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Euro 2024 talking points: Most, least impressive teams and predictions


Euro 2024 is down to the final 16 teams, as eight are headed home after an exciting group stage. We said goodbye to Albania, Croatia, Czechia, Hungary, Poland, Scotland, Serbia and Ukraine, but we can all enjoy another four rounds of fixtures before the winner is crowned on July 14.

So far, the tournament in has been full of surprises, but what has stood out? Which teams have impressed (or not), and what can we expect from a bracket that has most of the top-ranked teams (France vs. Belgium; Spain vs. Georgia; Germany vs. Denmark; Portugal vs. Slovenia) on one side and a more open feel (Switzerland vs. Italy, England vs. Slovakia; Romania vs. Netherlands; Austria vs. Turkey) on the other?

We asked ESPN FC’s writers at the tournament what they have made of things so far now we’re heading into the round of 16 on Saturday.

What’s been the best thing about the Euros so far?

Gab Marcotti: This feels like a genuine tournament, and not like the reality TV show set that Qatar was (and, to a lesser degree, Russia 2018), with fans appearing as extras. Because of geography, the tournament is also far more accessible. On the pitch, many of the games have been tight and in the balance until the final moments, which makes a nice change from what we see week in, week out in club football. And our German hosts have been extraordinarily welcoming.

Mark Ogden: The huge numbers of fans. The European nations have been backed by unusually small numbers in recent major tournaments — Russia 2018, Qatar 2022 and the pandemic-impacted Euro 2020 — so it has been a return to the days of big influxes of supporters. Germany’s location at the heart of Europe, and the fact that eight nations at Euro 2024 border the country, has allowed for massive travelling contingents. Unexpected colour from Romania, Albania and Turkey has also been a big positive.

James Olley: The atmospheres and the absence of politics. Before the 2018 World Cup, there was concern about security and Russia’s relationship with the West. The last Euros were delayed by a year and still heavily affected by COVID-19. And the 2022 World Cup in Qatar raised serious human rights questions that cast a shadow over everything that happened on the field. All three tournaments were not well attended by fans as a result and, in that context, what a refreshing change Germany is. It genuinely feels like the wondrous blur of culture and colour that these major events should be.

Rob Dawson: How open the tournament is. Some of the favourites like England and France have struggled, and there are dark horse contenders in the round of 16 such as Austria, Turkey and Switzerland. Each team to make it out of the groups will feel there is a legitimate chance to reach the semifinals and beyond.

Julien Laurens: The atmosphere in stadiums. Everywhere I have been, it has been amazing. Even on TV, it sounds amazing. Every group of fans have raised their games. Scotland‘s were great, as always when they qualify, but also those from Turkey, Georgia, Albania, the Netherlands, Portugal, Croatia … even the French have been good. It has been full of colour, face painting, chanting, jumping, smiling and crying.

Sam Marsden: I agree that it’s obviously the atmosphere created by Scotland, Albania, Georgia, Turkey, Croatia and others. But just to be different, I have enjoyed the mx of youngsters and veterans. Spain‘s Lamine Yamal became the youngest player to ever feature in the finals, at 16; Portugal’s Pepê the oldest at 41. Croatia’s Luka Modric became the oldest-ever goal scorer at 38, while Germany‘s Jamal Musiala and Turkey’s Arda Güler have delivered some of the group stage’s best moments at 21 and 19, respectively.

Tom Hamilton: It’s been a tournament where fans have mixed brilliantly across Germany. Supporters from Romania, Slovakia, Austria and Denmark that I saw all enjoyed spending time with the Scotland fans, and greeted them with their own version of “No Scotland, no party.” As we head into the knockout stages, you have a few familiar names in the mix to win it all, but the tournament is incredibly open.



Hamburg turns orange as Dutch fans get the party started

Dutch fans celebrate on the streets of Hamburg ahead of their first Euro 2024 game.

What’s been the worst thing about the Euros so far?

Marsden: The pitch invasions. Every game I have been to has seen security breached, briefly halting the matches, often on multiple occasions. Portugal’s games have been hit hardest due to the Cristiano Ronaldo effect. Six supporters tried to get to him during the Turkey game. After the Georgia match, another fan launched themselves from the stands, falling down the tunnel. It’s dangerous.

Olley: I’ve always tried not to publicly complain about travel at tournaments because as journalists, we’re all privileged to be there. Like many others, I’ve had some bad luck with the trains — getting to and from Gelsenkirchen for England’s first game in particular — but let’s focus on the football, so I’ll say the tournament format. It’s the same as at Euro 2020, but no less frustrating: it is farcical that teams have to wait for sometimes days to know who they are playing in the round of 16 or if they’ve even qualified. UEFA should go back to 16 teams, but obviously money talks here, so at least when they inevitably go to 32 teams, we can dispense with this four “best third-place finishers” nonsense.

Hamilton: Like James, I have to agree that some of the transport has been shambolic, and that the purgatory that teams are put in after finishing the group stage is nonsense. Having third-place finishers go through eliminates some of the jeopardy. The fact that that Ukraine exit on four points when some teams qualify on three is indeed farcical.

Laurens: Personally, everything has been great for me, so I don’t have a worst thing. Leaving the Veltins Arena in Gelsenkirchen after Spain vs. Italy was a bit of a mission, but the Spanish fans in my tram kept singing so it was cool. The trains have been perfect for me; access to stadiums too. The games I’ve covered had good stories and I’ve seen great goals, I’ve seen the Masked Player [Kylian Mbappé] in action, and superb atmospheres. Berlin is a great city. I had just forgotten how big Germany is, especially after the Qatar World Cup, so these train journeys are great but long.

Dawson: What UEFA are doing inside the stadiums before kick-off. Juls is right; the atmosphere created by the fans is one of the best things at the tournament, so there’s no need for stadium sound systems to blast out ’90s dance classics to get everyone in the mood. Turn off the loud speakers and let the supporters build the atmosphere.

Marcotti: I think some of the bigger names haven’t really stood out yet, though that doesn’t really bother me that much … it’s a chance to see others shine and come to the fore. And some of the logistics haven’t been great at certain stadiums, but that’s a minor complaint. Honestly, there hasn’t been much to moan about at all and even those who complain about the format are rather missing the point. Those best third-place teams still make for drama. Go to 16 teams and it means a number of countries will never qualify for a major tournament in generations; go to 32 and you make all of qualifying virtually irrelevant (at which point you might as well scrap it and just expand Nations League.) It’s a compromise. Live with it.

Ogden: The centre-forwards. Remember them? They used to be the guys who scored the goals and claimed all the glory, but it’s been a grim competition for the likes of Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, Robert Lewandowski and others. The last time the Euros were held in Germany, in 1988, the tournament was made memorable by the stunning goals and performances of the Dutch great Marco van Basten. There’s no sign of a new Van Basten yet.



Why Georgia qualifying for the knockout stage is a ‘wonderful story’

Shaka Hislop recaps Georgia’s stunning 2-0 win over Portugal that sees them qualify for the round of 16 at Euro 2024.

Which team have impressed you most?

Dawson: Georgia. They don’t have a lot of possession, but they still find a way of playing front-foot, attacking football. Their games in Germany are often pure chaos. They defend aggressively, and when they win the ball back, it’s like an Olympic sprint into the other penalty area. They’re almost like a throwback team from a bygone era, and it’s great entertainment.

Laurens: Georgia! I bumped into their manager, Willy Sagnol, in Munich last month before a Champions League game. He told me that they would shock Europe. And they have! I knew he was making them solid, hard-working and full of confidence, but I didn’t think they would get out of their group. They have, and they have the best goalkeeper of the tournament in Giorgi Mamardashvili and the top goal scorer in Georges Mikautadze. What an incredible story.

Olley: Georgia are rightly being highlighted by the others, so I’ll say Austria. They topped a group that looked particularly daunting given it contained France and Netherlands, but that was no fluke. Their relentless press and aggression will make them a match for anyone in the knockouts — they can beat Turkey and have already beaten the Dutch, their possible quarterfinal opponents. And I’m pleased for head coach Ralf Rangnick, whose reputation was unfairly maligned at Manchester United.

Hamilton: Georgia have been box office and wonderful to watch and while I loved watching the first 23 seconds of Albania scoring against Italy, overall I have to say Austria. Rangnick has done a brilliant job there and they are contenders for the trophy. They came into the tournament with a quiet confidence and are delivering. No team will want to play them.

Marcotti: Austria look like a club side, and I say that as a compliment. International football doesn’t really lend itself to sophisticated tactics because coaches have to work with what’s available and they don’t have that much time on the training pitch. But Rangnick has made Austria more than the sum of its parts, which is really rare at this level.

Ogden: Switzerland, just ahead of Austria. The Swiss are a dangerous team in the so-called weaker half of the draw because they are solid at the back, experienced in midfield and have young and hungry talent up front. Murat Yakin’s team just shade it ahead of Austria, but they have also been impressive.

Marsden: Spain. There were question marks about La Roja pre-tournament. Very few people had them down as the outright favourites, but they were the best team through the group stage with three wins from three. What’s more, they’re exciting to watch with the unpredictably added by Nico Williams and Yamal.



Why struggling England are still Euro 2024 favourites

Frank Leboeuf assesses England’s hopes in the knockout stages of Euro 2024.

Which team have underwhelmed?

Ogden: England. Absolutely woeful. Other teams have underperformed, but none went into the tournament with as much hype as England. On paper, with a squad of such talent, England should have breezed through their group and now be relishing a seemingly easy route to the final. But Gareth Southgate’s players have become way less than the sum of their parts. They’ve been dismal and boring.

Olley: France didn’t win their group and Belgium looked average, but it has to be England given the opponents they faced. Southgate has taken the team on during his eight years in charge, but simply has to get more out of such a talented group of attacking players. With the knockout rounds now upon us, his margin for error has gone.

Laurens: I will leave the English players to settle their score with Southgate, so I will pick Belgium. They have been an embarrassment to their country. Four points in their group is a disgrace for a team of their calibre, and with the players they have. Domenico Tedesco has been clueless so far in this tournament.

Dawson: England? France? Belgium? Netherlands? Take your pick. Serbia will be disappointed to be going home early. There was a good chance to get out of Group C, but despite having Aleksandar Mitrovic, Dusan Vlahovic and Luka Jovic in the squad, they only managed one goal in three games and finished bottom.

Hamilton: Denmark vs. Serbia was one of the dullest matches I’ve seen. And with Denmark heading through, it’s Serbia who I think go home disappointed. They have brilliant attacking talent in their team, but never managed to put together a performance which did justice to the sum of their parts.

Marsden: Given it’s harder to reach the round of 16 than not, Croatia massively underperformed by crashing out in the group stage, even if they were paired with Spain and Italy. The trio of England, France and Belgium have all been below par, too, but will get a shot at redemption, which Croatia will not. Will that be it for Modric at major tournaments? He will be 40 by the next World Cup.

Marcotti: Most of the pre-tournament favorites have been underwhelming, except for Spain. England and France have attained great results by playing the sort of football we’ve seen in the tournament, so I guess that’s a mitigating factor for Southgate and Deschamps to some degree, but they’ve been unimpressive.



Are Spain the team to beat at Euro 2024?

Julien Laurens has high praise for Spain as they continue to impress after beating Albania 1-0.

The knockout bracket is very one-sided, which teams do you expect to reach the final and lift the trophy?

Marcotti: It’s still pretty wide open and anything can happen … it’s tournament football, after all. Germany have a really tough run to the final, and I’m not sure about the age and depth of the squad, so I might lean towards France (or Spain in their half of the bracket.) In the bottom half, it’s not great at all, but England have the highest margin of improvement, I guess. So how about France (or Spain) beating England in the final? (Unless England beat themselves first, that is.)

Ogden: I’m going for a Germany vs. Netherlands final, with Germany to win it. I don’t think Germany are the best team, but they have home advantage and have Musiala and Florian Wirtz as match winners. The Dutch haven’t impressed me at all, but their route to the final is one that they will regard as a clear path. They will beat Romania and then build up a head of steam. If they meet Germany in the final, it will be a classic match.

Olley: They’ve not been great but my pre-tournament prediction was France so I have to stick with them, even though Germany and particularly Spain look in ominous form. I’d like to believe England will improve, but it is hard right now to say with any confidence they can beat, say, Slovakia, Italy and Netherlands playing like they have. I’ll go for Netherlands to lose to France in the final.

Dawson: In the top half of the draw, Spain and Germany have been most impressive. If Germany can edge their potential quarterfinal, they will fancy their chances of reaching the final. There’s an opportunity for a surprise contender to come through the bottom half; either Austria or Turkey, who meet in the round of 16. I think Austria will edge it, reach the final, and then lose to Germany.

Hamilton: I agree with Rob, I think we’ll end up seeing a Germany-Austria final. Like many, I went for France pre-tournament, but as James is sticking, I’ll twist. Germany are coping with the pressure of being hosts brilliantly, and have the best player in the tournament so far in Musiala. Austria are building nicely under Rangnick and are on the favourable side of the draw. I think they’ll come through their half, and then ultimately fall just short to the hosts in the final.

Laurens: Big teams are going to raise their games now. The group stage is a bit of fun, but the real tournament starts now. So I expect the likes of France, England, Belgium and Netherlands to play better. You see the great teams step up when it matters the most. France are going to beat Netherlands in the final, and Mbappé, without his mask, will lift the trophy, 40 years after Michel Platini.

Marsden: Anyone can beat anyone in the top half of the draw, but I will go for France vs. Spain in the bottom semifinal and the winner of the tournament coming from that game. As for who they will meet in the final, going against all logic gleaned from performances so far, it looks like the path is opening up for England.


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