Euro 2024 is almost upon us, with Europe's finest preparing to battle it out to be crowned continental champions in Germany.

It all gets under way on Friday as Julian Nagelsmann's hosts face Scotland at the Allianz Arena. 

It seems remarkable to think Die Nationalelf – the most successful national team in Europe – have gone eight years without a knockout win at a major tournament, and they will be desperately hoping home advantage inspires a better run this time around.

England, meanwhile, will be looking to bring football home and end 58 years of hurt in the country their captain Harry Kane thrived in last season.

The Three Lions' 2022 World Cup hopes were ended by France, who are again among the favourites. There is plenty more intrigue elsewhere, from defending champions Italy being drawn in a 'group of death' with Spain and Croatia to Cristiano Ronaldo leading Portugal into a sixth edition of the Euros.

And who could forget Georgia's first tournament as an independent nation, or Scotland's attempts to upset the odds in Group A?

As Euros fever grips the continent, we run through the main storylines and contenders, pick out some underdogs and breakout stars to watch and take a look at the Opta supercomputer's predictions.

THE HOSTS

This will be the first edition of the Euros to take place solely in a unified Germany, though the Allianz Arena hosted games at Euro 2020 and West Germany staged the 1988 tournament – won by the Netherlands as Marco van Basten scored one of the most iconic goals in history against the USSR in the final.

This will be Germany's fourth major tournament as sole hosts overall, and they have always gone far on home soil, winning the 1974 World Cup and going out in the semi-finals at Euro 1988 and the 2006 World Cup.

Hopes were not high for them in late 2023 as a dismal run of friendly results saw Hansi Flick become the first Germany coach to be sacked. However, Nagelsmann has restored optimism and has a supremely talented group of players to work with.

Florian Wirtz's emergence as one of Europe's best attacking midfielders offers cause for excitement – the 21-year-old scored 11 goals and added 11 assists during Bayer Leverkusen's unbeaten Bundesliga title-winning campaign to claim Player of the Season honours.

Wirtz, Jamal Musiala and Ilkay Gundogan will likely support Kai Havertz in a fluid attacking quartet, while Toni Kroos' presence in midfield will be a major boost to a team that averaged 59.3 per cent possession at Euro 2020 – second only to Spain (66.8 per cent).

Kroos – who won his sixth Champions League with Real Madrid this month – played more line-breaking passes (214) and passes leading to final-third entries (69) than any other player in Europe's premier club competition in 2023-24.

The major question mark could pertain to Kroos' partner, with Germany having lacked a true midfield enforcer for some time.

They have conceded at least one goal in their last 12 major tournament games, last keeping a clean sheet against Slovakia in the last 16 at Euro 2016. Will that soft underbelly cost them again?

THE FAVOURITES

England

England's Euro 2024 preparations have been far from perfect, with defensive mainstay Harry Maguire missing out through injury and their final friendly ending in defeat against Iceland. However, Gareth Southgate's side enter the tournament as the Opta supercomputer's favourites.

It is not difficult to see why. In Kane, England have a striker whose tally of 44 goals in 2023-24 was only matched by Kylian Mbappe among players from Europe's top five leagues.

In Jude Bellingham, they have the outstanding player from Madrid's double-winning side, recording 36 goal involvements (23 goals, 13 assists) in his debut season in Spain. 

And in Phil Foden, Southgate can call upon the Premier League's Player of the Season, who produced talismanic performances against Manchester United, Aston Villa and West Ham to cap Manchester City's fourth straight title success. 

With Southgate thought likely to depart whatever the outcome of England's campaign, this tournament must be the culmination of their development into genuine contenders. Penalty shoot-outs excluded, England have only lost one of their last 18 Euros games (10 wins, seven draws) – against Iceland in 2016. 

With Marc Guehi now likely to partner John Stones following injury-disrupted campaigns for both players, the key may be Southgate's ability to protect his backline. 

Across the 2018 and 2022 World Cups and Euro 2020, England conceded just 0.59 goals per game and allowed opponents a paltry 0.72 expected goals (xG) per match – a figure only bettered by France (0.67) among the leading European teams to make each tournament. Reproducing that kind of solidity will be crucial. 

France

Didier Deschamps is eyeing history in Germany, where he could become the first person to win the World Cup and the Euros as both a player and a manager. 

Having reached the final at three of their last four major tournaments, Les Bleus are right up there among the favourites again.

The likes of Hugo Lloris, Raphael Varane, Paul Pogba and Karim Benzema may be gone, but France still boast an incredible depth of talent, with Mbappe leading from the front as captain.

Mbappe endured a terrible tournament at Euro 2020, failing to score from chances amounting to 1.7 xG in four games, before missing the vital penalty as France were beaten by Switzerland in a last-16 shoot-out. 

Coming into this tournament on the back of a 44-goal season with Paris Saint-Germain and with his long-term future decided, few expect a repeat from Madrid's newest Galactico. 

Among the more interesting selections from Deschamps is a recall for N'Golo Kante, who was missed at the 2022 World Cup but failed to prevent Al-Ittihad from finishing a lowly fifth in the Saudi Pro League in 2023-24. With Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni also included, opposing midfielders are in for a tough time. 

A difficult group-stage draw means France will be tested from the very off, though. If they can top a pool containing the Netherlands, Austria and Poland, they could be on course to meet England in a titanic semi-final. 

Spain

Spain are the only nation to win back-to-back editions of the Euros, bookending their golden era by triumphing in 2008 and 2012. Since then, La Roja have won just two knockout ties at five major tournaments, with a 2022 World Cup exit to Morocco their nadir.  

Luis de la Fuente is the man tasked with bringing back the good times, and victory in the 2022-23 edition of the Nations League represented a decent start.

However, La Roja have been drawn into what is surely the toughest group at the Euros, with Croatia and Italy their first two opponents before they face Albania.

Spain's attractive, possession-based brand of football won them plenty of plaudits at Euro 2020 and the Qatar World Cup, but it did not win them enough games, with Italy, Japan and Morocco all keeping them at arm's length at those tournaments.

As well as averaging the most passes per sequence during Euro 2024 qualifying (six), Spain averaged the most sequences of 10+ passes per game (28.5). Adding an end product is now the aim of the game.

Alvaro Morata must step up after missing a tournament-high six big chances at Euro 2020. He did score 15 goals in LaLiga last term, though, and exciting wide duo Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams should provide him with plenty of service.

Spain's key men in midfield will be Pedri and Rodri.

Man City star Rodri saw his 18-month unbeaten run ended by Manchester United in last month's FA Cup final, but he developed into more than a midfield enforcer in 2023-24, scoring nine goals and adding 14 assists. 

Pedri, meanwhile, netted twice in a dominant 5-1 win over Northern Ireland last week, and is back to form after an stop-start season with Barcelona. His Blaugrana team-mate Gavi will be absent through injury, however.

If La Roja are to add punch to their possession play, this pair may need to be the driving force. 

Portugal

Portugal are the fifth team to be given more than a nine per cent chance of glory by the Opta supercomputer, as Cristiano Ronaldo heads into his 11th – and potentially final – tournament. 

Injury limited Ronaldo to the role of cheerleader when Portugal won Euro 2016, but he has already written his name into the competition's record books and can underline his legacy further in Germany.

Ronaldo holds the records for most games (25), most goals (14), joint-most assists on record (six – since 1972) and most editions with at least one goal (five) at the Euros. 

His place was called into question at the Qatar World Cup, but Roberto Martinez has built around him since taking over last year, with the Selecao plundering 36 goals in 10 qualifiers and conceding just two.

With the likes of Bernardo Silva, Bruno Fernandes, Rafael Leao, Joao Felix, Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto all making their squad, Portugal have one of the most exciting attacking line-ups at the tournament. 

A kind group-stage draw – pitting them against Czechia, Turkiye and tournament debutants Georgia also plays into their hands – and the Selecao also know topping Group F would put them on the opposite side of the draw to England and France, should they also win their groups.

Lionel Messi's triumph at the last World Cup will only have heightened Ronaldo's desire for more international silverware. With a strong supporting cast behind him, he should not be written off.

THE UNDERDOGS

Scotland

Scotland fell flat on their first tournament appearance of the century at Euro 2020, but there are reasons to suggest the Tartan Army might have more to cheer this time around. 

Steve Clarke's side were promoted to the top tier of the Nations League in 2022-23, while a famous 2-0 win over Spain at Hampden Park – courtesy of a Scott McTominay double – set the tone for their successful qualification campaign.

Having lost Aaron Hickey, Nathan Patterson and Lewis Ferguson to injury, Clarke's men face a difficult first test against Germany. However, one win could be enough to qualify under the 24-team format, and they might just fancy their chances of upsetting Hungary or Switzerland. 

Austria

Looking to bloody the noses of France and the Netherlands in Group D are Austria, tipped by many to be something of a surprise package under Ralf Rangnick.

Austria finished just one point behind Belgium in qualifying, Rangnick needing little time to implement his high-pressing style. They allowed opponents just 8.3 passes per defensive action (PPDA) in qualifying – the fewest of any team.

Austria also attacked with the highest direct speed (2.03 metres per second), and if their Group D opponents do not match their intensity, they could spring a surprise.

Georgia

One of the stories of the tournament can be found in Group F, with Georgia featuring at a major tournament for the first time as an independent nation – they are the only Euros debutants in Germany.

They failed to qualify directly - their Nations League performance teeing up a penalty shoot-out victory over Greece in the play-offs. They were the only team to reach the tournament while posting a negative goal difference (-6) in their qualifying group.

When it comes to one-off games, though, they do have match-winners. Napoli's Khvicha Kvaratskhelia completed the joint-most dribbles of any player in qualifying (44), alongside Jeremy Doku, also scoring four goals and providing one assist.

Georgia also have international pedigree in the dugout, with Willy Sagnol their head coach. The former France right-back only lost one of his 12 games at major tournaments as a player (six wins, five draws).

THE BREAKOUT STARS

All eyes may be on Kane, Mbappe and Ronaldo, but major tournaments are often defined by breakout stars, those players who earn big-money moves or become household names within a matter of days.

Slovenia's Benjamin Sesko could be a candidate, having attracted interest from several of Europe's biggest clubs, though he has now signed a new deal with RB Leipzig. Bellingham (19) was the only player aged 21 or younger to better his 14 goals in Europe's big five leagues last term. 

The Netherlands, who are shorn of Frenkie de Jong, may need to spread the goals around in the absence of a top-class number nine, and Feyenoord's Lutsharel Geertruida – who has played at centre-back, right-back or in midfield – had 13 goal involvements in the Eredivisie last term (eight goals, five assists).

Defending champions Italy are being overlooked by many as Luciano Spalletti oversees a period of transition. Inter midfielder Davide Frattesi could emerge as a star for the Azzurri, having scored five goals in 15 caps – more than any team-mate since his debut in 2022.

This tournament has been touted as something of a last dance for Belgium's 'Golden Generation', and PSV winger Johan Bakayoko is the Red Devils' next big hope. Only seven players bettered his 164 opposition-half take-ons in Europe's top six leagues last term, with fellow Belgium wide-man Doku (171) among them.

The supercomputer's prediction

According to the Opta supercomputer, football may finally arrive home on July 14. 

England emerged triumphant in 19.9 per cent of Opta's 10,000 tournament simulations, making them favourites ahead of France (19.1 per cent).

There is then a significant gap to the third favourites, with Germany victorious on home soil in 12.4 per cent of projections, ahead of Spain (9.6 per cent) and Portugal (9.2 per cent). 

The Netherlands (5.1 per cent) and Italy (5.0 per cent) are next, with tough group-stage draws working against them. Belgium (4.7 per cent), Denmark (2.2 per cent) and Croatia (2 per cent) round out the top 10.

England are "incredibly strong" and "definitely good enough to go all the way" at Euro 2024, insists former Three Lions goalkeeper Joe Hart.

Gareth Southgate's side, who were runners-up to Italy at the delayed Euro 2020, are among the favourites to go one better and lift the Henri Delaunay trophy in Germany this year, and there is envious quality within their ranks.

Jude Bellingham played a starring role during his debut season with Real Madrid, with Harry Kane following suit at Bayern Munich, while Phil Foden, Kyle Walker and John Stones are fresh from winning a record-breaking fourth successive Premier League title with Manchester City.

Hart, who recently announced his retirement from professional football, represented England at two European Championships in 2012 and 2016, playing alongside the likes of Kane, Walker and Stones at the latter.

The ex-Man City and Celtic stopper briefly featured for the Three Lions during the early stages of Southgate's tenure, which began in September 2016, and he talked up the nation's chances to BBC Sport.

"I know a lot of our players well from my time with the squad," said Hart, whose tally of 75 caps is only bettered by Peter Shilton (125) among England goalkeepers. "They are top-class players who will have a huge say in how we do this time.

"I feel like [Southgate's] confidence has increased a lot since my time with the squad. He's had success at the past two tournaments... and it also seems like everyone loves playing under him, which is so important.

"For everything that is talked about by people outside the squad, it is what happens in the camp that really matters, and Gareth has built an environment where they will feel safe and will be very focused.

"It looks like the manager and players understand each other and what it takes to go the distance, so they will be able to put themselves in the best position to execute all the planning and hard work that they have already put in.

"England are definitely good enough to go all the way in Germany. If you look at all the squads, then along with France, we are incredibly strong.

"But I know what goes into winning a tournament, and it is not quite as simple as just having the best players, so we will have to see how it plays out."

Declan Rice insists there are positives England can take from Friday's friendly loss to Iceland, also saying the result should not affect Kobbie Mainoo's chances of partnering him in midfield.

England were booed off as they lost their final Euro 2024 warm-up fixture 1-0 at Wembley Stadium, Jon Thorsteinsson's 12th-minute strike proving decisive.

Gareth Southgate's team managed just one shot on target as Iceland sat deep and invited pressure, with Harry Kane and Ivan Toney both fluffing their lines from promising positions.

It was their fewest shots on target in any game since a goalless draw with Scotland in the group stage at Euro 2020 (also one).

The Three Lions were also criticised for a lethargic performance on that occasion, only to reach the final of that tournament.

While Rice was disappointed with Friday's result, he is sure England will learn from their mistakes in time for Group C fixtures against Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia.

"I think when we have that much of the ball and have a couple of really clear-cut chances, and obviously getting beat 1-0 at home just before a Euros isn't ideal, but I am going to take the positives from it as well," Rice told Channel 4. 

"There were a lot of promising performances tonight. I felt on the pitch we played with a good tempo, always tried to play forward and be attacking and a threat. 

"In the end it becomes a frustrating game because you are chasing your tail a little bit, you're likely to get caught on the counterattack and that is where we have to be a little bit more savvy. 

"Going into a tournament, it is not ideal that we lost, but also there are some good learning curves from tonight that we can build on as a team."

This is the first time England have lost their final game prior to a major international tournament since Euro 1968, when they fell at the first hurdle in a four-team competition after going down to West Germany in their final warm-up fixture.

After losing 1-0 to Brazil in March, they have also failed to score in two of their last three matches at Wembley, as many blanks as they fired in their previous 31 outings at the national stadium.

Rice partnered Manchester United youngster Mainoo in the heart of midfield, and his team-mate came in for some criticism from supporters as the Three Lions were routinely caught out on the counterattack.

Rice, however, remains excited about Mainoo's potential, saying: "We did it in March, and it was really positive.

"I can imagine tonight because we lost tonight some people are saying stuff, but that's football these days. Kobbie's young, I am young, our midfield options are young. 

"We are going to learn every game and that is the beauty of football, that every game you play there is a chance to improve and get better."

Gareth Southgate has pledged England will learn from Friday's shock 1-0 defeat to Iceland ahead of their Euro 2024 campaign starting next week.

England's Wembley Stadium send-off fell flat as they produced a disjointed performance against a stubborn Iceland side, with Jon Thorsteinsson's low strike the difference. 

Despite Southgate picking a strong starting lineup featuring Harry Kane, Phil Foden and Cole Palmer, the Three Lions managed just one shot on target and only recorded 0.89 expected goals (xG) from 13 total attempts.

It is the first time they have lost their final game prior to an international tournament since Euro 1968, having won 15 and drawn five of their previous 20 such matches. 

While Southgate was in no mood to excuse England's below-par performance, he is sure their issues will be solved before they face Serbia in Gelsenkirchen in nine days' time.

"It was obviously a disjointed and disappointing performance, and we didn't show enough character but I think it's good for us before an international tournament," Southgate told Channel 4.

"I think we've got to be better without the ball. I think there were a lot of reasons for that and across the two games we probably haven't had our full side out. 

"We've been able to look at people, we've been able to learn about the balance of the team.

"I've been involved in a lot of last matches leading into a tournament. 

"Inevitably players have one eye on what's coming in terms of early challenges. There are no excuses on the result but there are a lot of things we can put right quickly."

England have now conceded first in each of their last three games at Wembley – against Brazil and Belgium in March and versus Iceland on Friday.

It is the first time they have conceded first in three successive matches at the national stadium since doing so between October 1953 and November 1954 – a run which included an infamous 6-3 defeat to Hungary in November 1953.

England's Euro 2024 preparations ended on a sour note as Gareth Southgate's side produced a limp display in a surprise 1-0 defeat to Iceland at Wembley Stadium.

The absence of Jude Bellingham aside, Southgate selected a strong starting lineup but saw his side toil in the final third as Jon Thorsteinsson's early effort proved decisive. 

England started slowly as Iceland sat deep, and they were hit on the break 11 minutes in, Thorsteinsson driving a low strike behind the dive of Aaron Ramsdale and in after cutting inside John Stones on the left side of the area. 

The Three Lions missed two glaring chances to level before half-time, with Cole Palmer seeing a volley deflect wide before Harry Kane inexplicably fluffed his lines when picked out by the Chelsea man.

Stones was replaced by Ezri Konsa at the break in what appeared to be a precautionary move after the Manchester City man took a knock. England should have gone 2-0 down just after the hour-mark, but Thorsteinsson slipped when presented with a clear sight of goal.

That was the closest either side came to a goal in the second half, with substitute Ivan Toney missing England's best chance when he hooked Trent Alexander-Arnold's cross over.

Alexander-Arnold sent a cross-shot just wide in stoppage time and England were booed off at full-time, and far better will be required against Serbia next week. 

Data Debrief: Lacklustre warm-up for Three Lions

Prior to Friday's game, England had not lost their final game before any of their last 20 international tournaments (15 wins, five draws), last doing so when they went down 1-0 in Germany ahead of Euro 1968.

On that occasion, England, then world champions, fell at the first hurdle in a four-team tournament, losing out to eventual runners-up Yugoslavia. 

Real Madrid forward Vinicius Junior was named the Champions League's Player of the Season by UEFA's technical observer panel on Monday.

Vinicius played 10 matches in the 2023-24 competition for champions Madrid, scoring six goals and assisting five.

He was on the scoresheet as Carlo Ancelotti's side beat Borussia Dortmund in the final on Saturday, earning his second Champions League medal with the club.

The Brazilian has 22 direct goal involvements in the knockout stages of Europe's premier club competition (11 goals, 11 assists), the joint-most recorded by any player before turning 24, alongside Lionel Messi.

The UEFA panel also named Vinicius' team-mate Jude Bellingham the Best Young Player of the 2023-24 tournament.

The 20-year-old England international scored four goals and provided five assists in 11 Champions League appearances.

The Goal of the Season award also went to a Madrid player, with Federico Valverde's late volley against Manchester City in a 3-3 quarter-final draw at the Santiago Bernabeu taking the honours.

Champions League football is a simple game. Twenty-two men run around a field for 90 minutes, and in the end, Real Madrid always win.

Los Blancos claimed their record-extending 15th European crown at Wembley Stadium on Saturday, with late goals from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Junior enough to see off a spirited Borussia Dortmund side.

The last six of those triumphs have come within the space of 11 years, following an agonising 12-year wait for La Decima, won in Carlo Ancelotti's first stint in charge in 2014.

Few clubs have enjoyed sustained success in Europe's elite club competition. Fewer still have built the kind of dynasty established by Madrid in recent years.

But how does their recent success compare to those of yesteryear, and how do their players and effortlessly cool Italian coach stack up against those who dominated Europe in the past?

Here, we take a deep dive into the Opta data to find out.

Europe's second-greatest side? 

Given the depth of talent found across Europe in modern times, the lure of the Premier League and the financial power of state-owned clubs such as Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, modern-day Madrid can arguably lay claim to the most impressive run of success in European history.

To triumph in the world's most difficult knockout competition more often than not over the course of 11 years, while replacing stalwarts like Cristiano Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Iker Casillas, shows an incredible capacity for reinvention.

However, it might be incorrect to suggest Los Blancos' current crop are the most dominant team in European history. That honour goes to… well, Madrid.

Under the tutelage of Jose Villalonga, Luis Carniglia and Miguel Munoz, Madrid won the first five editions of the European Cup from 1955-56 to 1959-60.

That glorious era was capped by a 7-3 win over Eintracht Frankfurt in the 1960 final at Hampden Park, a game that has almost taken on mystical status, with Alfredo Di Stefano scoring a hat-trick and Ferenc Puskas upstaging him with four goals. 

 

While Puskas was only around for the last two of those five victories – also featuring in Madrid's sixth triumph in 1965-66 – Di Stefano was inspirational throughout the first five editions of the European Cup, his total of 36 goals coming in just 35 games and more than doubling that of his closest competitor (Crvena Zvezda great Bora Kostic, with 15).

Left winger Paco Gento was the only player to match Di Stefano's 35 European Cup outings during that time, and his longevity allowed him to play on until 1966 and become the first player to win six European crowns. Only on Saturday was that feat matched, with Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Carvajal and Nacho following in his footsteps.

Madrid went 32 years without lifting the European Cup after 1966, before the Galacticos delivered three titles in five years between 1998 and 2002, Zinedine Zidane's volley against Bayer Leverkusen being the defining moment of the club's second golden era.

Other sides can lay claim to a period of dominance in the European Cup, with Benfica (1960-61, 1961-62), Inter (1963-64, 1964-65), Liverpool (1976-77, 1977-78), Nottingham Forest (1978-79, 1979-80) and Milan (1988-89, 1989-90) all winning back-to-back titles. 

Ajax (1970-71, 1971-72 and 1972-73) and Bayern Munich (1973-74, 1974-75, 1975-76), meanwhile, both managed three-peats.

Madrid's recent run of success may have been broken either side of their own three-peat from 2015-16 to 2017-18, but only the great Blancos side of the 1950s and 1960s have previously won as many as six titles in an 11-year spell. 

If the likely arrival of Kylian Mbappe propels them to number 16 next year, modern-day Madrid will have a real claim to have upstaged their forerunners. 

Don Carlo: The undisputed GOAT 

When it comes to the men in the dugout, there is simply no debate. UEFA's flagship competition belongs to Ancelotti. 

Saturday's win was Ancelotti's seventh European crown overall, with two coming as a functional midfielder in Arrigo Sacchi's great Milan side and five arriving as a coach. 

That is as many titles as any other club has won, with Milan being crowned kings of Europe on seven occasions (four times with Ancelotti involved as a player or manager).

 

No other manager has won more than three European Cup/Champions League titles, with Bob Paisley, Zidane and Pep Guardiola joint-second in the charts. 

Ancelotti's three triumphs with Los Blancos, meanwhile, are the joint-most by any coach with a single club, alongside Paisley with Liverpool and Zidane with Madrid. 

The Italian has won 71.4 per cent of his Champions League games in charge of Madrid across two spells (45/63), while he has the most victories of any Blancos boss since the competition's 1992 rebrand. 

As a player and a manager, Ancelotti has experienced eight European Cup/Champions League finals and only failed to lift the trophy on one occasion. It took perhaps the most memorable comeback of all time to deny him, as Liverpool fought back from 3-0 down to beat Milan on penalties in 2005.

Madrid's European aura 

For all Madrid's success in the last decade or so, few would argue they have been the continent's most consistent or aesthetically pleasing side throughout that span. 

Sometimes, the weight of that iconic white shirt alone seems to be enough to drag Madrid through knockout ties, with almost 70 years of history causing Los Blancos' opponents to wilt at the crucial moment.

Most would hold Manchester City up as the absolute pinnacle of footballing excellence in the modern age, yet in the 2021-22 semi-finals, two Rodrygo goals within the space of 90 seconds were enough to undo 180 minutes of excellent work from Guardiola's team.

In 2023-24, City fired 33 shots at Andriy Lunin's goal over the course of 120 minutes at the Etihad Stadium, the most in any Champions League knockout game since Liverpool attempted 34 against Atletico Madrid in March 2020. But it was all in vain as Madrid clung on before triumphing on penalties.

It is difficult, impossible even, to explain Madrid's logic-defying European results with facts and figures. 

Saturday's final saw Dortmund produce 2.08 expected goals (xG) to Madrid's 1.13. BVB's first-half total of 1.68 xG was the largest on record in a Champions League final (since 2013-14) while Los Blancos did not record a shot on target before the break.

Across their last six Champions League knockout games of 2023-24, Madrid lost the xG battle on four occasions, only creating a greater quality of chances than their opponents in both legs of their semi-final triumph over Bayern. 

It was a similar story in 2021-22, when Los Blancos lost the xG battle in four of their seven knockout games including the final, when Thibaut Courtois' heroics kept Liverpool at bay.

Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Madrid have 'lost' 26 Champions League knockout games on xG, but boast a record of 11 wins, six draws and nine losses in those contests. 

If you fail to put them away, they simply will punish you. Why? A plethora of big-game players certainly helps… 

The men for the big moments

Having players well-versed in coming up with clutch moments has helped turn Madrid into a winning machine, almost making their performance levels irrelevant.

It all starts between the sticks. In Madrid's last two Champions League finals, Courtois has faced 12 shots on target but saved all of them, keeping two clean sheets. According to Opta's expected goals on target (xGoT) model, the Belgian prevented 3.4 goals in those matches.

At the other end, Madrid have put their trust in lethal finishers. 

In this season's Champions League, Vinicius (six goals from 4.49 xG), Jude Bellingham (four, 3.02 xG) and Brahim Diaz (two, 1.53 xG) all outperformed their underlying numbers, while Rodrygo (five, 5.71 xG) and Joselu (five, 5.44 xG) were not far away. 

In 2021-22, their charge was spearheaded by Benzema, who scored an incredible 15 goals from chances totalling just 8.35 xG. With five goals from 2.39 xG, Rodrygo was another notable overperformer.  

And of course, Ronaldo was at the forefront of their previous four triumphs. Between the start of 2013-14 and the end of 2017-18, he plundered 53 goals from just 42.9 xG in 50 Champions League matches. The fact he turned those chances into 51.4 expected goals on target (xGoT) only further demonstrates the supreme quality of his finishing.

It hasn't all been about the strikers, though. Who could forget the contributions of Ramos, whose last-gasp header saved Madrid from defeat in the 2014 final against Atletico?

Modric and Kroos, meanwhile, have dictated midfield battles at the highest level well into their thirties.

Kroos produced another metronomic performance in the final game of his club career on Saturday, leading all 22 starters for touches (108), passes attempted (94) and passes completed (91). Only Julian Brandt matched his four chances created, one of which was the corner-kick assist for Carvajal's opener. 

With Ancelotti – and Zidane previously – allowing some of the game's greatest improvisers to do their thing, sometimes the data goes out of the window. 

Gareth Southgate was delighted to see Jude Bellingham crown a "phenomenal year" by helping Real Madrid to Champions League glory at Wembley.

Los Blancos completed the double with a 2-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund in the final, having also regained their LaLiga crown after finishing 10 points clear of rivals Barcelona in second place.

It capped a memorable maiden season at Santiago Bernabeu for Bellingham, who was named LaLiga's Player of the Year after scoring 19 goals in the Spanish top flight - a tally only bettered by Girona's Artem Dovbyk (24) and Alexander Sorloth of Villarreal (23).

The midfielder also netted four times in the Champions League, while providing the assist for Vinicius Junior to score the decisive second goal against Dortmund on Saturday.

And Southgate has been thrilled by the 20-year-old's exploits this term.

"It's an incredible year for him," Southgate told reporters ahead of England's Euro 2024 warm-up match against Bosnia-Herzegovina on Monday. 

"To cap that season with winning the Champions League, it's a phenomenal year, and I'm delighted for him.

"His family have to take credit for that. The way he is authentic in interviews, that's how he is. The way he reacts with staff and players, he has the humility and understanding.

"He had to earn the respect of people like [Luka] Modric and [Toni] Kroos, he went on to attack that challenge."

England team-mate Kieran Trippier concurred: "He doesn't seem like a 20-year-old. He's so mature for his age. He's taken it in his stride and all the boys are absolutely delighted for him - not just [for winning] the Champions League, but the season he has had."

Bellingham will miss the Three Lions' penultimate match before the European Championship as he enjoys a much-needed rest, but will link up with the squad before they travel to Germany.

England, who will play Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia in Group C, are among the favourites to go all the way at the tournament, and Southgate knows this is an important period of recuperation for his star midfielder. 

"The most important thing is rest, recovery at this moment, for Jude and for the team," he added. "Have time with his family, clear his head.

"He's played right to the end [of the season]. He's super professional, so he's going to physically tick over, but we need to see him before next Saturday."

Jude Bellingham lauded Carlo Ancelotti for unlocking previously unknown potential in his game as the pair celebrated Champions League success on Saturday.

The England international ended his first season in the Spanish capital with LaLiga and European glory, after the 2-0 victory over Bellingham's former club Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium.

A battling victory secured Los Blancos' 15th trophy in Europe's top competition, at least eight more than any other side (Milan, seven), as Ancelotti made further history.

The Italian has won the European Cup/UEFA Champions League more times than any other manager (five), with three of those coming in charge of Madrid.

That is also the joint-most for a manager in charge of a specific team, along with Bob Paisley at Liverpool (three) and Zinedine Zidane, also at Madrid (three).

Bellingham was quick to hail the work of veteran boss Ancelotti before the party started for Madrid in London. 

"He has unlocked a part of my game that I didn't know I had," Bellingham told TNT Sports. "That is the thing about world-class coaches, they make you realise how good you can be.

"They test the limits of your potential. It is like being at school again, you learn something new every day and get better and better."

This was the sixth winning campaign for Madrid quadruple Toni Kroos, Luka Modric, Dani Carvajal and Nacho in the Champions League, taking them level with Paco Gento (six) as the players who have won the European competition the most times in history.

Working alongside those players comes with its challenges, though, Bellingham says.

The 20-year-old continued: "Special feeling. Some of my team-mates have five or six titles and they said enjoy your first as it's a feeling like no other when you reach the top of the mountain.

"It's important to maintain that level but never forget your first and enjoy it. They were the better team for the majority but it comes down to moments and if you don't kill us, then it will come back to haunt you."

Having celebrated their league and continental double, Madrid could soon welcome the arrival of world-class forward Kylian Mbappe, who is set to leave Paris Saint-Germain when his contract expires.

With Vinicius Junior and Rodrygo usually either side of him up top, Bellingham expressed his excitement over an enticing link-up with the France attacker.

"It would be amazing if a player like him arrived," Bellingham added. "One of the best in the world."

Jude Bellingham described becoming a Champions League winner as the best night of his life after helping Real Madrid down his former club Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium. 

Madrid clinched a record-extending 15th European crown on Saturday, claiming a hard-fought 2-0 win over Dortmund, who spurned several clear opportunities in the first half.

Dani Carvajal headed in Toni Kroos' corner for the 74th-minute breakthrough, before an Ian Maatsen error allowed Bellingham to slip in Vinicius Junior for a late second.

At the age of 20 years and 338 days, Bellingham became the third-youngest player to start a Champions League final for Madrid, after Iker Casillas in 2000 (19 years, four days) and Raul in 1998 (20 years, 327 days). 

He also became the third-youngest English player to do so with any team after Trent Alexander-Arnold in 2018 (19 years, 231 days) and Owen Hargreaves in 2001 (20 years, 123 days).

Speaking to TNT Sports immediately after the full-time whistle, Bellingham was lost for words to describe the feeling of becoming a European champion.

"I've always dreamed of playing in these games," he said. "You go through life and there are so many people saying you can't do things and days like today remind you why you do it.

"When it gets hard at times you start to wonder if it's all worth it. Nights like tonight make it all worth it.

"I was okay until I saw my Mum and Dad's faces. The nights they could have been home at seven o'clock but they were still out at eleven or twelve taking me to football. 

"My little brother there who I am trying to be a role model for too... it's hard to put it into words. It's the best night of my life."

Borussia Dortmund left everything out there on the Wembley Stadium turf, but everything was not enough. For the Champions League belongs to Real Madrid, and to Toni Kroos.

Los Blancos captured their record-extending 15th European crown with a hard-fought 2-0 win over BVB on Saturday, with second-half goals from Dani Carvajal and Vinicius Junior punishing Edin Terzic's men for a series of misses.

For all the star power available to them, for all the talk of destiny pitting Jude Bellingham against his former club at the home of English football, Madrid just seem to have a knack for finding unlikely heroes, and Carvajal certainly fits that category.

The identity of Madrid's opening scorer may have been a surprise, but that of the man who created it was not.

In the final game of his storied club career, it was Kroos whose pinpoint corner was glanced home by Carvajal. By the time Kroos was substituted to a rousing ovation in the 85th minute, Ian Maatsen's error had allowed Vinicius in to make the victory safe.

This win was not straightforward, though. With Madrid, things rarely are.

Madrid's road to Wembley was not quite as dramatic as the frankly ridiculous series of events that led to them winning their 14th crown in 2021-22.

On that occasion, Carlo Ancelotti's men pulled off a series of increasingly unlikely rescue acts to break the hearts of Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Manchester City before Thibaut Courtois kept Liverpool at bay in the final.

They still faced their share of adversity this time around, though. 

Having come under fierce pressure against RB Leipzig in the last 16, they made a dismal start to the home leg of their quarter-final against Manchester City, Phil Foden putting them on the back foot within two minutes. Within another 12, Madrid found themselves 2-1 up.

After a pulsating 3-3 draw, they needed a desperate rearguard action to negotiate 120 minutes at the Etihad Stadium. Pep Guardiola's all-conquering machine fired off shot after shot – 33 in total, the most in any Champions League knockout game since Liverpool attempted 34 against Atletico Madrid in March 2020.

But the ball simply would not go in after Kevin De Bruyne cancelled out Rodrygo's opener, setting the stage for Andriy Lunin's penalty shoot-out heroics to send Madrid through.

In the last four, they produced their best impression of the class of 2022, former Stoke City and Newcastle United man Joselu – much maligned when he arrived on loan last June after a failure to lure Kylian Mbappe – stepping off the bench with a last-gasp brace to stun Bayern Munich.

Ahead of Saturday's match, Madrid had only trailed for 7.5 per cent of their total game time in the Champions League this season (90 minutes out of 1,200), the lowest percentage of any side. 

They had, however, won four matches after falling behind, with only Barcelona in 1999-00 and Los Blancos themselves in 2016-17 (five each) ever recording more comeback wins in a single edition of the tournament. 

Resilience, aura, whatever you want to call it, Madrid have it by the bucketload. 

Onto the final. Madrid were again slow out of the traps, even the effortlessly cool Ancelotti looking slightly ruffled as Dortmund's excellent transition play caught them out time and again.

Madrid were caught flat-footed when Mats Hummels released Karim Adeyemi through on goal midway through the first half, yet the youngster's touch past Courtois took him too far wide and Carvajal recovered with a vital challenge. That was warning number one.

Warning number two came when Maatsen slipped Niclas Fullkrug through on goal two minutes later. There was a hint of offside as the Germany striker stretched to prod goalwards, but an even bigger hint of fortune for Madrid as the ball bounced off the inside of the post and found its way to safety. 

Another six minutes later, warning number three as Adeyemi beat Carvajal in another footrace, his low strike from the angle working Courtois again.

Madrid became the first team to fail to record a shot on target in the first half of a Champions League final since Tottenham versus Liverpool in 2019. Their total of two first-half attempts was their joint-fewest in 55 games this season.

Dortmund had them on the ropes, but like Leipzig, City and Bayern, they failed to deliver the knockout blow. 

For all the exuberance of Terzic's team, for all the noise and colour brought by the Yellow Wall behind them, the outcome somehow felt inevitable, and so it proved.

Kroos began finding his range early in the second half, testing Gregor Kobel with a clever free-kick from near the corner of the area before seeing another set-piece nodded over the top by Carvajal – a sighter for the right-back. 

Dortmund continued to threaten at the other end, though, with Courtois again worked by Fullkrug's diving header just after the hour mark.

The big moment, as is so often the case when Madrid are involved, seemed to come out of nowhere.

One perfect swing of Kroos' right boot, one inch-perfect corner delivery, and Dortmund were on the back foot. 

A Dortmund recovery never looked likely from there, with Madrid slotting into cruise (or should we say Kroos?) control.

The midfielder led all 22 starters for touches (108), passes attempted (94), and passes completed (91), while only Ferland Mendy, with perfect distribution, bettered his passing accuracy (96.8 per cent). Dortmund's Julian Brandt matched his four chances created. 

At half-time, Kroos might have looked jaded as Madrid's midfield was caught cold by Dortmund's rapid transition play. By full-time, he was the coolest man at Wembley.  

When it comes to the big moments, Madrid just know how to dial it up. Perhaps no player quite personifies that trait like Kroos.

When announcing his retirement last month, Kroos said he wished to go out at the very top.

By joining Carvajal, Nacho and Luka Modric in winning six European crowns, a feat only previously achieved by Paco Gento, he has certainly accomplished that. 

The biggest game of the European club season is upon us, as Borussia Dortmund and Real Madrid face off for the Champions League trophy at Wembley Stadium.

It's fair to say Edin Terzic's side were not expected to get this far, particularly when they were drawn into a tough group containing Paris Saint-Germain, Milan and Newcastle United.

However, they passed that test with flying colours before seeing off PSV, Atletico Madrid and PSG – for a second time – to book their ticket to Wembley, where they suffered final heartache against Bayern Munich 11 years ago.

Madrid, on the other hand, always expect to feature in this game.

They have had to do things the hard way this term, coming from behind in heavyweight ties against Manchester City and Bayern to emerge as favourites for a record-extending 15th European crown.

Jude Bellingham has been their talisman in his first season after leaving Dortmund, being crowned LaLiga's Player of the Season after leading Los Blancos to their 36th domestic title.

Few would bet against him having a decisive impact upon his return to England on Saturday.

The game will also represent a swansong for two iconic figures in German football, as Marco Reus prepares to leave Dortmund after 12 years and Toni Kroos plays the final game of his glittering club career.

Two DFB-Pokal wins are all Reus has to show for his distinguished spell with BVB, having also missed Germany's 2014 World Cup win due to injury. Kroos, on the other hand, could cap his career with a record-equalling sixth European crown, with his first coming with Bayern against Dortmund.

Whoever lifts the trophy, expect emotional scenes. 

What's expected?

Unsurprisingly, given their continental pedigree, Real Madrid enter Saturday's showpiece game as favourites, with the Opta supercomputer giving them a 55.6 per cent chance of victory inside 90 minutes.

Dortmund are assigned just a 21.4 per cent chance of claiming the trophy within regulation time, with 23 per cent of simulations seeing the final go to extra time and potentially penalties.

This will be Madrid's 18th appearance in a European Cup or Champions League final, with their 17 previous finals already the most of any club. They have lifted the trophy on 14 of those 17 appearances.

Dortmund, meanwhile, are making just their third appearance in a Champions League final, having overcome Juventus 3-1 in 1997 before losing 2-1 to Bayern in 2013. This will be the first Champions League final between a Spanish team and a German team since 2002, when Los Blancos overcame Bayer Leverkusen 2-1.

 

Only Man City (28) have bettered Madrid's 26 goals in this season's edition of the Champions League, while only City (25.1) and PSG (24.9) have topped their total of 24.3 expected goals (xG). Dortmund rank seventh for goals scored (17) and eighth for xG (15.2), with both finalists outperforming their underlying attacking metrics in the competition, Dortmund by 1.8 and Madrid by 1.7.

It is at the other end where BVB might have been a little fortunate. Their average of 1.9 expected goals against (xGA) per Champions League game in 2023-24 is the highest of any team to progress beyond the group stage, and they have been indebted to goalkeeper Gregor Kobel. 

According to Opta's expected goals on target (xGoT) model, he has prevented 7.1 goals in the Champions League this term, conceding seven times from 14.1 xGoT faced. Madrid, meanwhile, have conceded 15 times from 15.6 xGA.  

Sancho to cap underdog story?

When Jadon Sancho was unceremoniously exiled from the Manchester United squad by Erik ten Hag last September, few would have expected to see him play in European football's biggest game within the same season. 

Sancho was initially slow to get going upon his loan return to the Westfalenstadion in January, but he has found his feet in recent months, particularly in Europe.

The winger produced a talismanic display in the first leg of Dortmund's semi-final triumph over PSG and has completed 25 dribbles across his six Champions League appearances this season.

That is the most by any player in the knockout stages of a single edition of the tournament since Neymar recorded 32 for losing finalists PSG in 2019-20.

Should Sancho inspire Terzic's men to victory, it will go down as one of the greatest comeback stories in recent memory.

Moreover, having finished fifth in the Bundesliga, Dortmund will be the second-lowest ranked German team to ever compete in a European Cup/Champions League final, after Bayern won the 1974-75 edition while finishing 10th domestically. 

Fans of an underdog story will be right behind Sancho and Dortmund on Saturday.

 

Is Madrid's name on the trophy?

When Carlo Ancelotti led Madrid to their most recent European crown in 2021-22, it sometimes felt like a greater force was at work.

Los Blancos came from behind in three successive knockout ties against PSG, Chelsea and City, pulling off increasingly unlikely rescue acts to reach the showpiece game in Paris, where Thibaut Courtois' heroics set the stage for Vinicius Junior to down Liverpool.

There has been a greater degree of control about Madrid this season, but their European aura certainly remains intact. 

Madrid have only trailed for 7.5 per cent of their total game time in the Champions League this season (90 minutes out of 1,200), the lowest percentage of any side. 

They have, however, fought back to win four matches in which they've been behind in the competition this term, with only Barcelona in 1999-00 and Madrid themselves in 2016-17 (five each) having more comeback wins in a single edition.

The most memorable of those saw Joselu's late brace dump Bayern Munich out in the semi-finals, but they also had to hold firm to keep RB Leipzig and City at bay in their previous knockout ties.

Teams are advised to play the game rather than the occasion, but Madrid often find something extra when it matters most in a tournament they regard as their own.

PREVIOUS MEETING

The teams last faced each other in the Champions League in 2017-18, with Los Blancos winning both games in the group stage, triumphing 3-1 away and 3-2 at home.

Neither side has previously managed to win three straight European games against the other, though.

Dortmund did memorably overcome Madrid en route to their last Champions League final in 2013, with Robert Lewandowski scoring all four goals in a 4-1 first-leg triumph before they held on in the second leg, a 2-0 defeat sending them through 4-3 on aggregate. 

However, BVB have only won three of their 14 previous Champions League meetings with Madrid overall, drawing five and losing six.  

Among teams they have faced at least five times in the competition, only against City (17 per cent) do they have a lower win percentage than versus Madrid (21 per cent).

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Borussia Dortmund: Mats Hummels 

Dortmund have had to stand firm in the face of pressure en route to the final, and if they are to overcome the might of Madrid, another solid rearguard action will be required.

Hummels has not missed a single minute of Champions League football this season, and he could become the first outfielder to be ever-present for the eventual winners since Cristiano Ronaldo for Madrid in 2017-18.

Like departing team-mate Reus, he could appear in his second Champions League final 11 years on from his first. Juventus icon Gianluigi Buffon (12 years between 2003 and 2015) was the last player to appear in two showpiece games with a longer wait between them.

Real Madrid: Jude Bellingham

Who else but former Dortmund star Bellingham?

The England international has earned a reputation as a player for the big occasions this season, and few would bet against him having a decisive impact against his old club at Wembley.

He has created more chances while under pressure (19) than any other midfielder in this season's Champions League, with four of those resulting in assists. The only player to provide more assists while under pressure from at least one opposition player in the 2023-24 tournament is Dortmund's Marcel Sabitzer (five).

Just as importantly, Bellingham never shirks his off-the-ball work. He has made the most high-intensity pressures of any player in the 2023-24 Champions League overall (572) and in the knockout stages specifically (344).

Borussia Dortmund ace Jadon Sancho revealed he has been in contact with Real Madrid stars Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Jr ahead of the Champions League final.

Sancho and Bellingham were former teammates at BVB before the former departed for Manchester United in July 2021.

Bellingham left Germany for Madrid last June and has been a phenomenon at the Santiago Bernabeu, while conversely Sancho sealed a return to Signal Iduna Park in the January transfer window after struggling for form at Old Trafford and falling out with boss Erik ten Hag.

The 24-year-old winger has been rejuvenated back in Dortmund, though, helping Edin Terzic's men to Saturday's showpiece European fixture at Wembley and he spoke of how he reached out to his pals after the semi-finals.

Speaking to TNT Sports, he said: "It’s going to be a great game. Madrid, their history speaks for itself, they’ve got a lot of great players. I’ve got a few friends over there, Vini and Jude.

“I actually messaged them after they won against Bayern Munich. I said, ‘I’ll see you there.’ It’s going to be a tense game, for sure. I can't wait.”

Sancho's falling out with Ten Hag played out in public and he was often the focus of criticism at United.

However, he said he always knew he could play in these marquee fixtures.

"It’s a big family, everyone respects each other, everyone helps each other. Especially for me, a young player, you need this foundation and especially the fans," he added.

“The fans always support me through good and bad times, and that is what keeps me - and young players - motivated to do their best.

"I always knew one day I would play in a game like this.

"For it to be London, and for me to be only 24, to get my first experience in a Champions League final is actually surreal. It hasn't really sunk in yet, but when we travel to London the occasion will start to hit me."

 

Jude Bellingham will hold no grudges if Real Madrid team-mate Vinicius Junior wins the Ballon d'Or, saying "I'd feel just as proud as if I won it".

The England international was voted LaLiga's Player of the Season following a tremendous maiden campaign with Madrid, who he helped land a 36th league title.

Bellingham scored 19 goals and had six assists in 28 league games this season, while tallying 35 goal contributions across all competitions for Los Blancos.

His exploits led former Madrid and England striker Michael Owen to claim he has a "massive chance" of winning the Ballon d'Or, though the 20-year-old believes there is a more suitable candidate for the accolade.

"I'm not really too fussed about it," he said. "I always thought the Ballon d'Or and those sorts of things were for the strikers, the wingers and the flashy players.

"I know I can entertain the crowd, but no-one can do it like Vini. When he's at his best, I think he's the best player in the world. I know he likes to say the same about me, and that's the kind of relationship we have. 

"You don't always have to be friends with your team-mates, but it helps when you can be so close off the pitch as well. And then, on the pitch, it reflects. We have a good understanding of each other's movements.

"To be honest, if he was to win it, I'd feel just as proud as if I won it, because I know I've helped contribute to the success."

Both players are likely to feature in Saturday's Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund at Wembley Stadium, when Los Blancos seek a record-extending 15th Champions League title.

Real Madrid midfielder Jude Bellingham has been voted LaLiga's Player of the Season after playing a pivotal role in leading the club to their 36th league title.

Bellingham edged out team-mate Vinicius Junior, Atletico Madrid's Antoine Griezmann, Girona's Artem Dovbyk and Barcelona's Robert Lewandowski in votes cast by fans, club captains and a panel of experts.

He scored 19 goals and had six assists in 28 league games this season, tallying 23 goals and 12 assists in all competitions in his first campaign with Los Blancos.

Bellingham, who could not attend Tuesday's ceremony in Sardinia as he is preparing for the Champions League final at Wembley against his former club Borussia Dortmund, said he was honoured to have received the award.

"I would like to dedicate it to my team-mates, the coaching staff and, most importantly, to the fans of the best club in the world," he said in a message. 

"It's a pleasure every time I play for this team. Hala Madrid!"

The England star also won the 2022-23 Bundesliga Player of the Season prize while playing for Dortmund before moving to Real for a fee of around €103million.

Earlier on Tuesday, Dortmund sporting director Sebastian Kehl was full of praise for Bellingham.

"I know how strong Jude is and I know his personality very much, so he's an amazing player, an amazing character and of course, he will do everything to win that final," he said.

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