Euro 2024 Takeaways: Fast Starts and Slow Trains, Old and Young Stars, Great Goals and Strong Views 

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

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

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

Here are some things we learned:

- Top performers -

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Top scorers -

The top scorer at Euro 2020 leads the way again.

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

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

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

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

- Was it a shock? -

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

Somehow, it didn't feel that way.

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

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

- East meets West -

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

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

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

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

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

- Football and politics -

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

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

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

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

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



Iconic Sites Hosting Paris Olympics Events

France's paralympian cyclist Florian Jouanny poses at the Bir-Hakeim Bridge ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics. Joël SAGET / AFP
France's paralympian cyclist Florian Jouanny poses at the Bir-Hakeim Bridge ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics. Joël SAGET / AFP
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Iconic Sites Hosting Paris Olympics Events

France's paralympian cyclist Florian Jouanny poses at the Bir-Hakeim Bridge ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics. Joël SAGET / AFP
France's paralympian cyclist Florian Jouanny poses at the Bir-Hakeim Bridge ahead of the Paris Olympics and Paralympics. Joël SAGET / AFP

The Paris Olympics have been designed to showcase the City of Light in all its splendor, with events taking place at iconic locations.
AFP looks at five sites set to wow ticket-holders -- and a global TV audience of billions -- during the 17-day extravaganza starting on July 26:
Eiffel Tower
The most famous of the Paris landmarks, the Eiffel Tower, will welcome beach volleyball.
The action will take place in a temporary venue near the foot of the "Iron Lady".
Next door, the Champs de Mars park at the foot of the tower will host judo and wrestling.
Reviled by some Parisians when it was unveiled in 1889 for the World Fair by engineer Gustave Eiffel, the Eiffel Tower has become the capital's symbol.
Besides being one of the world's top tourist attractions, pulling in seven million visitors a year, it is also a working telecoms tower, used for radio and TV transmissions.
Winners at the Paris Games will all go home with a small part of the iron colossus. Each medal will contain an 18g crumb of original iron, removed during renovations, melted down and reforged.
Grand Palais
Fencing and taekwondo battles will take place in the opulent setting of the Grand Palais exhibition hall, a glass-and-steel masterpiece created for the World Fair of 1900.
Its distinctive feature is its glass domed roof, the largest of its kind in Europe, which covers a cavernous exhibition space of 13,500 square meters.
During World War I, the Grand Palais put its art collection in storage and converted its galleries into a military hospital where soldiers were patched up before returning to the trenches.
In the 21st century, the airy nave has hosted giant installations commissioned from some of the world's leading artists.
It has also been flooded to make the biggest ice rink in the world.
Place de la Concorde
The vast, paved square at the foot of the Champs-Elysees avenue, where heads rolled (literally) during the French Revolution, will serve as an urban sports hub.
Skateboarding, 3x3 basketball, BMX freestyle and, in its first Games appearance, breakdancing, will all take place on the elegant square by the Seine.
Its harmonious name conceals a bloody past. King Louis XVI and his wife Marie-Antoinette were guillotined there in 1793 during the Reign of Terror that followed the 1789 French Revolution.
The largest square in Paris is defined by its huge gold obelisk, one of a pair originally erected by Ramses II outside the temple in Luxor in Egypt. It was gifted to Paris in 1830.
Palace of Versailles
Dressage, showjumping and equestrian cross country will take place in the park of Versailles Palace, some 20 kilometers from Paris. It also features on the marathon circuit and hosts pentathlon events.
In the 17th century, "the Sun King" Louis XIV transformed Versailles into a home of French royalty, where he resided with around 10,000 staff.
The vast gardens include a mile-long canal that once hosted opulent parties.
It has been a world heritage site since 1979 and is a firm favorite on the Paris tourist trail.
Marseille
The Olympics are spreading beyond the capital.
Sailing contests will take place in the Mediterranean city of Marseille, France's boisterous second city, better known as the home of Olympique Marseille football team.
Over 300 sailors from across the world will battle it out on the sapphire Mediterranean waters off the city. A marina has been built along the scenic Corniche coastal road heading southeast out of the city.
It's unlikely they'll have the sometimes ferocious mistral wind in their sails. It usually blows in winter and spring.
Marseille, which will also host 10 football matches, was where the Olympic torch landed in France on May 8 on its relay to Paris.