Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Euro 2024: Italy Opens Title Defense Against Albania in Group B 

Italy’s head coach Luciano Spalletti attends a training session at the Hemberg Stadion Nord Halle in Iserlohn, Germany, 12 June 2024. (EPA)
Italy’s head coach Luciano Spalletti attends a training session at the Hemberg Stadion Nord Halle in Iserlohn, Germany, 12 June 2024. (EPA)
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Euro 2024: Italy Opens Title Defense Against Albania in Group B 

Italy’s head coach Luciano Spalletti attends a training session at the Hemberg Stadion Nord Halle in Iserlohn, Germany, 12 June 2024. (EPA)
Italy’s head coach Luciano Spalletti attends a training session at the Hemberg Stadion Nord Halle in Iserlohn, Germany, 12 June 2024. (EPA)

Italy begins the defense of its European Championship title against Albania on Saturday in their first Group B match. The other teams in the group are Spain and Croatia. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. local (1900 GMT) in Dortmund. Here’s what to know about the match:

Match facts:

— Italy is back at a major tournament after failing to qualify for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. That was a second straight World Cup that the Azzurri missed, though they won Euro 2020 in between.

— Italy first played at Borussia Dortmund's stadium in 2006 — and it was a classic game in the World Cup. A semifinal match against Germany went to extra time at 0-0 before goals by Fabio Grosso and Alessandro Del Piero sealed a 2-0 win.

— Albania is playing in the Euros for the second time. The first occasion was in 2016 and the team failed to get out of its group.

Team news:

— Davide Frattesi should be available for Italy after returning to training following a minor groin injury. Nicolò Barella and Nicolò Fagioli have both been training separately this week as they recover from muscle issues.

— After finishing the season well with Europa League champion Atalanta, Gianluca Scamacca seems to have won the tussle with Mateo Retegui — born in Argentina but eligible to play for Italy through his maternal grandmother — to be Italy's starting striker. Still to be determined is whether coach Luciano Spalletti goes with a four-man defense or three at the back with wing backs. It'll likely be the latter.

— Albania coach Sylvinho, the former Barcelona, Arsenal and Brazil left back who was sworn in as an Albanian citizen last month, has no reported injuries to worry about ahead of the match. Armando Broja is expected to start up front despite barely featuring for Fulham in a loan spell from Chelsea in the second half of the season.

By the numbers:

— Italy is seeking a third European Championship title — after winning the 1968 and 2020 tournaments. The Italians were also runners-up in 2000 and 2012.

— Italy has won all four of its meetings with Albania. All of them have been played since 2014.

— Albania conceded eight goals on its last appearance at Dortmund's stadium. That was in 1981, when the national team lost 8-0 to West Germany.

— Ten members of Albania's squad play in one of Italy's top two leagues.

What they’re saying “Perhaps this is a slightly younger group, with fewer years on the pitch. But this is a strong group with an equally strong coach." - Italy midfielder Bryan Cristante, comparing Spalletti's current squad with the Euro 2020 winners led by Roberto Mancini.

"If they win, I will not speak to Frattesi for days. And if we win, I think he will not speak to me!” – Albania midfielder Kristjan Asllani, who plays at Inter Milan alongside Frattesi.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : US Men's Basketball Team Builds Gig Lead then Holds off Australia for 98-92 win in Olympics Tuneup

Jock Landale scored 20 for Australia, which got 17 from Josh Giddey and 14 from Dyson Daniels, The AP reported. The AP
Jock Landale scored 20 for Australia, which got 17 from Josh Giddey and 14 from Dyson Daniels, The AP reported. The AP
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US Men's Basketball Team Builds Gig Lead then Holds off Australia for 98-92 win in Olympics Tuneup

Jock Landale scored 20 for Australia, which got 17 from Josh Giddey and 14 from Dyson Daniels, The AP reported. The AP
Jock Landale scored 20 for Australia, which got 17 from Josh Giddey and 14 from Dyson Daniels, The AP reported. The AP

There was a lot for the US Olympic team to like on Monday. And a lot not to like.

Anthony Davis scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds, Tyrese Haliburton came up with a pair of late 3-pointers that helped stop a freefall by the Americans, and the US beat Australia 98-92 on Monday to improve to 2-0 in its five-game slate of exhibitions leading into the Paris Olympics.

Devin Booker scored 16 for the US, Anthony Edwards scored 14 and three players — LeBron James, Bam Adebayo and Joel Embiid — finished with 10 for the Americans, who are playing host to a pair of exhibitions at Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, this week. They'll play Serbia there on Wednesday.

Jock Landale scored 20 for Australia, which got 17 from Josh Giddey and 14 from Dyson Daniels, The AP reported.

The US led by 24 midway through the third quarter, yet saw that lead cut to six with 5:05 left after Australia went on a 39-21 run. But Haliburton had the next six points on his 3s, pushing the lead back to 92-80.

Australia cut it to four on two separate occasions, but Booker went 4-for-4 from the line in the final 8 seconds to ensure the US would escape.

“Third quarter, we started turning the ball over," US coach Steve Kerr said. "We gave up a ton of points at the basket. Back cuts, offensive boards and so, the game shifted. It's a good lesson for us. Better to learn that lesson now than later. And this will be a good tape for us to watch. But I give Australia a ton of credit. They were great. They fought. They were really physical. Took it to us in the last quarter and a half and really made it a game.”

Second unit, again Just like in the Canada game, the so-called second unit — Haliburton, Jrue Holiday, Adebayo, Davis and Booker — changed the game.

That was the group on the floor when the Americans took a game that was tied at 19-19 with 3:15 left in the first and turned it into a 39-23 lead — a 20-4 run in a span of just over 5 minutes.

Kerr used that group as his starting five to open the second half. But it’s become a clear trend already: when the US goes to its bench and can replace All-Stars with other All-Stars, it’s just going to be a massive problem for opponents who don’t have anywhere near that same level of depth.

“The strength of our team is our depth and we have to utilize our depth,” Kerr said.

It’s been something the Americans have used to their advantage in the past. Dwyane Wade led the gold-medalist 2008 US Olympic team in points, even though he was sixth in minutes on that team and came off the bench in all eight games.

Turnovers Here’s the big trouble sign right now for the US: turnovers.

FIBA games are shorter than NBA games, 40 minutes instead of 48 minutes. That means there are fewer possessions and makes it even more imperative to not give the ball away.

Which the Americans did. A lot.

After committing 15 turnovers in last week's exhibition win over Canada, the US had 18 giveaways on Monday and Australia used them to fuel the comeback effort — getting 25 points off turnovers in the second half alone.

“Our turnovers, it's all about focus and execution,” Davis said.

Injury watch Kevin Durant missed his second consecutive game because of a calf strain, and with only one practice between games it wouldn’t seem likely that he plays Wednesday against Serbia either.

Derrick White, who arrived in Abu Dhabi over the weekend and got into his first practice with the team on Sunday, also didn’t play. White replaced Kawhi Leonard — who deals with knee issues — on the US roster after the Americans determined last week that it wasn’t in Leonard’s best interest to play this summer.