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England start Euro 2024 with a win – but there was that familiar issue of losing control

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England start Euro 2024 with a win – but there was that familiar issue of losing control

Jude Bellingham wasn’t having it. He wasn’t having Serbia forcing their way back into this match and, once it was over, he wasn’t having anyone rain on his or England’s parade.

It was put to him in the post-match news conference that while the first half against Serbia had shown why England are among the favourites to win Euro 2024, the second half had shown the shortcomings that might ultimately be their undoing.

“I don’t really agree with that,” said the 20-year-old, England’s goalscorer in their 1-0 victory in Gelsenkirchen. “The first half shows why we can score goals against any team and the second half shows why we can keep a clean sheet against any team.”

Bellingham said there was “always a negative theme” in terms of public and media reaction to England’s performances — “and sometimes rightly so” — but he preferred to accentuate the positive.

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They had to “hold on at times and suffer a little bit” in the second half at the Veltins-Arena, he said, but they had won the game. And “this team is still new”, he added, “gelling together with every game”.

He made some good points. Not so much those about what England had proved by beating Serbia, but certainly those about this being a new squad and about the desperation in some quarters to criticise performances and, in particular, manager Gareth Southgate at every opportunity.


(Christopher Lee – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

It was impressive to see such a young player talking in such forthright terms, determined to challenge and reshape the narrative around his team. He wasn’t going to shrug his shoulders and let journalists talk down his team’s prospects.

But it wasn’t as convincing as his typically assertive performance on the pitch. England played well for half an hour, taking the lead when Bellingham charged into the penalty area and finished off an excellent move with a bullet header from Bukayo Saka’s cross, but their early momentum faded and was never recovered. The second-half performance was passive; Serbia substitute Dusan Tadic said England had “offered themselves to us”.

All of this would be far easier to gloss over if it didn’t seem symptomatic of a long-term trend. There are so many things Southgate has changed for the better over the past seven-and-a-half years, but there are still so many occasions when, having taken charge of a game, his team gradually lose the initiative, retreat and find themselves clinging on unconvincingly.

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It happened against Croatia in the 2018 World Cup semi-final, away to Spain in the Nations League later that year, Italy in the Euro 2020 final, Italy again in a Euro 2024 qualifier in Naples last year. England still managed to hold on to win two of those games, but not the two that mattered most when the stakes were highest.


(Michael Regan – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

How far do you want to go back? European Championship eliminations at the hands of Iceland in 2016 and Italy in 2012. It happened against the U.S. in their opening game of the 2010 World Cup. It was the theme of their World Cup campaign in Germany in 2006 when they ended up hanging on for a stodgy win over Paraguay in their opening game and had a similar experience against Ecuador in the round of 16 before succumbing to Portugal in the quarter-final here in Gelsenkirchen.

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There is a technical issue in terms of the type of midfielders England have had, but it also seems to be part of the national team’s psyche. England lost quarter-finals from winning positions against Portugal at Euro 2004 and Brazil in 2002. First half good, second half not so good — as their then-coach Sven-Goran Eriksson used to say.

England had three shots in the first half-hour last night and then just two (a long-distance effort from Trent Alexander-Arnold and a Harry Kane header that was pushed onto the crossbar) for the rest of the game. They had 71 per cent possession for the first half-hour but then just 44 per cent for the rest of the game. The drop-off wasn’t quite as stark as that qualifying game in Naples last year (when England completed 233 passes in the first half and only 96 in the second), but it was still troubling.

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The balance of the midfield was encouraging for the first 30 minutes, with Bellingham the dominant figure all over the pitch, Alexander-Arnold looking short and long with his passing and Declan Rice always moving, always doing the simple things well, always on the scene quickly whenever possession was lost.

But Alexander-Arnold’s influence faded. So did that of Saka, after an excellent first half, and Phil Foden, who was quieter throughout. The balance of the left-hand side, with Kieran Trippier filling in at left-back while Luke Shaw tries to build up his fitness, wasn’t right, but the issues went beyond that. Southgate put it down to a loss of energy among his team — “and that didn’t surprise me,” he said, “because of the lack of 90 minutes that a lot of the players have had recently.”

A team’s opening game of a tournament can often be like that. Being quick out of the blocks matters far less than building momentum as the tournament goes on.

England have done that well under Southgate. The last European Championship, when they looked rather laboured against Croatia, Scotland and the Czech Republic in the group stage before beating Germany, Ukraine and Denmark en route to that fateful final against Italy, was a case in point.


(Eddie Keogh – The FA/The FA via Getty Images)

That is why Bellingham and his team-mates were entitled to enjoy their victory here. “You look across the past few tournaments we’ve had and it’s always crucial to get the first win,” Trippier said afterwards. “It gives us great momentum and belief. It shows the character of the boys. We’ve learned a lot today, but the most important thing is the three points.”

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Everyone who spoke afterwards — Southgate, Bellingham, Trippier, Alexander-Arnold, Rice, Kane — mentioned the character and resilience England had shown in the second half. When the pressure was on, they defended well. Jordan Pickford, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Trippier and Rice all made important interventions, but perhaps the most pleasing performance was that of Marc Guehi, the Crystal Palace centre-back who justified his selection.

Rice called it “a game of two halves” but said that “in the end, I thought it was comfortable”. “We have built this team off clean sheets,” he said. “At the last Euros, we had five out of seven games. We have real defensive solidity and it is about doing it on the night. To win that game tonight was a really good start for us. We just have to use the ball a bit better in the second half when it starts to get tough.”

That always seems to be the big issue for England: retaining control of games rather than allowing initiative and momentum to be lost. Rice spoke about it as if it was something that will be rectified on the training ground over the next few days before they face Denmark in Frankfurt on Thursday.

But sometimes it feels like something in England’s DNA. It is something Southgate and his players, for all the national team’s undoubted progress of recent years, still have to overcome. At least, having started their campaign with a win, they can seek to address it from a position of strength.

(Top photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

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Behind Caeleb Dressel's Olympic return, 'a work in progress' to rekindle his love for swimming

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Behind Caeleb Dressel's Olympic return, 'a work in progress' to rekindle his love for swimming

Follow our Olympics coverage in the lead-up to the Paris Games.


The shimmer of Caeleb Dressel’s seven gold medals may suggest otherwise, but he knows swimming can be a brutal and suffocating sport.

He is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the best in the world at what he does, sprinting from one end of the pool to the other (and sometimes back). He holds the world record in the men’s 100-meter butterfly, having first snatched that historical distinction away from Michael Phelps in 2019. Then, Dressel lowered his world record in the event at the Tokyo Olympics — where he won five gold medals in five events.

Despite it all, Dressel was miserable.

He was fixated on where he felt he’d failed. In one race, it was the turn. Another, the finish. His head position. It didn’t matter that he’d touched the wall first over and over again. It didn’t matter that he was bringing gold home and helping Team USA finish atop the medal count. He chased perfection. He chased times and chased stretch goals. He hadn’t met them.

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“I created a monster in myself — just so caught up in perfectionism,” he told former Olympians Missy Franklin and Katie Hoff on their “Unfiltered Waters” podcast. “So caught up in, ‘If I don’t see these times, it means I’m a bad person, or it means I did not train hard enough. If I don’t go a world record, it means … I didn’t obsess enough.’”

The sport he’d been drawn to as a kid because it was so delightfully fun was quite the opposite. And it’d been that way for years. But Dressel kept pushing himself, listening to his internal critic ripping himself apart.

Until he “broke,” he puts it now. He withdrew abruptly in the middle of the 2022 world championship meet in Budapest and disappeared from the sport for eight months.

Dressel hasn’t gone into much detail about that period of his life in Gainesville, Fla., other than to say he spent a lot of time with his therapist. His wife, Meghan, was there for him, too, though she also realized there were a lot of conversations Dressel needed to have inside his own mind. Some days, he didn’t do much. Most days, he avoided routes that took him past the University of Florida pool. He didn’t want to smell the chlorine.

He had to figure out who he was beyond his best times and what made him tick outside the pool. He had to reorient himself, how he believed others felt about him and why they loved him. He had to learn how to smile again.

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The process wasn’t easy, and progress hasn’t always been a straight line. But it’s what makes Dressel, 27, who he is now as a swimmer and a person (and new dad). It’s also why he’s back in the pool and headed to Paris, one of the headliners of Team USA and arguably the most important piece of the puzzle for the U.S. swim team in its efforts to win the meet by bringing home more gold medals than its peers. There is outside pressure, yes. But inside his mind, Dressel’s biggest critic is quieter.

“It’s really tough,” Dressel told The Athletic last month. “It’s embedded in me — where you always want to look for ways to get better. I’m still doing that, but I’m not becoming obsessed and so fixated on it that I lose sight of what’s actually fun with the sport. It’s hard, and it’s not like I’ve all of a sudden gotten to figure it out this year. There are things that I’m really proud that I’ve done differently, like being able to enjoy parts of the sport without just crapping on myself for not being perfect.

“It is still very much a work in progress.”


Caeleb Dressel won five gold medals at the Tokyo Olympics. But a year later, he walked away from the sport. It’s still “a work in progress,” he said of his return. (Tim Clayton / Corbis via Getty Images)

Now, Dressel sounds like a person who’s figured out a lot about himself through therapy. One of the first things he will tell you is how helpful his regular appointments with his therapist have been.

“I’ve been trying to not be so fixated on results and just simply enjoying racing and training — those are the two parts of the sport that I really enjoy,” Dressel said. “There are parts of the sport that I really dislike, that I really hate. But it’s worth putting up with for the moments that I really do enjoy. It’s going to be a balance; I’m not expecting every part of the sport to just be the best thing ever for me. But I’ve really leaned into the parts of the sport that I do enjoy.

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“That’s been the main difference for me. I’ve always loved training. I’ve always loved being around the team. The actual racing portion, I do really, really enjoy — as soon as the gun goes off, it’s just simply fun. So, I’ve just been trying to keep it just simply swimming. Simply swimming this year.”

Dressel will simply swim the 50-meter freestyle and the 100 fly as individual events at the Games, and he’ll likely be part of multiple relays. At the U.S. Olympic trials in Indianapolis, he finished third in the 100-free final, which cost him the opportunity to defend his gold medal in the event in Paris.

But he’s happy to be part of the Olympic team. He’s proud of what he accomplished at trials to qualify for it. He’s thrilled that his infant son, August, got to see it all, held in Meghan’s arms in the stands.

“No one can take that away,” Dressel said in Indianapolis. “He’s not going to remember it. I will tell him, trust me, I got photos so I can prove it. … That was a really special moment. Meghan knows what goes into this, not just the parenting side of things but she gets to see firsthand the struggles that come with the sport.

“The tears that come with it, the frustration and then also the high points, and getting to share that with them, because they go through that as well — that was really special, August getting to see that.”

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Meghan shared a video of Dressel with baby August at the Olympic training camp in North Carolina this month, another moment captured and saved to commemorate a once-in-a-lifetime moment. They’ll be in Paris, too, alongside Dressel’s parents and family. Dressel said he wouldn’t be where he is today without their support. And he certainly wouldn’t be where he is without Meghan, whom he calls the “superhero” of their family.

Parenthood is wonderful for many reasons, but perhaps the greatest lesson it teaches is one of perspective — especially for someone who has spent most of his life chasing times and hunting perfection that does not and cannot exist.

“I don’t know if I’ll ever go a best time ever again, and that’s tough to say out loud. It really is,” Dressel said. “When you’re 19, 20, 21, you keep chipping away, chipping away, chipping away. I’m still working harder than ever, finding every path I can take to shave those couple of tenths. But I don’t know. I don’t know if I can do that. I’m really good at racing. You put me in a race, I will make it close, as close as I possibly can, even if I have to try to kill myself to get there. I will put myself in those situations.”

So, he doesn’t know exactly how Paris will go. But he knows he’s older, wiser and genuinely happier than before the last Olympic Games. Others see it, too, and not just when he’s straddling the lane line after a race or punching the water in celebration.

“He’s always had that smile,” seven-time gold medalist and University of Florida training partner Katie Ledecky said. “He took that time away, and when he came back, he’s had that smile every day. Just to see his progression over this past year, how he’s just gotten better and better each meet — he seems to just be loving the racing, and he loves the training probably more than the racing, and that makes everyone around him better.”

It will make one of the best swimmers in the world better, too. And that’s why that smile is as good as gold, no matter what medal hangs around Dressel’s neck.

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Caeleb Dressel

“I don’t know if I’ll ever go a best time ever again, and that’s tough to say out loud,” Caeleb Dressel said. He’ll give it a shot in Paris starting later this month. (Maddie Meyer / Getty Images)

(Top illustration: Dan Goldfarb / The Athletic; photo: Sarah Stier / Getty Images) 

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Utah State fires football coach Blake Anderson for 'significant' contract violations

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Utah State fires football coach Blake Anderson for 'significant' contract violations

Utah State fired football coach Blake Anderson Thursday for what it called “significant violations of his contractual obligations.”

The firing came more than two weeks after the school informed Anderson of its plans to terminate his contract due to actions in the spring of 2023 that violated “both his employment agreement and university policy.” The school said it conducted an external review that found he failed to comply with Title IX policies regarding the reporting of sexual misconduct cases.

The university also dismissed Jerry Bovee, associate vice president and deputy athletic director of external affairs at Utah State, and Austin Albrecht, the director of player development and community, for alleged violations of university policies related to the reporting of sexual and domestic violence and failures of professional responsibilities.

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies during the first half of his team’s game against the New Mexico Lobos at University Stadium Nov 26, 2021, in Albuquerque, N.M.  (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

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After informing Anderson his employment agreement would be terminated July 2, the school waited two weeks for Anderson’s response as required by Utah law.

On Thursday, Utah State officially terminated Anderson. 

“To USU’s disappointment, Anderson’s response failed to acknowledge his responsibilities as a USU employee and as a head coach and instead sought to make excuses and unsuccessfully recast the clear language of USU’s policies,” the university said.

ALABAMA REPORTEDLY NAMING FOOTBALL FIELD AFTER FORMER HEAD COACH NICK SABAN

Blake Anderson

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies talks into his headset during the first half of a game against the Fresno State Bulldogs at Maverik Stadium Oct. 13, 2023, in Logan, Utah.  (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

Anderson, 55, was about to enter his fourth season with the school after posting a 23-17 record in his first three seasons, including the Aggies’ first-ever Mountain West championship his first season. 

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Nate Dreiling was elevated to interim head coach after serving as Utah State’s defensive coordinator and defensive ends coach under Anderson.

Blake Anderson during a game

Head coach Blake Anderson of the Utah State Aggies during the first half of a game at University Stadium Nov. 24, 2023, in Albuquerque, N.M. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images)

“While I recognize that today’s decision has a significant impact, it is the only one that could be made based on the facts.” USU President Elizabeth Cantwell said in a statement, “We are committed to moving forward in building a winning athletics program grounded in student success and integrity.” 

The Aggies open the 2024 season Aug. 31 against Robert Morris.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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Teoscar Hernández could have signed with the Red Sox. Here's why he chose the Dodgers

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Teoscar Hernández could have signed with the Red Sox. Here's why he chose the Dodgers

Teoscar Hernández could be playing for the Boston Red Sox this weekend instead of against them.

He could have taken the two-year, $28-million deal he says the Red Sox offered during the offseason.

He could have returned to All-Star form and won the Home Run Derby while representing a Boston team he says was always one of his favorites.

But that’s not how it played out for Hernández. Instead, the outfielder has been representing Los Angeles in tremendous fashion after signing a one-year, $23.5-million deal from the Dodgers, who start a three-game series with the Red Sox on Friday night at Dodger Stadium.

“Obviously, I was not gonna go and spend my free agency trying to get a bad deal,” the Dominican Republic native said this week on the “Baseball Isn’t Boring” podcast. “I love the Red Sox. It was one of my favorite teams. And I love playing [at Fenway Park], but at the end of the day I have to [decide] what is best for me, my career and my family.”

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Hernández made his major league debut with the Houston Astros in 2016 and was acquired by the Toronto Blue Jays at the 2017 trade deadline. He became an All-Star in 2021 and finished the season with career highs across the board, including a .296 batting average, 163 hits, 32 home runs and 116 runs batted in.

After his numbers dipped the following season, Hernández was traded to the Seattle Mariners, where his 211 strikeouts were the third most in the majors last year. As a free agent this past season, Hernández said, he received interest from the Angels as well as the Dodgers and Red Sox, but his final decision was between the latter two teams.

Hernández told “Baseball Isn’t Boring” that the Red Sox gave him the impression they’d be willing to increase their offer to three years after some maneuvering on their end.

In December, the Dodgers signed major deals with Japanese two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and pitchers Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow. Hernández said he saw what was happening in Los Angeles and knew he “couldn’t wait any longer” on the Red Sox.

“Teams that wanna win, they spend. They go after good players,” Hernández said. “I’m not saying [the Red Sox] don’t have good players, because they do. The Red Sox are really good right now and they had amazing players. But for my part, I just wanna go to a team that it’s looking for everybody that is good to win … that they’re not afraid to spend and to go after good players so they can make their team better.”

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Hernández has flourished in L.A. His 62 RBIs rank seventh in the National League and trail only Ohtani among Dodgers. His 28 hits with runners in scoring position are 12th in the NL and second on the team, behind Freddie Freeman. His 19 home runs are tied for fifth best in the NL and second on the team to Ohtani.

On Monday night, he outlasted Bobby Witt Jr. of the Kansas City Royals to become the first Dodgers player to win the Home Run Derby in its 40-year history.

“In this organization, everybody talks about win, win, win, and that’s me,” Hernández said. “I don’t care about anything else. I want to win. I’m at one point in my career that I want to go out there and have fun, have a good year but also win too.”

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