berlin prepares for uefa euro 2024
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Euro 2024: The Attacking Football Preview

Domestic action has been wrapped up for the season, and it’s time for the 17th edition of the UEFA European Championship to take centre stage. The best European teams and players will compete during the summer’s Euro 2024, which Germany is hosting. We take a look at the potential winners in what seems to be a wide-open tournament, with positives and negatives surrounding all the leading contenders.

France

Les Bleus finished as runners-up at the 2022 World Cup and are the team to beat. With a squad consisting of numerous quality options in each position, it’s hard not to envisage a deep run for the French.

France is arguably stronger now than it was in Qatar. They’ve since lost a couple of friendlies, both to Germany, but qualified for the Euros undefeated despite being in arguably one of the toughest groups, which included the Netherlands and Greece.

Didier Deschamps’ side only conceded 3 goals throughout qualifying, and despite the excellent form of William Saliba for Arsenal, the pairing of Ibou Konate and Dayot Upamecano seems to be the trusted centre-back partnership at the moment. The preferred midfield three is now well established. Adrien Rabiot has become a key player for France over the past couple of years, and he will start in midfield alongside Real Madrid’s Aurelien Tchouameni, who is expected to overcome injury in time to start, and France’s hybrid hero Griezmann, the ridiculously intelligent and industrious forward who was utilised as an auxiliary midfielder to great effect in Qatar 2022.

Youssouf Fofana and Eduardo Camavinga provide quality back-up, while Warren Zaire-Emery is very much one to watch, with the prodigiously gifted PSG teenager having marked his international debut in November with a goal.

The 18-year-old is the youngest player ever to be called up for a major international tournament by France, and he will be joined in the squad by the injury-plagued N’Golo Kante, who has received a shock recall at the age of 32. According to Deschamps, he has “regained all of his physical abilities” while playing in Saudi Arabia for Al-Ittihad.

With Kylian Mbappe in their team, they will always have a chance, and following his move to Real Madrid, the possibility of the winger dominating world football over the next 10 years is high.

He may be 37 now, but Oliver Giroud will spearhead the France attack in his last International tournament. However, Giroud does have competition for his starting spot. Marcus Thuram enjoyed a fine debut season in Serie A with Inter, and although PSG’s Randal Kolo Muani hasn’t exactly lived up to his lofty transfer fee, he impressed against Chile and recently against Luxembourg and will hope to gain some game time throughout the tournament.

If Kingsley Coman is fit, and that is a big if, he will be the favourite to play on the right wing over the maddeningly inconsistent Ousmane Dembele. Meanwhile, Bradley Barcola has made his way into the squad after an impressive end to the season for PSG.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES

Lucas Hernandez

Christopher Nkunku

Moussa Diaby

Michael Olise

Matteo Guendouzi

Paul Pogba

Possible starting 11: (4-3-3): Maignan, Kounde, Saliba, Konate, Theo Hernandez, Tchouameni, Rabiot, Griezmann, Coman, Giroud, Mbappe.

Everything points towards a winning run in this years Championship for the French, a brilliant manager and top-class players with the right age profile mean they’re rightly one of the favourites to lift the title on July 14th. I can’t help but feel they will fall short this time, though. With so much pressure on the shoulders of talisman Kylian Mbappe, it will take a number of the supporting cast members to step up if they are to go all the way.

Portugal

Although England and France must be seen as favourites, Portugal have a big chance of tasting continental glory this summer if they play to their full potential. They’re the only team to have a 100% record coming into the tournament after qualifying, so confidence will be high.

Roberto Martinez has stepped into the hot seat following Fernando Santos’s departure. The former Belgium boss was not a hugely popular choice among Portuguese fans, but he’s done an impressive job so far, as his side won each of his opening 10 games in charge.

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In what is likely to be his last ever international tournament, Cristiano Ronaldo will hope to motivate this ultra-talented group of players and add to their Euro 2016 success.

Portugal’s defensive options are strong. Ruben Dias and Joao Cancelo are nailed-on starters at the back, the question of who will partner Dias at centre-back is more open. Martinez has flipped between a back four and back three since taking over, with youngsters Goncalo Inacio and Antonio Silva both receiving minutes, though the ageless Pepe remains an option too.

While Manchester United star Diogo Dalot has proved a popular choice down the left-hand side of the defense, having been a positive in a largely disappointing season for the Red Devils,.

Bruno Fernandes and Bernardo Silva have become mainstays of this team, but the other midfield positions are more open. Surprisingly, Ruben Neves and Otavio moving to the Saudi Pro League has not affected their international minutes, while holding midfielders Danilo Pereira and Joao Palhinha will provide some much-needed steel. The talk of Bayern Munich signing Fulham midfielder Palhinha can work in Portugal’s favor, as he will be determined to perform well to push through a dream move to the German heavyweights.

The strength in depth of the Portuguese attack is where they really excel compared to other nations. It’s no surprise that, at the age of 36, Cristiano Ronaldo continues to lead the line, having scored 44 club goals this season. Who plays alongside him is the question, Joao Felix and Rafael Leao have featured regularly, with Diogo Jota and Pedro Neto having their injury troubles this season, but they will also fancy a starting spot. Goncalo Ramos will provide vital depth in the centre-forward position for Ronaldo.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES

Pedro Goncalves

Fabio Vieira

Goncalo Guedes

Andre Silva

Raphael Guerreiro – Injured

Matheus Nunes

Renato Sanches

Possible starting 11: (4-3-3) Costa, Cancelo, Dias, Inacio, Dalot, Palhinha, Otavio, Fernandes, Bernardo Silva, Ronaldo, Jota.

A favourable group that they should navigate through without too much fuss means they can settle into the tournament without having big clashes early on, and Martinez can find out his best team. The squad’s in-depth strength along with the relentless drive of captain Cristiano Ronaldo mean the Portugese are going to be very hard to stop this summer. Adding to their Euro 2016 title is a huge possibility.

Netherlands

The Dutch are not considered one of the favourites for this year’s title but are certainly dark horses under Ronaldo Koeman. He inherited a talented squad from Louis van Gaal after their impressive run to the 2022 World Cup quarterfinals, and he will be confident of going on a deeper run this time around as they bid to win the tournament for the first time since 1988.

A showdown with France awaits in Group D, while also facing tough examinations against Austria and Poland. Their progression past the group stages is not a guarantee, but with so much quality in their squad, they will be confident of having enough.

A battle between Brighton’s Bart Verbruggen and Brentford’s Mark Flekken for the number 1 jersey is an interesting decision Koeman will be faced with.

Led by Virgil van Dijk, the Netherlands are blessed with plenty of quality at the back. Nathan Ake is a leading candidate to slot in alongside the Liverpool captain after another impressive season at Manchester City. Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries, Bayern Munich’s Mattijas De Ligt and Totthenham’s Micky van de Ven are just a few of the options the Dutch have. The ever-present Daley Blind will likely gain a spot in the starting lineup, whether it be in defence or midfield.

With news that influential midfielder Frenkie de Jong is ruled out of the tournament due to injury, who fills in for the Barcelona maestro and how he performs will be crucial to the success of the team this summer. Atalanta talisman Teun Koopmeiners is another big loss after picking up an injury in their last warm-up game before the tournament, especially after his brilliant season for the Europa League Champions. Jerdy Schouten is also set to be rewarded with a starting spot after being one of PSV’s standout performers during their run to the Eredivisie title. Liverpool midfielder Ryan Gravenberch is another option, and his versatility will be crucial at times during the tournament.

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Dortmund star and defensive live wire Ian Maatsen has been brought into the squad at the last minute following the injuries, and after an exceptional domestic season, he can no doubt add pace and versatility to the squad.

Despite not having the attacking options of other teams coming into the tournament, the Dutch pose threats that others may not. Wout Weghost has had an underwhelming season at Hoffenheim but seems to bring his best form when playing with the Netherlands. Liverpool’s Cody Gakpo will likely sit just behind Memphis Depay in attack with Paris Saint-Germain starlet Xavi Simons, who has enjoyed a superb individual campaign on loan at RB Leipzig. Brian Brobbey, Donyell Malen, and Stephen Bergwijn have also made the squad and can all be trusted to cause opposing defences trouble when called upon.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES

Frenkie De Jong

Teun Koopmeiners

Sven Botman

Quilindschy Hartman

Marten de Roon

Jurrien Timber

Joshua Zirkzee

Possible starting 11: (3-4-2-1): Verbruggen, Blind, Van Dijk, Ake, Dumfries, Schouten, Veerman, Gravenberch, Simons, Gakpo, Depay.

If the Dutch can come through a very tricky group that includes one of the tournament favorites, France, there is a possibility they can cause an upset and go deep in this year’s competition. With a very strong squad led by Virgil Van Dijk, the Dutch are going under the radar and have rarely been discussed as potential winners of this year’s Euro. With a very strong defence, they will be hard to break down, but a potential tough quarterfinal against Portugal may be a reason for the lack of hype around the Dutch, but confidence will be high if they progress to that stage.

England

England often goes into tournaments with inflated expectations and confidence, but the hype is justified this time. The Three Lions should be heading to Germany with one intention only: to bring the trophy home.

Gareth Southgate’s side were just a couple of penalties away from ending 55 years of hurt in the last European Championship, but since that agonising final defeat to Italy at Wembley, their squad has only gotten stronger.

Harry Kane is even more prolific and has been breaking all sorts of scoring records in Germany with Bayern Munich, while Jude Bellingham has conquered the most demanding fans in the world and become Real Madrid’s most important player. Phil Foden has become Man City’s talisman, leading them to this year’s Premier League title. The squad is genuinely bursting with the world’s best talent.

Pickford will take his place between the sticks and has been No. 1 since Southgate first took charge in 2016, and that is unlikely to change now. He has continued to perform superbly for Everton, keeping the second-highest number of clean sheets in the Premier League despite the Toffees’ struggles (13).

One of the weaker areas in the squad, England’s defence is light on options compared to other nations, especially following the exclusion of Harry Maguire due to a calf injury. Apart from Kyle Walker and John Stones, the remaining spots in the back four are up for discussion. Marc Guehi, Lewis Dunk, Joe Gomez, Kieran Trippier, and Luke Shaw are all live options to start the three Lions first group match against Serbia on June 16th.

In midfield, the English boast arguably two of the world’s best in Declan Rice and Jude Bellingham, but who joins them in the middle of the park is where the question marks lie. Out of the other options, Conor Gallagher has been the most in-form; Trent Alexander-Arnold brings a different dimension to the midfield and is also an option after Southgate brought him in towards the end of 2023. Manchester United teenager Kobbie Mainoo impressed against Brazil and Belgium in March and is certainly in the conversation.

Southgate could hardly ask for a better set of forwards to choose from and there is a case to be made that England have the highest number of quality attackers in the world. A lot will come down to the form of captain Harry Kane and his 44 goals in his debut campaign in Munich are a sign of how lethal he can be. Back-up striker Ollie Watkins is also playing at the top of his game, picking up the Premier League Playmaker of the Year award for the most assists this season (13) to go with his 19 goals, leading Aston Villa to a 4th place finish and a spot in next year’s Champions League.

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There is also no shortage of outstanding wide forwards, with Anthony Gordon and Cole Palmer recently joining the fray to complement the exciting Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES

Harry Maguire

Jarrad Brantwaite

James Maddison

Jack Grealish

Ben White

Reece James

Marcus Rashford

Jadon Sancho

Possible starting 11: (4-3-3): Pickford, Walker, Stones, Guehi, Trippier, Rice, Gallagher, Bellingham, Saka, Foden, Kane.

The exclusion of defenders Harry Maguire and Jarrad Brantwaite leaves the defence looking light and I don’t see that back four being strong enough in the latter stages of the tournament to go all the way. Coming into the tournament off the back of 1 win in 5 is far from ideal, either. The quality in the attacking areas of the field is undoubtedly good enough to go far this summer but there are too many question marks over the defence.

Germany

After a difficult few years that included back-to-back World Cup group-stage exits, Germany fans head into Euro 2024 more with hope than expectation for the hosts to make a deep run and turn the tide on home soil.

Julian Nagelsmann’s reign over the team got off to a difficult start with losses to Turkey and Austria. Things have turned around since, though, with Toni Kroos’ return to the fold from international retirement and two friendly wins against France and the Netherlands. German fans are beginning to enjoy watching their team again. With a tricky group including Switzerland, Hungary and Scotland, progressing through the group will not be straightforward for the home nation.

The goalkeeper situation provides a headache straight away for Nagelsmann, Neuer has always been seen as the German number one, but after the Bayern Munich veteran suffered a potential career-threatening leg injury in the aftermath of the 2022 World Cup, Marc-Andre ter Stegen was given the chance to step up and performed well. It is still undecided who will be number 1 in their opening group game on June 14th.

The experience of both Antonio Rudiger and Joshua Kimmich brings solidity to the defense, but there are a number of candidates that could possibly be paired with them. Jonathan Tah turned in a series of top performances with Bayer Leverkusen, Nico Schlotterbeck was crucial in Dortmund’s run to the Champions League final, and Maximilian Mittelstadt has emerged as one of Europe’s best left back’s.

Toni Kroos’s inclusion in the squad is a massive boost. The Real Madrid star has produced numerous super performances in the Madrid midfield this season on his way to picking up his sixth Champions League medal. Further forward, Ilkay Gundogan will play in one of the more advanced roles, likely alongside the exciting Jamal Musiala and Leverkusen superstar Florian Wirtz.

A fair criticism of Germany’s recent tournament struggles has been their inability to find the net consistently. They have lacked a true, world-class No. 9 since the days of Miroslav Klose, Kai Havertz is likely to lead the line, with Dortmund man Niklas Fullkrug set to be introduced as an impact substitution.

NOTABLE ABSENTEES

Mats Hummels

Leon Goretzka,

Julian Brandt

Karim Adeyemi

Serge Gnabry

Possible starting 11 (4-2-3-1): Neuer, Kimmich, Tah, Rudiger, Mittelstadt, Kroos, Andrich, Musiala, Gundogan, Wirtz, Havertz.

Similar to the Dutch, the Germans defence looks very solid on paper but whether they’ll be able to find enough goals is the question. Playing without a recognized number 9 may be a problem at times. I also do fear the pressure of playing on home soil may take it’s toll in the latter stages of the tournament.

Prediction:

Portugal and France will go all the way to the final, with Portugal coming out on top.

The Netherlands are dark horses and will go far.

Disappointment for England and Germany.

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