With the final draw for the 2024 European Championship in Germany over and the group stage schedule all but complete — the final three participating nations will be determined next March — we highlight 10 can’t-miss first round matches.
After failing to advance from group play at the last two World Cups with a round of 16 exit at the last Euros in-between, the tournament hosts are desperate to win the continental title for the first time since 1996.
They’ll begin that quest in Munich in the tournament opener against the plucky Scots, who are making their second straight appearance at the Euros after a 24-year hiatus. It’s not the mismatch it appears. While Germany will be the favorite, new coach Julian Nagelsmann has won just one of his first four matches. Meantime, Scotland — whose vocal supporters will travel to Germany in droves — rolled through qualifying, beating mighty Spain along the way. “The opening game against Scotland will be very emotional,” Nagelsmann said following last weekend’s draw. “Great fans.”
If this rematch of the 2023 UEFA Nations League final is a gripping encounter between these countries last June, neutrals are in for a treat.
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Spain won the Nations League title on penalties following a scoreless draw. It was an endlessly entertaining, back-and-forth affair between perhaps the two most technically gifted teams in Europe. But there was also a tension of an all-or-nothing affair. Next summer in Berlin, there will be more margin for error for both sides, far less fear that one mistake could be catastrophic. With reigning champions Italy also drawn into the Group of Death, though, there will be plenty of incentive for both sides to go for all three points.
The Azzurri kick off their title defense the same day against the Albanians, who are making just their second ever major tournament appearance and first since Euro 2016. The Eagles lost two of three first round games then and didn’t reach the knockout phase, but this is a much improved Albania side — one that finished first in a qualifying group that also included Czechia and Poland. Italy is a notoriously slow starter in international competitions. But with its final two Group B games against Spain and Croatia, anything less than a win in its opener could doom Luciano Spalletti’s side. Either way, the atmosphere inside Dortmund’s 81,000-seat Westfalenstadion — Germany’s largest soccer venue — should be electic.
The title co-favorite Three Lions get their Euro 2024 campaign underway against the Serbs in Gelsenkirchen. With captain Harry Kane leading the line, England will be expected to plant its flag with a statement win to open the tournament. Serbia could be a sneaky tricky opponent, though, not least because star striker Aleksandar Mitrović knows the English defenders so well. Before leaving for Saudi Arabia last August, Mitrović played more than 250 games in the Premier League and second-tier Championship, scoring more than 100 goals.
The bookies’ other title pick, France kicks off its Euro 2024 slate against the Austrians in Düsseldorf. Les Bleus haven’t won the tournament since 2000. And despite winning the 2018 World Cup and losing the 2022 event on penalties last year in Qatar, Didier Deschamps’ team hasn’t forgotten about losing the 2016 Euro final to Portugal on home soil. That means the motivation for Kylian Mbappé, Olivier Giroud and the rest of the French squad should be on full display right from the opening game.
Cristiano Ronaldo will begin what most expect to be his final turn on a global stage in Dortmund when his Portugal meets the Czechs. It’s a must-watch for no other reason than to see if the living legend, who turns 39 four months before Euro 2024 kicks off, is in manager Roberto Martinez’s starting lineup or if he’s given a superb assignment off the bench.
Drawn into a relatively weak quartet, the Three Lions will face their stiffest test of the group stage in Frankfurt against a Danish team that reached the semifinals of the last Euros and is more than capable of pulling off an upset on their best day. With starters such as Christian Eriksen, Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Rasmus Højlund based in the Prem, Denmark definitely won’t play with any fear.
When two of the most decorated teams in soccer history square off in Gelsenkirchen in both squads’ second group stage match (and 41st all-time), some of their next generation of talent will be on display. While Spain will be without the injured Gavi, it still has fellow one-named maestro Pedri plus 16-year-old forward Lamine Yamal. For Italy, 23-year-old pair Giacomo Raspadori and Moise Kean could play key roles at a marquee event for the first time.
These two longtime continental behemoths met twice this year in Euro 2024 qualifying — a 4-0 win for Les Bleus last March followed by a 2-1 French victory in Amsterdam in October. The Oranje won’t care about either if they prevail in Leipzig at the main event. Either way, here’s hoping for a third-straight goal-fest.
In the group finale for both teams, this match in Leipzig could determine which nation survives the first round.
Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.
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