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Talking Football with Ben: Euro 2024 - weighing up the heavyweights


Following the October international break, nine teams have booked their place at next summer’s European Championships, meaning 15 spots remain up for grabs.

Hosts Germany have been joined by a few usual suspects France, England, Portugal, Spain and Belgium, while Türkiye, Austria and Scotland have also booked their spots sooner than ever they could’ve possibly expected.

So, with 240 days to go until the big kick off in Munich on 14 June, here’s a look ahead at who might potentially win Euro 2024, with many calling this the most open tournament for decades.

England: Is football finally coming home?

After reaching the final of Euro 2020, heartbreakingly beaten on penalties by Italy at Wembley, will England go one better next summer?

Well, the Three Lions are certainly amongst the favourites, with Gareth Southgate himself admitting his team are ‘one of the teams capable of winning it’.

These comments came following England’s 3-1 victory over Italy at Wembley on Tuesday, a result that rubber stamped their spot at the Euros with two gams to spare.

Gli Azzurri did take an early lead through Gianluca Scamacca, but after Harry Kane equalised from the penalty spot soon after, they never looked back.

Marcus Rashford fired the hosts in front shortly after half time, a goal set up by the dazzling work of Jude Bellingham, with a sublime solo goal from Kane later on making the points secure.

What was clear for all in attendance at Wembley to see was the England had a vastly superior talent advantage over the reigning European Champions.

Italy couldn’t cope with the front four of Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Jude Bellingham and Harry Kane.

Jack Grealish also came on for a brief cameo towards the end, while Trent Alexander-Arnold and James Maddison remained unused substitutes, not to mention Bukayo Saka, sat at home nursing a hamstring injury.

This team does have a few weaknesses, centre-back being one, with the often unfairly maligned Harry Maguire once again getting the nod in a big game, chosen over Marc Guéhi, Lewis Dunk or Fikayo Tomori.

But, at the other end of the pitch, very few national teams in the world can match England’s firepower, so this team is more than capable of winning the Euros, although history suggests they probably won’t.

Way too early prediction: Heartbreaking semi-final elimination.

France: the obvious favourites once again

One team that can certainly match England for talent, probably even usurping the Three Lions when it comes to squad depth, is France.

Personally, I’ve tipped France to win each of the last four major tournaments and, while they’ve only actually done so once, les Bleus were also beaten in the Euro Final of 2016 and last December’s World Cup Final.

Didier Deschamps’ side are set to go into next summer’s competition with a 100% record, having won six out of six in qualifying so far, following Friday night’s 2-1 victory over Netherlands in Amsterdam.

Kylian Mbappé bagging a brace at Johan Cruijff Arena and, if you haven’t seen his second, the sublime, effortless strike is well worth your time.

For that one, Mbappé completed an attacking quartet, or quatres fantastiques if you prefer, alongside Antoine Griezmann, Kingsley Coman and Randal Kolo Muani, which isn’t bad.

Olivier Giroud and Marcus Thuram then both came off the bench, while Ousmane Dembélé and Christopher Nkunku, who’ll be back from injury in the coming months, are decent options too wouldn’t you say?

In short, the back-to-back World Cup Finalists will be favourites going into every single game they play so, with eight months to go, we’re backing les Bleus to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy for the third time.

Way too early prediction: Winners!

Germany: Will the hosts be embarrassed on home soil?

Usually, ahead of a major tournament, most people are tipping the hosts for glory, especially when those hosts are seven-times major tournament winners Germany.

Between 2006 and 2016, during the Joachim Löw glory years, die Mannschaft reached, at least, the semi-finals of all six World Cups and Euros, crowned champions of the world for the fourth time in Brazil in 2014.

However, next summer marks eight years since their most-recent tournament knockout win, following back-to-back World Cup group phase eliminations, with a meek exit to England in the Euro last 16 coming in-between.

This though is not what is concerning Germany supporters, given that they have their team’s current form to worry about.

Last month, following humiliating 4-1 hammering at the hands of Japan, Hansi Flick became the first Germany manager to ever be sacked.

Officially, all the others have resigned, although try telling that to Otto Nerz, whose team were eliminated in the second round of the 1936 Olympics on home soil, which didn’t go down well as one can imagine.

Julian Nagelsmann has come in as Flick’s replacement, taking charge for the first time this month, overseeing a pair of state-side friendlies, beating USA 3-1 on Saturday, before a chaotic 2-2 draw with Mexico on Tuesday.

In the former in Connecticut, Nagelsmann became only the second manager to win his first match in charge after seeing his team go a goal down, the other being our new friend Otto Nerz again 97 years ago.

The draw in Philadelphia with el Tri three days later means die Nationalelf have now failed to keep a clean sheet in eight successive matches, their longest sequence since the 2018 World Cup.

A major issues is the fact that Germany are exclusively playing friendlies for 18 months, having qualified automatically, making it difficulty to motivate elite-level players over such a prolonged period of time.

Flick was certainly a victim of this because, hypothetically, say you substitute this team into Group J in place of Portugal, they’d be qualifying at a canter, swatting aside weaker opponents, and Flick would still be manager.

Thus, this suggests they will not be as bad as many fear once the tournament comes around, although the three-times European Champions are still along way short of being up there with the continent’s best.

Nagelsmann has only signed a short-term deal that expires next July, suggesting he fancies a return to club management when next seasons rolls around.

Before then, he’s got plenty of work to do in not a lot of time, as Germany seek to become only the fourth hosts, and first for 40 years, to win the European Championships.

Way too early prediction: Underwhelming quarter-final exit.

Portugal: Ronaldo’s last dance?

Alongside France, only one other team can boast a 100% record in Euro qualifying and that is Portugal.

Roberto Martínez’s start to life in charge could literally not have gone any better, winning eight out of eight so far, scoring 32 goals and conceding only twice, both in Friday’s 3-2 win over Slovakia at Estádio do Dragão.

Considering their last two fixtures are Liechtenstein, who are pointless, away and then Iceland at home, A Seleção das Quinas are likely to qualify for a tournament with a 100% record for the first time ever.

On Monday night, despite having already booked their ticket to Germany, Portugal hammered Bosnia & Herzegovina 5-0, with all the goals in Zenica coming during a first half demolition.

These results though should be taken with a pinch of salt, given that Portugal’s challengers in Group J, Slovakia, Luxembourg, Iceland and the aforementioned Bosnia, are no great shakes.

On the flip side, this squad is jam-packed full of talent, meaning it’s more than capable of going all the way.

When Portugal won the Euros in 2016, this was very unexpected, considering their team featured journeymen such as Cédric, Adrien Silva, João Mário, André Gomes and unlikely final hero Eder.

Now though, things have changed, even if Cristiano Ronaldo is still leading the line, taking his tally to 127 international goals this week, now 19 ahead of Ali Daei’s long-standing record.

Alongside Ronaldo could be any combination of Bernardo Silva, Rafael Leão, João Félix, Pedro Neto, Diogo Jota, Bruno Fernandes or Gonçalo Ramos, which is a frankly outrageous list of attacking talents.

Roberto Martínez is often criticised for not leading Belgium’s golden generation to silverware, but this Portugal team is confident and well-balanced, meaning they have to be amongst the obvious front-runners.

Way too early prediction: Runners-up, beaten in the final by France (if the bracket aligns that way!)

Spain: Will they be European Champions again?

Spain are currently fourth favourites to win the Euros, with shorter odds than Portugal, and while results may suggest this is justified, it doesn’t feel quite right.

La Roja did, of course, reach the semi-finals of the most-recent Euros, only ousted on penalties, before picking up major silverware over the summer, defeating Croatia in the UEFA Nations League Final thanks to a shootout.

Overall, Luis de la Fuente’s side have enjoyed six victories on the spin, making sure of their spot at the Euros with a 1-0 victory in Oslo on Sunday night.

If you haven’t watched Spain for a while, they play exactly as you’d imagine, dominating the ball, averaging 72% possession across their 13 outings in the last 12 months.

But, it often feels like possession for possession sake, with no end-game or purpose, epitomised by their World Cup exit against Morocco, in which they had 77% of the ball but mustered just a solitary shot on target across over two hours of play.

This happened again at Hampden in March, with la Roja defeated 2-0 by Scotland, turning their 75% possession into a mere three shots on frame.

While Álvaro Morata is in good form for both club and country, this team lacks an obvious star, aside from perhaps Rodri who is, almost inarguably, the best defensive midfielder in the world.

Barcelona trio Lamine Yamal, Gavi and Pedri are all stars of the future and, while all three could certainly contribute next summer, la Roja lack the cutting edge that wins tournament knockout games.

Way too early prediction: Ousted in the quarter-final (probably on penalties, having dominated possession).

Teams with work still to do: Netherlands, Italy & Croatia

Having missed out on back-to-back World Cups, could defending champions Italy really fail to qualify for yet another major tournament?

Gli Azzurri are currently third in Group C, having only won one qualifier against anyone other than Malta so far.

However, their fate remains in their own hands, requiring four points from their final two fixtures in November to make it, welcoming North Macedonia to Rome, before facing Ukraine in Leverkusen three days later.

The latter at BayArena will be a straight-shootout for qualification and, scarred by recent play-off defeats to Sweden and North Macedonia, Luciano Spalletti’s side are desperate to get the job done there.

Over in Group B, Euro ‘88 winners Netherlands’ position is far less precarious, following their last-gasp victory in Athens on Monday; Virgil van Dijk converting a stoppage time penalty at Agia Sophia Stadium.

Oranje now need only three points from their last two matches, Republic of Ireland (H) and Gibraltar (A), a tally they will surely accumulate, although Ronald Koeman’s side don’t look well-placed to challenge for silverware.

There’s always one juggernaut that misses out on every tournament, so could that be Croatia?

This week, the Blazers were beaten by Türkiye in Osijek and then Wales in Cardiff, the latter the first time ever that they’ve tasted defeat in a home European Championship qualifier.

Three days later, the 2-1 reverse at the Cardiff City Stadium saw Croatia beaten in back-to-back qualifiers for the first time in exactly ten years to the day, a bizarre coincidence.

Zlatko Dalić's side have therefore slipped down from first to third in Group D, with their fate now out of their own hands.

The back-to-back World Cup semi-finalists must beat Latvia (A) and Armenia (H), an achievable feat, and hope Wales drop points against Armenia (A) or Türkiye (H), which is also very possible.

Regardless of whether they make it or not, Croatia looked old, leggy and lacking of creativity in Cardiff, so this could be the beginning of the end for their golden era that has enjoyed so much success.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".