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Euro 2024 predictions: Champion, top scorer, biggest flop, and more

Julian Catalfo / theScore

Euro 2024 is finally here. Ahead of the tournament's opening match, a collection of theScore's soccer editors are breaking out the crystal balls and offering up some predictions on a variety of topics.

Most excited about ...

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Nesci: Passing of the baton. Some longtime icons, like Toni Kroos and Olivier Giroud, have already announced that Euro 2024 will be their last dance on the international stage - in Kroos' case, he's retiring altogether. Others, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modric, will more than likely bid farewell to their national teams very soon. They're leaving the game in great hands. Every major tournament showcases exciting young players ready to make the leap. But this one has at least a handful of ascendant phenoms who are on the path to legitimate superstardom. Watching them grow in real time will be a treat.

Lopopolo: Spain versus Italy. In what many could describe as the derby of Europe, Spain and Italy will meet for a fifth consecutive time at the Euros. Their most recent matchup came in the Euro 2020 semifinals, which Italy won on penalties. The Azzurri beat Spain in the Euro 2016 round of 16, getting revenge four years after La Roja thrashed them in the Euro 2012 final and eight years after the Spanish edged a goalless draw on penalties. With Rodri and Pedri pulling the strings in midfield, 16-year-old Lamine Yamal offering youthful exuberance, and the eternally offside Alvaro Morata somehow saving his best for major tournaments, Spain is a competitive team on paper. Italy's scoring struggles continue, but coach Luciano Spalletti seems to have solved its defensive issues. The Azzurri have conceded just once in their last five matches.

Rouse: The upsets. Shock results enrich every international tournament, and the earlier fixtures tease scenarios that could set many of these predictions ablaze. The home-crowd pressure could unsettle Germany in the Euro 2024 curtain-raiser with Scotland. Serbia can cause England problems on Group C's opening day. France and the Netherlands could come unstuck against Ralf Rangnick's Austria. Ukraine can beat Belgium during the final day of the group stage. And, of course, the knockout rounds promise huge upsets, with Switzerland overcoming France and Czechia outmuscling the Netherlands at the last European Championship in 2021.

Breakout star

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Nesci: Xavi Simons. A baller, plain and simple. The only reason the 21-year-old Dutchman isn't already a certified star is because he's spent the past two seasons on loan - at PSV Eindhoven and RB Leipzig, respectively - instead of shining for parent club PSG. That time is coming. After 23 goal contributions across all competitions for Leipzig, he arrives at the Euros on a high. Injuries to Frenkie de Jong and Teun Koopmeiners will hurt the Netherlands, but their absences leave a creativity void in the squad that Simons is more than capable of filling with his playmaking ability from various areas on the pitch.

Lopopolo: Joao Neves. Benfica are telling anyone interested in signing Neves to pay his €137-million release clause or buzz off. That's a testament to the teenager's incredible growth over the last year. A defensive midfielder by trade, Neves is comfortable driving forward with the ball and taking on more responsibility. He has the composure to navigate tight spaces and the ability to beat multiple opponents on the run. "He's 19 but plays like he's 30," Portuguese teammate Joao Felix said last year. Neves may start as the deepest midfielder but does way more than dictate the tempo from the comforts of his own third. Portugal coach Roberto Martinez has a plethora of options in midfield, but if Neves starts, expect him to take the game by storm.

Rouse: Gianluca Scamacca. It's a toss-up between three Ss for this selection - Scamacca, Benjamin Sesko, and Georgiy Sudakov - but the Italian striker gets the nod for his excellent response to getting dropped from the national team in March. Scamacca struck 10 times in 15 appearances for Atalanta, including silencing Anfield with a brace against Liverpool and notching goals in the Europa League and Coppa Italia semifinals. It didn't work out for Scamacca at West Ham United - he was probably too close in profile to Michail Antonio and couldn't curry favor with manager David Moyes - but, now 25, he's proven he can deliver in big games.

Biggest surprise

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Nesci: Goals, goals, goals. Major tournaments are often stingy, nervous affairs. Too many teams, worried about making a fatal mistake, are trying not to lose instead of aiming to win, particularly in the knockout rounds. But Euro 2024 could see a change in MO. France and England have firepower to spare. Portugal is overflowing with attacking flair. Germany will line up with two No. 10s. Even teams like Slovenia and Georgia boast star forwards. The record for total goals scored in a single European Championship is 142, set at the most recent tournament three years ago. That mark will be eclipsed here.

Lopopolo: Austria. Ralf Rangnick's side is one of the most structured teams at the Euros. Its high-energy press creates opportunities on the break, and it suits a number of the Austrians in the squad, including Marcel Sabitzer, Konrad Laimer, and Christoph Baumgartner, who played a similar style of transition football during their stay at RB Leipzig. It also has a capable scorer in Michael Gregoritsch, who has eight goals in his last 12 international appearances. Even without the injured David Alaba, Austria hasn't leaked a ton of goals at the back. Wins over Italy and Germany over the last two years should give them confidence they can beat France and the Netherlands in Group D.

Rouse: Serbia. Why can't Dragon Stojkovic's side open its campaign with an earth-shattering statement win over England? Unlike previous iterations of Serbia, this latest generation is built on a rip-roaring attack rather than a solid defense, with Aleksandar Mitrovic and Dusan Vlahovic leading a frontline in front of imaginative players such as veteran Dusan Tadic and 22-year-old Lazar Samardzic. Even if this team doesn't progress much further than the group stage, it can still win plenty of fans with its ambitious, unSerbian style of play.

Biggest flop

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Nesci: Italy. This is a strange one. The Azzurri arrive in Germany - the site of their 2006 World Cup triumph - in a state of flux and with relatively low expectations. The coach, core, and playing style are all new. And yet, we're still talking about the reigning European champion. Even if that triumph at Wembley Stadium feels like an eternity ago - and the intervening years included another missed World Cup - Italy's tournament will be juxtaposed with that victory. So, on the one hand, nobody expects this side to defend its crown. But, on the other, anything other than a repeat win will literally be a step backward. Good thing Italy got a favorable group to ease into the competition. Oh, wait.

Lopopolo: The Netherlands. Don't be fooled by their 4-0 wins over Scotland, Iceland, and Canada, or by their 6-0 shellacking of Gibraltar. The Dutch are flat-track bullies who tend to crumble against better opposition. At 39th in the world, Scotland is the highest-ranked team the Dutch have beaten in the last year and a half. They've lost to France, Germany, Italy, and Croatia in that time. They don't even have Frenkie de Jong, their most influential player, because of injury. They'll squeak into the round of 16 as one of the best third-place finishers, but that's about it.

Rouse: England. The Three Lions are undoubtedly among the top contenders to conquer the continent, but their backline is riddled with injury worries and rocked by general fitness concerns due to overloaded schedules. The other defenders who boast clean bills of health haven't proven they can cut it in big international tournaments. Gareth Southgate is also more of a spokesperson than a tactician and can't be trusted to get his lineup and in-game tweaks right. Expectations are sky-high, but the quarterfinals might be the best possible outcome for England.

Golden Boot winner

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Nesci: Cristiano Ronaldo. Is he still an all-conquering force on the pitch? No. Should he start for Portugal? Probably not. Were his 2023-24 numbers inflated by a substandard league? Absolutely. And yet, Roberto Martinez has reversed the course of his predecessor, Fernando Santos, and brought Ronaldo back to the forefront. He's going to play, and, against inferior opposition in Group F, you can absolutely envisage the 39-year-old converting a couple of penalties, plus a few tap-ins. From there, it's not a long road to the Golden Boot. Portugal, stacked with attacking talent, will create a bevy of chances for him.

Lopopolo: Harry Kane. The English striker scored 44 times in his first season with Bayern Munich, breaking a 60-year-old Bundesliga record for goals in a debut season. A back injury kept him out of Bayern's final two league matches, but England coach Gareth Southgate said he's now in the clear. He'll have an opportunity to pad his stats in Group B, with manageable games to come against Serbia, 57th-ranked Slovenia, and Denmark, which is far worse than the team England faced in the Euro 2020 semifinals.

Rouse: Kylian Mbappe. The 2022 World Cup Golden Boot winner is the best player at Euro 2024 and represents a country that should expect an appearance in the final as the absolute minimum. Mbappe won Ligue 1's top scorer award for the sixth time after scoring 27 goals in 29 appearances for Paris Saint-Germain during the 2023-24 campaign. Real Madrid's newest superstar already has 47 goals for France, which places the 25-year-old third in the men's all-time scoring list behind Olivier Giroud (57) and Thierry Henry (51).

Tournament final and champion


Nesci: France beats Portugal. At a time when every perennial European heavyweight is saddled with some kind of glaring question mark, France is the safest choice. Didier Deschamps' men might have to get through Italy and England just to reach the final, but that won't stop them. Les Bleus, seeking their first European crown since 2000, have the best player in the tournament, and he arrives with his mind at ease after finally completing the transfer of his dreams. Mbappe will also be on a mission after being held goalless at Euro 2020. Portugal won't be able to replicate the feat of 2016 this time around.

Lopopolo: England beats Spain. It's hard to bet against England. The Three Lions have the most talented collection of players at Euro 2024, with Jude Bellingham coming off an incredible season with Real Madrid, Phil Foden being named the Premier League's player of the year, Harry Kane smashing records in Germany with Bayern Munich, Declan Rice bossing midfield with his angular running technique, and no shortage of right-backs. What the English lack in defense, they more than make up for in every other area of the pitch. This is their time, and as Gareth Southgate said pre-tournament, he "probably won't be here anymore" if they don't win it all.

Rouse: France beats Germany. It seems too many people are writing off Germany and Italy when they arguably boast the best coaches at the tournament in Julian Nagelsmann and Luciano Spalletti. An easier group stage and clearer knockout route gives host Germany the best chance of reaching the final out of that pair, but the quality of France - and its hunger after falling short in the thrilling 2022 World Cup final - will be a step too far.

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