Harry Maguire and Andre Onana help Manchester United to narrow victory

By Sports Desk October 24, 2023

Harry Maguire’s header and Andre Onana’s stoppage-time penalty save secured Manchester United a vital Champions League win against Copenhagen in their first home match since the death of Sir Bobby Charlton.

Tuesday’s Old Trafford encounter allowed the club to come together and pay tribute to the World Cup winner and all-round gentleman following his death at the age of 86 on Saturday.

Charlton starred for United and in 1968 led them to European Cup glory at Wembley, where Erik ten Hag’s men would love to return for June’s Champions League final.

First comes qualification from Group C, which misfiring United continued to make hard work of as they rode their luck to claim a 1-0 win against Copenhagen after losses to Bayern Munich and Galatasaray.

Maguire temporarily quietened his doubters with a second-half header against the impressive Danish champions, who pushed until the end and looked set to act as party poopers.

Scott McTominay brought down Mohamed Elyounoussi in the box in stoppage time, but goalkeeper Onana – so unsteady since joining from Inter Milan – saved Jordan Larsson’s penalty in a jaw-dropping ending.

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  • Reggae Boyz winger Gray Ready to shine at Copa America on return from injury Reggae Boyz winger Gray Ready to shine at Copa America on return from injury

    For Demarai Gray, the journey to recover from a broken collarbone in time for the Copa America has been a testament of resilience, passion, and an unwavering commitment to representing Jamaica’s Reggae Boyz.

    The England-born winger, who suffered the injury earlier this year, while representing Saudi Pro League club Al-Ettifaq, recently returned to fitness, and his joy and excitement about being back in Jamaica’s setup are palpable, as he prepares to parade his skills in one of the most prestigious tournaments in international football.

    “It's good to be back; I was disappointed that I missed the World Cup qualifiers, but I'm happy the boys got the six points. I am glad to be back with the boys and excited for this tournament,” Gray said in an interview with the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) media.

    “It was a difficult end (to the season) with the injury, I had about six weeks out, but over the last few weeks, I've been working and trying to get as fit as possible for the Copa. So, we've got a few more days for me to build, and hopefully I can get off to a good start against Mexico,” he added.

    Gray going through his paces in training.

    Gray's injury initially cast doubt on his availability for the Copa America, but the 27-year-old's return to a clean bill of health represents a significant boost for the Reggae Boyz, who view him as a crucial component of their attacking force.

    Since he made the switch to represent Jamaica in 2023, Gray has quickly become a fan favorite, celebrated for his electrifying speed, deft dribbling, and ability to change the course of a game. His contributions have been instrumental in the Reggae Boyz's recent successes, including crucial goals and assists that have propelled the team forward in international competitions.

    Reflecting on his journey with the Jamaican national team, Gray expressed deep pride and a sense of belonging that transcends his England roots.

    “Yeah, it's been good. I've seen a lot since playing for Jamaica, playing back in Jamaica and being at the Gold Cup, and now being at this (Copa America) competition. So it's been good. It's been exciting, and fans have shown me a lot of love and respect, and the boys have been good,” Gray shared.

    “So, yeah, it's been a good experience and, you know, with these tournaments and the World Cup qualifiers that we've got ahead, there's a lot of exciting things to look forward to, and I'm just taking it each game at a time, trying to achieve and contribute as much as I can for the country,” the soft-spoken player declared.

    In 11 appearances so far, Gray has scored five goals, and he was instrumental in Jamaica’s historic third-place finish in the 2023-24 Concacaf Nations League campaign. That is an accomplishment that the nippy player prides himself on, and one he hopes is the first of many to come on the international stage.

    “Throughout my career, I want to get as many medals as I can, and win as many things as I can. I think we're a nation that's slowly building, I think you can see the talent and the potential that we've got, but things don't happen overnight, so we have to be a bit patient, but there's a lot to look forward to.

    “Just qualifying and making different competitions is good for us as players, the young players coming through and the fans, it's just good for the whole nation. So I think that would be the main objective, just trying to be as successful as we can in competitions and just keep building,” Gray noted.

    As the Reggae Boyz gear up for the Copa America, Gray's presence adds a layer of optimism and confidence to Heimir Hallgrimsson’s squad. He is focused on making a significant impact and is determined to help Jamaica achieve new heights on the international stage.

    The Boyz will kick start their Group B campaign against perennial rivals Mexico, before rubbing shoulders with Venezuela and Ecuador later in the tournament.

    “I am very excited. It's one I've been looking forward to. Obviously, if you look at the history of this tournament, see how many good players have played in it, and it's a very competitive tournament and testing tournament and I want to be tested at the highest levels in the best competitions,” he said.

    “I'm happy that we're in this and got an opportunity to showcase what we're about. It's going to be a tough tournament because it's very high quality, but without these tests, we're not going to push ourselves. I'm very excited. I can't wait for the first game,” Gray ended.

  • Euro 2024 data dive: Unprecedented feat for Gjasula, Shaqiri extends record run Euro 2024 data dive: Unprecedented feat for Gjasula, Shaqiri extends record run

    Matchday two in the Euro 2024 group stage began on Wednesday, with hosts Germany headlining another dramatic day of action.

    Julian Nagelsmann's hosts became the first team to book their spot in the last 16, but they were pushed far closer by Hungary than they were by Scotland last Friday.

    Scotland themselves stopped the rot with a 1-1 draw against Switzerland, though things could have been even better for the Tartan Army had Xherdan Shaqiri's stunning goal not cancelled out Scott McTominay's opener.

    In Group B, meanwhile, Croatia and Albania served up another classic, with a 2-2 draw leaving the 2022 World Cup bronze medallists on the brink of an early exit.

    But what were the standout stats to emerge from day six at the Euros? 

    Croatia 2-2 Albania: Gjasula makes history at either end

    The early kick-off slot at this tournament has quickly become a fan favourite, and Wednesday's edition will certainly have converted a few more viewers.

    Croatia were set for a comeback win when Andrej Kramaric's strike and Klaus Gjasula's own goal flipped the match on its head, after Qazim Laci had put Albania ahead. 

    There were just 147 seconds between the two Croatia goals deep into the second half, with Kramaric celebrating his 33rd birthday with a composed finish. He is the third player to score at the Euros on his birthday, after Jean-Francois Domergue in 1984 and Wesley Sneijder in 2008.

    However, Gjasula went from villain to hero five minutes into stoppage time, snatching a famous draw for Albania by slotting a cool finish past Dominik Livakovic. Having come on in the 72nd minute, he is the first substitute to ever score a goal and an own goal in the same Euros match. 

    He is only the second player to do so overall, after Anton Ondrus for Czechoslovakia against the Netherlands at the 1976 tournament. 

    Being officially timed at 94 minutes and 23 seconds, his goal was also the latest equaliser ever recorded at the European Championships (excluding extra time).

    The result leaves Croatia likely needing to defeat Italy in their final game to have any chance of progressing, meaning Luka Modric and company are facing up to the prospect of a humiliating exit just 18 months after getting on the podium in Qatar.

    Modric started his 15th Euros game on Wednesday, with Andres Iniesta (16) the only midfielder to ever record more. 

    At 38 years and 284 days, he became the oldest player on record (since 1980) to record 100 or more passes in a Euros match (108), while he already held the same record (since 1966) at the World Cup (105 versus Brazil in 2022, 37 years and 91 days).

    Germany 2-0 Hungary: Musiala second only to Bene 

    Wednesday's second game gave us our first qualifiers for the last 16, with Germany clinching a 2-0 victory over Hungary to make it two wins from two matches, courtesy of goals from Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan.

    Musiala's opener – a powerful finish off the crossbar following tireless work from Gundogan – made him the youngest player to score in a nation's first two group games at a single European Championship. He is also the first player to net in Germany's first two matches at the tournament since Mario Gomez in 2012.

    At the age of 21 years and 114 days, he became the second-youngest player to score on his first two European Championship starts, after Hungary legend Ferenc Bene in 1964 (19 years, 186 days).

    Having assisted Musiala's goal, Gundogan later got one of his own to give Germany daylight. He both scored and assisted in the same match for his country for the first time since October 2019, when he scored two goals and registered one assist in a Euro 2020 qualifier versus Estonia. 

    Things were not straightforward for Germany, though, as Hungary fired off 11 shots, with Roland Sallai and Barnabas Varga guilty of spurning particularly good opportunities.

    It is the most shots Germany have faced at a Euros match since the Netherlands recorded 14 against them in 2012, but Manuel Neuer stood firm as Hungary failed to score for the first time in their last 13 matches.

    Despite Hungary giving a decent account of themselves, Toni Kroos produced another metronomic performance in the middle of the park, completing 124 passes.

    That is the second-most on record by a midfielder in a Euros match, after Xavi completed 127 for Spain against the Republic of Ireland in 2012. Kroos' 47 line-breaking passes were at least 30 more than any other player on the pitch. 

    Scotland 1-1 Switzerland: Shaqiri out on his own

    The final game of the day saw Scotland bounce back from their 5-1 defeat to Germany, and boost their hopes of reaching the last 16, with a hard-fought 1-1 draw against Switzerland. 

    Steve Clarke's side had the upper hand after 13 minutes, as McTominay's shot was deflected past Yann Sommer by Fabian Schar. This is now the first edition of the Euros to feature more than one Scotland goal since the 1992 tournament (three).

    They couldn't hold on, though, as Shaqiri came up with a magical long-range finish into the top-left corner just 13 minutes later, giving Angus Gunn no chance.

    Including Euro 2024, the former Bayern Munich and Liverpool man is the only European player to have scored at each of the last six major tournaments, dating back to a hat-trick against Honduras at the 2014 World Cup – his first tournament goals.

    He now has 10 goals at major tournaments, while this is the seventh edition of the World Cup/Euros he has appeared at, the most of any Swiss player. His 10 tournament goals are evenly split between the World Cup and the Euros, making him one of just seven players with five or more goals at each. 

    He is in good company, with Michel Platini, Jurgen Klinsmann, Zinedine Zidane, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaku the others on that list.

    Despite Shaqiri's big moment, Scotland claimed a valuable point, meaning a victory over Hungary in their final group game will almost certainly seal qualification for the last 16, even if they are unlikely to finish higher than third.

    They might wish they could face the Swiss again, having avoided defeat in six of their last seven competitive games against them (two wins, four draws), also remaining unbeaten in two meetings at major tournaments (one win, one draw).

    They have now taken 44 per cent of their all-time group-stage points at the Euros (four of nine) against Switzerland. 

  • The Numbers Game: France face Mbappe conundrum ahead of Netherlands test The Numbers Game: France face Mbappe conundrum ahead of Netherlands test

    Both the Netherlands and France made winning, if not entirely convincing, starts at Euro 2024.

    On Friday, they face off in a heavyweight clash that could go some way to deciding who tops Group D.

    Ronald Koeman's Oranje had Wout Weghorst to thank as they fought back to beat Poland 2-1 in their opening match, and they will hope the potential absence of Kylian Mbappe gives them the upper hand in Leipzig.

    Mbappe's availability is "uncertain" after he suffered a broken nose during Les Bleus' nervy 1-0 victory over Austria, with the forward set to be fitted with a protective mask ahead of a potential return.

    How will the tournament favourites cope if Mbappe does miss out? Here, we delve into the Opta data to preview Friday's game.

    What's expected?

    Despite the question marks over Mbappe's availability, France are favourites to make it two wins from two games.

    The Opta supercomputer gives them a 52.3 per cent chance of victory to the Netherlands' 24.4 per cent, with 23.3 per cent of simulations finishing level.

    This will be the fourth time the teams have faced off at the Euros. France triumphed on penalties in the 1996 quarter-finals, but the Netherlands have since won two group-stage encounters, 3-2 in 2000 and 4-1 in 2008.

    France have, however, won seven of their last eight matches against the Oranje in all competitions, the exception being a 2-0 defeat in the UEFA Nations League in November 2018.

    If recent history is anything to go by, we should expect to get a victor. Only four of the previous 30 matches between the teams have ended in a draw, with France posting 15 victories to the Netherlands' 11.

    Excluding penalty shoot-outs, the Oranje have only lost one of their last 17 major tournament matches (World Cup/Euros), going down 2-0 to Czechia at Euro 2020 (12 wins, four draws). 

    They lost four successive games before this run began – all three group-stage matches at Euro 2012 and the 2010 World Cup final versus Spain.  

    France, meanwhile, could win their opening two games at a European Championships for the fourth time. On each of the previous occasions on which they accomplished that feat, they went on to reach the final (1984, 2000 and 2016).

    If in doubt, get Wout out

    Standing at six-foot-six and still on Burnley's books after loan spells with Besiktas, Manchester United and Hoffenheim, Weghorst may not be the personification of Johan Cruyff's 'total football' ideals.

    However, he has a real knack for being in the right place at the right time for his national team.

    Weghorst's winner against Poland came with his first touch after coming on as an 81st-minute substitute and was his fourth goal at a major tournament (World Cup/Euros).

    Three of those strikes have come as a substitute, the most goals any Oranje player has scored off the bench at tournaments.   

     

    He also has seven goals in his last 11 international appearances overall, tying Cody Gakpo and Calvin Stengs as the Netherlands' leading scorers in Euro 2024 qualifying with three. 

    He ranked eighth among all players for touches in the opposition box during qualifying (47), with six of those to beat him having played more than his 517 minutes.

    Memphis Depay started up front against Poland and flattered to deceive, failing to hit the target with any of his four shots. While he is likely to keep his place in Koeman's lineup on Friday, expect Weghorst to be introduced earlier if Depay produces a similar display.

    Didier Deschamps took some time to settle on Arsenal's William Saliba as the ideal centre-back partner for Dayot Upamecano, and the France duo may need to be prepared for an aerial bombardment. It may not be total football, but it could be effective. 

    Mbappe's absence a chance for Giroud?

    France, meanwhile, are facing up to the scenario they never wished to contemplate – having to cope without Mbappe.

    After colliding with the shoulder of Austria defender Kevin Danso on matchday one, Mbappe is a major doubt for Friday's game. On Wednesday, the president of the France Football Federation, Philippe Diallo, said it was "too soon to know" if he will play again at this tournament.

    The Netherlands will certainly be breathing a sigh of relief, having seen Mbappe score six times in five career matches against them, including his first senior international goal in August 2017. Against no other nation has Real Madrid's newest Galactico netted more often.

    However, Mbappe did attempt four shots without scoring against Austria, taking his total number of shots without scoring at the Euros to 18, the most of any Frenchman since 1980.

    Mbappe started centrally against Austria but often drifted out to the left flank, with Ousmane Dembele stationed wide on the right. Randal Kolo Muani could come in to play a similar role, or Olivier Giroud could provide more of a traditional focal point.

     

    Giroud's 57 international goals put him top of Les Bleus' all-time scoring charts, six clear of Thierry Henry. Just eight of those have come at major tournaments (one at the 2014 World Cup, three at Euro 2016, four at the 2022 World Cup), but the former Arsenal and Chelsea man has long been a crucial foil for his more mobile team-mates. 

    France have won 71.9 per cent of their games with Giroud in the starting lineup under Deschamps (64/89), compared to 57.3 per cent without him (43/75). 

    The 37-year-old, who has 16 headed goals for his country, will also have been licking his lips at the sight of the Netherlands' set-piece defending against Poland, as Adam Buksa took advantage of some lax marking to head home unopposed from a corner.

    The last three goals conceded by Koeman's team have now come from corners.

    PLAYERS TO WATCH 

    Netherlands – Cody Gakpo

    Having netted the Netherlands' equaliser in their opening match, Gakpo has scored on all four of his group-stage starts at major tournaments (World Cup/Euros).

    In all competitions, the Liverpool forward has six goal involvements in his last eight appearances on the international stage (four goals, two assists). 

    Only Nathan Ake, with four, bettered his three chances created against Poland, while he also completed all five of his dribbles and won 15 of his total of 18 duels contested – both team-high figures.

    France – Antoine Griezmann

    With Mbappe likely to miss out, France need another of their attacking stars to step up. 

    Since the start of Euro 2016, Griezmann has more goal involvements at major tournaments (18 – 11 goals and seven assists) than any other European player (World Cup/Euros).

    Against Austria, no player on the pitch bettered Griezmann's two chances created, while he also attempted as many crosses (six) as all of his team-mates combined.

    In Mbappe's absence, he could get the freedom to roam into more advanced areas. He only managed two touches in the opposition box against Austria, though his two shots were worth a game-high 0.84 expected goals (xG).

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