Euro 2024 looks wide open as battle begins

June 14 – Can Germany shrug off past disappointments and make their nation proud again? Do England, with their ferocious fire power, have what it takes to finally get over the line? 

Can Italy defy the critics and retain their title? Will technically gifted Spain or star-studded France show their undoubted prowess? Could it be Portugal for the second time in three tournaments? Or can one of the lesser lights surprise everyone and go all the way?

The stage is set for Euro 2024 with no out-and-out favourite but plenty of genuinely optimistic contenders fancying their chances of lifting the famous trophy in a month’s time.

Even before a ball is kicked at tonight’s opening game between Germany and Scotland, Germany’s former World Cup-winning captain and coach Franz Beckenbauer will be honoured by UEFA.

Beckenbauer captained West Germany to a European Championship triumph in 1972 and a World Cup success in 1974 before winning the World Cup again as manager in 1990.

He died in January aged 78 and the opening ceremony will see his wife Heidi carry the Henri Delaunay Cup along with Germany’s two Euro-winning captains Bernard Dietz and Juergen Klinsmann.

This will ensure “all three of Germany’s UEFA Euro triumphs are reflected,” UEFA said in a statement. The venue is of course also home to Bayern Munich, the club where Beckenbauer played for over a decade, winning three successive European Cups from 1974 to 1976.

As for the likely champions on July 14, it’s hard to pick a winner.

Spain haven’t won a major men’s trophy for over a decade and have been eliminated on penalties in their last three campaigns.

But having whetted their appetite by winning the 2023 Nations League they have a new objective in sight: to become the most successful men’s team at the European Championship and add a fourth crown to their collection.

The Spanish football federation may be in disarray off the field but just as the women’s team triumphed in the World Cup in Australia, so the men hope to block out all the noise.

No-one doubts Spain’s ability and Rodri remains one the world’s top midfielders. But doubts remain as to whether they have someone with the X factor to take them all the way?

England certainly do, with a frightening forward line that should strike fear into any opposition. The problem, not for the first time, is whether they have the defensive experience or nous to cope with such a pressurised environment in what could be Gareth Southgate’s final tournament in charge.

France’s superstar striker Kylian Mbappé was conspicuous by his absence when the squad took part in an open practice session on Thursday. French sports daily L’Equipe reported that Mbappé was doing individual work in the gym instead.

Mbappé, who recently moved to Real Madrid from Paris Saint-Germain, is expected to be one of the stars of the tournament while the spine of Les Bleus is scarily strong, leading many experts to pick them as Euro winners for the third time.

There’s always one heavyweight that falls short of expectations and this time it could be defending champions Italy whose success last time out was sandwiched between two failures to qualify for World Cups.

The Netherlands seek to end a nearly four-decade wait for an international tournament win with a string of high-profile names but questions remain as to whether Ronald Koeman is the right coach.

Belgium’s ‘Golden Generation’ may have been and gone, finishing with a whimper at the 2022 World Cup, but new manager Domenico Tedesco has been quietly rebuilding everyone’s favourite dark horse and is undefeated since taking over with a win against hosts Germany and a draw at Wembley against England.

In Kevin De Bruyne, Romelu Lukaku and rapidly emerging Jeremy Doku, the Red Devils have three match winners but France potentially lie in wait at the quarter-final stage.

Croatia have proved time and again that they are dangerous to dismiss whilst Cristiano Ronaldo believes Portugal’s current generation deserves to win the title.

Manchester United captain Bruno Fernandes, PSG’s Vitinha, and Manchester City’s Bernardo Silva and Ruben Dias are among Portugul’s elite with Ronaldo, the five time Ballon d’Or winner, competing in a record sixth Euros.

“I believe that this generation deserves to win a competition of this magnitude. Semifinals? I hope we can go further,” said the veteran superstar.

Just as there are invariably heavyweights who fail, so one or two countries regularly upset the odds. Denmark, Serbia and Austria look well equipped to ruffle a few feathers but in the end it will surely come down to one of the usual suspects.

Hold on to your hats!

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