Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Euro 2024 Takeaways: Fast Starts and Slow Trains, Old and Young Stars, Great Goals and Strong Views 

Germany's midfielder #08 Toni Kroos celebrates after winning the UEFA Euro 2024 Group A football match between Germany and Scotland at the Munich Football Arena in Munich on June 14, 2024. (AFP)
Germany's midfielder #08 Toni Kroos celebrates after winning the UEFA Euro 2024 Group A football match between Germany and Scotland at the Munich Football Arena in Munich on June 14, 2024. (AFP)
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Euro 2024 Takeaways: Fast Starts and Slow Trains, Old and Young Stars, Great Goals and Strong Views 

Germany's midfielder #08 Toni Kroos celebrates after winning the UEFA Euro 2024 Group A football match between Germany and Scotland at the Munich Football Arena in Munich on June 14, 2024. (AFP)
Germany's midfielder #08 Toni Kroos celebrates after winning the UEFA Euro 2024 Group A football match between Germany and Scotland at the Munich Football Arena in Munich on June 14, 2024. (AFP)

The opening round of group matches at the European Championship is complete.

Here are some things we learned:

- Top performers -

Some of the best-performing players so far at Euro 2024 are making triumphant international comebacks.

Toni Kroos controlled the opening-night 5-1 win for Germany against Scotland. He was coaxed out of international retirement but will be hanging up his boots for good after the tournament.

N'Golo Kanté hasn't been seen in a France jersey since the Nations League in June 2022, with a hamstring injury ruling him out of that year's World Cup in Qatar before he made a move to Saudi Arabia. In the 1-0 win over France, the 33-year-old Kante was the star player — reminding the world of his energy levels and reading of the game.

A player half the age of Kroos and Kanté might be the other player to steal the headlines so far. Lamine Yamal became, at 16 years and 338 days, the youngest player to appear in a European Championship match and he took it in his stride with an assist in Spain's 3-0 victory over Croatia.

Pepe was an oldest-ever 41 anchoring Portugal's defense while Cristiano Ronaldo led its attack aged just 39 at a record sixth Euros.

Perhaps the most anticipated star was Kylian Mbappé, and the France forward might now miss one or more games because of a broken nose suffered on impact with an Austrian opponent's shoulder. Mbappé's return will be in a protective mask.

- Top scorers -

The top scorer at Euro 2020 leads the way again.

The O.G. of European Championship goal-getting these days is own goals. A tournament record 11 at the last edition and three already from the first 12 games in Germany. One from the host team's Antonio Rüdiger, Austria's Maximilian Wöber diverting Mbappé's cross in a 1-0 loss to France, and the Czech Republic's Robin Hranáč against Portugal.

The 34 goals shared among 34 different players included top quality strikes from outside the penalty area: Romania's Nicolae Stanciu, Switzerland's Michel Aebischer, Türkiye's Arda Güler.

And the goals often came early. Not until the 12th game, between Portugal and the Czechs, did any game go in 0-0 at halftime, and it ended 2-1.

The fastest ever in tournament history was scored by Nedim Bajrami, after 23 seconds in Albania's 2-1 loss to defending champion Italy.

- Was it a shock? -

Forty-five places separated No. 3 Belgium and No. 48 Slovakia in the world ranking, making it — in theory — one of the biggest mismatches in tournament history. So Slovakia winning 1-0 was a huge shock, right?

Somehow, it didn't feel that way.

Belgium, with its so-called “golden generation” mostly no longer around, has been underwhelming for some time and didn't advance at the last World Cup. It kept a top-five FIFA ranking by being unbeaten since then.

This is no longer a vintage Belgium, especially with Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois not being selected.

- East meets West -

The last time these stadiums hosted the Euros in 1988 the host was called West Germany, the Soviet Union reached the final, and the Berlin Wall fell within 18 months. Launching the Champions League in 1992 accelerated driving more wealth in European soccer toward the west.

Elements of a divide persist now: Only Leipzig of the 10 host stadiums is in the territory of former East Germany, and just three of the 24 teams — Austria, Croatia and England — based themselves there.

On the field, all six games at the weekend were match-ups of former east and west, and only Slovenia which held Denmark 1-1 avoided losing. Then Slovakia shocked Belgium on Monday.

However, teams and fans from the east have thrilled the tournament: Albania, Romania and especially debutant Georgia, the lowest-ranked team.

Players who perform weekly far from the spotlight of the Champions League, Premier League and La Liga have lit up this end-of-season stage.

- Football and politics -

They have mixed liberally at a tournament which, like the Eurovision Song Contest. is a cultural event shared and experienced across a diverse continent of 750 million people.

Ukraine players spoke of their home towns occupied and destroyed by the Russian military. Fans from Georgia, where there were street protests at home by pro-European Union citizens, chanted an insult about Russian President Vladimir Putin.

France players including Mbappé urged people at home to vote and keep far-right parties out of power in elections that start June 30. Slovakia great Marek Hamsik, now a team coach, hoped football could help unite a nation whose populist prime minister survived a recent assassination attempt.

UEFA also has opened disciplinary cases over offensive flags displayed by fans, including provocative maps showing disputed territory.

After 12 games in five days, there were 39 games and 26 days to go. Maybe enough time to get the overloaded trains and trams running to schedule.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Serena Williams Hosts ESPY Awards Show Celebrating Landmark Year for Women's Sports

Serena Williams emcee's the ESPY awards on Thursday, July 11, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Serena Williams emcee's the ESPY awards on Thursday, July 11, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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Serena Williams Hosts ESPY Awards Show Celebrating Landmark Year for Women's Sports

Serena Williams emcee's the ESPY awards on Thursday, July 11, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Serena Williams emcee's the ESPY awards on Thursday, July 11, 2024, at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

Led by host Serena Williams, The ESPYS celebrated a landmark year for women's sports, with Simone Biles, A'ja Wilson, Caitlin Clark, Dawn Staley and JuJu Watkins among the honorees on Thursday night.
Staley, coach of the national champion South Carolina women’s basketball team, received the Jimmy V Award for Perseverance. Her friend, Tennessee standout Nicki McCray-Penson, died of breast cancer and Staley’s sister was diagnosed with leukemia.
“I must confess I feel a little undeserving of this recognition. Past recipients of the Jimmy V Perseverance Award have faced incredible challenges and proven themselves as true warriors,” Staley said. “I have merely been a spectator to such immense courage and resilience.”
Staley’s Gamecocks won the best team award.
Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces won as best women’s sports athlete and as best WNBA player.
“It’s crazy to think that a young girl that didn’t even want to play basketball is now up in the running for even one ESPY,” she said in videotaped remarks.
The best men's sports athlete was Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He also claimed best NFL player.
“I been around this kid for a few years now and to watch him grow as a football player, as a teammate, as a leader has been phenomenal,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, accepting on Mahomes’ behalf, “but more than that to watch him grow as a father and a husband has been the best part.”
Biles earned best comeback athlete weeks before she competes at the Paris Olympics. The most decorated gymnast in history withdrew from the team competition at the Tokyo Games to prioritize her mental health.
Clark of the Indiana Fever also earned two trophies, for record-breaking performance in becoming the NCAA’s all-time career scoring leader, and as best college athlete, for her Iowa basketball career.
“I’m a little bit busy in Indianapolis,” Clark said via videotape. “It was a special year in women’s athletics.”
Watkins won best breakthrough athlete, taking the first award after the show began 30 minutes late because of President Joe Biden’s news conference.
The Southern California basketball star had a standout freshman season, leading the Trojans to the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament for the first time in decades.
“This is crazy,” Watkins said. “I want to thank all the great, powerful women who came before me that made this possible.”
Williams joked during her monologue at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and later sang after Ciara opened the show with a musical performance. Williams' older sister, Venus, came out and joked that she had actually been asked to host and the siblings got into a mock argument.
“You may be wondering why I’m doing this,” noted fashion fiend Serena said. “Any opportunity to wear 16 outfits in three hours, I’m going to take it.”
The ABC telecast returned from a commercial break in the final minutes and began repeating the presentations of two earlier awards. Williams' goodbye also was cut off, as were the final credits. ABC said a technical glitch in the feed affected the live show in the East and Central time zones. It was to be corrected for tape-delayed viewing in the West.
Prince Harry received the Pat Tillman Award for Service, and he mentioned the late Army Ranger’s mother who had criticized ESPN for honoring the royal.
With wife Meghan joining in a standing ovation, the Duke of Sussex accepted the trophy from three service veterans who were injured during their tours of duty. Harry served in the British military for 10 years, including two tours in Afghanistan as a helicopter pilot.
He created the Invictus Games in 2014, which serves as a multi-sport, paralympic-style games for wounded or injured servicemen and veterans.
“This award belongs to them, not to me,” The Associated Press quoted Harry as saying.
Tillman's mother, Mary Tillman, had criticized ESPN's choice of Harry, saying there are recipients working in the veteran community who would have been more fitting. Harry thanked Tillman's widow, Marie, for her attendance and also acknowledged Mary Tillman.
“Her advocacy for Pat's legacy is deeply personal and one that I respect,” he said. “The bond between a mother and son is eternal and transcends even the greatest losses.”
Retired NFL safety Steve Gleason was honored with the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage. He was diagnosed with ALS or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 2011. His nonprofit, Team Gleason, helps people with ALS live purposeful lives by providing programming and support services.
Gleason received a standing ovation when he took the stage in a motorized chair and was kissed by former New Orleans Saints teammate Drew Brees. Gleason's voice was heard through special technology. His young son, Rivers, stood next to his father and held the trophy.
“For me, this honor represents some encouragement and triumph for the families currently living with ALS, all the people living with disabilities or other illnesses,” he said. “I suppose if you have never experienced fear, isolation or suffering, you can roll your sanctified ass right out of here.”
Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Dodgers was best MLB player; Connor McDavid of the Stanley Cup runner-up Edmonton Oilers was best NHL player; and Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks was best NBA player.
Cooper Flagg, a senior guard-forward from Montverde (Florida) Academy, and track and field athlete Sadie Engelhardt of Ventura (California) High won the Gatorade National Players of the Year.
The three-hour show on ABC was delayed when Biden's nationally televised news conference started late and ran 30 minutes into the show's timeslot.