Predicting Group E at UEFA EURO 2024: Red Devils Dominance?

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

As the European Championships kick off, all eyes will be on the favourites and their respective groups. Group E sinks into the background somewhat, as its only “big” team, Belgium, has an aging squad and is no longer considered a title contender at major tournaments. That being said, could the Red Devils benefit from an easy group and make a surprise run in Germany?

Failure for the Golden Generation

For such a small nation, Belgium has been blessed with some phenomenal footballers over the last 10 years. Players such as Thibaut Courtois, Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku have all donned the national team kit, earning themselves the “golden generation” moniker.

Yet, for all their efforts, the Belgian talents have won just one medal. They placed third at the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a tournament that many expected them to win. They were bounced out of the Euros at the quarterfinal stage in both the 2016 and 2020 editions, before reaching the pinnacle of disappointment in Qatar, failing to advance past the group stage at the 2022 World Cup.

For some reason, the Red Devils are simply unable to deliver in the important moments. They seem to play their best football in qualifying, which held true in the qualification cycle for this year’s Euro – Belgium topped its group comfortably with six wins, two draws and no defeats. Lukaku was the top scorer of the qualifiers as a whole, netting a ridiculous 14 goals. Belgian fans will be hopeful he can replicate this form in Germany.

Group E’s Hopeful Outsiders

Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine are the other three nations in Group E. For the casual fan, it is difficult to imagine what these teams could do at the Euro, given that none of them qualified for the World Cup, the last major tournament.

The Slovaks are coming in to the tournament with heads held high after a triumphant qualifying campaign in which they only lost twice in 10 games, both times to Portugal. They were practically flawless against the remaining teams in the group, and even the matches with Portugal were hard-fought, narrow defeats. PSG defender Milan Škriniar captains a squad of relatively unknown players as they look to pull something off in Germany.

Romania’s squad consists of players from clubs all over Europe and the Middle East. There is no clear star in what is a very experienced squad, with no players under the age of 22. The lack of star power did not stop the Romanians from racing through qualifying. They placed first in a group that featured Switzerland and Israel, finishing five points clear of the former. Their last participation in the Euros was in 2016, when they earned just one point in the group stage. Romania look to be a much better side this time around.

Unlike Romania, Ukraine has several big names in their squad. Artem Dovbyk is coming off a breakout season with Girona in LaLiga. He will be joined in the attack by Mykhailo Mudryk, Ruslan Malinovskyi and Andriy Yarmolenko, the captain. Oleksandr Zinchenko and Andriy Lunin are the anchors at the back.

Ukraine had a topsy-turvy qualifying campaign after being drawn in a deadly group with England and Italy. They finished level on points with the Azzurri but placed outside the direct qualification places on goal difference. Luckily, they came through the playoffs and rescued a final tournament berth.

Final Prediction

Without the weight of expectations dragging them down, the Belgians will cruise through the group stage at Euro 2024. Their toughest opposition should be Ukraine, but they do not have to worry about that until the last matchday. By then, the Red Devils will have racked up six points and a sizable goal difference, enough to control their own destiny. Belgium should place first in Group E.

Ukraine are the expected second place finishers, with their squad depth setting them apart from Romania and Slovakia. This talented squad will undoubtedly make another appearance in the EURO knockouts. They could very well match their quarterfinal finish from three years ago.

Romania’s cohesive and defensively tight team will show signs of greatness in Group E. It will not be enough for them to automatically advance to the knockout stage, but it will earn them some points. Slovakia has the better squad compared to Romania, but they do not make quite the team their group rivals do. As such, the Slovaks will finish bottom of this group.

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