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EURO 2024

Again, Nigeria loses another star player to Europe  

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It is yet another Nigerian lost to European country as striker Joshua Ziekzee entered the pitch at the weekend  for the Netherlands in their 2-1 defeat of Türkiye on Saturday in the on-going Euro 2024.

The 23-year old is one of the Nigerian-born players abroad to be in the radar of the Nigerian football federation.

Zirkzee’s introduction as a substitute for Xavi Simons, just three minutes to end the regulation time, has ended the hope of the Super Eagles get the player who also played an additional six minutes in the extra time.

He was born in the Netherlands to a Dutch father and a Nigerian mother and would have thus been eligible for either of the two countries.

He became a youth international for the Dutch in 2016. On the Nigerian Democracy Day,  June 12 this year, he was added to the Netherlands’ squad for Euro 2024 and had his debut last Saturday to close a possible international career for Nigeria.

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

EURO 2024

Euro finals facts and records

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Here are some facts and records of European Championship finals ahead of Sunday’s Euro 2024 showcase between Spain and England:

Most titles: Spain (3), Germany/West Germany (3)

If Spain win the title on Sunday they will be the only team to have won the title four times.

Most finals: Germany/West Germany (6), Spain (5, including Euro 2024)

Titles won by the Euro 2024 finalists

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Spain: 1964, 2008, 2012

England: –

Biggest win in final: Spain beat Italy 4-0 in 2012.

Finals decided in extra-time: 1960, 1996, 2000, 2016

Finals decided by penalties: 1976, 2020

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Final played twice: 1968. The final won by Italy was played twice after the first match against Yugoslavia ended 1-1 after extra-time. Penalties had not yet been introduced as deciders.

Defending champions winning the title: Spain 2012

Teams that won the title after reaching the final in the previous edition:

1980 West Germany (finalists in 1976)

1996 Germany

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England reached the 2020 final which they lost to Italy and are in the final once more.

Teams that won the title without requiring penalty shootouts during the tournament since their introduction:

France (2000), Greece (2004)

If England win they will be the seventh team in the last nine Euros to have triumphed after winning a shootout at some point in the tournament.

Third-placed team in group stage to win the title: Portugal (2016)

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Red cards in final: 1984 Yvon Le Roux (France)

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EURO 2024

Netherlands vs England: who lands in the final?

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Both teams have things in common apart from having ‘land’ in their names. Each one only has a cup triumph. England won the World Cup on home soil in 1966 and stumbled every other time, even when ranked as favourites.

The Netherlands too have only one cup triumph to their glory – the 1988 Euro triumph. Both cup-underachievers are now trying to get to the title match of Euro 2024.

For England, it is an attempt to reach their second straight Euros final while the Dutch will rely on their attacking style to win the semifinal and get to the final for the first time since 1988.

England reached the semi-finals, but have not been too impressive.

They will require transformation in their attack if they are to get to the Euro final match again.

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None of their victories has been impressive. Rather they are mere escape from defeat and had to depend on lottery of penalty shootout to overcome Switzerland in the quarter-finals. The men of Gareth Southgate  will have to do more if they are to meet Spain in the final.  

As for Netherlands, they have been the comeback masters, scrambling from behind in three of their four scoring matches. Their three victories so far have come within regulation time unlike England who won just a match in regulation time.

Their duel tonight in Dortmund will decide who will meet Spain in the final.

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EURO 2024

Saka now toast of England as Euro 2020 penalty abuse is forgotten

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Euro 2024 - Quarter Final - England v Switzerland - Dusseldorf Arena, Dusseldorf, Germany - July 6, 2024 England's Bukayo Saka scores a penalty during the penalty shootout REUTERS/John Sibley

Subjected to racist insults after missing the decisive penalty of England’s shootout defeat in the Euro 2020 final, Bukayo Saka buried that nightmare on Saturday with a superb individual goal and spot-kick success against Switzerland.

“To come back from something like that was really difficult. I used that to make me stronger. Today I took the chance and I’m happy,” said England’s man-of-the-match.

Only 19 during that infamous shootout loss to Italy at Wembley, Saka’s confidence could have been shattered by the invective he and other Black players received online.

But he recovered quickly – helped by coach Gareth Southgate’s support, a massive groundswell of public affection, and a backlash against the abusers – and continued to show fine form for Arsenal in the Premier League and for England.

Now Saka is a popular figure and, at age 22, almost a veteran of the national team, with 38 appearances and 12 goals.

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Saturday’s game may have been the most special of them all.

Saka first hit a glorious curling equaliser when England were 1-0 down in their quarter-final against the Swiss and on their way out of the tournament. Then, when the game finished at 1-1 after extra time, he was one of England’s five successful penalty-takers in the 5-3 shootout victory.

‘PROUD OF MYSELF’

The total focus on his face as he stepped up for England’s third penalty gave way to a massive smile as the ball nestled into the corner.

“Last time we took a penalty shootout at the Euros, you all know what happened. I’m so proud of everyone how we got over the line,” he said. “I felt that we dominated the whole game, that the chance (for a goal) will come. And it did come and I was the one that took it, so I’m proud of myself for that.”

Coach Southgate, whose consolation of Saka at the last Euros was one of the abiding images of the tournament and remains a painful sight for England fans, said he could not be prouder of his young charge.

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“He is so brave. He’s one of our best. So we were never in any question that he was going to take one (a penalty). But we all know what he went through. And to deliver as he did.”

England’s footballing history is littered with painful shootout failures, but Saka said he felt calm in the moment.

“You fail once but I’m the sort of guy who wants to put myself in the position again. I know there’s a lot of nervous people watching, like my family, but I kept my cool and scored my penalty,” he said.

-Reuters

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