Predicting Group B at EURO 2024: Clash of Titans

This is the second of a six-article series predicting the group stage at UEFA EURO 2024.

Following the draw for this summer’s European Championships in Germany, the consensus was clear: Group B is the group of death. European heavyweights Spain, Italy and Croatia are joined by qualifying standouts Albania for what will be a spectacular slate of games.

Fine Margins Between the Three Giants

EURO 2024 will mark the return of defending champions Italy, who missed out on the 2022 World Cup in the meantime. Luciano Spalletti has a talented squad composed almost entirely of players from Serie A. On paper, this should make for a well-connected team, one in which players are familiar with each other’s playstyle. That is not necessarily the case on the pitch, as the Azzurri barely qualified for the Euros, pipping Ukraine only on goal difference. Davide Fratessi led the team with three goals, a worrying statistic.

Croatia is the perennial over-performer of the last decade. They are fresh off a second straight podium finish at the World Cup, and they have since made the final of the UEFA Nations League, falling to Spain on penalties. The Croats have gone from dark horse to title candidate in major tournaments. The key player in Croatia’s squad, Luka Modrić, is getting older but definitely has one good tournament left in him. Mateo Kovačić and Marcelo Brozović complement Modrić in a world-class midfield.

Spain brings a balanced squad to EURO 2024, with players ranging from 16 to 38 years old. There are a handful of national team veterans (Dani Carvajal, Rodri, Álvaro Morata) mixed in with heaps of young talent and breakout stars. The Spaniards crashed out in the round of 16 at the World Cup but have since been phenomenal, topping their EURO qualifying group with just one loss and clinching the Nations League trophy. They will look to keep up this fine form in Germany.

Albania Hopes for a Miracle

Throughout the qualification cycle for this year’s EURO, Albania stood out as a top-class team. They stunned the world by topping their group, edging ahead of Czechia on goal difference and finishing four points clear of Poland. The Albanians lost just one match and conceded a total of four goals. Only France and Portugal conceded less in the qualifiers.

Brazilian manager Sylvinho, who took over in January 2023, brings a squad laden with Serie A players to the EURO. Fulham’s Armando Broja (a Chelsea loanee) will lead the line, while Atalanta’s Berat Djimsiti anchors the backline and captains the side. Fullback Elseid Hysaj is the most experienced player in the team with 84 caps to his name.

There is plenty to be excited about for Albanian fans this summer. Their national team will play freely, knowing they are expected to finish fourth. There is definitely some giant-killing potential in this side.

Final Prediction

As with any group of death prediction, this one could be entirely wrong. However, based on recent form and overall squad quality, Spain is our pick for first place in Group B. La Roja have clearly put the World Cup exit behind them and are ready to make a statement at the EURO

Croatia can never be counted out these days, and they seem to be a likely secod place finisher. They always appear to save their best for World Cups, but they have still made the knockout stage at each of the last two EUROs. Even with a ridiculously difficult draw, Vatreni will make it three in a row.

It is a bold take to suggest the defending champions might not make the knockouts, but such is the case this time. Italy is not the team they were three years ago and they lag behind both Spain and Croatia in several key aspects at the moment. Their lack of a prolific goalscorer will see them finish third in Group B. The Italians will be left hoping for a last 16 berth via the third-placed team ranking.

Finally, as solid as the Albanian team looks, they cannot be expected to finish anywhere other than fourth. The opponents in question are a lot more difficult than Czechia and Poland. Albania’s major tournament breakout might be coming soon, but not just yet. It would be quite an accomplishment for them to scrape a point or two at EURO 2024.

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