With the World Cup now in the books, Europe’s football nations will turn their attention to Euro 2024. Hosts Germany have a bye, but the rest will start qualifying in March. Qualifying will see the top two from each group go to Germany along with four playoff teams getting a second chance via their Nations League results. Here is a (far too early) look at how the runners and riders are shaping up in the race to play the Berlin final in July 2024.
It was Iceland in 2016 and North Macedonia in 2020: Could Kosovo be the underdog story of Euro ’24? Fourth seeds in a weak looking Group I, Kosovo will fancy their chances of finishing in the top two. Under the guidance of former France International Alain Giresse, Kosovo are now a seasoned side lead by Napoli’s Amir Rrahmani and crucially leading marksman Vedat Muriqi has rediscovered his goal-scoring touch with La Liga side Mallorca.
Goalkeeper Jan Oblak remains one of international football’s great small nation stars. Slovenia had a steady 2022, losing just twice in ten games giving Oblak and company hope they can end their 12-year absence from tournament football. With Oblak and Udinese’s Jaka Bijol marshalling the defence, Slovenia have the ability to stay in tight qualifying games, but with Josip Ilicic retired they do lack a goal-scorer. Could 19-year-old Benjamin Sesko be the answer?
Bosnia were one of the more notable absentees from Euro 2020, but promotion to Nations League A has them back on an upward trajectory. Edin Dzeko was the star turn when Bosnia made their only tournament appearance back in the 2014 World Cup. Now 36, he is still Bosnia’s main man and the goals have continued to flow. Their other great veteran Miralem Pjanic is still around and remains key to their hopes of making a first Euros, hopes which were boosted by being drawn in a weak-looking Group J.
Qualifying for a football tournament is far from the biggest concern of Ukrainians. Their team is a symbol of defiance and reminder of the horrors taking place at home. Oleksandr Zinchenko is the star turn and the trusty left foot of Andriy Yarmalenko remains a potent goal threat. The World Cup dream died in a narrow defeat to Wales and a tough draw put Ukraine up against both the finalists from Euro 2020, meaning Ukraine are likely to require a playoff berth to progress.
Promotion to Nations League A (while England were relegated) provided consolation to Scotland after missing yet another World Cup. Drawn in a tough-looking Group A means that guarantee of a playoff via their Nations League success could be crucial for Scotland’s hopes. Captain Andy Robertson remains their world class player, Billy Gilmour a fine prospect, but the Champions League struggles of Celtic and Rangers are a reminder of the tough mission Steve Clarke has in leading his nation to successive Euros.
19. Czech Republic
After the high of a run to the last eight of Euro 2020 came the misery of playoff defeat in extra time, which ended the Czech’s World Cup dreams. A summer of dismal Nations League results followed, but a kind qualifying draw has boosted Czech hopes for the Euros. Star players Tomas Soucek and Patrik Schick are both enduring difficult spells at club level, coach Jaroslav Silhavy will be hoping that improves when they open their campaign at home to group favorites Poland.
Aside from Italy, Sweden were the biggest casualty of European World Cup qualifying. Long-standing coach Janne Andersson is managing a side in transition with stoical veterans moving on and exciting new attacking talents in the shape of Alexander Isak and Dejan Kulusevski carrying the nation’s hopes. One veteran still around is 41-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who may yet feature in qualifying. Group F looks tough with Sweden opening in Solna against top seeds Belgium. A home win would set Sweden up nicely for the campaign.
Ralf Rangnick is now at the helm and a friendly win over Italy suggests he is moving Austria in the right direction. Captain David Alaba is the main man, but Austria have a talented midfield in the likes of Xaver Schlager, Marcel Sabitzer and Cristoph Baumgartner around which Rangnick can build. Getting the defence right will be key for Austria, but a gentle start to qualifying means they should build early momentum with tough assignments against Belgium and Sweden further down the road.
After 64 years of waiting, Wales endured a torrid World Cup. Rob Page is now looking to rebuild with Neco Williams, Ethan Ampadu and Brennan Johnson central to the new team. One player Page can still call on is 33-year-old talisman Gareth Bale, who will hope to regain full fitness and sharpness in MLS after a flat tournament in Qatar. The futures of other veteran stars look less clear and Wales have a tough start away to Croatia in Group D.
Is it too soon to talk about a golden generation for Norway? It’s a tag that weighed heavy on others but Norway, who haven’t made a major tournament since Euro 2000 have plenty to be hopeful about. Erling Haaland already has 21 international goals, Martin Odegaard is finally making good on the immense promise that prompted Real Madrid to buy him aged 16, and Sander Berge provides power in midfield; all three are aged between 22-24. There are some wise old heads to draw on as well in Joshua King and Orjan Nyland. They start with a tough trip to Spain, which could lower expectations. However, failing to qualify would be a surprise for Norway.
A credible showing at the Euros was followed by an impressive run in Nations League A for Hungary. Their reward was a top seeding for qualifying and Hungary will expect to make a third straight Euros. They will be moving forward without retired strikers Adam Szalai and Balazs Dzsudzsak, however, Hungary have a potent attack in the shape of Rolland Sallai and Dominik Szoboszlai to go with a solid defence. Now the question is how will Hungary deal with being one of the hunted.
A winless World Cup for Serbia, who looked impressive in attack, but brittle at the back. Star players Dusan Tadic and Alexsandar Mitrovic did perform well, but those defensive lapses proved costly. Their creative talent should prove too much for the lesser lights in qualifying, which should afford Dragan Stojkovic time to find the right balance at the back. Drawn with Hungary in a weak Group G, Serbia will be hopeful of making their first Euro finals since Euro 2000. December brought the sad news that legendary defender Sinisa Mihajlovic, who starred for Yugoslavia at Euro 2000, had passed away from Leukemia.
Poland made the knockout phase of the World Cup for the first time since 1986 and Robert Lewandowski finally got his first goals at the finals, but was his penalty against France the final act of Lewandowski’s international career? Poland fans will hope he stays for one last hurrah at the Euros in the country where he made his name. With or without their main man, Poland have goal-scorers and will be confident of navigating Group E. Lewandowski, however, isn’t the only key player the wrong side of 30. Poland need the younger generation to step up if they are to make an impression.
For so long a safe and stable, Switzerland veered to the extremes in Qatar with a 6-1 hiding from Portugal ending their tournament on a low. Murat Yakin will be hoping veteran stars Xherdan Shaqiri and Yann Sommer will stick around and qualifying looks straight forward enough in Group I. The Swiss for so long looked a striker away from being a contender; Breel Embolo may well have ticked that box, but now the issues are at the other end of the pitch where Manuel Akanji could use some help.
A disastrous World Cup brought down the curtain on Roberto Martinez and the Rode Duivels golden generation. Belgium have yet to appoint a new manager, with Eden Hazard leading what is likely to be a lengthy list of international retirements. One world-class player who will be staying is Thibaut Courtois. Whoever takes over will hope to find the best in midfield superstar Kevin De Bruyne. In the 1980’s, a fine generation of Belgian football went close to trophies. When they retired, Belgium regressed into footballing obscurity. It will be up to bright young talents Charles De Ketelaere, Jeremy Doku and Amadou Onana to ensure history doesn’t repeat itself.
After the rollercoaster of Euro 2020 came the misfire of World Cup ’22, with Denmark scoring just one goal and taking a solitary point. Time is running out for Denmark’s group of core veterans, but they appear determined to carry on for the foreseeable future. An overdependence on the returning Christian Eriksen and profligate finishing were Denmark’s undoing in Qatar. The lack of club form from Kasper Dolberg and Mikkel Damsgaard is something Denmark will hope improves before qualifying begins. Denmark didn’t become a bad team overnight and a simple-looking group offers every chance of a speedy return to form.
After the incredible high of winning Euro 2020 has come a dramatic tailspin for Italy with Roberto Mancini under pressure to get Gli Azzurri back on track. Mancini’s initial success came by revitalizing a veteran side for one last shot at glory, but he is now facing a rebuilding job. Giorgio Chiellini has retired, but Leonardo Bonucci is still a bulwark. However, Mancini has a raft of decisions to make on his ageing stars. Of the new generation, Sandro Tonali is a powerhouse while Fabio Miretti and Wilfried Gnonto are exciting talents. The draw sees Italy start against old rivals England with World Cup nemesis North Macedonia waiting in September.
The honeymoon is over for Germany boss Hansi Flick with a disastrous World Cup campaign highlighting the scale of the task he faces. Germany have won two of the last three European U-21 Championships, but through a combination of injuries and poor transfer decisions, those talents have struggled to blossom. One player who has made the leap to world-class performer is Jamal Musiala, who shined at the World Cup, despite his team’s early exit. Getting the defence right and cutting out the mistakes are priorities for Flick, but he will have to do it in friendlies with non-competitive matches for Germany until the home tournament kicks off. The last time Germany hosted a tournament (2006 World Cup), they began nervous about facing Costa Rica and ended up in the last four; don’t rule out a similar turnaround in 2024.
Ronald Koeman is back after his Barcelona misadventure. Koeman inherits a far better hand than he received on his first apportionment with the national team in 2018. The Dutch defence was impressive in Qatar with goalkeeper Andries Noppert and centre-back Jurrien Timber making their mark on the big stage. Forward Cody Gakpo was another to enjoy as a breakout in the tournament, but the Dutch still lack the superstar attacking talents of old to push into contender status. Drawn for qualifying in Group B means the toughest of openers of away to France, however, it’s the September ties against Greece and Ireland that will determine if Koeman’s men can steer clear of trouble.
Note this is a rankings looking forward, not back on the World Cup. Croatia again proved themselves to be an excellent tournament team with a surprise run to third place. However, now aged 37, the legendary Luka Modric remains uncertain if he’ll play at the Euros. Modric is expected to lead Croatia at this summers Nations League finals, which could provide the piece of silverware Croatia’s efforts merit. Despite losing Lionel Messi in the semifinal, Josko Gvardiol had a superb World Cup, as did goalkeeper Dominik Livakovic.
Spain begin their quest for a fourth European title loaded with talent, but without Luis Enrique. A strange World Cup started by Spain lashing Costa Rica 7-0, then failing to win another game. Under 21s manager Luis de la Fuente has stepped up to take charge, but one player he won’t be able to call on is the legendary Sergio Busquets. Spain already have his replacement in Rodri, but that reopens the old question marks around an unconvincing defence. Pedri and Gavi may well emulate Xavi and Iniesta for Spain, but that team had Puyol and Ramos at the back with Villa providing a cutting edge: Spain’s current generation have neither.
Fernando Santos has departed after eight years at the helm that saw Portugal scale new heights. Much of that success was down to a rugged backline and the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo. The World Cup showed Portugal have the talent to move on from Ronaldo with the likes of Joao Felix, Rafael Leao and Goncalo Ramos up front with Bernardo Silva and Bruno Fernandes feeding them chances. The burning question for Portugal is whether their new manager sees it that way or if he will try to keep Ronaldo around. With Jose Mourinho reportedly in the frame, don’t bet on the former. The World Cup pointed to a bright future for Portugal, but it remains to be seen when that future begins.
Gareth Southgate is staying put for the Euros and despite an earlier exit than the last two tournaments, it’s clear England aren’t far away from that elusive trophy. Unlike most of their main rivals, England have few retirement concerns and the attacking trident of Bukayo Saka, Phil Foden and Jude Bellingham is amongst the most promising in world football. Despite keeping three clean sheets in Qatar, central defence remains England’s biggest conundrum with Southgate seemingly moving on from three at the back, Ben White and Fikayo Tomori could be set for more senior roles. A strong World Cup blew away the cobwebs of a dismal Nations League campaign for England. Southgate needs to maintain that momentum when England start qualifying against the side that denied them glory at Wembley last summer.
France saw the World Cup slip through their fingers in Doha, but they came closer than any team in the last 60 years to retaining the trophy. France will probably have to replace record caps holder Hugo Lloris and record goal-scorer Olivier Giroud. They will be boosted by the return from injury of Paul Pogba and Lucas Hernandez, but not Karim Benzema, who has announced his retirement. Kylian Mbappe’s Golden Boot performance in Qatar buried the ghost of Euro 2020 and despite his penalty agony, Aurelien Tchouameni underlined his status as one of the world’s best young midfielders. There will be changes for France, but with the likes of William Saliba and Eduardo Camavinga getting more game time, France are still the frontrunners. A word of warning for France’s rivals; they haven’t lost a knockout game inside 90 minutes since 2014 and two of the matches they went on to lose came in the final. France lost their title, but they remain the team to beat heading into the Euros.
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