On June 13, the European Championship kicks off in Munich. Each nation competing, and fans around the globe, have a rising sense of anticipation.

A significant number of the world’s greatest sides are featured in Germany. Four of the past five World Cup winners and eight of the top-10 clubs in FIFA’s World Rankings are playing. Therefore, the European Championship is arguably the most competitive of international tournaments in world soccer.

In amongst the powerhouses of European soccer, however, the tournament is no stranger to springing a surprise. The 1992 tournament saw Denmark take home the trophy despite not having officially qualified. Twelve years later, the tournament witnessed another unlikely victor when Greece made their way to the final. A blend of solid defense and a string of 1-0 victories were the difference. That included a one-goal win over the host, Portugal, in the Euro 2004 Final.

For better or worse, these surprise winners – while remaining possible in knockout competition – have been extremely rare. As this summer’s tournament nears, it looks unlikely to be repeated.

Of the teams among the favorites for the trophy, certain problems remain. They will be at the forefront of managers’ and fans’ minds going into kickoff in June.

What each of the Euro 2024 contenders must overcome

England – startling attack but shaky defense

As ever, over-confidence pairs with caution and anxiety around England’s chances this summer. Gareth Southgate has a wealth of attacking talent at his disposal. His biggest decision is which players to leave out of his squad in this department. It’s the positions behind them, however, that continue to cause the biggest headaches.

Central midfield has been a concern ever since Jordan Henderson went to Saudi Arabia and Kalvin Phillips fell strikingly out of form. A partner for Declan Rice behind Jude Bellingham is one of the biggest question marks. Yet, even that looks less of an issue than the back four.

John Stones, when fit, is guaranteed. So too is Harry Maguire, despite public opinion. When either is missing, the age-old questions about the quality of personnel arise. The same is true at left back. Luke Shaw has missed most of the season through injury. His understudy, Ben Chilwell, has had a stop-start season with a struggling Chelsea.

The hope is that they will have too much firepower higher up the field to cover the cracks of their defense. Still, if recent friendlies are anything to go by, they may fall short once again.

Germany – caught between old and new

There’s a saying – in England at least – that you can never write off the Germans. Even now, as they reckon with another early exit from a World Cup and an uncharacteristic series of eye-catching defeats, there’s a sense that Julian Nagelsmann might just be building a team to be taken seriously once again.

Transitioning between generations is never an easy task. To have to do so at a home tournament, when the pressure is greatest, is even trickier. To his credit, Nagelsmann is nearing a typical Germany outfit compared to recent years. Unexpected seasons by both Borussia Dortmund and Leverkusen have given him the option to look at some previously overlooked talents. The manager was bullish about sticking to his guns in terms of personnel. It is starting to look a bit like the Germany of old. You can never write them off.

Spain – all midfield no strikers

Spain tika-taka’d its way to a period of global domination in the late 2000s. Since then, it has struggled with how to convert possession into goals. It’s been their Achilles heel throughout subsequent tournaments. Spain repeatedly found itself unable to push home dominance, last witnessed in the World Cup defeat to Morocco.

Their style of play – patient build-up reliant on short passing and technical quality in the middle of the field – is a result of the players they are so adept at producing and, even in this transitional period, this year’s squad is no different. Barcelona’s exciting young talent Lamine Yamal could be one of the players to light up the tournament. At just 16 years old, though, the side cannot rely on him to be the only finisher. As before, that task may fall on Alvaro Morata’s shoulders. He is not the most clinical of options for a team in a notoriously defensive group. Croatia and Italy, the team to eliminate Spain in the semifinals of Euro 2020, will present a challenge.

France – how to balance the world’s best squad

With a squad as deep and as talented as the French one, the only thing that can stop them is France themselves. Finalist at the last two World Cups, and runner-up at the 2016 Euros, they have been the standout international team of late. It is easy to understand why Didier Deschamps’ side leads the Euro 2024 contenders when looking at the squad.

In Mbappe, France has the single biggest threat of the tournament. Antoine Griezmann remains the unsung hero. His ability to play in a number of positions is integral to his team and, in Didier Deschamps eyes, more important to them than his starrier colleague. A dynamic midfield of Real Madrid duo Camavinga and Tchoumeni would be the envy of any team and that’s without World Cup winner Paul Pogba. The questions will be geared around the spearhead of the front line and who will take the number 9 role. Can record scorer Oliver Giroud still be relied upon as he nears 38? Is Dembele too unreliable, Muani and Thurman too untested at the international level? There’s not much that can shake off the ‘favourites’ tag but finding the key to unlocking Mbappe’s best performances might be the factor that decides it for them.

Portugal – time to call time on Ronaldo

As ever when discussing Portugal there is an obvious starting point to all conversations. So overpowering is his presence that Cristiano Ronaldo almost demands to dictate the wider talk around the country’s national side. The country’s highest-ever scorer, most capped player and starriest of all-star players has used the qualifiers as proof of his enduring clinical qualities with 10 goals in their 100% campaign.

But, and there is always a but when it comes to CR7, he is now 39 years old, playing in a league whose standard is far below any of his teammates – and opponents – and will offer no defensive protection to the team at all. It’s been found in other teams and in other places that, for all his individual brilliance, Ronaldo remains a conundrum for managers. He is, simply put, not a team player. It takes an awfully strong manager to leave him out though. We were given a tantalizing glimpse of a post-Ronaldo Portugal when he was dropped in the World Cup and his replacement, Goncalo Ramos, scored a hat-trick in a 6-1 victory over Switzerland. Roberto Martinez may not be there just yet but with the amount of attacking talent available, he won’t be short of options if he chooses to do so.


Euro 2024

Here are some resources to get you ready for Euros!
Euro Bracket: Download a free PDF bracket for the tournament
Euro 2024 Schedule: Full schedule of all games for the 2024 tournament
How to watch: Information on where to find the games on TV and streaming
How to Stream Learn how you can stream Euro games live in 2024
2024 Soccer Calendar: Get the lowdown on what will be a busy year in soccer