France’s strikers, England’s defence, Germany’s form – why each of the favourites won’t win Euro 2024

Dave Tickner
Olivier Giroud, Marc Guehi and Jan Vertonghen with Euro 2024 badge.
Olivier Giroud, Marc Guehi and Jan Vertonghen with Euro 2024 badge.

We all know the reasons why your Frances or your Englands or the Portugals of this world might win Euro 2024. But what are the flaws that might stop them? In England’s case, also quite obvious. But here they all are anyway.

We’ve done some fag-packet permutation work to come up with our idea of the eight likely quarter-finalists, and then declared why each of them is in fact DOOMED.

 

France
Nice easy start, then. Weaknesses in the French squad. They have drawn against Canada recently, so there must be something that allows us to dismiss them as Les Grand Fraudes.

We’re going to have our gateau and eat it here by suggesting France might be too reliant on old-stagers at one end of the pitch and be a bit short on experience at the other.

Here at F365 we, like all right-thinking people with eyes, have nothing but love for Olivier Giroud. But he is now 37 and while he is France’s leading all-time goalscorer – in itself a magnificent thing – he is a less than one-in-two man despite the frequent opportunity for stat-padding that international football provides.

Now it’s true that Giroud brings more than goalscoring to the table as a No. 9 and it’s also true that you don’t need an out-and-out poacher when you’ve also got Kylian Mbappe, but in an ideal world France surely wouldn’t still be relying on Giroud as their starting striker. Marcus Thuram is yet to impress for Les Bleus, and there remains some chat about moving Mbappe central which, while understandable, is a move that risks diluting an obvious strength.

And also risks toys being thrown out of le pram.

At the other end of the pitch this will be the first major tournament since 2008 where France don’t have Hugo Lloris in their goal and the first since 2010 where someone else will be captaining the side.

Mike Maignan is a fine keeper with plenty of experience at club level, but international tournament football hits different. The sheer length of Lloris’ reign as both keeper and captain has to leave some sort of vacuum.

It’s not much, but it really is all there is to go at for a squad of absurd quality and borderline unfair depth.

MORE ON EURO 2024 FROM F365:
👉 How Euro 2024 works: tie-breakers, predicted knockout routes and why the draw helps England
👉 Euro 2024 Power Rankings: England realism, Scottish despair and French glory
👉 Euro 2024 predictions: A France-Germany final and classic semi-final woe for brave England

 

England
Much easier, isn’t it? It’s the defence. We could argue the rights and wrongs of Gareth Southgate’s reliance on Harry Maguire over the last couple of years all day long, but the facts now are that his absence through injury leaves a vast hole in terms of both experience and playing style. Maguire at his best was a vital asset to England in both boxes.

England are now one John Stones metatarsal away from full-blown panic, and even Stones has questions marks after barely figuring for Manchester City at the business end of the season. He will at least hit the tournament fresh.

But there’s a fine line between fresh and undercooked, and England currently appear to be on the wrong side of it. Picking Luke Shaw at all was a gamble given his own injury problems; picking him as the only left-footed defender in the entire squad is an absolute Hail Mary.

Kieran Trippier – who is hardly coming into the tournament on the back of a stellar season himself – will presumably do what he’s done plenty of times for England and fill in on the left at least at the start of the tournament but we know it doesn’t work against the best.

Behind Kyle Walker, Trippier and Shaw, England are relying on versatile centre-backs for much-needed full-back cover. With Trent Alexander-Arnold starting in midfield, England have finally achieved Southgate’s long-time dream of starting a major tournament with three right-backs in the team.

Even in goal, it’s not perfect. Jordan Pickford is and has been a perfectly reliable No. 1 for England for six years now, but he is not a keeper of such great quality that he should be so utterly devoid of competition.

It’s not quite Champions League at the front, League Two at the back for England, but the contrast in their attacking riches and defensive poverty is really quite startling.

 

Germany
At some point we may have to stop thinking of Germany’s abysmal record at recent tournaments as a blip and consider the possibility that it might just be the way things are now.

It’s hard to do, especially for those of an English persuasion for whom ‘you can never write off the Germans’ is close to an unimpeachable mantra.

But for quite some time now it has been absolutely fine to write off the Germans. They haven’t gone beyond the last 16 of a major tournament since reaching the Euro 2016 semi-finals and have gone out ignominiously in the group stages at the last two World Cups.

There have been encouraging recent signs under new coach Julian Nagelsmann – most notably back-to-back wins over France and Netherlands in March – but they have been unconvincing in recent friendlies against Ukraine and Greece.

The fact they’ve been limited to friendly action over the last 18 months is also perhaps less than ideal for a team that, wildly out-of-character as it may seem for Germany, really could do with some competitive hardening.

They lost five of the nine friendlies they played in 2023, and none of them to what might be considered elite opposition: Poland, Colombia, Japan, Turkey, Austria.

They also still don’t really have a compelling striker, and their midfield is ageing. Home advantage and a kind draw should mean they avoid humiliation this time around but for once it really is Germany going into a major tournament on a wing and a prayer.

 

Portugal
Marched unstoppably through qualification with a perfect 10 wins from 10 and have perhaps the best draw of any team in Germany this year with a weak-looking first-round group and a favourable knockout path if they win it.

And they’ve still got Cristiano Ronaldo at the head of a squad boasting really quite striking depth all over the pitch. So yeah, there’s a lot to like about the 2016 winners.

On the other hand, they absolutely housed their way to that 2016 win by drawing all the time and have done very little at two World Cups and another Euros since.

Put simply, for a team that wins all their games in qualifying, they just don’t win enough at tournament time. That 2016 strategy is not one that will pay off too often.

In 13 major tournament games since 2016 they have won only five. Their only knockout win across those three tournaments was an admittedly hefty one against Switzerland in Qatar. They have been knocked out of the last three major tournaments by Uruguay, Belgium and Morocco and all three of those teams were eliminated themselves in the very next round.

There are injury doubts around veteran defender Pepe which could have some knock-on effects, but really there is some grasping going on here. The closer you look at Portugal, the more they look like France’s main rivals here.

 

Belgium
The Golden Generation never quite was and now never will be. Belgium are, as they were always going to be at some point, now in an awkward transition phase from that group of nearly greats to whatever comes next. This is, by obvious necessity, something of a hybrid squad.

That itself might be no bad thing with the resulting blend of experience and youth, but there remains a very clear sense that they still lean far too heavily on the remaining Golden Generationers – Jan Vertonghen in defence, Kevin De Bruyne in midfield, and Romelu Lukaku in attack.

And they have no experience at all in goal now.

There is little doubt at all this is a team on its way back down from its 2018-2020 peak which would in turn make it very funny if this is the time they actually win something. Probably not, though.

MORE ON EURO 2024 FROM F365:
👉 How Euro 2024 works: tie-breakers, predicted knockout routes and why the draw helps England
👉 Euro 2024 Power Rankings: England realism, Scottish despair and French glory
👉 Euro 2024 predictions: A France-Germany final and classic semi-final woe for brave England

 

Spain
Arrive in Germany slightly under the radar despite being UEFA Nations League champions. Weird. Qualification wasn’t entirely serene after some difficulty against Scotland but was cosy enough in the end.

Going with their own man Luis de la Fuente as manager rather than a more high-profile boss with a storied club managerial career was a bold gamble that does appear to be paying off but there are still some doubts around.

The loss of Gavi to that cruciate ligament injury is a cruel blow, while his fellow starboy Pedri doesn’t hit the tournament in ideal condition either.

Again, though, we find ourselves coming back to a familiar problem: striker. Alvaro Morata remains the captain and starter. Hmm.

Also have to extract themselves from the Group of Death alongside Italy and Croatia before they can even think of going any further.

 

Netherlands
A trappy group draw is the most obvious and significant first hurdle for the Dutch to overcome, with favourites France an obvious problem giving them less margin for error than is ideal in potentially tricky tests against Poland and Austria.

Also, in a recurring theme among pretty much all the major favourites apart from England and Belgium, the central striker is a bit of a worry despite all the obvious talent stationed behind and around him. Wout Weghorst as your No. 9? In big 2024?

Netherlands also have some England-level injury clouds and unlike England those issues are spread throughout the team. The Frenkie de Jong gamble has already failed – he was ruled out four days before the tournament began.

Memphis Depay is surely utterly crucial to Dutch chances in a side likely to go with him and Cody Gakpo as a pair of false nines but he two comes into the tournament riddled with injury doubts, while goalkeeper Justin Bijlow is also unlikely to play at the start of the tournament leaving one of two Premier League-based international novices, Mark Flekken and Bart Verbruggen, battling for a spot.

It’s reasonable to suggest the spine of a full-strength Netherlands team would be Bijlow-Van Dijk-De Jong-Depay. One of those four isn’t now here at all and only one of the remaining three is fully fit.

And the Netherlands – again, like a surprising number of traditionally strong teams – are looking to arrest a now really quite extended run of ropey major tournament form. They haven’t even been to the quarter-finals of the Euros since 2008, and didn’t qualify at all in 2016 or for the 2018 World Cup. For a team that finished second and third at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups it’s been thin gruel ever since.

 

Italy
They weren’t among the leading favourites in 2021 but retaining their title three years on would represent an even bigger shock for a team shorn of so many star names by retirements and injuries.

Their 2021 success was built largely on the rock-solid foundations provided by Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci, both of whom are now gone. With Nicolo Zaniolo, Francesco Acerbi, Giorgio Scalvini and Destiny Udogie subsequently ruled out by injury, Italy do look a touch light.

Gianluca Scamacca is not the first and won’t be the last No. 9 to look far, far sh*tter than he actually is at West Ham but is nevertheless a player with some convincing to do at the very highest level.

And they also find themselves in the toughest of all the first-round groups having made heavy weather of qualifying behind England and thus being unseeded despite their status as holders. Spain and Croatia (and Albania) await leaving Italy one of the teams potentially grateful for the third-place safety nets afforded by a 24-team tournament.