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Writers’ Euro 2024 predictions: Best player, dark horses, biggest disappointment?

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Writers’ Euro 2024 predictions: Best player, dark horses, biggest disappointment?

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We are just a day away from Euro 2024, with hosts Germany taking on Scotland in Munich on Friday night.

What can we expect? An outsider victory? A Kylian Mbappe-inspired French romp? England out in the group stages? Whatever we get, there will be drama (we hope). Let us know in the comments section what you expect to happen.

Here, six of The Athletic’s writers give their predictions…


How to follow Euro 2024 on The Athletic


Who will win the tournament and why?

Oliver Kay: France, because they have the strongest squad — not just in terms of talent and depth in all positions but also know-how and a proven ability to perform when the stakes are high.

Liam Tharme: France. Tournaments are won over decades of youth talent and nobody does it like Ligue 1. Didier Deschamps has found the perfect balance between system and superstars.

James Horncastle: I like how Roberto Martinez has carved out a niche as custodian of international ‘Golden Generations’. First, Belgium, and now Portugal. The balance Portugal have in midfield is encouraging and I’m waiting for Rafael Leao to deliver on his potential at this level.


Mbappe and Deschamps will be hopeful (Franck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

Nancy Froston: France have been such a force in recent years and they do not look any weaker.

Carl Anka: Germany. Host nation, favourable side of the draw, and decent players under a clever tactical mind in Julian Nagelsmann.

Nick Miller: France are the correct answer, but Deschamps has been there so long, aren’t they due a meltdown? What about the Netherlands? They have loads of good defenders, as well as Jeremie Frimpong and Xavi Simons, while Memphis Depay seems quite cross about leaving Atletico Madrid, so he’ll have some fire in his belly.

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Who will win the Golden Boot?

Tharme: Mbappe.

Horncastle: Gianluca Scamacca.

Froston: Mbappe.

Kay: Harry Kane.

Anka: Niclas Fullkrug.

Miller: Kane.


Who will be the best player?

Kay: Mbappe. If France are going deep, then he will play a big part.

Tharme: Kevin De Bruyne will carry a young generation of Belgium midfielders deep into the tournament and provide plenty of assists for Romelu Lukaku.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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Horncastle: It’s on home soil. These are the final games of his career. Imagine ending your career by winning the Champions League and the Euros. It’s going to be Toni Kroos.

Froston: Jude Bellingham. You build everything around players as good as him. If England can manage a good run, it’ll be thanks to him.

Anka: It’s Kroos. This sport doesn’t often grant happy endings, but Kroos is about to have a superb swansong.

Miller: Kroos. Are we all blinded by the sheer wattage of the narrative? Perhaps, but that doesn’t make us wrong.


We all want it for Kroos, don’t we? (Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

Who will be the best young player (under 23 on June 14)?

Kay: There are a few English candidates, but I’ll say Jamal Musiala. He looks ready to make a big impact at Euro 2024.

Tharme: Between Musiala and Florian Wirtz. Both should rise to the occasion on home soil.

Horncastle: Arda Guler or Kenan Yildiz. Yildiz’s dribbling has generated crazy hype and Guler scored six times for Real Madrid in 377 La Liga minutes. The kid is shy but special.

Froston: Benjamin Sesko. A ‘burns bright in the group stage’ candidate feels about right.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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Anka: Lamine Yamal. The 16-year-old (16!) has all the tools to be a game-breaking forward.

Miller: Xavi Simons. If I’m sticking with my ‘the Dutch are good’ theory, he’ll be at the centre of it.


How many penalties will fail to find the back of the net — in normal time and shootouts?

Tharme: There were four shootouts in 2020, the most since Euro 1996 (also four). Let’s take an assumed average of three missed from another four shootouts, that’s twelve. Let’s go for 15 total with only three not scored in regulation time.

Horncastle: Italians would say all of Jorginho’s — which is harsh given how cool he was from the spot in the semi-final against Spain three years ago.

Froston: This is the era of the water-bottle cheat sheet, so I fancy four penalties missed in regulation time and 13 in shootouts.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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Kay: Unlike Liam, I haven’t given this the slightest thought and I’m struggling to get a handle on the numbers. One? A 100? I’ll say 10.

Anka: It’s still mostly a gamble. Three misses in the groups. Two in knockout games. 12 across collected shootouts.

Miller: Well, I’ll pick a number out of the air and say 14.


Who will ‘do an Enzo Fernandez’ and get a big transfer off the back of a tournament?

Kay: These days, so many of the best young talents are already at big clubs. Maybe it’s the perfect shop window for someone like Albania’s Armando Broja, who is surplus to requirements at Chelsea.

Tharme: Ukraine and Shakhtar Donetsk’s Heorhii Sudakov. A pure No 10, two-footed, with plenty of Champions League experience at Shakhtar Donetsk, even at 21.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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Horncastle: Define ‘big’. What if Albania winger Jasir Asani was good enough to earn a move back to Europe after a year in South Korea’s K League with Gwangju?

Froston: Nico Williams. It seems likely that clubs will be tempted by his €50million (£42m; $54m) release clause at Athletic Bilbao.

Anka: Belgium and PSV Eindhoven’s Johan Bakayoko is a dribble-heavy, left-footed winger who likes to cut inside and shoot from the right wing. That’s the sort of forward Premier League clubs like spending dough on.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

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Miller: Bakayoko, Sudakov and Williams all get another couple of thumbs up, but people love a tempo-setting central midfielder, so I’ll say that Benfica will have someone’s pants down for Turkey’s Orkun Kokcu.


Tell us one thing you really want to see happen…

Kay: I would love to see England win it. But that’s such a boring answer. Failing that, I’d really like one of the smaller nations to win it. Denmark, Croatia, even Belgium. It would be nice, wouldn’t it?

Tharme: Josip Ilicic to score for Slovenia. He’s back in the national team for the first time since November 2021.

Horncastle: One of the five Italian coaches to win the thing.

Froston: Limited minutes for Cristiano Ronaldo. With every embarrassing tantrum, it gets harder to remember why he is one of the best ever.


Will he be smiling in July? (Patricia de Melo Moreira/AFP via Getty Images)

Anka: Wingers get chalk on their boots before driving at defenders. Loads of long-range efforts after the ball spills out from a corner.

Miller: Kroos strolling off into retirement having joined your Zidanes, your Xavis, your Iniestas in the ‘winning absolutely everything there is to win’ club.


Tell us one thing you really don’t want to see happen…

Kay: I really hope the tournament is trouble-free. I also hope I can walk through a market square on the day of an England game without cringing in embarrassment at fans singing dismal songs about “10 German bombers”.

Tharme: Germany out in the groups (again).

Horncastle: Please don’t judge Luciano Spalletti as if he’s been in the job for two years when he only stepped into the breach last August.

Froston: Opening ceremonies/pre-game performances from peppy Europop singers or ageing rockers that completely sap the atmosphere.

Anka: Manchester United, could you behave yourself and avoid any news announcements and massive dramas for the foreseeable future? Thanks.

Miller: I think I’m getting soft in my old age, but I used to love penalty shootouts… now I find them incredibly stressful. So as few of them as possible, please.


Which nation are the dark horses?

Kay: We’ve been calling Croatia and Denmark dark horses for so long, I don’t feel I can do it again. I’ll say Serbia.

Tharme: Hungary. They had an excellent Nations League in 2022 against some European big-hitters and have evolved tactically under Marco Rossi.

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Horncastle: Austria. I do wonder: what if Ralf Rangnick hadn’t taken the caretaker job at United when he did? I think his “open heart surgery” approach would appeal to Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Sir Dave Brailsford.

Froston: Can Croatia be dark horses? Nobody is saying otherwise, so I’m choosing glory for Luka Modric.


With 175 appearances, Modric is Croatia’s most-capped player (MB Media/Getty Images)

Anka: Hi, hello, it’s me, one of the people who said Turkey would be a dark horse at Euro 2020. I am warning you that Serbia will bloody England’s noses and reach the quarters.

Miller: Ukraine. They won’t win it, but they’ve got a great collection of young, exciting players and, well, the country could do with a good news story.


Which player/team will be the biggest disappointment?

Kay: It could be England. This tournament, amid heightened expectations, feels like it could be boom or bust.

Tharme: Portugal. They have underwhelmed since scrapping their way to the Euro 2016 trophy and have a ridiculous squad, with backups better than most teams’ first choices.

Horncastle: England. Three years ago was as good an opportunity to win a tournament as any. England didn’t seize the moment.

go-deeper

Froston: Adam Wharton. But not the player himself. I just do not think we will see much of him in the tournament, which has the potential to be disappointing after his impressive debut.

Anka: Portugal have the pieces to make a deep run, but a lot depends on how Ronaldo is catered for.

Miller: I fear for England, but I can see Italy doing a rather lacklustre job of being defending champions.


How far will England go and predict the manner of their final match in the competition…

Kay: A semi-final defeat by France is probably the most likely outcome, but I can see it falling short of that.

Tharme: At least to the semi-finals, likely against France. Southgate’s record against teams that have previously knocked England out is good but this would be the ultimate test. Harry Kane has scored all 15 penalties since missing against France in the World Cup quarter-finals, so I’d back him to score.

Horncastle: Tharme has allowed himself to get carried away. His penance will be a tactical breakdown of England’s defeat to hosts Germany in the last 16.


Where/how will it all end? (Glyn Kirk/AFP via Getty Images)

Froston: Quarter-finals. Shirts pulled up over teary eyes, dejected players lying prostrate on the pitch after a plucky defeat.

Anka: Quarter-finals. I struggle to articulate how grateful I am to Southgate and his team for creating an England side for so many to believe in, but July 11 2021 was the chance to win silverware.

Miller: 1-1 draw with Serbia, 1-1 draw with Denmark, 3-0 win over Slovenia, finish second in the group, play Germany in the knockouts. There, England will take the lead but ultimately lose in extra time.


Give us your most outrageous prediction…

Kay: The format gives teams a safety net, where even third place in the group might get you a place in the knockout stage. But Group B is horrible. Reigning champions Italy knocked out in the first round.

Tharme: No 0-0 draws.

Horncastle: Georgia ride Khvicha Kvaratskhelia’s wings out of the group stages. If Kvara recaptures the form he showed in Napoli’s title-winning season, anything is possible.

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Froston: Redemption for Rangnick with a decent run for Austria.

Anka: Mbappe scores the goal to knock Spain out.

Miller: France out in the group stage. No logic to it, but you never said we had to back any of this up.


What might make you get emotional?

Kay: Seeing one of the less-fancied teams perform the way Morocco did at the last World Cup.

Tharme: A Pascal Gross goal. A stalwart of Brighton, an everything midfielder who has got better with age and finally made his senior Germany debut aged 32 last September.

Horncastle: Croatia taking back-to-back knockout games to extra time and penalties.

Froston: Any underdog who takes a big team all the way only to lose at the death.

Anka: The first rest day.

Miller: I’m a sucker for parents in the crowd watching their kids succeed, so anything close to Mario Balotelli hugging his mum in 2012.

(Photos: Getty Images)

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