Skip to Content
Bukayo Saka of England reacts during the international friendly match between England and Iceland at Wembley Stadium on June 7, 2024 in London, England.
Jacques Feeney/Offside via Getty Images

A Guide To The 2024 Euros With A Depth Of Analysis Surpassed Only By Its Timeliness

At least in the European context, the cadence of major international soccer tournaments has long been consistent and well-spaced. One summer you'll have a World Cup, and then two years later you'll have the Euros, and two years after that will come another World Cup, and so on and so forth, resulting in a very pleasant sequence that every other year offers either a huge and awesome competition to sink your time and teeth into, or, in the off years, a blessed break from it all, during which you can hopefully do something with your life other than obsess about soccer. (That is, if you can successfully avoid getting sucked into the hell that is the summer transfer rumor vortex.)

But if now, right now, seems to you too soon for the start of yet another international tournament, you are not alone. Today (a little while ago, in fact! Hooray, timeliness!) features the kick-off of Euro 2024, following only three years after Euro 2020, which actually happened in 2021. Not only that, but instead of the typical two-year gap between Euros and World Cups, a mere 18 months have passed since Argentina beat France in the 2022 World Cup final, which was played mere days before the start of 2023. If you add to this that last summer brought us the women's game's World Cup, and that this summer will also feature the Copa América and the Olympics, the second-biggest tournament in the women's soccer, then you can see clearly that we have been positively drowning in high-level international soccer over the past few years, the largest torrent of which is about to begin.

Now, I am hardly complaining about this turn of events. To quote Shakespeare via Eric Cantona, az flies to wanton boys, we are for ze gods; zey kill us for ze sport—and if their preferred method of execution is death by drowning in a flood of summer soccer, sign me up, baby!

One slight downside of the recent tournament glut is that almost all the teams in the Euros this summer are known quantities. For the most part, the teams you'll see this summer are not all that different from the ones you've seen the past few years. Half of the 24 teams in Germany for the Euros today were in Qatar for the World Cup in 2022, and only four of this summer's contestants were absent from the last Euros in 2021. The teams, players, favorites, and narratives should mostly be familiar to you already if you've been paying even half-interested attention to the international game recently.

But hey, maybe you're relatively new to soccer and don't really know what everyone's talking about when they ask whether or not football's coming home (coomin' 'ome?) this summer. Or maybe you are well acquainted with the big teams already but would like a little refresher on who's who to build up the excitement, and could maybe use a couple introductions to some teams and players you aren't all that familiar with. Regardless of your level of expertise, this group-by-group tournament preview will hopefully provide you some entertainment, knowledge, and guidance to help you know what you're looking at and who you may want to look out for during what is sure to be a great month of European soccer. We've broken it down to which teams in the groups are cool (which isn't synonymous with good) and which suck (which isn't synonymous with bad), and with some players to check out along the way. With that out of the way, let's vamdiamollez!

Group A

Germany, Scotland, Hungary, Switzerland

Who Is Cool?

This is a great Germany team. Not in terms of its sporting ability, or at least not only in those terms. True, Germany is indeed really good, with several excellent players who combine to form a team with a strong shot of winning this tournament as the host country. But what really makes this a great Germany team from the neutral fan's perspective is that its possible fates are wide open, and all of them, from a deep run that ends in a trophy or an early flameout and everything in between, would be entertaining.

Soccer's traditional powers are almost always good. This is especially true of Germany, the most consistently great national team in the world. (No team has made it to the final of either the Euros or the World Cup as many times as the Germans.) The reliability of the sport's big dogs is impressive and admirable, but it's also a bit aggravating. The only thing dynasties engender more of than love is hate. So while many people take understandable pleasure when a traditional power does well, there are many who relish when those haughty favorites receive their comeuppance; I believe the Germans have a word for this.

That dichotomy between love and hate, between rejoicing in a game well played and rejoicing in someone else's humiliation, is what makes this particular German team so good. All outcomes are possible and, for a person without a dog in the fight, any outcome would be fun.

As an on-field matter, there many not be another team in this tournament with a higher potential for aesthetic beauty and/or downright coolness than Die Mannschaft. Its defense isn't special, but in center back Antonio Rüdiger (a legit madman in the best way) and fullback Joshua Kimmich (a brilliant central midfielder forced into the back line to compensate for the country's lack of strong right back options, but who nevertheless influences the game mightily from the position) Germany has two dominant, eye-catching players. Its midfield is stacked, featuring both the mind-bogglingly complete Ilkay Gündogan and Toni Kroos, who is simply the best. It's on the attacking line where Germany really shines, though, with two of the most exciting and flamboyant young no. 10s in the game, Jamal Musiala and Florian Wirtz.

The 21-year-olds are a couple of potentially era-defining attacking midfielders, each of whom loves to pull off all the difficult, flashy flicks and dribbles and turns and passes and shots that evoke from fans' throats sounds usually reserved for the bedroom. Rüdiger, Kimmich, Kroos, Gündogan, Musiala, and Wirtz have among them the kind of talent that can win trophies and also brand itself upon the brain. (I understand why he doesn't start but selfishly I wish Leroy Sané, a hotfooted winger who's grown into a remarkably associative player as well, could start alongside those other guys to really maximize the team's coolness factor.)

If Germany is to go far this summer, those players and their supporting cast-mates are sure to do so with a style of play that legitimately wows. Even if you're inclined to root against that thing that the Germans more than anyone embody best, it'll be hard not to enjoy this team's play if they really get clicking.

If none of that talk about the expressive potential of Germany's play and players sways you, then you are in luck: Though the hosts could very well find themselves lifting the trophy at the end of the day, they're just as likely to crash and burn and give their haters something to laugh at. Much of the positive talk in the preceding paragraph, with maybe a couple proper nouns changed, could apply to any given German national team over the past decade. Despite their usual consistency and enduring talent advantages, however, the Germans have been in a nightmarish run that at this point has lasted for years. Almost every major tournament since that triumphant World Cup in 2014 has been disastrous for Germany. Two years after that conquest in Brazil, Germany did reach the semis of Euro 2016. But two years after that they finished last in their group at the 2020 World Cup, then lost in the first knockout round at 2021's Euro 2020, and then once again failed to make it out of the group at the 2022 World Cup.

It would be no real shock if this team—as young as it is at certain key positions and as old as it is at others, with a manager who recently was considered one the game's brightest young minds but might actually just be an asshole, and with all the pressure on it to right the ship in front of the home fans—crumples and loses in the round of 16. That would be funny. On the other hand, the team could very well put it all together right in time to crush all comers and reestablish Germany's reputation as Europe's hegemon. That would be cool, and would feel less boring than previous German triumphs because of the team's recent barren stretch. Best of all, though, is that anything is possible.

The other cool team in this group is Hungary, obviously for much different reasons. Hungary hasn't been relevant on the soccer scene for decades. The Magyars haven't qualified for a World Cup since 1986, and though this is their third consecutive Euros, they didn't make any real noise at either of the last two editions. Prior to qualifying for 2016's expanded field, they hadn't reached the continental tournament in over 40 years.

Hungary's coolness then comes from both its past and its present. Though it has made very little imprint on the sport in recent years, Hungary plays a large role in soccer's greater history. The Mighty Magyars of the 1950s were arguably the first true European superpower of the game's modern, globalized era, the start of which you could peg to the first post-WWII World Cup in 1950. The Hungary teams of the '50s are right up there with Zico's Brazil and Cruyff's Netherlands as the best teams to have never won a World Cup.

With star players like Ferenc Puskas, a revolutionary and widely influential style of play built on fluid positioning and short passing, rigorous physical preparation programs, and success on the field, this often overlooked country had a seismic impact on soccer at a crucial moment in the sport's developmental history. That impact extends far beyond Europe's borders: Due to influential links like Dori Kurschner and Bela Guttmann, two Hungarians who spent time coaching in South America in the '30s and '50s, respectively, what is now known as the quintessentially Brazilian style of play bears the distinct fingerprints of Hungary.

It's cool to see Hungary back on the scene after so much time away. But Hungary isn't just a feel-good story; they are legitimately good, too. The stars of the show are Liverpool midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai and Freiburg forward Roland Sallai. This pair forms the engine that powers the entire team. The hallmark of Hungary's style of play is positional fluidity, building upon an increasingly prevalent trend that eschews the regimented spacing upon which the positional game is founded and instead allows players to drift to and unite around the ball. Freed to wander wherever they please, Sallai and especially Szoboszlai can and will find themselves spending time in every single sector of the field, often in close proximity to one another. Szoboszlai's passing range and tempo control sets the terms of Hungary's possessions—they like to keep the ball and build plays carefully, but are also dangerous when they choose to attack quickly—while Sallai is always lingering nearby, ready to race in behind the opposing defense onto one of Szoboszlai's powerful long passes when the moment arises.

It wouldn't be fair to compare the talent of this Hungary team to the ones in the golden era: Those teams were some of the best groups in the sport's history and this one occupies a respectable but hardly imposing 26th in FIFA's rankings. But that Hungary is good again, and has become good playing a style that expressly calls back to some of the tenets of the Mighty Magyars' revolution—the positional fluidity, the focus on combination play—embodies just the kind of historical and cultural expression I personally love about international soccer. Hungary reached back to its past to guide its present, and the benefits are clear to see.

Who Sucks?

I love Scotland's fans. I love "No Scotland No Party," Nick Morgan's cheekily hopeful anthem dedicated to spurring the Tartan Army to glory in Germany, or at least what counts for glory for Scotland ("I guess that time will tell if we are finally gonna make it through the group stage"):

I love these Scots galavanting through the streets of Munich singing a song in praise of the man who brought about what is maybe Scotch fans' most beloved memory in international soccer, the time Diego Maradona pantsed England for all the world to see:

I love this video the Scottish Poetry Library released a couple days ago in which two poets discuss their love of their national team and read some soccer-inspired poetry, which ends with this touching poem by Julie McNeill titled "We Are Scottish Football":

Unfortunately, I do not love the actual Scottish national team, which pretty much sucks.

Things aren't all bad here. Scotland has a solidly formidable midfield composed of John McGinn, Scott McTominay, and Billy Gilmour, all of whom are good Premier League players. (I have a particular fondness for Gilmour's reins-taking passing style and his undersized combativeness.) There's also fullback Andy Robertson, the team's best player and its one truly elite talent. The team isn't awful. What it is is toothless.

Goals win games, and Scotland has a distinct lack of proven goalscorers. It's a grim situation when the most dangerous man attacking the box is McTominay—for proof, just ask Manchester United fans. Likely starting striker Che Adams is meh, and while backups Lawrence Shankland and Lewis Morgan have been banging in goals at the club level, doing so for Hearts of Midlothian and the New York Red Bulls is a little different than scoring against Germany.

Scotland's not the type of team you should expect to get its doors blown off in every match over the next couple weeks, but it's hard to see them making it out of a pretty tough group when they come in with the weakest roster of the bunch. More to the point, there don't promise to be many thrills in watching Scotland lump crosses to McTominay's brow ridge over and over.

Switzerland's deal is a little bit similar to Scotland's. The team has more than a couple outstanding players: Granit Xhaka, Fabian Schär, Manuel Akanji, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler. The Swiss have a stout defense and a midfield made of granite. But they lack scoring and creating.

The man leading the forward line is once again Xherdan Shaqiri. This small, rectangular fellow has given me too much joy over the years to ever root against him, but he's 32 now, plays in MLS, and hasn't exactly been lighting it up there. I don't have high hopes for him in Germany. Surrounding Shaqiri in attack are a bunch of question marks. Breel Embolo is a battering ram, but he's only just returning from a long injury absence. Zeki Amdouni and Noah Okafor have talent, but they're both unproven at the top level. Switzerland's stingy back line and muscular midfield could very well be enough to get out of the group—remember, the top two teams in each group qualify for the knockout rounds, as do four of the six third-place finishers depending on who has the best record, so it's pretty easy to survive the first phase—and anything can happen after that, as the Swiss proved three years ago by shocking France in Euro 2021's round of 16. Still, there's not much to get excited about here.

One Star To Watch

Dominik Szoboszlai may not be the single best player in this group, but nobody else is as singularly empowered to dictate how his team plays. The Hungarian can do whatever he wants out there. And what he wants is to do a lot, almost all of which he does very well.

Szoboszlai is a genuinely all-action player who excels at most everything one can be good at with the ball at one's feet. He can dribble, he can run, he can make all sorts of passes, from smart and safe possession organizers to risky ones aimed at drawing blood, and he can shoot—boy can he shoot. His most differential skill is probably his ability to kick the bejesus out of the ball, which he uses both for passes that scream through the air and across the pitch and for blasted shots that test the tension of the goal's netting. He will go everywhere and do everything for Hungary, which makes him very often the most interesting player to look at in any game he's playing.

One Young/Old Guy To Watch

This is Toni Kroos's final hurrah as a soccer player. This living legend is coming off of one of the very best seasons of his ridiculously decorated career, and he decided to go out on a high, announcing at the end of the recently completed season that his career will end this summer with the Euros.

Soccer is often likened to chess in a way that I find annoying and pernicious, because the people with their fingers on the pieces in this analogy are usually the managers, which is to my mind a wrongheaded way of looking at what is first and foremost a players' game. But if there's any person whose influence on a match comes closest to a chess player's, it's Kroos.

The European Championship is the one major trophy the 34-year-old Kroos has yet to win, and he came out of international retirement (he stopped playing for Germany after Euro 2021 before returning this year) to get his hands on it before saying goodbye to the game for good. And there's no player in the world better at thinking up and then executing a plan on the field than him. – Billy Haisley

Group B

Spain, Croatia, Italy, Albania

Who Is Cool?

… Nobody?

Who Sucks? 

… Everybody?

I'm sorry, but I don't like any of the teams in Group B. To be fair, the group does have its share of good teams. No one would be shocked if Spain, Italy, or Croatia made a run to the semis in Germany. But for the life of me I can't get myself to care about any of them.

Italy and Croatia suffer from similar flaws. They both have good and even great players, recent histories of success (Italy winning the most recent Euros, Croatia reaching the final of the 2018 World Cup and then the semis in 2022), and good managers and a well-established team concept, but both also have next to no players capable of taking your breath away. Luka Modric is still around for Croatia, but he's 38 years old; few have fended off Father Time better than Modric, but the old man is undefeated for a reason. I'd love to have Italy's Federico Chiesa on my team, but as, like, the hard-working grafter who compliments the team's true creative genius, not as the fulcrum in his own right. Josko Gvardiol (Croatia) and Alessandro Bastoni (Italy) are both fantastic, but they're both left-sided defenders, not exactly the area of the pitch you look to for someone to knock your socks off. Basically, Italy and Croatia are boring on paper. It's perfectly possible that when the games start they'll capture some inspiration and make for fun watches, and I do intend to see if it happens. But I can't in good conscience recommend anybody who doesn't have to watch all these games as part of their job use up their limited time seeking out two teams that do not seem like safe bets for excitement.

Spain is a little different. They are probably the best team in this group, and have the kind of talent all over the pitch that, if it all comes together, could win the whole thing. I am, however, sick of the Spaniards' tiki-taka bullshit, of their underwhelming tournament performances even when they go far, of all that passing that doesn't go anywhere or do anything until it ends up at the feet of Álvaro fucking Morata, who either (and most frequently) skies the shot and hangs his head in disbelief or who scores and then acts like he hasn't spent his whole career missing sitters. I am sick of them all!

To be fair, Spain does have the ingredients needed to be not only good, but cool as well. La Roja's defense is strong, especially down the flanks; you could argue that Dani Carvajal and Álex Grimaldo were the two best full backs in Europe this past season. The midfield has Rodri, who is a god, and also Pedri, who suffered yet another injury-hit season for Barcelona but who has started to look a little more like his sharpest self over the past month. On the wings are Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams, two of La Liga's and therefore the world's most exciting and promising wide forwards. Sure, there's still Morata up high and in the middle (though a poor showing on his part in the tourney opener could see Mikel Oyarzabal take his spot), but with the possible exception of France, no team in this competition is perfect. As always, this is an enviable amount of talent Spain is dealing with.

But before I trust Spain to actually play some entertaining soccer in a big tournament, I'll have to see it first. Spain lacks that rebellious character, a player who says to hell with the coach's instructions about correct spacing and waiting between the lines, and goes and grabs the ball and imposes his own will onto the game. Isco should have been that player, but, after being ignored all season by Spain's mediocrity of a manager, Luis de la Fuente, Isco got injured at the end of the season, knocking him out of contention for the Euros right when it was clear De la Fuente would have to turn to him. Lamine Yamal could be that player, but he's only 16 years old and might not be ready to take over. Until one mad genius emerges and rescues Spain from its effete diligence and Moratian lack of killer instinct, I'm going to continue considering Spain a bunch of frauds.

Finally, we come to Albania. I wanted to make them the group's one cool team, but then I was looking for ways to justify it and realized I couldn't. Great flag, great names, shoutout to Rey Manaj, but it's hard to find a reason to care about the team.

One Star To Watch

Being a great central defender is firstly about, you know, defending. Alessandro Bastoni is plenty good at that stuff; he's tall, deceptively quick, aggressive in the challenge, and is hard to beat either in the open field or inside the penalty area. But where Bastoni really stands out is in what he does in possession. He's got a sniper for a left foot that can hit all sorts of distant targets for cross-field passes. He's also got a keen eye for passing lanes, through even the tightest of which he can squeeze forward passes that destabilize defenses. Even more impressively, he's great at venturing up the pitch himself, sucking in opponents who see in his apparently ungainly gait an easy opportunity to snatch away the ball, but whom he sidesteps with unexpected grace before releasing a pass into the space his forward jaunt has created.

You're not exactly going to want to fire up Italy matches to see their left center back push down the flank and fire in an accurate cross, but it is quite impressive when Bastoni manages it.

One Young/Old Guy To Watch

Lamine Yamal is the coolest player in this group and is also the youngest. Much of Spain's hopes in this tournament are tied to this 16-year-old's ability to take over. He's already done so for Barcelona, where he's established himself as the team's creator-in-chief, the one almost all of its forays into the attacking third flow through. It looks like he might be in the process of doing so for the national team too, judging by the show he put on against Northern Ireland last week:

Lamine (n.b.: "Lamine Yamal" is a compound first name, so you can call him "Lamine" or "Lamine Yamal" but never just "Yamal") was 11 months old when Spain won Euro 2008 and kicked off its historic run. He might not have a single memory of when that team's run came to an end after winning the Euros again four years later. All he knows is the underwhelming Spain that passes and passes and passes some more, futilely chasing after a lost past that will not return. Hopefully the one unburdened by those memories can be the one to turn Spain into something new. – Billy Haisley

Group C

Slovenia, Denmark, Serbia, England

Is It finally in possession of a train ticket? Has It been checking prices on flights home? Have various people in Its life been pestered repeatedly on the relative prudence of checking a bag versus carrying on? Is It sure It's ready to step back in time, to confront the nexus of Its past, present, and future in real-time, like the protagonist of one of those boring, highly praised novels where multiple generations of a family live in a house together? Does It have the address? Can you ask so-and-so if It has been packing? Is It en route? Will It lie again, leaving fans jilted like fiancées at the altar? After 58 years, 19 failed attempts across two tournaments, and three missed penalties, is It finally Coming Home?

That is the operative question of Group C, a dangerous group with no place to hide, not a single bullshit team, yet only one true-blue contender for the Euro 2024 trophy—probably the truest, bluest contender on the entire continent (or in their case, just off it). England lost the Euro 2021 final to Italy at Wembley Stadium under outrageous circumstances, scoring in the second minute, threatening consistently for the two hours, ceding a 67th-minute equalizer, then blowing it in the penalty shootout. Their loss tested the limits of anti-England hubris and Bukayo Saka was subject to racial abuse online. It was as awful of a loss in an international tournament as anyone could have possibly conceived.

We will get to the English in two sections, though their group, like most Euro groups, is so strong that they won't be able to pencil in any wins just yet.

Who Is Cool?

I can't say enough about how great the Danish run at Euro 2021 was. The team's most important player, Christian Eriksen, suffered a sudden cardiac arrest during their first game against Finland and had to be resuscitated on the pitch. The Danes lost to Finland, and then to Belgium, and seemed doomed, only to roar back with a 4-1 win against Russia that sent them through to the knockout rounds as the only team in Euro history to lose their first two games and advance. They then went on to smoke Wales, beat the Czech Republic, and force England into extra time in the semifinals before bowing out. It was a deliriously fun run to watch, and that Andreas Christensen goal will be a joy forever.

This time around they have Rasmus Højlund, and that guy rules. Eriksen is on the roster too, and I will enjoy watching the two most normal Manchester United players thrive out from under the weight of their stupid club.

Slovenia and Serbia are also cool, both for soccer reasons and also because neither nation has ever competed in the Euros. The former Yugoslav republics did take part in Euro 2000, as a single Yugoslavia team, though the roster was almost completely made up of footballers of Serbian descent (their leading goalscorer, Savo Milošević, netted five times, then months later joined protests against Slobodan Milošević, to whom he is distantly related). The two countries have combined to qualify for the World Cup five times, though neither has advanced beyond the group stage, and my main memories of Serbia and Slovenia are of the former repeatedly getting flexed on by Granit Xhaka and the latter ceding a 2-0 lead to the USMNT. So both squads are here to make history, and both have been playing well over the past few years.

Serbia is the more experienced squad of the two, led by goalscoring machine Aleksander Mitrovic and veteran midfielder Dusan Tadic. Those two have a combined 199 caps and 81 goals, and Serbia's only problem is that most of their good players are all forwards. They basically do not keep clean sheets, which could be a real problem given the firepower they are up against, but again, this section is Who Is Cool? and not Who Is Responsible?

I will explain the deal of Slovenia's main guy a few sections from now, but all you need to know here is: Jan Oblak is the truth, and will have a lot of work to do because Slovenia is also somewhat top-heavy; Josip Iličić is cool, and Slovenia always has incredible kits.

Who Sucks?

England sucks! Allow me to define terms.

England is cool and fun, and since their Euro disappointment and good showing at the World Cup (I thought their match against France was some of the best Southgateball they have ever played), the Three Lions have gotten cooler and more fun. Nobody coming to Germany has more caps than Harry Kane's 91, and only six players have 35 caps or more. Players who enjoyed Premier League breakouts this season like Cole Palmer, Kobbie Mainoo, and the entire Crystal Palace squad are here to augment a core of still-young ass-kickers with a coherent identity and oodles of talent at every position.

Watching cool guys whose club teams I loathe, like Phil Foden and Palmer, as well as cool guys whose club team I adore, like Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice, all playing for a national team whose failures I have always relished tests the limits of my abilities as a hater. I will watch Jude Bellingham shrink the field and play Ollie Watkins on, and feel the countervailing urges to celebrate and roll my eyes in disgust. I'll see Trent Alexander-Arnold smack geometrically audacious passes and have to will myself into the cope take that he's at least a bad defender still. Will my heart be in it? Has the Haisleyian Real Madridification (an argument I find totally liberating and true) of England gotten to a point where I can no longer look at the trio of lions on the crest and laugh? Am I going to be forced to sit Here and watch as It goes Home?

Big-game players bring their best stuff in the highest-pressure moments; video unrelated.

One Star To Watch

Jude Bellingham is at the nexus of my anguish. He's the coolest guy and, with all due respect to Martin Odegaard and no due respect to Rodri, for my money the best midfielder in the world. We have seen great Madrid debut campaigns before, though never anything as bombastic as Bellingham's 19-goal La Liga season. He is good at everything, he creates chances and scores complex goals that look simple because of how skilled he is, and he wins. Everything. England is built around his talents, and as he has aged into what might be the beginning of his prime, he has advanced slightly up the field into something like a true No. 10 position with England (which is the number he wears for his national team.)

Funny enough, Bellingham is younger than the Young Guy in the following section, but because he is so good, and because has been around for four years already, I never think of his age, only his talent. The one somewhat scandalizing thing about him is that he only has three international goals in 29 appearances, though that says more about his powers as a distributor. His creative license isn't quite as broad with England as it is with Real Madrid, but the helpful thing about being good at everything is that he makes his team better in whatever role he's handed.

One Young/Old Guy To Watch

Benjamin Šeško is one of the coolest young guys in the world, a 21-year-old all-action striker who is big and fast and scored a ton of goals for Red Ball Leipzig this past season. Watching the 6-foot-4 Šeško sprint down the pitch, the instant comparison to other hulking strikers like Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Erling Haaland comes easily, though he has a pretty different skillset. Šeško plays smaller than his height, which in this case is a compliment. While he is not a killer in the air, he's a better dribbler than you'd expect given how huge he is, and he's great with both feet in front of goal.

Šeško has 11 international goals for Slovenia, nine of them in competitive matches, and pretty much all of them meaningful. Zlatko Zahovic, Slovenia's all-time leading goalscorer with 35, gave an interview two years ago when Šeško only had four goals and said of his record, "I have no doubt that Šeško will surpass me. I look at my record like it's gone. It's the past." He continued, "If he is healthy, then I see no other scenario than that he will succeed and become a world-class star." That's high praise, and the context is key here: Šeško's fourth goal was a world-class moment of genius. If he never scores another goal as cool as this one against Sweden, that's nothing to be ashamed of. – Patrick Redford

Group D

Poland, Netherlands, Austria, France

Who Is Cool?

Just because something is obvious doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. France is the cream of the crop in a very tough Group D, boasting as much talent up and down the side as any team in the Euros. Though the defense has some potential holes—Dayot Upamecano has moments of disaster in the center, and Theo Hernandez is a wild card at left back—this is a loaded side from top to bottom, and it’s loaded not just with talented players, but also with exciting ones.

If there’s anything holding France back from untarnished coolness, it is Didier Deschamps. We’re long past the point of questioning whether France can win with Deschamps as its manager; back-to-back World Cup finals and a trophy should have put that to rest, even if the 2021 Euros went as poorly as they could have, with France going out in the round of 16 to Switzerland in penalty kicks. 

What is up for debate is how Deschamps utilizes all the tools that France has afforded him. His style of play emphasizes solidity, but this French side has so much individual talent that is rarely unleashed. (Kylian Mbappé took matters into his own hands in the 2022 World Cup final, but it’s important to note that France looked completely overrun for 80 minutes against an Argentina side that wasn’t exactly stellar in its construction.) The team lines up in a 4-3-3 of sorts, though in reality it’s more of a loose 4-2-3-1 with Antoine Griezmann playing further ahead than a midfield trio cog might. This does infuse some creativity into the attack, which should feature Ousmane Dembélé, Marcus Thuram, and new Real Madrid omega-star Mbappé. Even with all that talent, Deschamps is all about the end result.

Who Sucks?

In a group with two powerhouses and an Austrian team that has potential, Poland is the odd one out. Even just getting to the Euros was a tough road: Euros 2016 winner Fernando Santos was appointed manager in January of 2023, but some rough results, including a loss to Moldova of all teams, sent him packing. In came former Poland U21 coach Michal Probierz, who guided Poland by the seat of its pants into the tournament, winning the playoff final over Wales in penalties.

Probierz is not an exciting tactician. He’s going to set up Poland in a defensive 3-5-2 that plays more like a 5-3-2, and he’s going to rely on Robert Lewandowski to recapture some of his goalscoring magic (more on him in a bit). Elsewhere, there’s not really much to get excited for in the Polish side; this is a side caught between Lewandowski and the future, except the future isn’t particularly bright at the moment. There are some marquee names on the side; Juventus keeper Wojciech Szczęsny is still here and Napoli’s Piotr Zieliński can do some things in the midfield, but make no mistake: Poland is going to play defensively and hope that Lewandowski can carry them into the knockout round from perhaps the toughest group in the tournament. It’s not looking all that likely because …

One Star To Watch

… Lewandowski isn’t what he used to be. After finally getting his World Cup goal in 2022, Lewandowski enters the Euros banged up and on the tail end of his career at the age of 35. He’ll miss at least the first game of the group stage, against the Netherlands (a match Poland will need at least a point from to make qualification less of a struggle), with a biceps injury, and he hasn’t been his Bayern Munich best since moving to Barcelona. Lewandowski held the title of the best pure striker in the world for so long that it’s hard to calibrate expectations with who he is now, in 2024. 

He’s lost a step, and though his poaching is still top notch, he can’t be the solitary engine anymore. With Poland’s set-up, he’ll have to be anyway, and if he is able to add enough goals to lengthen his all-time goalscoring record for the country, then maybe Poland can score enough to be competitive. I wouldn’t count on it; even a healthy Lewandowski, in what is surely his last Euros appearance, might not be enough against this level of opposition, and a banged-up one might just be a bummer to watch. On the other hand, maybe an early exit will lead him to make more ridiculous TikToks before the next club season starts, in which case we all win. 


Dance Feeling 😉 😂 #fyp #fun

♬ Laxed - Jawsh 685

One Young/Old Guy To Watch

For sickos who have closely followed La Masia, Barcelona’s famed academy, over the last decade, the name Xavi Simons is synonymous with disappointment. The Dutch winger was one of the higher rated prospects from that academy, but he never quite materialized into someone who was a lock to get a shot at the first team. Since departing for Paris Saint-Germain in 2019, he’s been a bit of a floater around Europe, making his first-team debut in February of 2021 for PSG but never quite sticking in the lineup. A year later, he moved over to PSV in Holland, and there he finally showed what all of that potential could be, scoring 19 goals in 34 league games. 

That explosion of goals brought him back to PSG the following summer, but he was immediately loaned out to RB Leipzig in Germany. Now 21 years of age, Simons made a spot for himself in Leipzig’s side, playing in 32 of 34 league matches last season, and adding in eight goals. He’s not quite at the levels that La Masia devotees expected, but it’s been long enough to detach those expectations from reality. The reality is that on a Dutch side that has little attacking depth behind Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo, Simons should get some time on the field as a super-sub to inject some forward mobility into a team that isn’t blowing the doors off any opponents. 

Under Ronald Koeman’s system, a 3-5-2 of sorts with a workmanlike midfield missing Frenkie de Jong due to injury, Simons could help chase games by turning it into a more attacking 3-4-3 from his preferred right wing position. This tournament is a bit precarious for the Dutch, but with Simons as a weapon off the bench, they will likely have enough juice to make some noise, and the stage is set for all that promise he once possessed to turn into a career-making performance in Germany this month. – Luis Paez-Pumar

Group E

Belgium, Slovakia, Romania, Ukraine

Who Is Cool?

Group E is not very cool. This is what happens when the best team in the group, Belgium, is in a transitional period between generations, and everyone else is roughly equal in quality and pragmatism. Romania and Slovakia both have whispers of cool about them, mainly with regards to some young players slated for bigger things, but it is Ukraine who are, if not the absolute coolest, the most intriguing side in the group.

Part of that comes from a cadre of players in Europe’s top leagues who are, to put it nicely, incomplete. Another way to frame that is that they have a lot of talent, but are inconsistent from game to game. This opens up the possibility that Ukraine is able to ride enough good performances from players like Arsenal’s Oleksandr Zinchenko, Girona’s Artem Dovbyk (who finished as the top goalscorer in La Liga this past season), and Mykhailo Mudryk of Chelsea to something like the country’s performance in the last Euros, where it advanced to the quarter-finals after beating Sweden in the round of 16. It’s also possible that all of that talent amounts to little, and the Ukrainians go out in the group stage. There’s no team in group E with more potential variance than Ukraine, and that’s the sliver of excitement that I’ll have to cling to during what might be the most static of groups in this tournament.

Who Sucks?

There’s no standout side in terms of dreariness. My pick is Slovakia, though, because they are the worst side—the only Pot 5 group from qualifying to make it to the Euros, though they did so in style, finishing second only to Portugal in Group J of qualifying, with an undefeated mark against everyone but the Portuguese—and they do not have the benefit of a truly standout young player. Sure, David Hancko might be one of the better center backs in the Eredivisie, but he’s 26 and also a center back. Hard to get too excited for that. Slovakia will be mediocre to watch, even if they play a high-pressure style under former Napoli assistant (and brief manager this season)  Francesco Calzona. Gone are the days of  Marek Hamšík giving the Falcons an attacking spark. In his absence, Slovakia is a utilitarian side, full of big burly guys who try to win on set pieces and in-the-box play, while making it hell to possess the ball against them.

That might be a successful tactic when out-talented, but it doesn’t make for the most fun viewing experience. If there is some hope for magic from the midfield, it will come from Stanislav Lobotka, also of Napoli; the 29-year-old is a steady hand and turned in a great campaign in Serie A.Elsewhere, Róbert Boženík might score some goals, and if anything, Hellas Verona winger Tomas Suslov is a threat to do anything, good or bad, with the ball at his feet. That’s not going to get anyone too hyped up, and neutrals who want the most exciting and intriguing round of 16 will have to root for Slovakia to bow out meekly in fourth place of Group E.

One Star To Watch

One of the side effects of only having a tournament every four years is that the top goalscorers list is surprisingly un-prolific. Sure, Cristiano Ronaldo has scored the most goals in Euros history, with 14, but even that feels low given his goalscoring prowess and the fact that this will be his sixth tournament. Having such achievably low goal totals allows for players to ride one good tournament into the upper echelons of the all-time leaderboard. This is the case with Romelu Lukaku, Belgium’s big target man who scored four goals in the 2021 edition to climb into a tie for fifth, with six overall.

In his third tournament at the tip of Belgium’s attack, Lukaku might end up being the most important player for his country, even more so than Kevin De Bruyne, who is still kicking around in the midfield. Though De Bruyne will still be the engine that powers the Belgian attack, Lukaku will look to rediscover his 2021 form after a few years in the club wilderness: Since the last Euros, he has played for Inter Milan, Chelsea, Inter again on loan, and then Roma on loan last season. His domestic numbers were … fine—13 goals in 32 appearances—but nothing like his previous peaks. At the age of 31, this will likely be Lukaku’s last Euros as a key piece of Belgium’s side, and he could shoot into the top two all-time with a four-goal performance like in 2021. If he does, Belgium’s older side could ride the momentum of an undefeated qualification campaign into the deep stages of the Euros once more.

One Young/Old Guy To Watch

If I sounded defeated about picking a cool team in this group before settling on Ukraine, I am diametrically opposed in my feelings towards Georgiy Sudakov. The Shakhtar Donetsk No. 10 is the most exciting young player on this team, and maybe in the entire group. Rumors are already flying around about a potential big money move to the Premier League, and if there is an archetype for a breakout candidate at an international tournament, it is Sudakov. 

A technically skilled and creative attacking midfielder, Sudakov has become the key link for Ukraine at only 21 years of age. He’s not exactly a goalscorer (just six goals last season) and not exactly a playmaker (two assists), but something in between: the type of player that an offense can run through, while still spraying the ball around to the front three. If he has one elite skill, it is his ability to carry the ball into dangerous positions. He averages over two progressive carries a game (defined as dribbles that either go 10-plus yards or that go into the penalty box), and he offers a tidy one take-on per game. Both of those are above-average figures, and on a side like Ukraine’s, with plenty of attacking prowess ahead of him, Sudakov could thrive just by getting the ball into the spaces between the lines, where he can pick out runners and knock-ons. – Luis Paez-Pumar

Group F

Turkey, Georgia, Portugal, Czech Republic

Who is Cool?

This is one of the coolest groups in the competition. Georgia, Turkey, and Portugal all have different things about them that promise to make them some of the most fun teams to follow in these Euros.

What makes Georgia cool? Really, it's who makes Georgia cool, and the answer is one name: Kvicha Kvaratskhelia. Kvaratskhelia is by my lights one of the most captivating players in the world. He arose practically out of nowhere in 2022 after leaving Georgian club Dinamo Batumi to join Napoli, where he immediately erupted. With 12 goals, 10 assists, and countless memorable moments, he (alongside striker Victor Osimhen) led Napoli to a stunning Serie A title. The Napoli faithful christened him Kvaradona in homage to the club's most beloved former player, and the Georgian's resemblance to Diego Maradona wasn't entirely surface-level. Kvara is an attacking whirlwind that starts out on the left wing but makes itself felt all over the attacking half of the field. He's a legitimate creator who uses his technical brilliance and fast thinking to invent new solutions to problems on the fly, be it with his dribbling or his passing. He scores, assists, dazzles, dances, and dominates with a resplendence exclusive to the best.

Kvara's 2023-24 season wasn't quite as brilliant as the prior one. Napoli lost its ingenious manager (who today coaches the Italian national team), lost Osimhen for a long stretch of the season due to injury, and failed to recapture the pizazz that came so effortlessly to that title-winning team. Nevertheless, Kvaratskhelia was still really good in what was a much inferior team, which goes a long way toward proving that he is no one-season wonder.

In a certain sense, Napoli's struggles this past season should prepare him well for Euro 2024, where his Georgian teammates will offer him even less help than his Napoli ones managed. Georgia does have a world-class goalkeeper in Giorgi Mamardashvili, and has a couple promising youngish outfielders who might play out of their skins under the bright lights, but for the most part the non-Kvara/Mamardashvili players are scrubs. Georgia will likely struggle to make it out of the group. That being said, the team does know how to feed the ball to Kvaratskhelia, and even when he's more or less going it alone, Kvaradona is well worth watching.

Turkey, in contrast, gets its coolness from several sources. They have the veteran presence of Hakan Calhanoglu, a midfielder with infinite passing range and also a world-elite ball-striker who lives to smash shots into the upper corners of the goal from deep. They have Kerem Aktürkoglu, a winger with searing speed who constantly flaunts it by running at defenders both with and without the ball. They have the youthful freshness of Arda Güler and Kenan Yildiz, a pair of 19-year-olds whose precocity has already brought them to two of the giants of the European game, Real Madrid and Juventus respectively. Turkey's defense is nothing special, and the team as a whole might be a couple years away from peaking, so a brief, disappointing stay in Germany is certainly possible. But if, as it appears, we are on the verge of a truly memorable era of Turkish soccer, this tournament very well could be remembered as the spark that ignited what is to come.

I'd like to hate Portugal. I dislike Cristiano Ronaldo for obvious reasons, I've mostly disliked the national team in my belief that former manager Fernando Santos was squandering the considerable talent at his disposal with staid tactics, and I still get annoyed when I think about how that awful Portugal team fluked its way to the trophy at Euro 2016. That said, I have to admit that going back to the 2022 World Cup, the Seleção plays some damn good soccer.

Really the more difficult feat would be making Portugal uncool. We're talking about a team that can call upon the likes of Bernardo Silva, Rafael Leão, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Jota, João Cancelo, João Félix, João Neves, Vitinha, Gonçalo Ramos—every single one of those guys is capable of cool shit! Not even Ronaldo and Pepe (yes, at 41 years of age, Pepe is indeed here in Germany) can ruin that. Especially not when Santos (who to be fair had Portugal playing very well in Qatar a year and a half ago) has been replaced by Roberto Martínez, the former Belgium manager. Martínez has loosened things up for Portugal's flair players, has re-integrated Ronaldo and reaped rewards for it, and has helped turn Portugal into the powerful and cool team it should be.

Who Sucks?

The Czech Republic sucks. I've not heard of the vast majority of the players on this roster. This is understandable, since 16 of the 26 players in the squad play in Czech at club level, nine of them coming from Slavia Prague. Even the guys you might have actually heard of—Tomas Soucek, Vladimir Coufal, Patrik Schick, Adam Hlozek—are hardly highlight-reel generators. This team sucks!

One Star To Watch

It feels a little bit funny to say this about a stalwart in this trophy-hoarding Manchester City team, but Bernardo Silva is underrated. Part of it is a reflection of the sacrifices he's willingly made over the years, doing the dirty work of pressing and chasing back and all that so that other Citizens like Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Erling Haaland, Sergio Agüero, and Phil Foden can focus on the fun stuff. It's a shame, though, that the breadth of Silva's abilities, and the flashier things some of his club teammates do, cause Silva to fly under the radar a bit. Because Silva is a geyser of creativity and sumptuous technique and goals and assists in his own right.

Because it is so difficult to find a player like Silva, one with all the attacking talents you could ever want who also will run like crazy and tackle like a rabid animal out of possession, even in the international setup Silva often finds himself overshadowed by the very players he frees up to be more expressive. However, if you just make a point to watch what he does, you'll see that all that greatness is right there just waiting to be appreciated.

One Young/Old Guy To Watch

I'm a little bit worried about Arda Güler. Courted by several of the biggest clubs in the world last summer, he made the ambitious but dangerous choice to join Real Madrid. There's no doubt his potential is such that, should he become the best possible version of himself, he could absolutely be a contributor to the best team in the land. However, there is no field more difficult to claw your way onto than Real's, in a stadium littered with memories of next-big-things who never were.

Unsurprisingly, Güler struggled during his first season in Madrid. He was injured right at the start of the season, which kept him from finding a toehold in the team's rotation early on. When he returned, the Blancos' machine was already humming, and manager Carlo Ancelotti didn't see fit to risk jamming things up by tossing a new gear into the mix. Güler hardly got any playing time until the very tail end of the season, by which time his decision to join Real was already looking like a mistake.

But Güler's legitimately huge talent was too big not to make itself known. After Real beat Barça in the league season's second Clásico in late April, effectively clinching the title, Güler started getting a lot more playing time as Madrid tried to keep its key players fresh for its ultimately triumphant Champions League run. Güler did not let the opportunity pass him by. The Turk scored five goals in his last five appearances of the season, which meant he ended the year with six strikes scored at a clip of once every 65 minutes. His knack for scoring bangers, his magical left foot, and his dynamic dribbling made him the star of Real's La Liga run-in.

Even off the strength of such a scintillating end to the season, it's not clear whether Real Madrid's forward line—which, as you may have heard, was recently strengthened—has enough room for Güler to play and grow. His national team, however, does offer him plenty of space to do what he does best, which should give Güler the platform for a true breakout. We can worry about his future in Spain some other time. For now we can just enjoy where he is right now. – Billy Haisley

If you liked this blog, please share it! Your referrals help Defector reach new readers, and those new readers always get a few free blogs before encountering our paywall.

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter