The first round of qualification matches for the finals of Euro 2024 is behind us now. Teams such as England have played two of the eight games they face, whilst others have only played once. Even at this early stage we are so confident in England’s chances that we are prepared to say they have one foot firmly in Germany. However, how are other key nations getting on and, moreover, how does the whole qualification process work?
How Does Euro 2024 Qualifying Work?
The intricacies of the whole qualification process are not our primary focus here so we will keep this brief. The qualification competition will see 53 teams reduced to 23, with those successful 23 qualifiers joining hosts Germany at the 24-nation finals. The Group Stage will decide 20 of those places, with the top two nations in each of the 10 groups booking their spot in Germany. The final three places will be granted through the play-offs, with teams booking their spot in these on the basis of their performance in the 2022/23 Nations League.
The main Group Stage got underway during the international break at the end of March 2023. Teams play in a double round-robin format, meaning they play every side in their group twice (once at home, once away). With the top two from each group qualifying, things should, in theory at least, be easy for the “big” nations, but how are things shaping up thus far?
England Make Great Start
England are in Group C, one of seven groups with five teams (three have six) and they made a brilliant start by winning what looks like their hardest game against current European champions Italy. They followed the 2-1 win in Italy with a 2-0 win over Ukraine, probably the third-best team in the group. We don’t want to jinx things or appear over-confident, but England will surely finish in the top two from this promising position.
North Macedonia are no mugs – they beat Germany in qualifying for the last World Cup – but two wins against minnows Malta and a few more draws would probably be enough for England to at least make the top two. Realistically though the Three Lions will be wanting to top the group, and we think they will.
Scotland Stun Spain Amid Strong Start for Home Nations
It is not just England who have chalked up two wins from two games – against the odds, so too have Scotland. Steve Clarke’s men have given themselves a great chance of escaping Group A by beating Cyprus 3-0 and then, incredibly, Spain as well, by two goals to nil. Georgia and Norway are their likely rivals for second spot (or are Scots dreaming of topping the group?) but they already have a five-point advantage over both those teams.
Wales secured a fine draw in Croatia and then backed that up with a 1-0 home win over Latvia. Group D is not an easy one, with those sides, as well as Turkey and Armenia, all in the mix. However, life after Gareth Bale has started well and the Welsh will be optimistic about booking their place at a third successive Euros finals.
The two Irish sides have fared slightly less well, though the Republic may feel the more optimistic, despite not yet having a point to their name. They have a huge task, drawn with France and Netherlands in Group B but gave as good as they got in a narrow 1-0 loss to France. Given Kylian Mbappe and co walloped the Dutch 4-0, Ireland know they have a chance of escaping the group.
As for Northern Ireland, they began with a 2-0 win away at San Marino before a slightly disappointing 1-0 defeat on home soil against Finland. The Finns are a key rival in what may be one of the tightest groups in the qualification process. Already there are four teams level on three points, whilst leaders Slovenia, on six, are unlikely to end up on top.
Any Surprises So Far?
Well, we have already mentioned by far the biggest shock of the qualification period so far, Scotland’s deserved win over Spain. That gives the Scots a great chance of making it to the Euros again, after their appearance at Euro 2020.
Equally, we have already written about perhaps the other big shock. The World Cup runners-up winning at home may not seem like such a surprise but France’s 4-0 victory over the Netherlands certainly sent out a message to teams who fancy their chances in Germany. France will take some stopping, whilst the Dutch, who beat Gibraltar in their other game, have work to do.
Another result of note was Kazakhstan’s 3-2 success over Denmark. The Danes were tipped as dark horses by some for the last World Cup but they disappointed badly. They have lots of very decent players but could we see them fail to qualify? They are in the above-mentioned super-tight Group H with Northern Ireland. There are six teams in the pot and whilst San Marino have slightly less than no chance whatsoever, the battle between the other five could be fascinating.
Format Fuels Predictability But …
The fact that the top two from each group qualify means it is very unlikely that any of the continent’s powerhouses will miss out. However, in many groups the battle for the second qualifying position could go to the wire.
Several groups have at least two or three serious contenders and the battle to book a spot at Germany 2024 should be real cracker over the months ahead. The next phase of matches is in June, then there are more games in September, October and November. All of these breaks are double headers (for some teams at least) and so we should see plenty of excitement, twists and turns.