Euro 2024: 16 Nations Enter The Knockout Stage

  • 06 Jul - 12 Jul, 2024
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Sports

Three years on from the soulless Euros, played amid sparse crowds and restricted travel due to coronavirus restrictions, Germany is hosting a football festival at Euro 2024 as fans from across the continent take over the country.

The Dutch have hopped their way through Hamburg, a mass of Turkish fans descended on Dortmund and the Tartan Army took over Munich, Cologne and Stuttgart to win many more friends than Scotland managed points.

In spite of travel chaos that has dogged train routes and journeys to and from stadiums, most notably for England´s opener against Serbia in Gelsenkirchen, the fans have so far been the stars of the show as the big names have struggled to deliver on the field.

Even frequent downpours have not spoiled the party. Turkey´s 3-1 win over Georgia played in monsoon-like conditions produced one of the most memorable atmospheres and games of the group stage.

Germany´s positioning at the heart of the continent makes it the perfect host. Eight of the 24 countries competing share a land border and as Europe´s largest economy it is also home to huge expat populations from many others. But Euro 2024 is also a throwback for many fans to what major tournaments used to be – a fun-filled few weeks free from concerns about geopolitics.

The carnival atmosphere is also helping inspire a competitive tournament. Only in four of the 36 group games has there been a three-goal or more margin of victory. “In this tournament you´ve now got incredible support for all the teams in the stadiums as well, which is a little different to the last two tournaments,” said England manager Gareth Southgate in explaining his side´s struggles compared to recent years.

Incidents of trouble have even been few and far between. Albania´s Mirlind Daku was banned for two matches and the Albanian federation fined after he joined in anti-Serb chants following a 2-2 draw with Croatia in the only major flashpoint so far.

Instead, Germany´s hope for a second ´sommermarchen´ (summer fairytale) following the scenes at the 2006 World Cup have come to pass with capacity having to be expanded at the Munich fan zone for the hosts last 16 showdown against Denmark on Saturday.

Sadly for eight teams the sights of flag waving and sounds of car horns tooting in celebration long into the night across the country is over. However, the ties for the round of 16 knockout stage are set and below 16 nations will shoot it out to lift the Henri Delaunay trophy in Berlin on 15th July.

Not many people would have expected Austria to win a tough Group A, especially after they lost their first game to France. But Ralf Rangnick's exciting young side put in two scintillating attacking performances, scoring six goals in two games in Berlin, to beat Poland and the Netherlands. Austria have never progressed beyond the round of 16 at a EURO, but this talented team have got every chance of making history in Germany.

A stop-start opening to this tournament for Belgium, who have nevertheless made it to the knockout stage of a EURO for the third consecutive tournament. Star man Kevin De Bruyne has shown his brilliance on occasions, but a difficult task awaits them in the round of 16 in the form of France.

Denmark have made it to successive EURO knockout stages for the first time following three draws in Group C. Christian Eriksen has shone with his creative flair and also made the scoresheet in the opener against Slovenia. After progressing all the way to the semis at EURO 2020, Denmark will fear nobody from here.

England were not at their free-flowing best in Group C but still topped their section and remain unbeaten. Glimpses of the genius that can be produced by forwards such as Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and Phil Foden were seen in all three games, but coach Gareth Southgate will know that his best players need to perform on a more consistent basis with sterner tests ahead in the knockouts.

France failed to win their group for the first time since EURO 2012, following up a battling win over Austria with draws with the Netherlands and Poland. They remain unbeaten, though, and Kylian Mbappé got off the mark with a penalty in their final Group D game. Didier Deschamps will have his sights fixed on reaching a sixth major final with his country; he made it to a World Cup and EURO showpiece as a player and has contested two World Cup finals and one EURO decider as a coach.

What a revelation Georgia have been! Appearing in their first major international tournament, they have lit up the competition with their entertaining attacking brand of football. The highlight was the victory over European heavyweights Portugal, with star man Khvicha Kvaratskhelia scoring and shining throughout. Willy Sagnol's team have been an absolute joy to watch.

The hosts started in stylish fashion, thrilling the Munich crowd with a superb 5-1 victory over Scotland to get the tournament under way. A hard-fought win against Hungary followed in Stuttgart, and although they fell behind to Switzerland in their final Group A game in Frankfurt, a stoppage-time Niclas Füllkrug equaliser ensured Julian Nagelsmann's men topped their section and remain unbeaten going into the knockouts. Forward Jamal Musiala has particularly impressed, scoring twice in his three appearances.

The Azzurri left it late to clinch qualification but confirmed their place as Group B runners-up courtesy of Mattia Zaccagni's dramatic 98th-minute equaliser against Croatia in Leipzig. Prior to that, Luciano Spalletti's team had recovered from conceding the fastest goal in EURO history (23 seconds) to win their opener against Albania, with the only disappointment so far a 1-0 defeat by Spain. The holders are aiming to become just the second side to win back-to-back EUROs after Spain in 2008 and 2012.

It's been a mixed start for the Netherlands. After beginning with a fine comeback victory over Poland, the Oranje managed to keep a clean sheet in a goalless draw with France before a dramatic 3-2 loss to Austria left them going through as one of the best third-placed outfits. A bright spark has been Cody Gakpo, who has scored two goals to date.

A last-gasp win over Czechia was followed by a commanding victory against Türkiye as Portugal hit the ground running in Germany. Roberto Martínez then had the luxury of being able to rotate his team against Georgia, in a match that they could afford to lose and which they did lose. Cristiano Ronaldo is yet to open his account for the tournament as he attempts to score in six consecutive editions.

Romania have reached the knockout phase of a EURO for the first time in 24 years, and they did so in style, winning Group E. Their 3-0 victory over Ukraine was a highlight, Edward Iordãnescu's side putting in a wonderful attacking display in front of their adoring fans in Munich. Their task now is to emulate or even go better than that famous team of EURO 2000, who reached the quarter-finals before being defeated by Italy.

Slovakia got off to a stunning start, upsetting the odds to overcome Belgium in their first game through an early Ivan Schranz strike. A defeat to Ukraine followed, but they held their nerve to earn a point against Romania and with it a place in the knockouts as a result of being one of the best third-placed teams. Francesco Calzona's men will be a tough test for anyone.

Slovenia have qualified for the EURO knockout stage for the first time and the scenes of wild celebrations after their draw with England showed just what it meant to the country. With the experienced Jan Oblak in goal and the exciting Benjamin Šeško causing problems for defences, the Reprezentanca are not to be underestimated.

La Roja have begun this EURO in fine form, winning all three games and scoring five goals in the process, while they are the only team still to concede. Winger Lamine Yamal made history by becoming the youngest player in EURO history against Croatia, while forward Álvaro Morata is now the joint-third top scorer overall in the tournament after notching his seventh goal in the same game. Spain will become the first side to win four EURO titles if they triumph in Germany.

Unbeaten in their three group games, Switzerland are looking strong under the leadership of Murat Yakin. A convincing win over Hungary preceded a battling draw with Scotland, which featured a wonderful curling strike from Xherdan Shaqiri. The Nati were then moments away from earning one of the most impressive results of the tournament when they led hosts Germany, but Füllkrug's late leveller will not have demoralised them too much as they comfortably qualified from Group A.

Türkiye started off by winning one of the most entertaining games of the tournament, seeing off Georgia in Dortmund in a match that had everything. Defeat to Portugal in the same stadium followed, but Vincenzo Montella's team then managed to come through their third fixture against ten-man Czechia unscathed, winning late through Cenk Tosun.

About the writer
Shahzeb Ali Rizvi is a sports aficionado with a keen eye for the intricacies of cricket and football. He can be reached at [email protected]