EURO2024 Group B Preview: What can fans expect?

There’s always one. Every tournament – European Championships or otherwise – there’s that one group which brings a shudder to the spine. A group which can only have been visited by the grim reaper himself with a view to strike fear in viewers and participants alike. A group… of death.

Or, alternatively, a group with loads of really good teams in it. And that’s Group B! 

With reigning champions Italy, three-time winners Spain, World Cup podium regulars Croatia and tournament favourites Albania – okay, just Albania – this is a group which is pretty hard to predict; it’s also a group which promises to be lots of fun. So, let’s dissect it. 


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Italy feels a fitting place to start because they’re such a peculiar case in modern international football. 

Everyone knows the Azzurri’s pedigree on the international stage. They’ve won four World Cups and two European Championships, including the most recent edition in 2021. 

But it’s worth remembering that Italy were far from favourites to take home the trophy three years ago because they hadn’t been at the pinnacle of the game for so long. Their last trophy before that came in 2006, when Marco Materazzi felt the blunt-force-trauma of Zinedine Zidane’s head, and they then failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup after dismal showings in 2010 and 2014. 

Not to worry, though. After winning EURO2020, they would surely return to the limelight, right? Well, no, because they went on to fail to qualify for the 2022 World Cup too.

So now, we’re left wondering which Italy we’re going to see – will it be the side which defeated Belgium, Spain and England on their way to winning EURO2020, or the one which lost to North Macedonia two years ago? 

They’re currently managed by Luciano Spalletti after Roberto Mancini departed for the absurd paycheque… I mean exciting footballing project of Saudi Arabia. That’s a big deal, because this is the man who won Napoli their first Scudetto since they held host to a certain Diego Maradona. 

They’re playing well, too. They’ve only lost three times since the start of 2023 – twice against England and once against group rivals Spain – and they’re playing some good football. 

There has been much concern about the lack of young talent rising through the Italian pyramid, but youth is what defines their squad. It’s a very different crop of players to the one which won EURO2020: the infamous defensive partnership of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini is no more, with both now retired. There’s also no Immobile, no Locatelli, no Insigne, no Berardi and no Emerson. It really is a new Italy squad – and it’s an exciting one.

Younger players like Alessandro Bastoni, Davide Frattesi and Giacomo Raspadori will be on the receiving end of the passing of the guard. The squad is also full of more established Serie A names who didn’t get a look in a few years ago: the likes of Federico Dimarco, Gianluca Mancini and Riccardo Orsolini will finally get their chance to really shine. 

That said, the reality is they’re a bit of an unknown quantity. They look good and there’s a lot to be positive about – even if this is a very different team with a new coach in the perennially unforgiving position of reigning champions. But, as tough a group as it is, Italy are definitely good enough to have their say. 


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For a country with a population of just under 4 million that only gained its independence 23 years ago, Croatia are pretty excellent at football. 

Three World Cup podium finishes, including both of the last two editions, is an unbelievable achievement. For context, it’s two more top-three finishes than England, who have been playing the game for considerably longer. But the EUROs have been more challenging, even if they do have a history of punching above their weight. 

Having never finished above the quarterfinals stage, a deep run will be the aim this year, and with it likely being captain Luka Modrić’s last chance at a trophy with his country, there’s an added onus to overachieve once more. 

Unlike Italy, though, there aren’t too many changes to their squads that we’ve become accustomed to, even if it’s an ageing crop. There’s no Ivan Rakitić, who was perhaps their star man besides Modrić in 2018 – but there’s still Dominik Livaković, there’s still Marcelo Brozović, there’s still Mateo Kovačić, there’s still Ivan Perišić and there’s still Andrej Kramarić. This is a very good squad and, on paper, it might even be stronger than Italy’s. 

What’s promising for the Vatreni is that there are younger players coming through who are ready to take the mantel from the older guys. No, they’re not just going to find another Luka Modrić, but Joško Gvardiol was arguably the best young player at the last World Cup and has gone from strength to strength since joining Manchester City; Josip Stanišić starred for Bayer Leverkusen’s Invincibles and Borna Sosa is showing promise for Ajax. That’s a lot of talent for a country which, again, has less than four million inhabitants. 

The question is whether they can bring their World Cup form to the EUROs for the first time and, furthermore, whether they’re good enough to finish above Italy and Spain – or at least do well enough to be one of the best third-placed sides. 

But they probably are good enough. They were eliminated by Spain in 2021, though that was perhaps the best game of the tournament and could’ve gone either way. La Roja may have a deeper squad (as we’ll get to shortly) and Italy also have some standouts but, crucially, neither of those sides have Luka Modrić and well… Croatia do.

They can’t expect a 38-year-old to carry them on his back, but his supporting cast is excellent, and they’ve only lost twice in the last 12 months. They’re every bit as good as Spain and Italy and there’s no reason to write them off. 


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Oh, Albania. Poor Albania. Every group of death needs a whipping boy and, sadly, it’s looking like them. But wait! What if I were to tell you they’re not actually that bad? In fact, they’re actually quite good. 

Albania have, prior to EURO024, only qualified for one major tournament. That was eight years ago, and they weren’t great – finishing third in Group A and failing to qualify for the knockout stages.

Fast forward to recent history. In 2022, they managed to win only one game: their very last of the year, beating Armenia 2-0. Then-manager Edoardo Reja understandably left after this and was replaced by the unlikely crack team of Sylvinho and Pablo Zabaleta who, against all the odds, have turned Albania into a very competent side.

In 2022 they won only once; in 2023 they lost only once. That’s quite the turnaround. It was considered such an achievement, in fact, that Sylvinho was granted the Golden Decoration of the Eagle – a medal usually reserved for either war heroes or those who demonstrate ‘civic courage’ – and has since been given Albanian citizenship. Not too shabby. 

They did lose their first two games of 2024, though, but optimism remains in Albania that they might put the cat amongst the pigeons at the very least. 

Defensively resolute, the squad does contain one or two familiar names, from Chelsea’s Armando Broja to Brentford’s Tomas Strakosha and Atalanta’s Europa League winner, Berat Djimsiti. But besides that, there aren’t a whole lot of household names and they’re certainly a team who have to be more than a sum of their parts. 

As the second-lowest ranked side in the tournament, the task of finishing above any of Italy, Croatia or Spain is a nigh-on impossible one. But they can be a frustrating team to play against and if they remain as defensively stubborn as they have been, they could cause one or two upsets.


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It doesn’t feel like it, but it’s been twelve years since Spain last won anything. Back then, they’d completed the previously impossible feat of taking home three consecutive trophies, winning EURO2008, the 2010 FIFA World Cup and EURO2012. That squad has become one of footballing legend; the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Torres and Villa are names which will be passed down through generations much like Ronaldinho, Kaka and Ronaldo were passed down to mine. 

But beside that five-year period, Spain have always been underachievers; a huge footballing nation which never really reached the heights expected of them on the international stage. 

Unfortunately for them, la Roja seem to be back in that rut. Their last three World Cups have been disasters, failing to escape the round-of 16-in any of them, and their last two European Championships weren’t much better – only in 2021 did they manage to surpass the first knockout stage, falling to eventual champions Italy in the semifinals. 

Now, it feels like they’re due a trophy. Traditional rivals Italy and Portugal are the last two European champions, and the rest of the nations which make up international royalty have all won something since Spain last did; France and Germany have won the World Cup, Brazil the Copa America, and Argentina have scooped them both. Maybe 2024 will mark Spain’s turn to get back to winning ways. 

It has been a tumultuous period for Spain bosses, though. Julen Lopetegui left just before the 2018 World Cup, Luis Enrique’s two stints sandwiched a nine-game run for Robert Moreno and, since he left for PSG, it’s been Luis de la Fuente at the helm. An unpopular decision at the time, things have turned really quite positive since then. 

La Roja have only succumbed to one defeat in 90 minutes in the last twelve months, losing 1-0 to Colombia earlier this year. In that period, they’ve played group rivals Italy and Croatia, beating the former and losing on penalties to the latter. They’re still as set as ever on playing possession-based football and, as always, they have a squad which has essentially been engineered to play just that.

It’s an exciting mix of youth and experience. Of course, they boast Rodri, who is arguably the best midfielder on the planet. They also boast big names like Pedri, Aymeric Laporte, tournament classic Alvaro Morata and Barcelona’s schoolchild/winger extraordinaire Lamine Yamal. 

There are some more unfamiliar names, too; Álex Baena has been tremendous for Villarreal this year and the same can be said of Fermín López, who has been a revelation for Barcelona this season. Athletic Club’s Dani Vivian also makes the cut.  

Then, there are the oldies. Jesús Navas is the only remaining member of the squad that won EURO2012 and he was even there in 2010 too. Former Leicester City and Newcastle United winger Ayoze Pérez is there as well, as are Real Madrid’s Champions League royals Nacho Fernández and Dani Carvajal. Oh, and so is Joselu, who has been nothing short of excellent for club and country in the last 18 months. 

Put simply, it’s a really exciting mix of players. There’s a bit of everything and you get what you see on the tin with Spain. Of course, it’s a tough group, but la Roja are probably the favourites to top it. 

This group is a head-scratcher. It’s full of European royalty and those three sides are joined by an Albania team who very nearly went a year without a defeat. 

Spain probably have the strongest team on paper, but then it’s down to Italy and Croatia for second. If recent tournaments have told us anything, though, it’s that Spain and Italy have the capacity to disappoint – and who’s to say that Albania can’t cause a shock? If there’s a space to watch at this tournament, it’s this one. 

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