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Which side is favoured to topple France? – Sportsnet.ca

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The European club season is over, but there’s still plenty of soccer to be played in Europe this summer.  

Euro 2024 kicks off on Friday when hosts Germany takes on Scotland in Munich in the opening match of the competition that runs until July 14.  

What surprises will this year’s European Championship bring? Sportsnet ranks all 24 nations going into the group stage to give you an idea of what to expect.  

1. FRANCE  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group B, ahead of Netherlands  
Top scorer in qualifying: Kylian Mbappé (9 goals)  
Group D schedule: vs. Austria (June 17), vs. Netherlands (June 21), vs. Poland (June 25)  

France arrives at Euro 2024 as the team to beat. Not only can coach Didier Deschamps rely on superstar forward Kylian Mbappé, but his squad has so much depth at every position — Real Madrid’s Eduardo Camavinga and Inter Milan’s Marcus Thuram would start on any other team but could be on the bench in Germany. The French have played in the last two World Cups, winning it in 2018, but they haven’t won the European Championship since 2000. This looks to be their year.  

2. ENGLAND  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group C, ahead of Italy  
Top scorer in qualifying: Harry Kane (8 goals)  
Group C schedule: vs. Serbia (June 16), vs. Denmark (June 20), vs. Slovenia (June 25)  

England always expects, but the Three Lions could finally win something this summer. Manager Gareth Southgate has a very strong squad, highlighted by Harry Kane (36 goals for Bayern Munich) and Jude Bellingham, who played a key role in Real Madrid winning the UEFA Champions League. This is an English team with a lot of dynamic talent, and it’ll be eager to make amends after losing to Italy in the final of the 2021 tournament at Wembley Stadium.  

3. GERMANY  

Path to Euro 2024: Automatically qualified as host 
Group A schedule: vs. Scotland (June 14), vs. Hungary (June 19), vs. Switzerland (June 23)  

The firing of manager Hansi Flick (after a poor 2023) and subsequent appointment of Julien Nagelsmann has revitalized the Germans, who recently earned impressive wins over France and the Netherlands. The always-elegant Toni Kroos pulls the creative strings in central midfield, and he’s surrounded by a strong supporting cast that’ll have the benefit of home-field advantage throughout Euro 2024.  

4. SPAIN  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group A, ahead of Scotland  
Top scorer in qualifying: Álvaro Morata and Joselu (4 goals)  
Group B schedule: vs. Croatia (June 15), vs. Italy (June 20), vs. Albania (June 24)  

An exciting crop of youngsters, highlighted by Athletic Bilbao’s Nico Williams and FC Barcelona’s Lamine Yamal, complements a squad featuring a core of experienced campaigners that includes Manchester City’s Rodri, regarded as one of the top two-way midfielders in the world. La Roja will look to make a big impact in Germany after flattering to deceive at the last few big tournaments.  

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5. PORTUGAL  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group J, ahead of Slovakia  
Top scorer in qualifying: Cristiano Ronaldo (10 goals)  
Group F schedule: vs. Czech Republic (June 18), vs. Turkey (June 22), vs. Georgia (June 26)  

One last stand for 39-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese legend is set to compete in his 12th major international tournament for his country, which went a perfect 10-0 in the qualifiers. But Ronaldo won’t have to do it all by himself, as he can rely on top-level teammates such as Ruben Dias, Bernado Silva, Bruno Fernandes and Joao Palhinha.  

6. NETHERLANDS  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group B, behind France  
Top scorer in qualifying: Cody Gakpo and 2 others (three goals)  
Group D schedule: vs. Poland (June 16), vs. France (June 21), vs. Austria (June 25)  

Lacking depth and an extra bit of quality in attack (no Dutch player scored more than three goals in the qualifiers), the Netherlands have great strength in other areas of the pitch. This is a Dutch side that knows how to defend, which hardly comes as a surprise with coach Ronald Koeman at the helm. Opponents will find them tough to break down.  

7. CROATIA  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group D, behind Turkey  
Top scorer in qualifying: Andrej Kramarić (4 goals)  
Group B schedule: vs. Spain (June 15), vs. Albania (June 19), vs. Italy (June 24)  

At 38, mercurial playmaker Luka Modric is still going strong. But he isn’t the only world-class talent on the team, as defender Josko Gvardiol is coming off a fabulous debut season at Manchester City. There’s plenty of experience in this Croatian squad, and it’ll need every ounce of it to navigate its way out of a difficult group.  

8. BELGIUM  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group F, ahead of Austria  
Top scorer in qualifying: Romelu Lukaku (14 goals)  
Group E schedule: vs. Slovakia (June 17), vs. Romania (June 22), vs. Ukraine (June 26)  

Most of the “Golden Generation” has moved on, but Belgium can still rely upon the creativity of Kevin De Bruyne and the goal-scoring prowess of Romelu Lukaku. At the same time, the Belgians boast an exciting group of youngsters, most notably Jeremy Doku and Arthur Vermeeren. But questions remain in defence, and veteran goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois didn’t make the cut after only recently returning from injury.  

9. AUSTRIA  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group F, behind Belgium  
Top scorer in qualifying: Marcel Sabitzer (4 goals)  
Group D schedule: vs. France (June 17), vs. Poland (June 21), vs. Netherlands (June 25)  

The Austrians could just be the dark-horse pick of the tournament, even with influential captain David Alaba missing due to injury. German manager Ralf Rangnick has shaped Austria into an aggressive, pressing team that can make life very uncomfortable for opponents. And with so many Bundesliga players at his disposal, Rangnick is spoiled for choice with his starting 11.  

10. ITALY  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group C, behind England  
Top scorer in qualifying: Davide Frattesi (3 goals)  
Group B schedule: vs. Albania (June 15), vs. Spain (June 20), vs. Croatia (June 24)  

The reigning European champions have blown hot and cold since beating England at Wembley in the COVID-delayed Euro 2020. New manager Luciano Spalleti has a dearth of young talent to work with, and the team is defensively sound and has a solid work rate. But the lack of a genuine, threatening No. 9 is concerning for Gli Azzurri.  

11. DENMARK  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group H, ahead of Slovenia  
Top scorer in qualifying: Rasmus Højlund (7 goals)  
Group C schedule: vs. Slovenia (June 16), vs. England (June 20), vs. Serbia (June 25)  

Veterans Kasper Schmeichel, Simon Kjaer and Christian Eriksen aren’t what they once were, but the Danes have received an injection of life from the emergence of Manchester United forward in Rasmus Hojlund. Manager Kasper Hjulmand has experimented with his formation in the buildup to the tournament, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of effect that’ll have on his squad.  

12. HUNGARY  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group G, ahead of Serbia  
Top scorer in qualifying: Dominik Szoboszlai and Barnabás Varga (4 goals)  
Group A schedule: vs. Switzerland (June 15), vs. Germany (June 19), vs. Scotland (June 23)  

After decades of sitting on the sidelines, Hungary has qualified for three straight European Championships and could make some noise in Germany. Liverpool midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai is the star on the team, but a lot of his teammates ply their trade in the Bundesliga, so this isn’t a Hungarian side that won’t be pushed around. They’ve also lost just once since 2022. 

13. SWITZERLAND  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group I, behind Romania  
Top scorer in qualifying: Zeki Amdouni (6 goals)  
Group A schedule: vs. Hungary (June 15), vs. Scotland (June 19), vs. Germany (June 23)  

The Swiss laboured through the qualifying process and still rely too heavily on creator Xherdan Shaqiri, who has failed to impress since coming to MLS in 2022. The lack of firepower up front and a crop of inconsistent youngsters in the team will likely lead to their downfall.  

14. CZECH REPUBLIC  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group E, behind Albania  
Top scorer in qualifying: Tomáš Souček and Václav Černý (3 goals)  
Group F schedule: vs. Portugal (June 18), vs. Georgia (June 22), vs. Turkey (June 26)  

West Ham United duo Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal are the heartbeat of what can best be described as a reliable but hardly spectacular Czech Republic side. They enter the tournament on a five-match winning streak (and unbeaten in seven), so they’ll be full of confidence in Germany.  

15. SERBIA  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group G, behind Hungary  
Top scorer in qualifying: Aleksandar Mitrović (5 goals)  
Group C schedule: vs. England (June 16), vs. Slovenia (June 20), vs. Denmark (June 25)  

Serbia always seems to threaten to make a splash at major tournaments without ever delivering on that promise. They certainly have the talent to break through this time around with Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Aleksandar Mitrovic leading the attacking charge. But it won’t be easy.  

16. TURKEY  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group D, ahead of Croatia  
Top scorer in qualifying: Kerem Aktürkoğlu and Cenk Tosun (2 goals)  
Group F schedule: vs. Georgia (June 18), vs. Portugal (June 22), vs. Czech Republic (June 26)  

These have been interesting times for Turkey, which replaced manager Stefan Kuntz with Vincenzo Montella. The former Italian forward got the Turks across the finishing line in the qualifiers, but then oversaw a disastrous March window that included a 6-1 loss to Austria. Without a go-to No. 9, it’s difficult to envision where the goals will come from for them.  

17. POLAND  

Path to Euro 2024: Defeated Estonia and Wales in the playoffs  
Top scorer in qualifying: Robert Lewandowski (3 goals)  
Group D schedule: vs. Netherlands (June 16), vs. Austria (June 21), vs. France (June 25)  

After a poor qualifying campaign, Poland rebounded under new manager Michal Probierz and beat Wales via a penalty shootout in the playoffs to book its trip to Germany. Veteran striker Robert Lewandowski is likely playing in his final tournament, and Poland will need him to be at his best and score on a regular basis if it’s going to advance from the toughest group.  

18. UKRAINE  

Path to Euro 2024: Defeated Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland in the playoffs  
Top scorer in qualifying: Viktor Tsyhankov (3 goals)  
Group E schedule: vs. Romania (June 17), vs. Slovakia (June 21), vs. Belgium (June 26)  

You have to think that Ukraine will be cheered on by neutral fans at Euro 2024 in light of events going on at home with the ongoing war against Russia. Coach Serhiy Rebrov has a core of talented players, and the team’s counterattacking style could cause some problems for opponents.  

19. SLOVAKIA  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group J, behind Portugal  
Top scorer in qualifying: Lukáš Haraslín (3 goals)  
Group E schedule: vs. Belgium (June 17), vs. Ukraine (June 21), vs. Romania (June 26)  

Slovakia will compete in its first major tournament since Marek Hamšík retired last year, so it’ll be interesting to see how they do without their star playmaker. The Slovaks qualified from a tough group, so they’ll be confident of finishing second behind favourites Belgium.  

20. ROMANIA  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group I, ahead of Switzerland  
Top scorer in qualifying: Valentin Mihăilă and 2 others (3 goals)  
Group E schedule: vs. Ukraine (June 17), vs. Belgium (June 22), vs. Slovakia (June 26)  

Yes, Romania beat out Switzerland to win its qualifying group, but it scored only 16 goals in 10 games. Eight of the goals came against minnows Andorra or Kosovo, which speaks to the team’s lack of spark in attack.  

21. SCOTLAND  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group A, behind Spain  
Top scorer in qualifying: Scott McTominay (7 goals)  
Group A schedule: vs. Germany (June 14), vs. Switzerland (June 19), vs. Hungary (June 23)  

Scotland’s inspired run in the qualifiers that saw Scott McTominay bag seven goals — only Kylian Mbappé, Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku scored more — gave way to poor results in recent friendlies. Steve Clarke’s side is fun to watch, but questions linger about the team’s overall quality and depth.  

22. SLOVENIA  

Path to Euro 2024: Second place in Group H, behind Denmark  
Top scorer in qualifying: Benjamin Šeško (5 goals)  
Group C schedule: vs. Denmark (June 16), vs. Serbia (June 20), vs. England (June 25)  

Slovenia won seven out of 10 games in the qualifiers but aside from its two matches against Denmark, it wasn’t challenged at all in its group. Striker Benjamin Sesko is coming off an impressive debut season for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga, but the team’s lack of depth and overall quality will be their downfall.  

23. ALBANIA  

Path to Euro 2024: First place in Group E, ahead of Czech Republic  
Top scorer in qualifying: Jasir Asani and Nedim Bajrami (3 goals)  
Group B schedule: vs. Italy (June 15), vs. Croatia (June 19), vs. Spain (June 24)  

Albania is back at the European Championship after qualifying for the first time in 2016. A lot of is because top players ply their trade in Italy’s Serie A, including captain Berat Djimsiti (Atalanta), who is a top-rated defender. Keep an eye on 22-year-old forward Armando Broja (Fulham), who could turn out to be one of the tournament’s top guns.  

24. GEORGIA  

Path to Euro 2024: Defeated Luxembourg and Greece in the playoffs  
Top scorer in qualifying: Khvicha Kvaratskhelia (4 goals)  
Group F schedule: vs. Turkey (June 18), vs. Czech Republic (June 22), vs. Portugal (June 26)  

Georgia qualified for its first major tournament by just barely beating Luxembourg and Greece in a pair of home playoff games. Coached by former French inter Willy Sagnol, the Georgians will look to Napoli star Khvicha Kvaratskhelia to lead their modest attack and Valencia goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili to keep them in games.  

John Molinaro is one of the leading soccer journalists in Canada, having covered the game for over 20 years for several media outlets, including Sportsnet, CBC Sports and Sun Media. He is currently the editor-in-chief of TFC Republic, a website dedicated to in-depth coverage of Toronto FC and Canadian soccer.

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