How Africa has had a big influence on Euro 2024

Host nation Germany has been, next to Spain, perhaps one of the most impressive sides at Euro 2024 despite exiting in the last eight.

In Summary

•As the 2024 edition reaches the semi-finals, many teams can trace part of their success to the performances of players with African heritage.

•Despite standing at the intersection of three different nations, Danso, who plays for Ligue 1 side Lens, has always stayed connected to his roots.

Lamine Yamal (L) and Nico Williams of Spain communicate with each other during the Uefa Euro 2024 Group B match against Italy
Lamine Yamal (L) and Nico Williams of Spain communicate with each other during the Uefa Euro 2024 Group B match against Italy
Image: XINHUA

The immigration boom of the late 1990s and early 2000s has transformed the European Championship into a more culturally diverse event than ever before.

As the 2024 edition reaches the semi-finals, many teams can trace part of their success to the performances of players with African heritage.

Kevin Danso, more than most, exemplifies this. The 25-year-old defender was a lynchpin for Austria, the country of his birth, as they reached the last 16, but grew up in England from the age of six under the wardship of Ghanaian parents, developing in the academies of Reading and MK Dons.

Despite standing at the intersection of three different nations, Danso, who plays for Ligue 1 side Lens, has always stayed connected to his roots.

In June 2022, he visited Ghana for the first time, a trip that left a profound impression on him. “I’ve been fortunate to call Austria home and Ghana my ancestral home,” Danso told BBC Sport Africa.

“The culture, the food, the people and everything Ghanaian makes me who I am. I always follow the national football team and my support is always there for Ghana.”

Taking in Ghanaian culture has also meant adopting its social peculiarities, specifically the enduring food rivalry with West African neighbours Nigeria.

Fellow Austria international David Alaba, who has Nigerian parentage, has a willing sparring partner.  “He (Alaba) knows Ghana has the best jollof but he will always argue with me.”

Spain’s dynamic attacking duo

During their rise to the top of the international game in the late 2000s, Spain’s play was defined by slow, patient possession football. But things have changed, and Nico Williams and Lamine Yamal La Roja now have two direct, pacey wingers of Ghanaian and Moroccan-Equatoguinean descent.

In much the same way that international affiliation split the Boateng brothers, Jerome and Kevin-Prince, across Germany and Ghana respectively in the 2010s, Nico and older brother Inaki are now on different tracks.

Both were born in Spain, children of migrant Ghanaians who crossed the Sahara in search of a better standard of life, but while they share a strong sibling bond, the latter pitched his tent with the four-time African champions as opposed to his new home country.

And while Inaki has found life with the Black Stars challenging after making that choice, Nico has been one of Spain’s leading lights in his second major tournament.

His cracking finish in the 4-1 last-16 win over Georgia may have been his first goal of Euro 2024, but Nico had already demonstrated his menace earlier in the tournament - most notably in the lopsided 1-0 win over defending champions Italy.

“We may have followed different international paths but I always look up to him (Inaki) for guidance,” Nico told BBC Sport Africa.

“To play in the same tournament (the 2022 World Cup) was a dream come true and our parents are the proudest because we represented two countries that define our family history.”

On the opposite flank, Yamal is a silky, creative type whose decision-making belies his modest years. Few 16-year-olds make as much of a mark in their debut tournament as the Barcelona wonder-kid has in Germany.

Unequivocal about his desire to represent the country of his birth, Morocco nevertheless hoped to steal a march on Spain to secure Yamal, as they had done in the past for other Spain-born internationals like Achraf Hakimi and Brahim Diaz. Their loss has been Spain’s gain.

‘Bambi’ starring for Die Mannschaft

Germany's Jamal Musiala
Germany's Jamal Musiala
Image: XINHUA

Host nation Germany has been, next to Spain, perhaps one of the most impressive sides at Euro 2024 despite exiting in the last eight.

While there have been question marks over the effectiveness of Kai Havertz up front and Bundesliga winner Florian Wirtz who was dropped for the last 16, Jamal Musiala has been the one immovable piece of Die Mannschaft’s attacking puzzle.

The 21-year-old was at the centre of an international tug-of-war between Germany and England as a youngster, but he could also have turned out for Nigeria, for whom he is eligible through his dual-national father. Musiala has, in recent interviews, peeled the curtain back on his exposure to Nigerian culture.

“My dad made fufu while I was growing up back in England; he made this dish every other day,” he said. It is no surprise then that, as he told UK3, his international allegiance was not a decision he took lightly.

“I could have played for Nigeria because it crossed my mind, and I thought about it well,” the Bayern Munich winger explained.

“I had good talks with Nigeria and Germany. So it just came down to me and where I’d feel the most comfortable. I decided to go with Germany.”

Nicknamed ‘Bambi’ in his early days, Musiala has not looked back since making his international bow in 2021.

His long-limbed dribbling gives him an elusive, mesmeric quality that has elevated Germany’s intricate possession play and could prove the difference if Julian Nagelsmann’s side are to go all the way and lift the trophy in Berlin on 14 July.

Switzerland’s African contingent

Dan Ndoye of Switzerland celebrates scoring against Germany in Uefa Euro 2024 Group A match.
Dan Ndoye of Switzerland celebrates scoring against Germany in Uefa Euro 2024 Group A match.
Image: XINHUA

Less than 12 months ago, Lausanne-born Dan Ndoye was talking up the possibility of turning out for then-reigning African champions Senegal.

“For me, Senegal is the best team in Africa,” he told wiwsport. “They demonstrated it at the Afcon and qualified for the World Cup. “Of course, I’m interested, but it’s not up to me to decide if I’m going to play for Senegal or Switzerland.”

A year on, via a stellar Serie A campaign at Bologna, he has been one of the revelations of Euro 2024 for a team that prides itself on its cultural diversity.

Back-up keeper Yan Mvogo, defender Manuel Akanji, midfielder Denis Zakarai and forwards Breel Embolo, Kwadwo Duah and Zeki Amdouni all have links to Africa. Before a last-eight clash with England on Saturday, the Swiss are now being viewed as dark horses for the title.

Dominantly upsetting Italy has certainly played a part in that perception, but it was their Group A draw against Germany that stood out.

The host nation, on the rack after Ndoye’s first-half opener, needed a late Niclas Fullkrug header to salvage a draw.

Within Switzerland’s fluid structure, Ndoye’s ability to play between the lines, pull out wide, and pose a threat inside the opposing penalty area has been key. The Three Lions have been warned.