Monday, June 17, 2024

Euro 2024 predictions: Winner, Golden Boot, breakout star and more

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Euro 2024 is upon us, as Germany hosts its first major men’s tournament since 2006 – with the national team seeking its first trophy in a decade.

Some fancy Julian Nagelsmann’s team to defy expectations on home soil, while there is naturally significant faith in France, as the 2018 world champions and 2022 runners-up.

Can England finally get over the line under Gareth Southgate, three years after losing the delayed Euro 2020 final to Italy at Wembley? And if so, will Harry Kane claim his second international Golden Boot?

Or will a younger star steal the spotlight, as clubs and coaches around Europe keep an eye out for the ‘next big thing’ in the summer transfer market?

Below, we predict the teams, players and moments that could define Euro 2024. Without further ado…

Winners

Miguel Delaney (Chief Football Writer): It feels like it’s gradually evolved into a pick between Portugal and France. While the former have developed a huge, talented squad under a capable manager at international level in Roberto Martinez, the French have such immense strength in depth. Will this team really go so many tournaments with only one trophy, even if it was the 2018 World Cup?

Richard Jolly (Senior Football Correspondent): France. Admittedly I tend to tip them to win every tournament and the nature of knockout football means the team with the best players does not always progress but, over the last four World Cups or European Championships, France have reached the final of three. They have a formidably talented side with some very gifted understudies.

Jack Rathborn (Sports Editor): Germany. Home advantage and peaking at the right time. There’s a newfound balance to Julian Nagelsmann’s team with enough youth and plenty of experience to get the job done.

Portugal triumphed in 2016, despite barely impressing along the way
Portugal triumphed in 2016, despite barely impressing along the way (Getty Images)

Lawrence Ostlere (Deputy Editor): Portugal. Roberto Martinez takes a phenomenally strong squad to Euro 2024 full of attacking flair and technical quality, with a promising blend of youthful enthusiasm and tournament know-how. The biggest question mark is around Martinez himself, and admittedly it is quite hard to imagine him lifting the trophy, but international football is determined more often by great players than great coaches.

Luke Baker (Sport Live Editor): Let’s go bold and say England finally end their major tournament drought (sorry Le Tournoi…). They’ve come so close in recent years and this England squad is the strongest of the Southgate era, with Jude Bellingham, Phil Foden, Bukayo Saka et al all one tournament more experienced and Kane still at his peak. It’ll be a tough run through the knockouts, but it’s time for the Three Lions to roar.

Karl Matchett (Assistant Sport Editor): I’ve been on France for a long time but now we’re here, I have question marks over the triangle of centre backs and goalkeeper, if Mike Maignan isn’t fully fit. So I’m making a sharp, late veer across the road and going with the hosts to do all manner of German things which, in the end, is mainly to win.

Alex Pattle: Portugal. There’s a very strong squad here, though I can’t help but feel they’ll underperform in-game – only to somehow go all the way, as they did in 2016. They may even break the hearts of a seemingly better team (England or France) in the final.

Jamie Braidwood: France. Everyone will mention the stacked squad and star players, but don’t underestimate the Didier Deschamps factor, either. The 55-year-old is bidding to become the first man to win the World Cup and the Euros as both a player and a coach. Other contenders, such as Portugal and Germany, can’t rely on such experience.

A golden French generation has only won one major trophy – admittedly the World Cup
A golden French generation has only won one major trophy – admittedly the World Cup (Getty Images)

Michael Jones: France. They have the best team on paper, reached the final of the last World Cup and in Kylian Mbappe arguably have the best player in the world as well. Add to that a midfield featuring the likes of Eduardo Camavinga and the returning N’Golo Kante, and it’s a recipe that just spells success.

Kieran Jackson: France. A team who now have the know-how at major tournaments also have the best player in the tournament in their ranks. A European Championship is the final piece to the international football puzzle for many of the squad and, three years after their shock defeat by Switzerland on penalties, Mbappe and co will have too much pace and power going forward.

Sonia Twigg: France. They have everything going for them and will want to rebound after the agony of the World Cup final two years ago, and the European Championship title has so far evaded this crop of players.

Harry Latham-Coyle: England. Southgate’s squad is flawed defensively, but that is true of many other nations at this tournament. Can any other side rival an attacking array of Kane, Foden, Bellingham and Saka, though? I’m not sure…

Golden Boot

Miguel Delaney: Romelu Lukaku. Actually a rare player at these Euros with a prolific international scoring record, as well as a forgiving opening round with a team that still has talent. Lukaku is also more rested than we’ve seen him at most recent tournaments.

Richard Jolly: Kane. Tempted to say Mbappe, though tipping France for much else suggests it could be him. But England’s group and potential last-16 match, if they win it, offers the sort of possibility for Kane to top-score, even if he does not find the net at the business end of the tournament.

Harry Kane will be out to extend his record as England’s top goalscorer ever
Harry Kane will be out to extend his record as England’s top goalscorer ever (Getty Images)

Jack Rathborn: Gianluca Scamacca. A fine season with Atalanta after a forgettable spell with West Ham. The 25-year-old can translate that form, with 12 goals since March, to change a pretty ordinary return of one goal in 16 caps so far at international level. Albania, up first, brings an opportunity to get out in front.

Lawrence Ostlere: Kane. He should get plenty of chances with a raft of creative players around him, and it is easy to envisage him scoring a few penalties along the way.

Luke Baker: I’ll again go bold and say Kai Havertz. I think Germany will go well and Havertz, after growing in confidence with Arsenal over the second half of the campaign, is likely to be the hosts’ first-choice No 9, at least initially.

Karl Matchett: Is he still elite? No. Should he be starting for Portugal? No. Will Cristiano Ronaldo still score two tap-ins, a header and a penalty in a very, very average group stage? Probably. Can easily see a case where a group-stage bully ends up the winner this time around, so I’ll go with him to be different. Might need one in the knockouts, but Martinez’s inability to remove him from the line-up should cater to that.

Alex Pattle: Kylian Mbappe. A pretty safe answer, admittedly, although I don’t expect any of France’s group-stage rivals to bleed tons of goals. Rather, I think consistent contributions over the course of a deep run will get Mbappe to the Golden Boot.

Jamie Braidwood: Mbappe. Failing to score at Euro 2020 will be a further shot of motivation. That tournament will have hurt.

Michael Jones: I’m going for Ronaldo. Since Roberto Martinez took over as manager, questions over Ronaldo’s place in the team have died down. He’s going to start and he’s going to score goals. With a relatively easy group to get through, Ronaldo could light up the Euros one last time.

Kylian Mbappe’s form has been remarkable at two World Cups – but not at his sole Euros
Kylian Mbappe’s form has been remarkable at two World Cups – but not at his sole Euros (Getty Images)

Kieran Jackson: Kane. On the assumption he is fully fit, Europe’s top marksman should be eyeing another Golden Boot after claiming the prize at the 2018 World Cup. Group games against Serbia and Slovenia in particular should see the Bayern Munich striker have ample chances and, if not, England always seem to get a penalty or two to kickstart Kane’s tally.

Sonia Twigg: Mbappe. It is hard to see a situation where France do not go deep into the tournament, and Mbappe is at the forefront of their impressive firepower. Because of how good the team is and how many games they will likely play, it is hard to look past the French forward.

Harry Latham-Coyle: Niclas Fullkrug. The resurgence of the traditional No 9 has been a pleasant, surprising trend of the last few months across European football, and it is an archetype that tends to thrive in tournament football. Fullkrug may not start the tournament in Germany’s first-choice side but a couple of impactful bench cameos could set up a summer to remember for the Dortmund striker.

Player of the tournament

Miguel Delaney: As with the French team as a whole, it’s maybe best to go obvious. Mbappe will be primed to go, invigorated by his move to Real Madrid but also keen to make up for a last disappointing club season with Paris Saint-Germain. There’s also what he did at the last tournament, when he was so close to emulating Pele with his first two World Cups. He has a keen sense of history, and will surely be ready to seize the moment.

Richard Jolly: Mbappe. The best player on the planet now and perhaps, in leaving Paris Saint-Germain for Real Madrid, with an urge to prove it on the European stage now, to accompany his World Cup exploits.

Jack Rathborn: Toni Kroos. The perfect end to a glittering career? A Champions League title in his final Real Madrid game at Wembley Stadium, then a European Championship at the Olympiastadion in Berlin. Kroos has enough help to protect his legs in Robert Andrich and could prove decisive in blockbuster knockout ties.

Lawrence Ostlere: Florian Wirtz. The Leverkusen midfielder had a sensational season and could turn out to be the star of the show, should Germany go deep.

Luke Baker: Jude Bellingham. After his brilliant season in Madrid, it’s just set up for him to be England’s talisman. Roaming as a hybrid No 8/10, he can cause havoc among opposition defences.

Germany midfielder Toni Kroos will retire from football after the Euros
Germany midfielder Toni Kroos will retire from football after the Euros (Getty Images)

Karl Matchett: Torn between Kroos and Griezy for the actual best player, though the player who wins the award will probably just be the winning team’s top scorer.

Alex Pattle: Bellingham. Of course this relies on a deep run for England (more on that later), but even if they don’t lift the trophy, I can see Bellingham notching his fair share of goals and assists. It’s also easy to imagine his passion capturing English hearts and foreign sympathies along the way.

Jamie Braidwood: Antoine Griezmann. The 33-year-old has almost redefined himself as the perfect major tournament player: a selfless star who puts the needs of the team above himself, a big-game character who combines a tireless workrate with a silky touch. He will win the golden ball he deserved at the World Cup!

Michael Jones: Toni Kroos. He has just left Real Madrid with another Champions League title and brings the experience and winning mentality to a German side looking to get back on top. I’m expecting big things from his last outing in a major tournament before retirement.

Kieran Jackson: Jamal Musiala. Germany’s poster-boy – who did feature for England at under-21 level – has an opportunity to become the host nation’s hero over the next month or so. An outstanding talent who can create chances on his own. Germany will flourish if the Bayern playmaker flourishes.

Sonia Twigg: Bellingham. Wearing England’s No 10 shirt for the tournament, he is likely to be allowed to play further forward and build on the exceptional season he has already had for Real Madrid, which culminated in the Champions League title.

Harry Latham-Coyle: Kane.

Breakout star

Miguel Delaney: While there will be many picks for Kobbie Mainoo and Wirtz, this should really be about more than someone who is just young. It should be a player who goes from largely unknown to someone who all of Europe looks to. That could be Belgium’s Johan Bakayoko, who some of the better recruitment departments are already circling. The PSV Eindhoven winger has the capacity to explode.

Xavi Simons has impressed at PSV Eindhoven and RB Leipzig
Xavi Simons has impressed at PSV Eindhoven and RB Leipzig (Getty Images)

Richard Jolly: Xavi Simons. There is a question of who qualifies to be a breakout start. Simons is scarcely a secret; equally, the midfielder is yet to reach the same heights on international duty as he has at club level for PSV Eindhoven and RB Leipzig. An onus falls on Ronald Koeman to build around him.

Jack Rathborn: Arda Guler. Perhaps a stretch given Turkey probably need to escape Group F, but the Real Madrid starlet could prove decisive against either Czech Republic or Georgia. Four goals in his last three matches for Los Blancos, Guler could flourish with even more responsibility for his country after comparisons with Mesut Ozil.

Lawrence Ostlere: Joao Neves. The all-action Benfica midfielder has quickly developed into one of the best young players in Europe, and he can take that form onto the international stage for Portugal this summer.

Luke Baker: Bakayoko. The Belgian winger could well be on the ‘Cody Gakpo trajectory’: Impress at a major tournament, earn an immediate move from PSV to Liverpool, and show flashes of the same potential that you did at said major tournament – but spend the first 18 months of your time at Anfield largely being a frustrating enigma.

Karl Matchett: Serbia’s Strahinja Pavlovic is definitely one to watch at the back. Netherlands’ full back/midfielder/winger Ian Maatsen is back in the squad after initially being axed, and could end up proving vital for them – he shouldn’t have been overlooked to begin with. But my pick is going to be Georgia striker Georges Mikautadze, who will be central to them making and breaking any further history and records. Really talented (if slightly raw) forward, good eye for goal, tremendous second half of the season at club level. With most eyes on Khvicha, he could steal the spotlight.

Indy Sport has tipped Florian Wirtz (left) and Jamal Musiala in the breakout star and best player categories
Indy Sport has tipped Florian Wirtz (left) and Jamal Musiala in the breakout star and best player categories (Getty Images)

Alex Pattle: Wirtz. Some viewers will already be quite familiar with the 21-year-old midfielder, given his considerable contributions to Leverkusen’s stunning Bundesliga title win this season. Still, this is his first tournament for Germany, and he will look to extend the club form that brought 18 goals and 20 assists in 2023/24. In March, he scored a screamer against France inside seven seconds. Scotland be warned…

Jamie Braidwood: Benjamin Sesko. The Slovenian is already on the radar of Europe’s biggest clubs and has drawn comparisons with Erling Haaland due to his physicality and electric pace. Expectations are low, as Slovenia may struggle overall, but the 21-year-old is capable of a big moment and potentially a wonder goal during the group stage.

Michael Jones: Musiala. It hardly counts as being a breakout star when you ply your trade at Bayern Munich, but the 21-year-old hasn’t had that defining impact on a major tournament yet. Germany, having underperformed in the last few competitions, will want to impress for their home tournament and Musiala will play a key role in their success.

Kieran Jackson: Warren Zaire-Emery. The PSG midfielder’s ascension has been staggering and, even if he doesn’t start, the 18-year-old has the ability and maturity to be a key substitute off the bench for France.

Sonia Twigg: Musiala for Germany, after he spurned the opportunity to represent England. He has been impressive for Bayern Munich, and on home soil there is no better time for him to impress on the international stage.

Harry Latham-Coyle: The fact that Lamine Yamal has spent an entire season in Barcelona’s first team before his 17th birthday feels to have gone strangely under the radar in the wider footballing discourse. Spain have strength in midfield but no forward start – perhaps Yamal will announce his arrival.

How far will England and Scotland go?

Miguel Delaney: For so many months, England looked like outstanding favourites. That has receded, and it feels like for more reasons than just the trepidation that can suddenly arrive in the weeks before a tournament. Southgate suddenly has a few issues through the team, especially in an injury-ravaged defence, and suddenly what feels a new attack. That should be enough for the semi-finals, although they obviously want more. Scotland just want to get out of a group – and they should have enough spirit and quality to finally do that.

Do the Euros mark Gareth Southgate’s final roll of the dice with England?
Do the Euros mark Gareth Southgate’s final roll of the dice with England? (The FA via Getty Images)

Richard Jolly: England, quarter-finals – if they win their group, there is a potential last-eight meeting with Spain, Italy or Croatia, any of whom could knock them out. Scotland, a first ever qualification from the group and then a last-16 defeat. Any of Hungary, Switzerland or Scotland could finish second, third or fourth in Group A and third may be enough for the Scots to progress.

Jack Rathborn: England should have enough to reach the semi-finals, but France will likely prove too much again. Scotland? Steve Clarke will inspire a brave effort in the last 16 against Spain or Italy, possibly holding on until extra-time.

Lawrence Ostlere: I fancy a plucky semi-final exit for Gareth’s brave boys, with one or two excellent performances en route to inflate hopes. Scotland’s unfortunate spate of injuries may well prevent them from getting out of the group.

Luke Baker: Injuries and lack of form have caught Scotland at the worst possible moment, so I’ll be cruel and say they crash out at the group stage – again… Would love to be wrong and see them finally reach the knockouts of a major tournament at the 12th time of asking, but it feels tough.

Karl Matchett: England to the semis against France – then let’s have it going to penalties this time for extra distress all around. Scotland out in the group stage. They needed a perfect buildup, not injuries to key faces.

Alex Pattle: If (and it’s a huge if) Southgate lets England off the leash, I fancy them to put together a run of scintillating performances, beat an in-form big nation at last… and fall at the final hurdle. I expect Scotland to fight valiantly and finish third, but not as one of the best third-placed teams, meaning a group-stage exit.

Captain Andy Robertson and the rest of the Scotland side face a tough test
Captain Andy Robertson and the rest of the Scotland side face a tough test (Getty Images)

Jamie Braidwood: Semi-finals for England, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they beat France. I can see Scotland getting a win and finishing third in Group A but, painfully, going out on goal difference.

Michael Jones: I think England will reach the semi-finals. They have the ability to beat one of the better sides like Italy or Spain in the quarter-finals, though I think they’ll fall short in the final four. Scotland would need to beat one of Hungary or Switzerland – not an easy task. Still, I think they’ll make it through then go out in the last 16.

Kieran Jackson: Semi-finals and out for Southgate’s men, with France again proving too hot to handle. Scotland will sneak through to the last 16 via a third-place finish – and likely no further.

Sonia Twigg: England will surely qualify from the group, and if the world rankings are anything to go by they are likely to be at the top, but it’s difficult to see them come through what could be a tough semi-final against France. Scotland’s disarray with their squad ahead of the tournament has not put them in the best position, but they could still get through the group stage.

Harry Latham-Coyle: England to win it, Scotland to exit on goal difference despite an opening-night draw with the hosts.

What are you most looking forward to?

Miguel Delaney: This is the first tournament since 2016 where hundreds of thousands will travel, and in a country that is so easy to get around, with a rich football culture. While the game should of course be spread around, there are certain factors that just make for a great atmosphere. Germany will have that. It’s also nice to have football without all the modern trappings of the club game.

Richard Jolly: The football. Dull answer, but looking at the teams involved, there should be some superb knockout ties. Groups B and D look terrific, albeit with the caveat that if three teams go through, some of the jeopardy is gone. And for many another country in other pools, the opportunity to get out of the group imbues it with a sense of possibility.

A banner expresses the hope of German fans, as the team bid to become European champions again
A banner expresses the hope of German fans, as the team bid to become European champions again (Getty Images)

Jack Rathborn: England in a crunch knock-out tie, with the game in the balance, and just what Southgate does next in what could be his final tournament in charge. Will he gamble? With outstanding attacking depth in the final third, the nation is desperate for an aggressive approach in the knockout stages. It could define his Three Lions legacy.

Lawrence Ostlere: Watching teams like Austria and Hungary, who come into the Euros with some form and plenty of attacking intent, and not much to lose. They should add some fun to the group stage and potentially shake up the traditional order of things, given how all the old powers look fallible.

Luke Baker: After the Covid-hit Euros of 2021 and Qatar’s winter wonderland World Cup in 2022, it’s been six years since we had a proper summer tournament with full stadiums, full pubs and that relentless optimism in the sunshine that only international football can bring. Even if it inevitably ends in crushing heartbreak.

Karl Matchett: Going. Sorry that’s a bit selfish but after about eight tournaments working from afar, being in Germany for this one will be peak.

Alex Pattle: A long overdue tournament with a defined personality, courtesy of the host nation. After a soulless winter World Cup in Qatar in 2022, a scattered and Covid-hit Euros in 2021, and a slightly flat Russian World Cup in 2018, German fans and cities can lend real charm to Euro 2024.

Germany is hosting its first major men’s tournament since the 2006 World Cup
Germany is hosting its first major men’s tournament since the 2006 World Cup (Copyright 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Jamie Braidwood: After being in Australia for the Women’s World Cup, the sense of feeling between host nation and team as they gather momentum throughout the tournament. Germany’s early exits from the past two World Cups have been entertaining shocks – but we want them in the latter stages of the knockouts. A young, fresh team could deliver something beautiful.

Michael Jones: What type of impact the old guard has compared to the new. I’m backing experience to win out over youth – which isn’t great news for England’s young squad – though it would bring a resurgence for historically great teams like Germany and possibly Portugal.

Kieran Jackson: Netherlands vs Austria, 25 June. To be specific, five minutes before kick-off. As F1 correspondent, I’ve witnessed the regular dominance of Dutch hero Max Verstappen at Austrian-founded Red Bull for two years and, unashamedly, I can now whistle both national anthems without hesitation. I just hope those in the office have earplugs. More seriously, the simple summer-tournament feel with no Covid restrictions for the first time in six years.

Sonia Twigg: The mouth-watering prospect of a quarter-final clash between Germany and Spain, the latter of whom haven’t won a men’s tournament since 2012. Also, fans being allowed to fully experience a European tournament without any coronavirus restrictions.

Harry Latham-Coyle: There is much within modern club football that nauseates, but major international tournaments retain a certain purity and charm. For so many fans, it is around these events that formative memories are made, bonding along and across national lines.

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