Mbappé's France, Vlahović's Serbia Heading toward Euro 2024

France's Kylian Mbappe, right, and Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene compete for the ball during the Euro 2024 group B qualifying soccer match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
France's Kylian Mbappe, right, and Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene compete for the ball during the Euro 2024 group B qualifying soccer match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
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Mbappé's France, Vlahović's Serbia Heading toward Euro 2024

France's Kylian Mbappe, right, and Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene compete for the ball during the Euro 2024 group B qualifying soccer match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)
France's Kylian Mbappe, right, and Ireland's Chiedozie Ogbene compete for the ball during the Euro 2024 group B qualifying soccer match between Ireland and France at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, Ireland, Monday, March 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

Kylian Mbappé is captaining France to a comfortable start in qualifying for the European Championship though Serbia's Dušan Vlahović was the standout striker on Monday.

France's 1-0 win at Ireland was earned by defender Benjamin Pavard's rasping 50th-minute shot that was a rare show of attacking force in Dublin, The Associated Press said.

Like France, Serbia has begun its qualifying program with two wins thanks to Vlahović striking twice late in a 2-0 win at Montenegro. The first in the 78th was a slick first-time shot to meet a cross from the left flank.

Poland got its first points after beating Albania 1-0 though it was a Major League Soccer striker rather than superstar Robert Lewandowski who scored.

Karol Świderski, who plays for Charlotte and was little used at the World Cup, got the decisive goal just before halftime.

A look at the eight qualifying games across Europe on Monday:

GROUP B
For the second time in four days, France players were hugging goalkeeper Mike Maignan at the final whistle for their new No. 1’s standout saves.

Maignan’s leaping, stretching save to push away a goal-bound header by Ireland defender Nathan Collins ensured a 1-0 win in Dublin. On Friday, in a 4-0 rout of the Netherlands, Maignan kept his shutout by saving a stoppage-time penalty from Memphis Depay.

Depay opened the scoring on Monday for the Dutch with a 24th-minute header in a routine 3-0 win over minnow Gibraltar.

It seemed like an attack vs. defense practise even before Gibraltar’s Liam Walker was sent off in the 51st for a high tackle on midfielder Mats Wieffer.

One minute earlier, Nathan Ake scored with a header and the defender added his second in the 82nd when his deflected shot from the edge of the penalty area rolled softly into the net.

GROUP G
Dušan Vlahović was not fully fit at the World Cup and Serbia went home early without a win and last in a group in which Brazil and Switzerland advanced.

The Juventus forward was sharp on Monday, scoring with a pair of left foot shots late in a 2-0 win at Montenegro.

Serbia and Montenegro, which both began the five-team group with wins on Friday, are neighbors who formed a united team for three years from 2003, including at the 2006 World Cup.

Hungary captain Dominik Szoboszlai scored perhaps the goal of the night in a 3-0 win over Bulgaria.

Szoboszlai fired in a fast, dipping free kick from 25 yards (meters) into the top right corner of the Bulgaria goal. That lifted Hungary to a two-goal lead after just 26 minutes of its first game in qualifying and it was 3-0 by halftime.

Bulgaria’s second straight loss already looks likely to extend its wait to play at a finals tournament beyond 20 years.

GROUP F
Belgium had a night off in the five-team group and plays Euro 2024 host Germany in a friendly on Tuesday.

That let Austria go clear in the standings, adding a 2-1 win over Estonia to another home win on Friday against Azerbaijan.

Austria trailed for much of the game to Estonia’s 25th-minute opener, and led only in the 88th on Michael Gregoritsch’s deflected shot from near the penalty spot.

Coach Ralf Rangnick was punching the air in jubilation in his technical area, and next takes his team to play favored Belgium on June 17.

Sweden got back on track after its 3-0 beating at home to the Belgians on Friday, easing past Azerbaijan 5-0.

Sweden managed without Zlatan Ibrahimović, because of an unspecified injury for the 41-year-old forward, and eased some of the pressure that was building on coach Janne Andersson.

GROUP E
Poland coach Fernando Santos got his first points in his new job since leaving Euro 2016 champion Portugal after the World Cup in December.

A modest 1-0 win over Albania was earned by Świderski’s strike in the 41st, when he reacted fastest at the edge of the six-yard box to collect a rebound from a shot that struck a post.

Czechia leads the five-team group with four points, though a 0-0 draw at Moldova was a drop in class from its 3-1 home win over Poland on Friday.



Soaring High: Indonesian Speed Climbers Race for Rare Olympic Gold

Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP
Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP
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Soaring High: Indonesian Speed Climbers Race for Rare Olympic Gold

Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP
Indonesian climbing athlete Nurul Iqamah takes part in a training session in Bekasi, West Java. BAY ISMOYO / AFP

Indonesian speed climber Desak Made Rita Kusuma Dewi checks her harness, her brow dripping with sweat and her breaths labored, gripping the hold and swinging her body upwards to scale a wall in mere seconds.
The 23-year-old is training for next month's Paris Olympics, where she hopes to add to Indonesia's meager tally of gold medals -- the country has only ever won eight, all in badminton, AFP said.
But in recent years the Southeast Asian archipelago has gained recognition as an unlikely force in speed climbing, smashing records and nabbing multiple medals at top international events.
Climbing -- combining three forms of the sport -- was first included at the Olympics in Tokyo in 2021. Paris 2024 will see speed climbing become a separate event for the first time.
Competitors scramble up a standardized 15-meter (50-foot) vertical route and the one who reaches the top in the fastest time, typically just a few seconds, wins.
"As it gets closer, I don't want to think about anything else," Desak, one of two Indonesian speed climbers to have so far qualified for Paris, told AFP after a training session at the national team's facility outside the capital Jakarta.
"I just focus on the Olympics."
Indonesian climbers have excelled in the speed format because their typically slight stature gives them speed and agility. Pure dedication and teamwork is also behind the success.
"If we keep bemoaning about our lack of height, we will never be able to compete," national wall-climbing coach Hendra Basir told AFP.
"So we focus on our advantage as small people. We have been blessed with agility."
Long process
Desak has been climbing since childhood and now has a chance to make her Olympic dream come true after winning gold in the women's speed event at a world championship in Switzerland last year.
Joining Desak in going for gold in the French capital will be Rahmad Adi Mulyono, 23, after he won a qualifier against another Indonesian to advance.
"At first of course I felt a burden, but as time goes by I have a nothing-to-lose attitude," he told AFP.

Both decided to focus on speed climbing instead of lead and boulder, the two other climbing disciplines featured in Tokyo.
"I am optimistic. What I first need to do is upgrade myself, focus, and shorten the time (to the top) every time I train," said Rahmad.
Hendra said the athletes had spent years training to make sure Indonesia, which has not generally excelled in global sport, has a chance of achieving Olympic gold.
"We have gone through a very long process from 2019, starting from qualification for the Tokyo Olympics, and not to mention the (pandemic) break," said the coach.
'Sliver of hope'
While speed climbing remains firmly behind football and badminton in terms of sporting attention at home, its popularity is growing.
But the local sports industry remains underdeveloped for speed climbing and other climbing disciplines, leaving athletes with often greater walls to climb.
"God willing there's a sliver of hope that the Indonesian team can compete to win gold medals at the Olympics, but indeed, the process to reach this point was incredibly hard," said Hendra.
There is optimism though that the promise shown in speed will translate to the walls of Paris.
Former world record holder Veddriq Leonardo could still qualify for the Games if he finishes well at a tournament in Hungary later this month.
"Of course we are hoping that speed climbing, as a debut sport at the Olympics, can give a surprise achievement," Indonesia's National Olympic Committee chairman Raja Sapta Oktohari told AFP.
"We have a world champion in this sport. I hope in the 2024 Paris Olympics, Indonesian athletes can score an achievement and a new history," he added, referring to Desak.
But the competition will be tough. Veddriq's world record of 4.90 seconds was beaten twice in April by the American Samuel Watson and is now 4.798 seconds.
Regardless of the pressure and weight of expectation, Desak is primed to give her all.
"I hope my dream to hear Indonesia Raya (national anthem) reverberate at the Olympics will come true," she said.
"My dream is to win a gold medal."