Euro 2024 predictions: A France-Germany final and classic semi-final woe for brave England

Dave Tickner
Kylian Mbappe, Toni Kroos and Harry Kane at Euro 2024.
Kylian Mbappe, Toni Kroos and Harry Kane at Euro 2024.

Euro 2024 in a bit, isn’t it? Snuck up fast, hasn’t it? Club season only just finished. Still, you can’t beat summer tournament football. So we’re going to spoil it by telling you in often quite excruciating detail exactly what’s going to happen this summer so you don’t have to bother with it.

We tried something similar for the last one and to be fair to us we did pick Italy as the winners and we insist you don’t carry on and read any more of it after that. Especially the bit about Turkey – who would go on to lose all three group games – reaching the quarter-finals. Read this one instead, because it’s not technically wrong yet.

 

France and Germany to meet in the final
One of the significant problems with the messy 24-team format and all those third-place teams to place into the last 16 is that predicting specific paths through the tournament becomes enormously hazardous.

But we’re not too worried about third-place shenanigans here. These two should both win their groups. Germany have had a torrid time in recent major tournaments by their own absurd standards, but have been rejuvenated under Julian Nagelsmann, have home advantage (and unlike at Euro 2020 are alone in that regard this time) and haven’t on paper at least been handed the toughest of group stages alongside Hungary, Scotland and Switzerland.

France do have the Netherlands to worry about in their group, as well as perennial tournament let-downs Poland and Austria. They should still be fine, and if both win their groups then they land on opposite sides of the draw and cannot meet until the final.

It seems an obvious choice and that’s because it is, but it’s not the favourite.

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England eliminated in the semi-finals
The favourite for the final line-up is in fact England v Germany. If England win Group C as they ought to do, then they go into France’s side of the draw and on a semi-final collision course with Les Bleus from which they are rather adorably favoured to emerge.

England being very decent at major tournaments until they come against a genuinely elite side is slightly overplayed, but only slightly. England do still have something of a habit of coming unstuck against the first genuinely decent team they meet. We don’t want to airbrush the Euro 2020 win over Germany because Germany are and always will be Germany, but they also really weren’t very good at that time.

And England have a very plausible path to a semi-final against France that involves absolutely no top-tier opponent before the grisly formalities of another agonising defeat against that first top-tier opponent.

It’s not wildly hubristic to suggest England ought to come out on top of a first-round group containing Serbia, Slovenia and Denmark, and that puts them in a last-16 tie against a third-placed team from Group D, E or F. Largely pointless to spend too much time working out who that might be but it’s quite likely to be one of Poland, Austria, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine, Czech Republic or Turkey depending on how the chips fall.

But more importantly beyond that is the tantalising quarter-final opportunity England or whoever wins Group C when they balls it up has been handed. Group C is one of the two lucky ones (Group F the other, which we’ll come to later) whose winners are guaranteed not to meet another group winner until the semi-final at least.

The nature of six groups feeding into a last-16 bracket means you have to have two games in that first knockout round between pairs of runners-up. And one of those games – between the second-place teams from Groups A and B – would provide England’s last-eight opponent if they do indeed manage to safely negotiate the initial group stage as winners and a last-16 game for which they are likely to be heavy favourite.

It’s most likely that quarter-final opponent is going to be Italy or Croatia from Group B, with either of those sides favoured against any of the potential runners-up (i.e. not Germany) from a weaker-looking Group A. Now both Italy and Croatia have relatively recent pedigree in the breaking-England’s-hearts-as-first-decent-team-they’ve-met stakes, but England have also gained a fair measure of revenge since against both those sides. And neither are as strong now as when they got the better of England.

And then it’s France in the semi-final, and ah well it’s another solid tournament run, well done, chaps, when’s the Barclays back?

England really do need to win that group, though. The difference in path for the winner and runner-up is extraordinarily stark. Come second in that group and you’re looking straight away at a likely clash with Germany in the last 16, and we would be far less confident in that working out quite so well this time.

This is one of those odd ones where sneaking out of Group C as one of the four lucky third-place teams might be preferable to being runner-up. Qualifying from third in this pool means a first knockout round against the winner of either Group E (most likely Belgium) or Group F (most likely Portugal) and both of those appear far more palatable outcomes than Germany despite yet again stirring up plenty of ghosts from England tournaments past.

 

Portugal to be the other semi-finalist
Of course, this kind of tournament path projection is all just a bit of daft fun because nothing ever works out entirely as you expect. Tournaments would be boring and indeed unnecessary if they just calmly and serenely followed the most predictable or expected path.

But it’s also near impossible to clamber out of this rabbithole once you start digging. So having studied the assorted permutations and come up with Germany and France in the final and England as one of the losing semi-finalists it would be remiss not to try and identify the other team to reach the last four.

Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. It’s Portugal, for much the same reasons as England. You do have to be wary of Portugal because they can be slow starters but are also no mugs in major tournaments and showed in Euro 2016 that if you don’t kill them off when you get the chance they can commit all manner of madness when it really matters.

Now unfortunately here we will need them to be competent from the start because to nail our final four – a task even harder than getting the Premier League top four right which we famously never, ever manage – we will need them to prevail in Group F against Georgia, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

That would give them a third-placed team in round two but also the same advantage as whoever wins Group C of being guaranteed a runner-up in the quarter-final. In their case from either Group D or E. Group E looks a weak one behind likely winners Belgium, so we’re going to pit Portugal against the second-place team from Group D. That’s France’s group which also contains the Netherlands.

Now the Netherlands are probably a better team than Portugal, but when it comes to housing your way through to the latter stages of a major tournament we’d take the Portuguese every single time. So there it is. We’ve basically saved everyone an awful lot of time and effort here. Barely worth playing the actual tournament now.

 

Bruno Fernandes to be top goalscorer from the Premier League
And we’ll stick with Portugal for this next shout. A fun quirk of this tournament is that for the first time in a long time the Premier League contains very few starting strikers from the most fancied teams. There’s no Harry Kane or Romelu Lukaku. Not even an Olivier Giroud.

It says something that the betting favourite this time around for this admittedly niche achievement is Kai Havertz. Fair enough as well, given his importance to Germany even when he was struggling at Chelsea, his renaissance this season and Germany’s comfy-looking group.

Because as ever with any kind of tournament top-scorer pick, you’re looking for your man to do plenty of damage in those first three at least theoretically easier games. Havertz could absolutely do that, but so could Bruno having carried Manchester United at times single-handedly this year.

He’s got decent-looking opportunities in that group stage against Turkey, Georgia and Czech Republic while we’ve already explained how a good group stage could set Portugal on a pretty nice path through to the latter stages of the tournament.

Chuck in the fact he’s scored nine goals in his last 10 internationals and this starts looking pretty appealing. Dangers lurk everywhere of course – not least in the shape of Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden in England’s own squad – but we definitely like Bruno’s chances here.

 

Toni Kroos to be named player of the tournament
We’re not pretending there’s anything particularly clever about this but it really does seem an entirely predictable outcome, doesn’t it? There’s narrative out the wazoo with this one. He’s come out of international retirement for one last job on home soil and we now know it’s going to be his last hurrah in professional football full stop after announcing his retirement last month. It’s a great story.

All manner of considerations come into play for awards like this with the key point being that actually being the best player in the tournament isn’t necessarily the only or even biggest factor.

We’ve already suggested Germany as likely finalists and if Kroos is even half as influential in getting them there as you’d expect him to be then he’s absolutely got every chance here as long as Kylian Mbappe doesn’t do anything needlessly showy like scoring another hat-trick in another final or some such.

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