As we approach the UEFA EURO 2024 tournament, with around 6 months left until the kick-off, the makeup of which teams will be participating has become more evident. After the culmination of the qualification groups last week, 21 of the 24 national team participants in the tournament are now confirmed, with the three final places to be awarded after the conclusion of the play-offs.
The qualification phase rolled out a mix of anticipated victories and surprising outcomes. Powerhouses like France, England, Belgium, and Portugal effortlessly dominated their groups. Meanwhile, for others, the journey was certainly more challenging.
Defending champions Italy, placed 9th in the FIFA rankings as of October 2023, only clinched their spot in the final group match in their tense showdown with Ukraine, a contest filled with contentious VAR moments. Still, Italy's Group C performance, earning them 14 points, only positions them in Pot 4, possibly resulting in a more challenging draw in the tournament. Meanwhile, the Netherlands, ranked 7th globally, trailed France in Group B with 18 points, only securing a spot in Pot 3. Similarly, Croatia, a 2022 World Cup semifinalist, secured advancement with 16 points in Group D, trailing Turkey by a single point, and now find themselves in Pot 3.
Examining the current FIFA rankings, it is noteworthy that eight out of the top 10 teams are set to participate in EURO 2024. The only representatives from outside of Europe in this top echelon are Argentina and Brazil.
Germany, the host country of the upcoming event, hold the lowest FIFA ranking among Pot 1 teams, currently standing in 16th place. All eyes are on the Nationalelf as they prepare to compete under the stewardship of newly appointed manager Julian Nagelsmann after a series of disappointing results. With just four friendly games under his guidance, the former FC Bayern Munich manager's impact is already under scrutiny. Despite a victory against the USA and a draw with Mexico, the team faced setbacks, suffering consecutive losses against Turkey and Austria. Observers are keenly awaiting to see how Nagelsmann will steer the host country's squad as the tournament draws closer.
Among the unexpected highlights, Hungary and Romania emerged unbeaten from their groups, defying expectations and securing places in Pot 2, a surprise considering their modest FIFA ranking status. At the moment, Hungary boast one of the most remarkable unbeaten streaks in world football, having gone undefeated in 12 consecutive games. What makes this formidable run even more captivating is that it coincides with Liverpool’s new midfielder, Hungarian national Dominik Szoboszlai's appointment as captain, who has yet to lose while wearing that club’s armband.
Three spots are left to complete the field while 12 national teams are fighting to reach the finish line. The list of participating teams was determined by their performances in the 2022/23 Nations League. The play-off phase consists of three paths—Path A, Path B, Path C)—each with four assigned teams. The winners of the single-leg semifinals in each path will advance to the single-leg final, which awards a spot in EURO 2024.
In Path A, Poland will face Estonia, while Wales will take on Finland in the semifinals. Path B will feature Israel against Iceland, and Bosnia and Herzegovina facing Ukraine. In Path C, Georgia will compete against Luxembourg, and Greece will confront Kazakhstan.
Notable absences also loom over EURO 2024. Teams like Ukraine, Sweden, and Wales, ranked within FIFA's top 30, missed out on direct qualification. While this holds as the final verdict for Sweden, Ukraine and Wales will get a second chance through the play-offs. Norway also were eliminated from both direct qualification and the play-offs, despite Erling Haaland's impactful performance scoring six goals in five matches.
The dynamics of the qualification process had a profound effect upon existing regulations. The current criteria grant play-off opportunities to teams based on their standings in the Nations League, disregarding their performance within the EURO qualifying groups. Consequently, Sweden, Norway, and Montenegro missed out on qualification despite finishing third in their respective groups due to their lower standings in the Nations League. Conversely, Estonia's progression to the play-off stage stems from being the highest-ranked team in League D of the Nations League, despite their modest one-point finish at the bottom of their qualifying group.
Next, let’s turn our attention to the notable players who will or might miss out on participating in the tournament. Erling Haaland, leading in market value among absentees, not only leads this list, but also currently holds the title of the world's most valuable player. Martin Ødegaard and Khvicha Kvaratskhelia follow, with the latter's chances hinging on Georgia's performance in the play-offs.
Interestingly, all top 10 players by market value, except the Georgian talent, currently ply their trade in the English Premier League, a testament to the league's dominance and its substantial representation in national teams.
It is also worth looking at the top players based on their social media following who could miss out. Interestingly, we can witness several players with a significant follower base still contending in the play-offs. Only three players within the top 10 by social media followers have already been eliminated, while the remaining seven still have a second opportunity to secure a place in EURO 2024 through the play-off phase. Robert Lewandowski and Erling Haaland lead this ranking, having achieved 71 and 59 million followers, respectively.
The absence of such influential figures might impact the tournament's marketing and viewership appeal amongst some audiences. Nevertheless, the presence of European standing and rising stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Kylian Mbappé, or Jude Bellingham are poised to draw massive viewership figures. One thing is clear: the venues for all matches will see sell-out crowds. Tickets for these matches are already in extremely high demand, as during the first round of ticket sales, UEFA received over 20 million applications for the 1.2 million tickets on offer.
What’s more, the tournament could mark Ronaldo's final appearance with Portugal, making his participation particularly significant. The Portuguese legend holds the distinction of having the largest social media following among football players in the world (more than 900 million followers on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, TikTok, Weibo combined), further underlining his unparalleled influence and reach within the game. Moreover, he continues to lead as the all-time top scorer for national teams with 123 goals, before Ali Daei and Lionel Messi.
The countdown begins for the EURO 2024 group stage with the draw that is scheduled for this Saturday, 2 December. Subsequently, the playoffs kick off on 21 March 2024, marking the final step before EURO 2024's commencement on 14 June 2024.