), but never at the European Championships (31 shots). The 34-year-old veteran is not expected to play first fiddle, but can he step up when it matters?

Spain – Croatia

Saturday, June 15th 19:00

Spain and Croatia will meet for a fourth consecutive EURO tournament, with Spain winning in 2012 (1-0, group stage) and 2021 (5-3 a.e.t., round of 16), and Croatia in 2016 (2-1, group stage). Three of the last four meetings between the teams have produced at least five goals, and Spain demonstrated their prowess vs Northern Ireland (5-1) most recently.

For all their World Cup success, Croatia is yet to reach the semi-finals at the European Championships. In three of their last four international tournaments, the eventual winners (Portugal, 2016, round of 16; France, 2018, final; Argentina, 2022, semi-final) have knocked them out. But they seem to be ready to fight again, defeating Portugal 2-1 in their last test before EURO 2024.

This is most likely the last international tournament for 35-year-old Ivan Perisic. Photo: Imago

Player to watch: This is most likely the last international tournament for 35-year-old Ivan Perisic, but he has been very effective at major international tournaments since his debut twelve years ago; with 18 contributions (10 goals, 8 assists), he is second to only Cristiano Ronaldo in that time (21; 17 + 4). Croatia will hope for one last run from their veterans.

Turkey – Georgia

Tuesday, 18th June 19:00

The two teams have not met since May 2012 and a lot has changed since then. Indeed, this will be Georgia’s first-ever game in a major international tournament as they are set to be the only debutants of EURO 2024. While most teams played two fixtures in June, Georgia spent most of their time in a training camp and had just one outing vs Montenegro (a 3-1 win).

Turkey had the second-youngest average starting eleven among the 24 teams that qualified for EURO 2024, meaning they could be even more dangerous in future tournaments. They have always been dangerous after half-time, as 11 of their 14 goals at the European Championships have come after half-time; including Semih Sentürk’s latest-ever EURO goal in 2008 (121:01 vs Croatia).

30-year-old Turkey captain Hakan Calhanoglu is like fine wine. Photo: Imago

Player to watch: 30-year-old Turkey captain Hakan Calhanoglu is like fine wine, getting only better with age. In qualifying, he contributed to 5.43 expected goals in seven games, the most amongst his teammates. The free-kick specialist should have plenty of chances to hurt Georgia.


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