England v Serbia (22.00)

Gareth Southgate’s young squad carry heavy expectations to deliver England their first European Championship title and ahead of their opening match on Sunday the manager has assembled a leadership group to help cope with the pressure.

Harry Kane, Kyle Walker, Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham will be responsible for guiding a squad including several players lacking major tournament experience.

“There’s a different dynamic to this group with a lot of younger players,” Southgate told reporters on Saturday. “I don’t want to leave here with any stone unturned. I don’t want to miss anything. The players have good views.”

Bellingham shoulders perhaps the heaviest expectations after his remarkable debut season at Real Madrid in which they won the Champions League and LaLiga trophies.

An Adidas ad went viral this week depicting Bellingham as England’s saviour after the country’s previous failures at major tournaments. The commercial — set to The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and ending with a shot of Bellingham and the words “You got this” — drew criticism from fans who said it placed too much pressure on the 20-year-old.

“From my perspective, he’s a young player and one of a number of very important players in the team at Real Madrid. In this team, that load is spread,” Southgate said.

“He has a fantastic mindset and the ability to adapt. He has coped so well at a young age. He’s come into our squad and moved to the biggest club in the world. It’s great to have the talented players that we have but the onus is on everyone to do their part.”

Pressure is a privilege, said Kane, who will captain an England side bidding to go one better than their shootout loss to Italy in the last Euro final.

“Every tournament poses different expectations but we’ve earned the right to be classed as one of the favourites,” the Bayern Munich forward said.

“But we look at ourselves individually and as a team and we know in part we’ve done a lot of things well and made the country proud in good tournaments.

“We’re here to win ultimately and there will be nothing better than to do that for the nation.”

Southgate said everyone was available for the opening match, including defender Luke Shaw, who has not played since February after injuring his hamstring.

“We have a decision whether Luke is a possible to use from the bench or not but everyone has trained today and is available,” he said.

England are not taking Serbia lightly, said Southgate, despite the Serbs conceding eight goals in three games in an early exit from the 2022 World Cup in Qatar.

“Very tough. They have good individual players, fantastic collective spirit. Dangerous forwards,” the 53-year-old said.

England play Denmark on Thursday and meet Slovenia in their final Group C game on June 25.

Poland v Netherlands (16.00)

Underdogs Poland put on a brave face ahead of Sunday’s opening Euro 2024 clash with the Netherlands, insisting that victory was possible despite the absence of prolific striker Robert Lewandowski and a poor qualifying campaign.

The 35-year-old, who has scored 82 goals in 150 internationals, misses out with a hamstring injury but will be on the bench and is in contention for Poland’s other Group D games versus Austria and France.

“It is a great pity Robert Lewandowski cannot help us in this match,” said midfielder and replacement captain Piotr Zielinski on Saturday after a training session at Hamburg’s Volksparkstadion where the game takes place at 3 p.m. (1400 GMT).

“He is a world-class player and we will miss him. But whether it is me or the team mates, we will add something extra to achieve the goal, which is to win.”

Coach Michal Probierz said his third game without Lewandowski was an opportunity for other players to shine during a generational shift which is underway in the Polish squad.

“There’s nothing to hide, we will miss him. But other players will have to do what they can to get a result. I hope he will have other opportunities to play,” he said.

Poland, who only scraped into the tournament via penalties in a playoff with Wales, are also missing striker Karol Swiderski due to an ankle injury.


“We have to change this team generationally. We will do whatever we have to do as a team to play well. We will not step back, we will progress,” Probierz said.

“Everyone is saying we are going to lose, everyone is writing us off. But we have a team that wants to fight for each other.”

The Netherlands have their own injury problems, with playmaker Frenkie de Jong ruled out of the tournament, but they are heavy favourites to defeat Poland.

“The Dutch team is a well-known brand in European football, it’s a great national team, high in the FIFA ranking, but I don’t think the ranking will play such a role tomorrow,” Zielinski said.

“The qualifications were not exactly what we would have expected. The most important thing is that we are here and we will do whatever we can.”

Poland should be roared on by a large contingent of fans both from their large diaspora inside Germany and the many who have crossed the border, some on special fan trains.

Slovenia v Denmark (19.00)

 Slovenia will embrace their moment in the spotlight at the European Championship and can spring a major upset, coach Matjaz Kek said on the eve of their Group C opener against Denmark on Sunday.

Slovenia return to the Euros for the second time having last featured in 2000. The team’s last international tournament was the 2010 World Cup, during Kek’s first spell as coach, so for his 26-man squad it is their first experience of the big stage.

A record number of Slovenian fans are expected at the match in Stuttgart – 503 kilometres from the former Yugoslav republic’s capital Ljubljana – and Kek said his side should revel in their underdog status.

“Why would you want to shut out this external noise? This is a privilege that our players have earned with their attitude and performances,” a smiling Kek told a press conference.

“Maybe they should have played at previous tournaments but we are here now. The majority of our young players have never experienced that, at club or national level.

“We are here at the highest level and I’m convinced that we will do everything to get a positive result, because you can be afraid even if you are a big name.”

Slovenia and Denmark also met in qualifying and Kek’s side held the Danes to a draw in Ljubljana before losing narrowly in Copenhagen last year.

Kek, 62, praised the quality of Denmark players like playmaker Christian Eriksen and striker Rasmus Hojlund as his side bid for their first victory over the Danes.

“I’m always looking… to prepare the team to go for the positive result. Denmark are the favourites but favourites are there to be beaten,” he said.

Midfielder Timi Max Elsnik also insisted his team were not in Germany to make up the numbers.

“We have reached our goal by coming here already but this is not the end. The best teams in Europe play in this competition and we are among them,” he said.

“We should not feel pressure – everyone should give their utmost because we don’t play these kind of matches every day. But we shouldn’t forget to enjoy these moments and enjoy these matches and take them in, otherwise these will go past you.”

“If we show the right character, we can be successful,” he added.

Slovenia, playing as an independent nation since 1992, face Denmark at the Stuttgart Arena before the other Group C match between Serbia and England in Gelsenkirchen.