Euro 2024: Belgium captained by De Bruyne face Slovakia to open Group E in clash of Italian coaches

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) — Belgium and Kevin De Bruyne face Slovakia to start their European Championship program on Monday in Group E. Also in the group are Romania and Ukraine. Kickoff in Frankfurt is at 6 p.m. local time (1600 GMT). Here’s what to know about the match.

Match facts

— There is a strong Italian influence on the game. Slovakia coach Francesco Calzona is Italian, and was the interim coach since February at Napoli where he had been an assistant to Mauricio Sarri. Belgium’s 38-year-old coach Domenico Tedesco was born in Italy though is a citizen of Germany having grown up there and considers himself more a product of its soccer culture.

— Slovakia is at its third straight Euro as an independent nation, all since the tournament was expanded to 24 teams. Slovakia reached the round of 16 in 2016 losing 3-0 to Germany. As half of the former Czechoslovakia it won the 1976 title.

— Belgium was the beaten finalist in 1980, losing to West Germany.

— The teams never met in a competitive game and last played a friendly against each other 11 years ago. A Belgium team featuring a 21-year-old De Bruyne beat Slovakia 2-1 in Brugge.

Team news

— Belgium left arguably the world’s best goalkeeper at home. That’s despite Thibaut Courtois proving his fitness helping Real Madrid win the Champions League final. Courtois has been in dispute with Tedesco reportedly after not getting the captaincy for a game last year.

— Belgium has injuries in defense with doubts over Axel Witsel. Veteran Jan Vertonghen and Arthur Theate have trained enough to be available for selection. Zeno Debast, just 20, and Maxim De Cuyper could get their chance.

— Slovakia’s lineup could include Peter Pekarík and Juraj Kucka. At age 37 they are Slovakia’s oldest ever players. They also are the last remaining members of the 2010 World Cup squad that beat and eliminated defending champion Italy in the group stage.

By the numbers

Belgium is still ranked No. 3 by FIFA despite not advancing out of its group at the 2022 World Cup. Belgium has a seven-year run in the top five, including atop the ranking from 2018 through 2021. Slovakia is No. 48.

— Romelu Lukaku’s record 85 goals for Belgium, aged just 31, is more than the top three Slovakia scorers combined since it became an independent soccer nation in 1994. Marek Hamsik, who retired last year and is now an assistant coach, leads with 26.

— Belgium captain De Bruyne made his 100th appearance for the Red Devils last week, scoring in a 2-0 warmup win against Montenegro.

— Slovakia gave up the fastest goal in the history of men’s international soccer in March. It took just six seconds for Austria’s Christoph Baumgartner to dribble the ball direct from the center spot and shoot past goalkeeper Martin Dubravka.

What they’re saying

— “Belgium has a lot of fantastic individuals. Take De Bruyne, (Jérémy) Doku, Lukaku, (Leandro) Trossard, all of them are huge players. Belgium has two or three top players playing in top clubs in each position.” — Slovakia midfielder Stanislav Lobotka

— “Since the 2022 World Cup, he has had to build a completely new team with a lot of younger players, so everything had to be adjusted to his philosophy of playing.” — Kevin De Bruyne on coach Domenico Tedesco


AP Euro 2024:

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