It seems like the world of international football only just got finished with a major tournament. That was of course the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar which saw Lionel Messi climb his final peak and secure his legacy as the greatest footballer that is ever lived. But as is the case with life itself, the world moves on.
With that being said, the continent of Europe began gearing up for its continental spectacular that is the European Championships. The tournament will be held next summer in Germany, however, the qualification campaign got underway at the end of March. And there are already a few talking points.
Qualifying Talking Points
Spain held Europe hostage shortly over a decade ago. Las Rojas secured their first major international trophy for 44 years back in 2008 when they defeated the Germans in Vienna courtesy of a solitary Fernando Torres goal. Four years later, they kept their crown in Ukraine and Poland with a resounding 4-0 victory over Italy, however, their qualifiers for next summer’s tournament could not have gotten off to a worse start.
They managed to pick up a less than convincing victory against an Erling Haaland-less Norway in their opening game, with debutant Joselu netting twice late on to spare his side’s blushes. But then, disaster struck. They were dominated by Scotland in their second game at Hampden Park, eventually succumbing to a 2-0 defeat courtesy of a double from Manchester United midfielder Scott McTominay. Websites such as Bovada, which provides sports betting tips and tricks, had made the visitors the strong favourites for that clash, however, they were taken apart by their much less glamorous opposition.
Elsewhere England managed to defeat Italy in a repeat of the Euro 2020 final, a final which the Azzurri won in a daunted penalty shootout. Gianluigi Donnarumma was the hero of the hour on that summer’s evening in London, but he could do nothing to prevent Declan Rice and Harry Kane from giving the Three Lions their first win on Italian soil since 1961. Can Gareth Southgate’s men finally secure that elusive major trophy next year?
As we have mentioned, England reached the final at the last Euros two years ago. They reached the semifinals of the FIFA World Cup in Russia two years before that however, in Qatar, they went backwards and were once again eliminated at the dreaded quarterfinal stage. They are rightly among the favourites for the trophy in Germany, but which underdogs could spring the shock?
Underdog successes are not uncommon at the European Championships. Greece shocked the world when they lifted the trophy in 2004 courtesy of several heroic defensive performances. 12 years prior to that it was a Peter Schmichel-inspired Denmark who managed to lift the trophy despite not even originally qualifying for the tournament in Sweden, and we feel their Scandinavian neighbours could well be a good outside bet for next summer’s tournament.
Norway haven’t even qualified for a major tournament since Euro 2000 however, their talent is stacked with an abundance of young talent that could all come to the fore at the perfect time, just as we have seen with Belgium in recent years. While the ‘Golden Generation’ of the Red Devils have not lived up to the billing, Norwegians will be hoping that their current crop manages to shine. With superstar striker Erling Haaland leading the line, anything is possible.
Manchester City hotshot has netted forty-four times in thirty-seven games this season, his first campaign in England. Prior to that, he was banging in goals left right and center for Borussia Dortmund and Red Bull Salzburg, and now he needs to ensure he continues in the same vein for the national team. With Arsenal captain Martin Ødegaard supplying the service, more goals are to be expected.
The World Cup is considered a much more difficult competition to qualify for than the European Championships. That does not apply to Serbia though. The Serbians have qualified for four of the last five FIFA World Cups however, they have not managed to qualify for the European Championships since the dissolution of Yugoslavia.
Their qualifying campaign for next summer’s tournament could not have gotten off to a better start though. Back-to-back 2-0 victories over Montenegro and Lithuania have given them a perfect start. Juventus striker Dušan Vlahović netted three of his country’s four goals throughout those two victories, and the 23-year-old striker is the one charged with leading his country towards a maiden international trophy.
He has support in the form of Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinković-Savić, who has been one of the most consistent performers throughout all of Europe in recent years. As well as him, he also has assistance from Fulham striker and Serbian icon Aleksandar Mitrović. The former Newcastle man has been his country’s shining light for a number of years, and the emergence of young Vlahović can only be beneficial to his country’s cause.