The 2023-24 season is finally over and the national teams of Europe finished off an exhausting year with another week of Euro 2024 qualifiers. The week also saw the conclusion of the 22-23 Nations League campaign with a new champion crowned. With less than a year until the finals kick off in Munich some are already fine tuning their plans for the tournament whilst others are struggling to ensure their name goes into the hat. Here’s how Europe’s national teams are shaping up for next summer’s jamboree.
Dropping out: Wales, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Norway, Sweden
Slovenia endured a tough week but remain firmly in contention in Group H. Having won their opening two games the Slovenia travelled to Finland without star goalkeeper Jan Oblak. Slovenia went behind early when Oblak’s understudy Vid Belec made a mess of what looked a routine stop. Slovenia played some nice football and should have equalised with Sandi Lovric spurning a glorious chance. Slovenia paid for their profligate finishing when Finland doubled their lead and ran out 2-0 winners. Next up came a home clash with group heavyweights Denmark and Slovenia took the lead from well a worked short corner routine finished off by Andraz Sporar. The Danes hit back and equalised before the break but Slovenia continued to play enterprising football. Slovenia’s best chance came on 68 minutes when Jan Mlakar thundered a shot onto the crossbar, it finished 1-1 but the well earned point could prove pivotal in what is by far the closest qualifying group.
23. (NE) Albania
Back to back wins have catapulted Albania to second place in Group E. Moldova were the visitors in front of a passionate crowd at Tirana’s Arena Kombetare. The ground erupted on 22 minutes when Jasir Asani smashed in a sumptuous drive for 1-0. Nedim Bajrami settled the tie with a daisy-cutter of a shot for 2-0 and Albania had their first points of qualification. Then came an entertaining encounter with Faroe Islands with Bajrami’s neat finish opening the scoring. Albania spurned the chance to go 2-0 up when Sokol Cikalleshi saw his penalty saved, 13 minutes later that slip was punished when the Faroe Islands levelled with a bullet header. Six minutes into the second half Albania regained the lead with Inter midfielder Kristjan Asllani hitting a spectacular 25 yarder into the top corner. Substitute Ernest Muci finished a quick counter attack to make it 3-1 at the death and Albania surprisingly find themselves in a qualifying spot.
22. (+1) Kazakhstan
Having pulled off a shock win over Denmark in March, Kazakhstan kept their momentum going in a tight Group H. First up were San Marino who came close to bursting Kazakhstan’s bubble early in the game but Yan Vorogovskiy settled the visitors’ nerves by opening the scoring late in the first half. Kazakhstan dominated the second half and a Askhat Tagybergen penalty made it 2-0 before Baktiyor Zainutdinov’s deflected effort made it 3-0. Northern Ireland proved a far stiffer test, in a game of few clear cut chances Maxim Samorodov missed a glorious chance for the hosts. On 77 minutes Northern Ireland’s best chance was brilliantly tipped over by Igor Shatskiy to keep the scores level. Then in the 88th minute Abat Aimbetov channelled his inner Maradona to burst from his own half, beat three defenders and coolly slot home the only goal of the game.
21. (NE) Slovakia
Slovakia’s veteran side is gradually building momentum in Group J. Having survived an early scare in Iceland it was the old maestro Marek Hamsik who set up another veteran Juraj Kucka to smash home a stunning opener. Iceland got on terms from the penalty spot, but Slovakia continued to look the more dangerous and got the winner when an attempted clearance out of Iceland’s box rebounded off Tomas Suslov and into the net. Away to Liechtenstein, Slovakia did enough with defender Denis Vavro heading home a flick home from a corner for a 1-0 win. Slovakia have ten points and their well organised defence has yet to concede a goal in open play in the campaign, next up it’s a date with group leader Portugal.
20. (NE) Finland
Finland were surprise qualifiers for Euro 2020 and this week put a bad start behind them to take the lead in Group H. First came the visit of Slovenia and Finnish nerves were settled by an opportunist strike from Joel Pohjanpalo after 13 minutes. As is their style Finland made themselves tough to breakdown and hit on the break. Only minutes after skipper Lukas Hradecky preserved Finland’s lead with a fine save came the crucial second goal when Teemu Pukki picked out Oliver Antman who struck from the right wing. Then came the visit of San Marino and Finland ran up a big score. Glenn Kamara opened the scoring inside six minutes and Benjimin Kallman made it two before halftime. On the hour winger Daniel Hakans entered the fray for just his second cap; 14 minutes later he’d completed a hat-trick. Pukki added a late sixth to round off a fine week for Finland.
19. (-) Poland
Poland recorded a famous win this week but also saw their qualification hopes take a shock blow. Old rivals Germany were the guests in Warsaw for a friendly and a first half strike from Arsenal defender Jakub Kiwior was enough to secure a morale boosting 1-0 win. The serious business of qualification resumed away to Moldova and the expected routine win seemed to be materialising. First Arkadiusz Malik applied a poachers touch for the opener, then he set up Robert Lewandowski for a trademark strike to make it 2-0 at halftime. Moldova pulled a goal back early in the second half through Ion Nicolaescu and with 15 minutes to go the same player bamboozled the Polish defence before planting the ball in the net for 2-2. In the 85th minute it got worse when Valdislav Baboglo headed home inside a panicked box and Poland were beaten. The Poles currently sit fourth in Group E but do have an easier run-in.
18. (+3) Romania
Romania rode their luck but consolidated second place in Group I after emerging unbeaten from two away games. They started with a tricky tie in Kosovo and were grateful to VAR for ruling out a Kosovo goal as they battled to a 0-0 draw. Then came a trip to group favourites Switzerland and Romania fell 2-0 down in the first half. It looked to be over when Switzerland were awarded an 82nd minute penalty only for Romania to be rescued again by VAR. In the 89th minute Romania grabbed a lifeline through Valentin Mihaila’s close range volley. Two minutes later Mihaila burst through the Swiss defence and slid in a stunning second to rescue a 2-2 draw, next up tow home games in September.
17. (NE) Turkey
With Croatia engaged in the Nations League, Turkey took the lead in Group D but it was anything but straightforward. Turkey travelled to Latvia and took the lead when Abdulkerim Bardakci got the final touch from a set piece scramble. On 51 minutes Latvia drew level but Turkey retook the lead ten minutes later through Cendiz Under’s clinical finish. Eight minutes from time Latvia were reduced to ten men and it looked over, until the fourth minute of injury time saw the Turkish defence fall asleep and Latvia’s Kristers Tobers pounced for 2-2. There was time for one last attack and the Latvian ‘keeper flapped at a cross to allow Irfan Can Kahveci a header for a dramatic 3-2 win.
Then came a critical clash with Wales and Turkey’s job was made easier when Joe Morrell saw red before halftime. Yet Wales still proved a tough nut to crack with Turkey missing a penalty and seeing a goal ruled out. Eventually the Wlesh defence was breached by a Umut Nayir header and then a brilliant hit from Arda Guler that puts Turkey in pole position to qualify.
16. (-4) Serbia
It was a week of late goals for Serbia. First came a low key friendly against Jordan, with young defender Strahinja Erakovic opening the scoring. However Serbia seemed to be heading for a defeat until a late brace from Dejan Joveljic secured a 3-2 win. In the absence of Aleksandar Mitrovic, Joveljic started the qualifier in Bulgaria, but it proved a tough night for Serbia who fell behind just after the break and had the woodwork to thank for it remaining only 1-0. In the final minute of injury time Serbia finally equalised through Darko Lazovic’s vicious strike. Serbia are now second in Group G and host leaders Hungary in September.
15. (+2) Czech Republic
The Czechs remain top of Group E after a low key end to the season with several of their veterans rested. Away to Faroe Islands the Czechs took an early lead via Ladislav Krejcl’s header. Then just before halftime Vaclav Cerny hit a sweet left footed drive that found the corner of the net for 2-0. Cerny then repeated the trick with another brilliant left-footed strike on 75 minutes to seal the points. The season concluded with a friendly away to Montenegro with the Czech’s recording an impressive 4-1 win with young striker Mojmir Chytil scoring his fourth in just six caps. Results elsewhere favoured the Czechs who face a trip to second placed Albania in September.
14. (-) Hungary
Hungary are in control of Group G after a solid week’s work. First came a tricky looking trip to Montenegro with the hosts applying pressure but Hungary holding firm. As the game wore on Hungary looked the more likely winners but settled for a 0-0 draw. In the more familiar surroundings of the Puskas Arena, Hungary breezed past Lithuania. They took the lead through a Barnabas Varga strike on 32 minutes. It took 50 minutes for Hungary to add to their lead, but it was goal worth waiting for in Roland Sallai’s 25 yard screamer for 2-0 which guaranteed Hungary top spot in the group.
13. (+2) Austria
Austria are looking a much more cohesive unit under the guidance of Ralf Rangnick and underlined their improvement with a battling draw away to Group F favourites Belgium. Michael Gregotisch gave the visitors a shock lead with a volley from a corner. Belgium pressed and equalised with half an hour still to play, but Austria dug in and Stefan Posch was unfortunate not to give them the lead, however Austria did need to survive a desperate injury time scramble to see out the draw. Sweden were then the visitors to Vienna and Austria put in their most complete performance of the campaign with Swedish keeper Robin Olsen keeping the hosts at bay. That was until the 81st minute when Austria finally took a deserved lead when Gregoritsch’s thunderous hit was parried and Christoph Baumgartner scrambled home. The same combination sealed the 2-0 win on 89 minutes to leave Austria sitting pretty atop Group F.
Scotland grabbed another famous victory with a smash and grab win over Norway. Facing a much fancied Norway team including Erling Haaland and Martin Odegaard, the Scots were fortunate not to concede in the opening minutes and were forced to dig in. On 61 minutes Ryan Porteus conceded a clumsy penalty which Haaland despatched and that looked to be that. However Steve Clarke made clever use of his bench, and the probing of John McGinn finally paid off when a slip in the Norwegian defence saw Lyndon Dykes poke home an equaliser on 87 minutes. Two minutes later Dykes teed up Kenny McLean for the winner and Scotland were in dreamland.
Tuesday night in Glasgow would prove an odd follow up against Georgia. On a waterlogged pitch Scotland took the lead when Callum McGregor slapped in an early goal but on nine minutes the game was suspended for 90 minutes due to the unplayable surface. When play finally resumed Scott McTominay bagged his fifth goal of the campaign for 2-0 and although Georgia rallied and even missed a late penalty, Scotland hung on to retain their 100% record in Group A. Manager Steve Clarke was keen to downplay his teams progress but a win in Cyprus next time out should send the Scots to Germany.
The Dutch saw their Nations League hopes crumble in front of a home crowd in Rotterdam. Things started well against Croatia with Donyell Malen finishing off a nice passing move for 1-0. However Netherlands struggled to control the game and conceded an equaliser from the penalty spot early in the second half, then fell behind midway through the second half. The Dutch showed the resilience to come back and grabbed a last gasp equaliser through Noa Lang. However it was Croatia who held the upper hand and two goals in extra time finished off the hosts.
In the Third Place playoff things went from bad to worse with the Dutch falling 2-0 down inside 20 minutes. The home crowd booed their disapproval and although Steven Bergwijn pulled a goal back the leaky defence was again exposed by Italy as Netherlands fell 1-3 behind before a late Geroginio Wijnaldum strike. It’s now three defeats in four and eleven goals conceded since Ronald Koeman returned as manager, the Dutch desperately needs to find some momentum in September’s qualifiers.
10 (-2) Germany
Hansi Flick is under intense pressure after Germany finished a miserable season on a new low. First they faced Ukraine in Bremen and home favourite Niklas Fullkrug gave Germany a dream start. However familiar defensive frailties were on show as Germany incredibly fell 1-3 down after just 56 minutes. Kai Havertz’s late goal rekindled German hopes and an injury time Joshua Kimmich penalty spared their blushes in a 3-3 draw. Then Flick sent out a strong side away to Poland and despite dominating possession Germany fell to a surprise 0-1 defeat.
The worst came last in Gelsenkirchen as Germany were made to look pedestrian by a fleetfooted Colombia with two second half goals enough for the guests to claim a deserved 2-0 win. That’s three defeats in five with only Fullkrug, Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala emerging with any credit. Germany emerged from a dark time to almost win the World Cup the last time they hosted a tournament, the burning question now is have they got the right manager to do it again?
9. (-) Switzerland
Two goals proved a dangerous lead for Switzerland this week . Things started well enough against the minnows of Andorra with Remo Freuler putting the Swiss ahead on seven minutes and when Xherdan Shaqiri’s cross was put away by Zeki Amdouni on 32 minutes it looked comfortable. Then midway through the second half the Swiss defence lost Marcio Vieira at a set-piece and the veteran midfielder headed in a shock goal for 1-2. The Swiss had their chances but couldn’t add to the score and finished with a nervy win.
Then came a far stiffer test at home to Romania and yet again Amdouni was outstanding. First he showed a poachers instinct to stab Switzerland ahead and then he latched onto Shaqiri’s long ball and coolly rounded the goalkeeper for his second. It appeared to be all over until the 89th minute when the Swiss defence were caught napping and Romania halved the deficit. Three minutes later the Swiss backline were outpaced and suddenly two points were dropped. It was a laxed week from the Swiss but they still lead Group I.
8. (+2) Denmark
After their shock defeat in Kazakhstan, Denmark got their campaign back on track at home to Northern Ireland. The Danes dominated proceedings but had to wait until the start of the second half when Jonas Wind reacted quickest to a loose ball in the Northern Ireland and rifled in for 1-0. Rasmus Hojlund was denied by a fine save as Denmark failed to put the game to bed. Denmark looked set to pay for their profligate finishing when Northern Ireland scored with an injury time set-piece only for VAR to come to the Danes’ rescue and they escaped with the 1-0 win.
Slovenia away proved a more difficult assignment and Denmark fell behind after 24 minutes. The Danes kept their heads and equalised before halftime when Pierre Hojbjerg’s cross was fired home by Hojlund for the young forward’s sixth of the campaign. Denmark hung in for the point that saw them finish the season third in Group H, but with a double header against the no hopers of San Marino still to come Denmark remain favourites to progress.
7. (-1) Italy
Italy’s woes continued with a semi-final defeat in the Nations League. Having fallen behind in the opening minutes a Ciro Immobile penalty drew the Azzurri level against Spain. In an ebb and flow encounter Davide Frattesi came closest for Italy before Spain found a last gasp winner. Italy finished their season on a positive note by securing the bronze medal position against Netherlands. Left-back Federico DiMarco began and then finished a quick fire move when he latched onto Giacomo Raspadori’s back heel to open the scoring. It was 2-0 after just 20 minutes when Frattesi was on hand to knock home Wilfried Gnonto’s deflected shot. Italy did have to withstand a second half fightback and saw their lead halved before Federico Chiesa made sure of the bronze with a cool finish on 72 minutes. With their Under 20’s performing well at the U20 World Cup and Serie A clubs impressing in Europe things are looking up again for Italy, but they still have work to do to make it to Germany to defend their title next summer.
6. (-1) Belgium
Belgium are still finding their feet under Domenico Tedesco and shorn of the injured Kevin De Bruyne were given a tough time by Austria. Belgium fell behind midway through the first half when Orel Mangala failed to get a block on Gregoritsch’s volley. Belgium equalised on 62 minutes when the lively Dodi Lukebakio set up Romelu Lukaku who put his Champions League final nightmare to bed with a fine turn and finish. Belgium still had to thank Thibaut Courtois to thank for keeping them level and they almost won it in injury time when a Youri Tielemans thunderbolt rattled the crossbar.
Lukaku captained a much changed Belgium line up away to Estonia. After an uncertain start Belgium assumed control with Lukaku stabbing in the opener on 37 minutes and he quickly made it 2-0 when he grabbed his second from Arthur Theate’s cross. In the dying minutes young winger Johan Bakayoko grabbed his first goal in Belgium colours to make it 3-0. Belgium remain second in Group F but have a game in hand on leaders Austria.
5. (-1) Croatia
Croatia again fell agonisingly short of a trophy with a narrow defeat in the Nations League Final. Croatia’s week started with yet another come from behind win in the semi final. After going behind in the first half Croatia wrestled the initiative from Netherlands with Luka Modric pulling the strings and Andrej Kramaric scoring from the spot on 55 minutes. Croatia seemed to have the game won when Mario Pasalic swept in Luka Ivanusec’s cross for 1-2. Croatia conceded an injury time equaliser but in extra time their superior possesion game proved decisive with Bruno Petkovic making it 2-3 and Modric wrapping up the win with a late penalty.
The final proved an attritional contest and Croatia even without the injured Josko Gvardiol refused to buckle. Croatia created chances of their own with Kramaric going close but almost inevitably it went to penalties. Petkovic was the man to see his shot saved as Spain edged the shoot out 4-5. The big question for Croatia is will the legendary Modric stay on until next summer’s Euros?
4. (-1) Portugal
Portugal kept their campaign ticking along in Group J. Bosnia were the visitors to Lisbon and gave the hosts a tough time in the first half with Edin Dzeko spurning their best chance. Just before the interval Portugal took the lead when Bruno Fernandes sent a perfectly weighted through-ball for Bernardo Silva to score. The second half belonged to Fernandes who settled the game with a bullet header from Ruben Neves’ cross for 2-0, then in the dying seconds a weak defensive clearance fell to him and he smashed in for 3-0. Iceland’s Laugardalsvollur stadium provided the venue for Cristiano Ronaldo’s 200th Portugal cap on Tuesday night. It would prove a difficult night for Portugal who struggled to breakdown their well drilled opponents, but things got easier when Iceland were reduced to ten men with ten minutes left to play. Eventually the goal came when Goncalo Inacio’s knockdown found you know who to strike in the 89th minute to retain Portugal’s 100% start to qualifying.
3. (-2) France
France continued their serene progress away to Gibraltar. Record goalscorer Olivier Giroud smashed in a trademark header on three minutes to get Les Bleus off to a flyer, Kylian Mbappe put away a penalty before halftime and his cross forced an own goal to make it a routine 3-0 win. France have a habit of underwhelming in qualifying and their home tie against Greece had a end of term feel with Mbappe’s penalty securing a laboured 1-0 win that keeps France on course for the finals with a 100% record.
2. (-) England
England finished the season with a goal glut. England got an early gift away to Malta via an own goal. Within half an hour the game was won thanks to a thunderous strike from Trent Alexander Arnold and Harry Kane’s 50th competitive goal for his country. England eased off in the second half with Callum Wilson’s late penalty rounding off a 4-0 win. England then produced a scintillating performance to destroy North Macedonia at Old Trafford. Luke Shaw found Kane for the opener on 29 minutes, Bukayo Saka rifled in a second and Kane set up Marcus Rashford for 3-0 on the stoke of halftime. Saka hit a spectacular fourth two minutes into the second half from a searching ball from Alexander Arnold and on 51 minutes he completed his first career hat-trick for 5-0. Kalvin Phillips couldn’t miss to make it six and Kane netted a late penalty for 7-0. England are in complete control of what appeared to be a tough looking Group C.
1. (+5) Spain
Spain are the new Nations League Champions. In the semi-final Yeremy Pino’s third minute strike gave Spain a perfect start, but they were soon hauled level by Italy. As the game wore on goalkeeper Unai Simon made an outstanding save to keep Spain alive and again it was the late appearance of veteran forward Joselu which proved decisive when he steered Rodri’s drive in for 2-1 in the 88th minute. The final against Croatia wasn’t a thriller but Spain’s superiority in possession was evident as they created the bulk of the chances without breaking down their well organised opponents. In the penalty shoot out Simon was again the hero making a crucial save and Dani Carvajal’s clever chip sealed the title. It’s Spain’s first title Euro 2012 and marks a fine start to the reign of the new boss Luis de la Fuente.
Team of the week: Simon (Spain)-Juranovic (Croatia), Vavro (Slovakia), Alaba (Austria), Robertson (Scotland)- Rodri (Spain), Modric (Croatia), Alexander Arnold (England)- Saka (England), Cerny (Czech Republic)- Amdouni (Switzerland)