Spotlight on Euro 2024: The contenders

Dark horses are always a prevalent theme at international tournaments.

In the early stages, picking out a team that might go further than expected is a subject of widespread fascination.

And there are several countries that will fancy their chances of a successful and memorable Euro 2024.

We’ve used the Twenty3 Toolbox to take a look at some of the contenders in Germany this summer.


Switzerland have done well in recent tournaments.

Over the last decade, they have reached the knockout stages of three World Cups and two European Championships.

But they have only made it to the quarter-finals once, at Euro 2020, so will have aspirations of going further this time around.

That should not be unachievable for Murat Yakin’s side. While their qualification campaign was not entirely convincing, there is plenty of talent in the Swiss squad.

The likes of Manuel Akanji, Fabian Schär, Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri and Zeki Amdouni will all be familiar to Premier League fans.

The latter was Switzerland’s top scorer in qualifying, netting six times. His first season with struggling Burnley has not always been easy, but his goals will be key in Germany.

At the other end of the pitch, Akanji plays a key role in buildup. The Manchester City defender ranked first in qualifying for passes completed (900) and progressive runs (49).

And in midfield, Xhaka will head into the tournament fresh off a superb season with Bayer Leverkusen. He was second only to Akanji for passes completed (850) in qualifying, and also ranked second for ball recoveries completed in the opposition’s half (49).

With Yann Sommer in goal, the spine of Switzerland’s team is strong.

Though they finished second to Romania in their qualification group and only beat Israel to second place by two points, Yakin’s team are undoubtedly good at what they do.

The aim is to keep the ball: no team averaged more possession than Switzerland (65.07%).

That patient buildup play and midfield dominance often allows them to control games, but they will be wary of being exposed to counter-attacks in a group that includes Germany, Scotland and Hungary.


Turkey were, infamously, everyone’s dark horses at Euro 2020, but went out ignominiously with three defeats in three group games.

They will hope and expect to do better this time, having been given a favourable group alongside Portugal, Georgia and Czech Republic.

Vincenzo Montella’s outfit were excellent in qualifying, topping a difficult group ahead of Croatia and Wales.

They only lost once — a 2-0 defeat to Croatia — and their progress to the finals never looked in any doubt.

Montella has set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 system, with an emphasis on getting the ball to their most technical players.

Hakan Çalhanoğlu is the main man in midfield and Turkey’s most recognisable name. Off the back of a Serie A title with Inter, much will be expected of him.

The 30-year-old kept things ticking during qualifying, completing 469 passes with an accuracy of 88.7%.

He also provided 14 shot assists, and his quality from set-pieces could be invaluable for Turkey.

In attack, Kerem Aktürkoğlu will be the man they look towards for inspiration. He netted twice in qualifying in a side with no standout goalscorer.

The Galatasaray winger is also a creative force, ranking sixth in qualifying for through passes completed (seven).

Turkey will also look to build from solid defensive foundations, with Merih Demiral and Kaan Ayhan expected to start at centre-back.


Euro 2020 was a memorable one for Denmark.

Having shown admirable courage to continue playing after Christian Erkisen’s cardiac arrest on the pitch against Finland, they made it all the way to the semi-finals.

The Danes were eventually beaten by England, but it was an impressive campaign nonetheless.

And they will hope to at least replicate that in Germany. They will meet England again, this time in the group stage, with Slovenia and Serbia their other opponents.

Qualifying for Euro 2024 was relatively straightforward for Kasper Hjulmand’s side, who topped their group ahead of Slovenia and Finland.

Only Switzerland and Spain averaged more possession than Denmark (64.64%). 

Hjulmand sets his team up in a 4-3-3 shape and looks to establish control by instructing his players to press high up the pitch.

No team in qualifying made more ball recoveries in the opposition’s half (416). They also ranked first for forward passes completed (1,600).

The technical quality of Eriksen, Christian Nørgaard and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in midfield has allowed Denmark to control games.

The latter is also exceptionally adept at regaining possession, making more ball recoveries in the opposition’s half than any other player (63).

Eriksen, meanwhile, remains chief creator, ranking fifth for shots assisted (22).

Up front, Rasmus Højlund scored seven goals in qualifying, ranking sixth for attacking duels won (113), and will be looking to build on an encouraging debut season at Manchester United in Germany.

With Crystal Palace’s Joachim Andersen a key man in defence, Denmark are comfortable playing out from the back. The centre-back ranked fourth in qualifying for passes into the final third completed (104).

Given their quality throughout the pitch, do not be surprised to see Denmark go far again.


Croatia’s ‘golden generation’ is beginning to dwindle, but they are not to be underestimated.

Less than two years ago, they reached the semi-finals at the Qatar World Cup, beaten by eventual winners Argentina.

Four years earlier, they had made history by getting to a World Cup final. These are seismic achievements for a nation of just 3.9 million people.

The Euros have not been as fruitful for Croatia, though: they could only reach the round of 16 in 2016 and 2020.

And expectations will not be huge this summer after a slightly shaky qualification campaign.

Zlatko Dalić, in charge since 2017, did eventually guide his side to second in their group, four points clear of Wales.

And their progress was based on a stingy defence: only two teams conceded fewer goals than Croatia (four).

Much of that solidity comes down to their ability to keep the ball, with an average possession of 62.72%.

While the defence and attack has evolved significantly of late, the trusty midfield trio of Luka Modrić, Marcelo Brozović and Mateo Kovačić remain.

The apparently interminable Modric continues to run things, ranking sixth in qualifying for final third passes completed (99).

In defence, Josko Gvardiol will be a key player. He will have benefitted from his first season with Manchester City, developing his game further under Pep Guardiola.

No Croatia player completed more ball recoveries (98) than the 22-year-old during qualifying.

The most concerning department for Dalić will be attack. They scored just 13 goals in qualifying.

Ante Budimir, who has had an excellent season with Osasuna, is likely to start as Croatia’s No9. 

And the hope will be that Andrej Kramarić — their top scorer in qualifying with four goals — is firing on all cylinders in Germany.


Like Croatia, Belgium are now in the twilight years of their golden generation.

Plenty of world-class players are still available for selection, but the feeling is that they are no longer among the favourites to win a tournament.

Perhaps that will take some of the pressure away from a team that often appeared to struggle under the weight of expectation.

Belgium reached the quarter-finals in 2016 and 2020, and at the Qatar World Cup were eliminated in the group stages.

Domenico Tedesco is now the man in charge and he oversaw a convincing qualification campaign.

The Red Devils won six and drew two of their eight games, scoring 22 goals and conceding just four. There will be far greater tests ahead in Germany, though. 

Tedesco typically sets his side up in a 4-2-3-1 system, and he has so far established an impressive balance between attack and defence.

While Belgium look to win possession high up the pitch, there is a clear structure and organisation to their shape off the ball.

Their non-penalty post-shot xG conceded of just 1.95 was by some distance the lowest in qualifying.

Belgium are not as possession-based as they once were under Roberto Martínez, instead looking to hurt teams in transition.

Kevin De Bruyne is, of course, the star man, although he played only once in qualifying because of injury.

If he is fit and firing in Germany, the Belgians will be significantly more confident.

But they have plenty of other attacking threats. Romelu Lukaku was prolific in qualifying, top scoring with 13 goals in just seven appearances.

The Roma loanee had an xG of 6.61 but an impressive post-shot xG of 9.24, an indication of his excellent finishing. He will be eyeing up the Golden Boot at Euro 2024.

Belgium also boast raw pace in wide areas, with Johan Bakayoko and Jérémy Doku likely to cause problems for opposition defenders.

The latter had more successful attacking actions (74) and completed more dribbles (60) than any other player in qualifying.

At the back, Koen Casteels will start in goal in the absence of the injured Thibaut Courtois. He is likely to be protected by a centre-back pairing of Jan Vertonghen and Wout Faes, with Timothy Castagne and Arthur Theate at full-back.


Reigning European champions Italy will be hoping to defend their title in Germany.

But a lot has changed since a dogged Azzurri team broke English hearts at Wembley.

Having failing to qualify for the World Cup in Qatar, Italy turned to Luciano Spalletti, after he had guided Napoli to a first Serie A title in over 30 years.

Qualification for Euro 2024 was not easy. Italy just about secured second in their group, despite finishing level on points with third-placed Ukraine.

And this is still clearly a team in transition, with Spalletti attempting to mould a side in his image. That can take time in international football.

But there have been signs of promise. Italy, lining up in a 4-3-3 formation, often controlled games in qualifying, averaging 58.1% possession.

Spalletti, as was the case at Napoli, will want his team to play with fluidity and composure in possession, while maintaining a solid shape off the ball.

Nicolò Barella is a crucial figure in midfield, making more key passes (five) in qualifying than any of his team-mates.

Italy shared the goals around, with Inter loanee Davide Frattesi netting three and Domenico Berardi and Mateo Retegui getting two apiece. 

Goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma will be aiming to replicate his heroics of Euro 2020, while right-back Giovanni Di Lorenzo and Bryan Cristante will look to build on their strong qualifying campaigns.

If Italy can find the right balance, they will be among the contenders again.

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