Euro 2020

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Sergio Ramos “wouldn’t say no” to Olympics if Spain asks

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Sergio Ramos is an animal.

The Real Madrid center back has won just about everything there is to win, but is eyeing a gold medal should he be asked to participate in this summer’s Olympics.

[ MORE: Neymar injured again ]

Olympic squads can have three players above the age of 23. Spain last qualified in 2012, when Javi Martinez, Juan Mata, and Adrian Lopez were its overage players.

Spain is one of six nations to have qualified for the Games, joining France, Romania, Germany, New Zealand, and hosts Japan. From AS.com:

“It’s a bit soon to talk about the Olympic Games, but if someone was to call me, I wouldn’t say no,” he said. “It’s something you can’t reject. There is a lot of time left in the season and it’s a really nice idea.”

Ramos will be 34 when the Olympics begin, and is now the most-capped player in Spain history. Remarkably, reports say he believes he’ll time and spirit for both the Olympics and EURO 2020.

EURO runs from June 12-July 12, when the Olympics beginning July 23.

Ramos is now 16 caps from the all-time record for caps, held by Ahmed Hassan (Egypt).

EURO 2020 qualifying: Spain slips up in final seconds; Danish delight

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in 2020 European Championship qualifying…

[ MORE: Italy qualifies for EURO 2020 with win over Greece ]

Norway 1-1 Spain

Spain led for the entirety of the second half and was mere seconds from a victory that would have extended their perfect record through qualifying (now 6W-1D-0L) and seen them move to within two points of qualification to EURO 2020. La Roja conceded a 93rd-minute penalty when Chelsea goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga clattered into Omar Elabdellaoui. Bournemouth attacker Joshua King stepped up and converted to keep Norway in touching distance of automatic qualification.

Alas, Spain remains in control of Group F with a six-point advantage on third-place Romania, but they now require a victory of their own and points dropped by Romania to book their place in next summer’s tournament during the current international window.

Saul Niguez had put Robert Moreno’s side ahead in the 47th minute, but the 2008 and 2012 European champions were unable to see their one-goal advantage over the finish line. Sergio Ramos overtook Iker Casillas as Spain’s record holder for all-time appearances, winning his 168th cap.

Denmark 1-0 Switzerland

Yussuf Poulsen scored the only goal in a colossal six-pointer between Denmark and Switzerland. The two nations entered Saturday’s clash separated by a single point in the race for second place and automatic qualification. Denmark sat on nine points, Switzerland on eight.

For 83 minutes, a scoreless deadlock ensued. Switzerland would have been the far happier side, not only as the away side but also the side with a one-point disadvantage and a game still in hand. Instead, they trail the Danes by four points after Poulsen slotted home to complete a lethal counter-attack in the 84th.

Elsewhere in EURO 2020 qualifying

Group D

Georgia 0-0 Ireland

Group F

Liechtenstein 1-1 Armenia

Group J

Bosnia-Herzegovina 4-1 Finland — FULL RECAP
Malta 0-4 Sweden
Faroe Islands 0-3 Romania

Italy qualifies for EURO 2020 with win over Greece

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After failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, Italy returned to one of international soccer’s grand stages on Saturday, qualifying for the 2020 European Championship with a 2-0 victory over Greece at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

[ MORE: Bayern Munich reportedly contacts Eriksen eyeing January move ]

Roberto Mancini’s side joined Belgium as the second nation to qualify for next summer’s tournament which will be played across 12 different countries. The Azzurri did so having not yet dropped a single point in Group J play, putting together a 7W-0D-0L record with a +21 goal differential thus far. With three games still to play in qualifying, this marks the earliest Italy has ever achieved qualification.

Chelsea midfielder Jorginho scored what turned out to be the winner from the penalty spot in the 63rd minute before Juventus forward Federico Bernardeschi added some insurance in the 78th.

Mancini recently stated that Italy’s 23-man squad for EURO 2020 is “more or less decided” already.

Germany’s young players indicate bright future ahead

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BERLIN (AP) Germany’s young players did enough in one hour against Argentina to indicate its post-World Cup shakeup is working and that a bright future awaits.

Led by 24-year-old Serge Gnabry, with 20-year-old Kai Havertz driving from midfield, Germany initially overwhelmed the visitors on Wednesday before inexperience showed and substitutes Lucas Alario and Lucas Ocampos salvaged a 2-2 draw for Argentina in a friendly.

“We let our heads drop after they scored the first goal,” Germany coach Joachim Low said. “But I’m taking many positives from the game and have to pay the team a compliment for playing with such courage and heart. They were very, very promising signs. I like that a lot.”

It was the first time Germany started without a World Cup winner since it claimed the trophy in 2014. Low had already signaled a shakeup after the disastrous World Cup in 2018 and forced the likes of Sami Khedira, Jerome Boateng, Thomas Muller and Mats Hummels into early retirement.

Low had to improvise against Argentina because of a slew of injuries. Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan remained on the bench with knocks. Defenders Jonathan Tah and Niklas Stark dropped out before the match, joining Toni Kroos, Timo Werner, Jonas Hector, Antonio Rudiger, Leon Goretzka, Kevin Trapp, Nico Schulz, Leroy Sane, Julian Draxler and Thilo Kehrer on Low’s list of absentees. Low has been resisting calls to bring Hummels back.

Captained by 24-year-old Joshua Kimmich for the first time, Germany controlled the first half, combining quickly with short passes and constant movement, forcing the bewildered visitors to lose possession and chase the game. Paulo Dybala, who plays for Juventus, was inconspicuous before making way for Alario in the 62nd minute.

“The first half was really good, it was eye-catching. Some players who were there for the first time did really well,” said Low, who handed debuts to Freiburg teammates Luca Waldschmidt and Robin Koch.

“Koch was very stable, confident, he gave a good impression and didn’t show any nervousness,” said Low, who also praised Waldschmidt. “Some took their opportunity very well. I’m happy about that, it gives me more options.”

Gnabry, who scored four goals for Bayern Munich in a 7-2 rout of Tottenham recently, was a constant threat before his substitution in the second half. Gnabry beat three defenders to scorein the 15th, then set up Havertz for the second in the 22nd.

“He’s so fast and he made so many unbelievable runs. He was everywhere and always a danger. He put off the whole Argentine defense,” Low said of the Bayern forward, who now has 10 goals in 11 games for Germany.

Low also handed debuts to Nadiem Amiri and Suat Serdar, though the team was backpedaling by then and neither was able to shine.

“We had to work a lot in defense, but their strengths are going forward,” Low said. “But we can be satisfied. They’re players with promise that we can look forward to.”

Marc-Andre ter Stegen played in goal in place of regular No. 1 Manuel Neuer, but the Bayern goalkeeper will return for the European Championship qualifier against Estonia in Tallinn on Sunday.

“Estonia is a whole other type of opponent,” Low said. “They hold back more and principally focus on defending their goal. So we’ll need another offensive player on the field. I could imagine Marco Reus. And if Ilkay is fit, he’ll play, too.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

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Major powers close to EURO 2020 spots though France in fight

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Most of the continent’s major soccer powers are in cruise control as they close in on qualification for next year’s European Championship.

Some are likely to secure their place in the finals this week, with two or three group games to spare.

[ MORE: Latest EURO 2020 news

Belgium, the world’s top-ranked nation, will become the first team to qualify if it beats last-place San Marino in Group I on Thursday. With the top two qualifying from each group, there’s a chance Russia, which is eight points clear in second place, could also advance by beating Scotland on the same night.

Italy holds a six-point lead in Group J after winning all six of its matches, and is guaranteed to qualify with victories over Greece and Liechtenstein over the next week.

Spain enjoys the biggest lead in European qualifying – by seven points in Group F after also winning six straight games – and might just need one victory in its matches at Norway and Sweden to advance.

Group A leader England will qualify with a win at the Czech Republic on Friday.

Two teams who are still in a fight to qualify are Portugal and France – the finalists in Euro 2016.

France, the world champion, is second in Group H on goal difference behind Turkey but would be joined on points by third-place Iceland with a loss in Reykjavik on Friday. France then hosts Turkey on Monday.

Portugal, the defending European champion, is in second place in Group B and five points behind Ukraine, which it visits on Monday. A loss for Portugal in Kiev would leave third-place Serbia in with a chance of reeling in the titleholder.

Here’s a look at some talking points ahead of the upcoming two rounds of qualifiers:

NO LLORIS

France coach Didier Deschamps will have to change his goalkeeper after Hugo Lloris was ruled out until next year because of a broken left elbow. Steve Mandanda looks to be an able deputy.

The 34-year-old Mandanda was recalled to the squad after some excellent performances for Marseille since the start of this season. Having recovered from a torn muscle, he has produced several decisive and spectacular saves to compensate for his team’s defensive shortcomings.

Mandanda was initially recalled to be No. 2 behind Lloris but is now in line to win his 29th cap – and first since last year’s World Cup, when he kept a clean sheet against Denmark.

If Deschamps prefers youth to experience, Paris Saint-Germain’s Alphonse Areola and Lille’s Mike Maignan are the other two goalkeepers in the squad.

ENGLAND’S MIDFIELD

There is much to like about the new-look England under Gareth Southgate, particularly the potency of a frontline containing three of Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford, and also the raft of dynamic full-back options available.

One area where Southgate has yet to strike the right balance is in midfield – the department where England was exposed in the loss to Croatia in the World Cup semifinals last year.

The current first-choice midfield appears to be Declan Rice, Jordan Henderson and Ross Barkley, but the emergence of playmakers Mason Mount and James Maddison – of Chelsea and Leicester, respectively – leaves Barkley, in particular, vulnerable for his place.

GERMANY SLUMPING

Before Germany resumes its Euro 2020 qualifiers at Estonia on Sunday, there is a friendly against Argentina in Dortmund on Wednesday.

The 2014 World Cup final rematch is now a meeting of the No. 10 and No. 16 ranked teams – and it’s four-time world champion Germany which is lower and falling.

Now ranked outside the top 10 teams in Europe, Germany risks not being among the top seeds when the 2022 World Cup qualification groups are drawn, likely at the end of next year.

A successful Euro 2020 campaign would lift Germany up, and Joachim Low’s team is on course to qualify from Group C where it is in first place, tied on points with Northern Ireland and three above the Netherlands, which has a game in hand.

Low called his goalkeeper rivalry “the smallest problem at the moment,” though will give Barcelona’s Marc-Andre ter Stegen a start against Argentina and restore captain Manuel Neuer against Estonia, which lost 8-0 to Germany in June.

ITALY INCENTIVE

There’s a nice bonus awaiting the Italians if they qualify.

They would then be sure of playing in the opening game at Euro 2020 in Rome on June 12 in Group A, which is paired with Baku in the first Europe-wide edition of the competition.

RAMOS RECORD

Spain captain Sergio Ramos is set to break Iker Casillas’ record of most appearances for the country on Saturday.

The central defender will play his 168th game with “La Roja” when Spain visits Norway.

With 125 victories, the 33-year-old Ramos has already surpassed the goalkeeper’s record for most wins with the Spanish national team.

HOW QUALIFYING WORKS

The top two in each of the 10 groups qualify for the 24-team Euro 2020, which is being played in 12 countries with no automatic places for hosts.

The other four qualifiers will come through four tiers of playoffs in March. Lineups for the four-team knockout brackets in each tier are shaped by Nations League standings from one year ago.

The Euro 2020 tournament draw is made Nov. 30 in Bucharest, Romania. UEFA could have to modify the draw next April, if host nations qualify via the playoffs.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.