England Faces Serbia in Euro 2024 Group Opener Aiming to End 58 Years of Hurt

England's Kieran Trippier, left, and Harry Kane arrive for a training session of the national team in Blankenhain, Germany, Thursday, June 13, 2024 ahead of their Group C soccer match against Serbia at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany (AP) — England is among the favorites to win the European Championship and end its long wait for a first major trophy since the 1966 World Cup. Gareth Southgate’s team begins its campaign against Serbia in Group C on Sunday. There are concerns about potential fan violence. Police have deemed the game “high risk,” and beer sales at the stadium will be low-alcohol only. Kickoff is at 9 p.m. local time (1900 GMT) on Sunday. Here’s what to know about the match:

Match facts

— Excluding penalty shootouts, England has lost only one of its last 18 games in the European Championship. The Three Lions, of course, suffered the heartbreak of losing to Italy on spot kicks in the final of the 2021 tournament at Wembley Stadium.

— England’s hopes could rest on Jude Bellingham, who has just completed a dream debut season at Real Madrid after winning the Spanish title and Champions League.

— Serbia striker Aleksandar Mitrovic is coming off an outstanding first season in Saudi Arabia with Al-Hilal, where he won a league and cup double, beating Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr to the title.


— This could be Southgate’s final tournament in charge of England, with his contract due to expire after the Euros. He led his team to the semifinals of the World Cup in 2018 and the final of the Euros but admits failure to win a trophy this time would likely end his reign.

Team news

— The fitness of John Stones has been a focal point, not least because England had to leave defensive stalwart Harry Maguire out of the squad because of a calf injury. Stones missed training through illness earlier in the week but was back on Thursday. Southgate could play Liverpool right back Trent Alexander-Arnold as holding midfielder alongside Declan Rice.

— Serbia reported no injury concerns.

By the numbers

— Harry Kane, John Stones and Kyle Walker are playing in their fifth major tournament for England.

— Serbia scored 15 goals in qualifying for the Euros and five of them came from headers.

— Kane is England’s all-time leading scorer with 63 goals for his country — but he is still waiting for his first trophy at club or international level.

— If selected, Kane will set a record for England appearances at major tournaments on 23.

— Mitrovic scored 28 goals in all competitions for Al-Hilal, behind only Ronaldo (35) as the top scorer in the Saudi Pro League.

— Eleven members of Southgate’s squad, including Chelsea forward Cole Palmer, have been selected for a major tournament for the first time.

— 80,000 liters of beer will be available to fans in Gelsenkirchen, organizers have said.

Italy concedes goal after 23 seconds but recovers to beat Albania 2-1 at Euro 2024

DORTMUND, Germany (AP) — By conceding a goal after just 23 seconds, Italy made the worst possible start to its European Championship title defense.

Thankfully for the Azzurri, it soon got much better.

Italy recovered from letting in the quickest goal in the tournament’s 64-year history to beat Albania 2-1 in Dortmund on Saturday in an atmospheric Adriatic derby that immediately threatened an upset.

Albania’s Nedim Bajrami celebrates after scoring his side’s opening goal during a Group B match between Italy and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Nedim Bajrami thrilled a heavily pro-Albanian crowd at Westfalenstadion by pouncing on a throw-in by Italy left back Federico Dimarco that failed to reach teammate Alessandro Bastoni, before taking a touch and smashing a rising shot inside the near post.

Within 16 minutes, the Italians were ahead as Bastoni headed in Lorenzo Pellegrini’s cross to the back post in the 11th then Nicolo Barella struck home a swerving first-time shot from the edge of the area.

Barella was one of five survivors from the team that started for Italy in the penalty-shootout win over England in the 2021 European Championship final.

The pressure was on Italy’s new-look side under Luciano Spalletti to win its opener given the other teams in Group B are three-time champion Spain and Croatia, a World Cup semifinalist in 2022. Spain beat Croatia 3-0 earlier Saturday.

Croatia’s Luka Modric reacts as Spain’s Dani Carvajal is congratulated after scoring his side’s 3rd goal during a Group B match between Spain and Croatia at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Berlin, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

Bajrami’s goal gave the Azzurri a jolt and created some history — it was much quicker than the previous fastest in the tournament’s lifespan, which was 67 seconds by Russia’s Dmitri Kirichenko in 2004.

Yet they controlled the game after that, dominating possession to a backdrop of jeers and boos from a sea of Albanian red in the crowd.

“They showed there was a gulf in class by playing good football … we played the game the right way,” Spalletti said.

“The scoreline doesn’t reflect the difference between the two teams.”

It’s now just one loss in 12 matches under Spalletti, who took over last August — three months after leaving Napoli following its Italian league triumph — and was tasked with restoring national pride after Italy failed to qualify for the World Cup for a second straight time.

Italy is clearly more at home in the European Championship these days as it goes for a record-tying third title.

Italy’s Alessandro Bastoni, center, celebrates with his teammate Lorenzo Pellegrini after scoring his side’s opening goal during a Group B match between Italy and Albania at the Euro 2024 soccer tournament in Dortmund, Germany, Saturday, June 15, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)

Making its second appearance at a European Championship, Albania — coached by former Barcelona and Arsenal defender Sylvinho — nearly grabbed a draw in stoppage time only for Rey Manaj’s deft chip to deflect just wide off the back of Gianluigi Donnarumma, Italy’s goalkeeper and captain.

“We need to play in lots of Euros and World Cups so we can get better,” Sylvinho said. “The first 25 minutes were tough but we were up against one of the favorites to win the comp.


“We didn’t play those first 25 minutes well but we stayed in the game.”

Euro 2024 has gotten off to a fast start.

Saturday started with Switzerland beating Hungary 3-1 in Cologne and that, after host Germany’s opening-night 5-1 thrashing of Scotland on Friday, means there has been 16 goals so far — an average of four a game.