Revealing the official F365 Dark Horse for Euro 2024 – and no, it still can’t be Belgium

Dave Tickner
Bayer Leverkusen midfielder Granit Xhaka with the badges of Portugal, Croatia and Belgium crossed out
Granit Xhaka is on the brink of one of the great individual seasons

Euro 2024 is now quite literally just around the corner, and major tournaments mean one thing to us: dark horses, and the identification of such.

You simply cannot afford to be going into a major tournament without being able to say “Actually, [Country X] are my dark horses to win it.”

But wait, it’s harder than you think. Dark Horse Identification is a challenge fraught with potholes and dangers. Luckily, your pals at F365 are here to help and we’ve selected the six key criteria for finding yourself a Dark Horse and then even having a stab at identifying Euro 2024’s best shout ourselves.

Full disclosure and fair warning, three years ago we picked Turkey and they lost all three games.


Not in fact just being one of the favourites
Should be obvious, is in fact the most crucial of all Dark Horse criteria to be wary of. We’ve all heard pundit upon pundit declare Belgium’s Golden Generation the dark horse for all manner of tournaments they went into as third favourites with a squad full of genuine superstars.

The fun thing with Belgium now, is that as the Golden Generation starts to disappear, and their replacements aren’t quite as good, they are heading back towards being actual dark horses again. Great stuff. But they are not there yet, before anyone starts.

It should but clearly doesn’t go without saying that a dark horse cannot just be one of the main regular horses. The team to beware in this regard this time around is probably Portugal, with their absolutely stacked squad, smattering of superstars, perfect qualification campaign and handy-looking draw. And, most importantly, their Euro 2016 trophy.

That is no dark horse. That is the fourth favourite.


Solid but unremarkable tournament pedigree
This is a really tricky balancing act. You do want to see some evidence that your guys actually have what it takes to compete at major tournaments. You don’t want another Turkey on your hands. But if they’ve done too conspicuously well at tournaments, you’re once again left with something that is no dark horse.

If anything for me, Clive, Croatia have almost done too well at recent tournaments.


One or two statement wins over regular horses
But in among that solid yet not that eye-catching recent history, we are going to want to see ideally one, perhaps two wins over a significant favourite. But we absolutely do not want to see more than two of these wins or, again, we’re not looking at a dark horse. We’re looking at a regular horse.


Decent foundations
Really, really important. What you want in your dark horse is a team you can look at on paper and think that while it looks unremarkable it should be able to hold its own. Ideally you want a keeper with bags of experience in one of Europe’s big leagues but not someone who gets talked about with your Donnarummas and your Neuers. Same deal with centre-backs. Bit of Barclays experience in there doesn’t go amiss, either. It is the most proper football, isn’t it?

Think of how Greece won it in 2004. Did they win it with gung-ho attacking flair, or did they do it by shutting everyone else down?


Midfield general
International football is, in broad terms, a simpler game than club football. That’s by necessity, with the far smaller time international squads spend with each other and the fact that international managers are bound entirely by the players they have available. You can’t just go out and buy a fancy new signing to fulfil a specific role for the way you want to play.

So as well as your solid, reliable defence you’re ideally going to want a pretty decent all-purpose midfielder

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Maverick, mercurial attackers
While we want rock-solid reliability in our dark horse defence and midfield, at some point in a major tournament you’re going to need someone to do a madness in the 118th minute. That’s just how it is.

Among all the rock-solid, the reliable, the consistent performers we are going to want to see someone capable of the most ridiculous nonsense in the very tightest spot, even if relying on them to deliver consistently across the tournament is too much. Again, because if a really solid team boasts that kind of consistently elite attacking threat they probably aren’t a dark horse.


Decent draw
Not crucial, but it obviously helps a dark horse’s chances if they can find themselves avoiding any Group of Death unpleasantness.


The official F365 Euro 2024 dark horse is therefore… Switzerland

Ticking all kinds of boxes here. The bookies make Switzerland 80/1 and lurking almost slap bang in the middle of the pack of 24, which is ideal dark horse territory. Certainly it is not a price that puts them among the actual favourites. And they’ve got all the credentials.

They’ve reached the knockout stages at four of the last five World Cups and the last two Euros, but crucially done little enough having got there to draw too much further attention their way. A classic dark horse long game from the wily Swiss.

But while they have generally come unstuck at the first knockout hurdle, they did eliminate France on penalties in the last 16 of Euro 2020. Promptly going out to Spain by the same method in the next round was absolutely ideal behaviour from them; again showing they could compete with elite opposition but without the unnecessary and unwanted attention that beating two of them back-to-back would bring, and the resulting harm to their future dark-horse credentials.

Getting absolutely spangled by Portugal at the last-16 stage in Qatar might have been taking things a bit too far the other way, but we’ll adroitly skate past that and note instead they did put up a flawless dark-horse group-stage effort with narrow wins over Cameroon and Serbia either side of a narrow defeat to Brazil.

As for the players, Yann Sommer – 35 years old, 89 caps and recent league titles in both Germany and Spain – strikes us as the very ideal kind of dark-horse goalkeeper, with Manchester City and Newcastle centre-backs in front of him for good measure.

You can’t get much more dark-horse midfield general than Granit Xhaka, and that was true even before he went and pulled off one of the all-time-great dark-horsings with Bayer Leverkusen.

And if you can’t already visualise Xherdan Shaqiri stepping off the bench to roll back the years with a late, late 25-yard winner after a tense and tight last-16 clash with Italy has been goalless for 115 minutes then we simply cannot help you any further.

As for the draw, it’s perfectly decent. Switzerland are in Group A, headed by hosts Germany who have had plenty of their own problems in recent tournaments. But even if Switzerland finish second in a group also containing Hungary and Scotland, they would face another runner-up in the last 16 and then a potential quarter-final against the winner of Group C, which will either be an England team with cartoonishly bad defensive problems or someone Switzerland could absolutely beat without needing any kind of grand upset at all.

We’re all in on Xhaka completing one of the more absurd years in any professional football career by lifting the Henri Delaunay Cup in Berlin on July 14.

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