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Euro 2024: The East in Germany Part I

Part 1

Hosting its first European Championship since its reunification, Germany welcomes eleven countries from Europe’s East hoping to play in the final in Berlin.

From 1961 to 1989, the Berlin Wall divided the USSR-controlled East Berlin from the Allied-influenced West Berlin, splitting families and friends as well as engendering divergence in political and social beliefs. In this way, this physical barrier represented a more striking division in Germany, and more than 30 years later, it persists and can be observed in the lives of Germans in the East and West of Germany.

Like East Germany, a quarter of this tournament’s participants were also under the USSR’s influence via the Warsaw Pact: Albania, Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic and Slovakia), Hungary, Poland and Romania, Georgia and Ukraine. As for the latter two, Russia has since then illegally invaded and annexed sections of both countries.

The hope for independence and alignment of their governing systems with that of Western democracies became increasingly harder to ignore and between 1988 and 1991, Gorbachev’s new thinking ‘glasnost’ policies aided in precipitating the fall of the USSR. Additionally, Croatia, Serbia and Slovenia were formerly republics of Yugoslavia. Last but not least, more for geographical reasons than its political history, Turkey will also be discussed in this three-piece story.

Games at Euro 2024 played by and between the countries mentioned above have provided the most entertainment and excitement for those watching. With Germany home to millions with roots in these countries, not to mention that Germany’s proximity to Eastern Europe allows for a straightforward journey to watch the Euro 2024 in person, many have enjoyed supporting their country at this football festivity. Whether it’s at the stadium, in the fan zone, in the pub or at home, there is a place for all to watch this year’s spectacle.

Group A: Hungary

Led by Dominik Szoboszlai, Hungary arrived at their third consecutive (fifth altogether) Euro after a victorious qualification campaign and an impressive run at the last Euro in a group with the last three tournament winners before 2021 (officially 2020): France, Portugal and Germany.

Although they collected a point more than in the last Euro, there is a feeling of missed opportunity after once more failing to not progress into the last 16 from albeit a competitive but not-as-difficult group in comparison to last time. The team’s inexperience and mistakes were highlighted not least by their manager Marco Rossi, saying he felt it was the most shameful performance in almost four years after losing 3-1 to Switzerland.

Then followed Germany on fine form after their 5-1 win against Scotland. Although Hungary did improve slightly on the offensive, Germany’s performance in the game came out on top by winning 2-0 and earning them their first competitive victory over Hungary since the 1954 World Cup final.

A straight knockout against Scotland rounded off their stay in Germany. The support from both sets of fans cheering on their respective teams will be remembered, but the game itself won’t. Neither side looked like they wanted to score until the final moments of the game despite the permutations, meaning that both teams needed to score for a chance of qualifying as one of the top four third-placed countries.

A horrendous clash between Scotland keeper Angus Gunn and Hungary’s Barnabas Varga saw him stretchered off after suffering a concussion and a broken cheekbone. Hungarian fans were finally able to celebrate in the 100th minute when Kevin Csoboth earned them three points and a chance to qualify for the last 16.

They remained in contention until the final group games but the team’s minus 3 goal difference proved costly and ultimately sent them home with the Hungarian Football Federation complaining that teams in the other groups, who had yet to play their final group game, had the advantage of knowing exactly what they needed.

Group B: Croatia · Albania

Appearing at its sixth consecutive (and seventh) Euro after podium finishes at the last two World Cups, many remained optimistic even though Croatia were drawn into arguably the hardest group: Spain, Italy and Albania while being aware of their previous poor Euro finishes. However, they failed to reproduce their international-stage heroics at what looks like the last dance for this special but ageing side.

Despite having over 60% of possession in its first two games, Croatia struggled to turn this dominance into goals. While they are indeed the first side to have more possession against Spain in a game since the Euro 2008 final, 136 competitive fixtures later, they were still 3-0 down by halftime, missed an 80th-minute penalty, scored in the 76th minute to make it 2-1, but then conceded a late equaliser in the 95th minute from Albania. Its failure to finish off games when leading cost them, sending them home early in the tournament.

Their final game saw a heartbreaking 98th-minute equaliser by Italy, cancelling out Modric’s goal which looked like it was about to see their qualification to the last 16. Scoring a minute after missing a penalty, he became the competition’s oldest-ever scorer at the age of 38 years and 289 days. Slovenia sealed their fate after their goalless draw with England as they could no longer finish in the top four third-placed countries.  

Croatia’s early Euro 2024 exit is likely to be their turning point, with a major rehaul of their squad required for 2026. One of the sport’s most successful midfielders, Luka Modric wishes to maximise his remaining days of playing. However, this Euro is probably his final tournament.

Led by a South American delegation of former Manchester City teammates, Sylvinho and his assistant, Pablo Zabaleta, Albania’s impressive qualification over tournament regulars, Czechia and Poland, has resulted in their second international tournament after enjoying an eight-match unbeaten run thanks to a squad composed mostly of players in second-tier European leagues and Slough-born, Armando Broja.

Impressive and hard-fought performances against three heavyweights of the sport can leave its people proud even if they finished last in their group.

Scoring the fastest-ever EURO goal after 23 seconds forced Italy to fight back against an Albanian side which then forced the underdogs to sit back after Italy miscalculated the throw, setting up Albania’s historic goal.

A 76th-minute own goal by Klaus Gjasula nearly cancelled Albania’s chances of earning a point after another quick start by scoring in the 11th minute – until Gjasula scored again but in the correct goal in the 95th minute to save himself and his country from most likely early elimination after only two games.

Whilst their final game against Spain was their quietest performance, they managed to have more shots on target than one of the tournament’s best sides so far. However, conceding early in the 13th minute sealed their fate.

On another note, Albanians should remain excited about this young squad that can grow and improve for future tournaments. Its efforts against high-quality, respected nations must be respected.

Group C’s Slovenia and Serbia, and Group D’s Poland: read here.

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