The world of international football has only just concluded its most recent major tournament. That, of course, came just before Christmas, as Lionel Messi climbed his final peak and secured his legacy as the greatest footballer that’s ever lived when he led Argentina to glory at the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. But the footballing world moves quickly, and attention has already turned to the next international tournaments on the calendar.
For those that are in Europe, the next tournament on the horizon is UEFA Euro 2024. The competition will take place in Germany next summer, with Berlin’s Olympiastadion hosting the showpiece finale on July 14th, 2024. France and England, two teams that faced off against each other in the quarter-finals of the recent World Cup, have been made the early 4/1 (+500) favorites for glory by online sports betting site Bovada, with Germany slightly behind them in the pecking order.
Qualification for the championships has already gotten underway, and there have already been a number of talking points. England managed to seal their first win on Italian soil in 62 years as they picked up a 2-1 victory in the opening round of fixtures. On matchday waist was England’s rivals Scotland who were making global headlines as they stunned three-time champions Spain at Hampden Park, picking up a 2-0 victory courtesy of a brace from Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay.
There are further qualifiers upcoming, and they will take place at the culmination of the ongoing European club season. With several plotlines already unfolding, let’s take a look at two nations that could be in the headlines throughout the course of the qualification campaign.
The Italians are already in the headlines, and they are there for all the wrong reasons. They are the reigning European Champions, a title they earned when they shockingly defeated England on penalties at Wembley two years ago. However, manager Roberto Mancini, the man who led them to that success in the summer of 2021, has been lamenting the quality of the Italian players coming through the ranks in the country.
As such, he has been forced to turn his attention to overseas players with dual nationality. One such player was Argentinian-born striker Mateo Retegui who scored the only goal of the game in his side’s defeat against England. But if the Azzurri aren’t careful, they could see their qualification campaign end in tatters, just as their last two World Cup qualifying efforts have ended.
The Italians are already in a difficult-looking group alongside England, Ukraine, and North Macedonia, the team that knocked Mancini’s men out of the World Cup at the playoff stage. The lowest-ranked team in the group is lowly Malta, and the Italians were unimpressive as they labored to a 2-0 victory in Ta’ Qali back in March. Both the Ukrainians and the North Macedonians made it further than Italy in their attempts to reach Qatar in 2022, and if Mancini and co. aren’t careful, another early exit could be on the cards.
No team in European football has a longer major international tournament drought than Norway. The last – and only – time the Lions qualified for a tournament was back in Euro 2000, some 23 years ago. For their last FIFA World Cup appearance, you will have to go back another two years, all the way back to France ‘98.
However, just like Spain, England, Belgium, and Croatia before them, the Norwegians have just unearthed a golden generation, and qualification for a major tournament for just the second time this millennium could be just around the corner. They are led by talismanic Manchester City hotshot Erling Haaland. The hopes of an entire nation rest on his broad shoulders, and if anyone is up to the task of firing his nation to the promised land, it’s their 22-year-old striking sensation.
Haaland has bagged a whopping 52 goals in just 50 games so far this season, and his form is just as impressive for his national team. The former Borussia Dortmund man has netted 23 goals in 21 games for his country and was the top scorer in the entirety of the recent UEFA Nations League campaign. And while he doesn’t have the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva assisting him on international duty, he does have Arsenal captain and playmaker supreme Martin Ødegaard, who has been one of the players of the season in the Premier League this term.
The one problem for Norway at present though is the fact that their qualification campaign got off to a disastrous start. Without Haaland out injured, the Lions slumped to a 3-0 defeat away in Spain on the opening day, before conceding a late equalizer away in Georgia on matchday two. To make matters worse, Scotland,
Norway’s competitors for the second automatic qualifying spot through to the Euros, have won both of their opening games.
That has heaped the pressure on Haaland and co, and they know that they must beat Scotland home and away, as well as potentially defeat Spain at home if they are to punch their tickets to Germany next summer.