Home News Euro 2024 Group C: England starting from scratch in Southgate’s last dance

Euro 2024 Group C: England starting from scratch in Southgate’s last dance

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England manager Gareth Southgate came closest to Sir Alf Ramsey in guiding the Three Lions to a major trophy, as his side reached the final of the Euros three years ago.

At the time of writing, Southgate has chosen a young provisional squad before the tournament, with James Trafford, Jarrad Branthwaite, Jarell Quansah, Curtis Jones and Adam Wharton getting their maiden England call-ups.

It’s a move he is desperate to get right, given that Euro 2024 might be his last dance as manager.

The Three Lions, drawn with Denmark, Slovenia, and Serbia in Group C, will look to Jude Bellingham — the La Liga Player of the Year — as a perennial source of attack behind Kane, along with Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka.

Having made his Euro debut at 17 years and 349 days in Euro 2020, Bellingham (26 goals, 15 assists for club and national team in the 2023-24 season) is now one of the best players in Europe.

England has opted for a set-piece approach against counter-attacking sides (Brazil, Belgium) and chosen grounded passes against physically imposing sides (Italy, North Macedonia).

With Southgate experimenting with 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3, the latter would come in handy against Serbia and Slovenia, whose defenders have an average height of over 180 cm.

The former, on the other hand, can offer a panacea against Denmark, which will have Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg working as a pivot to set the course of counterattacks behind Christian Eriksen and Rasmus Hojlund.

England’s biggest problem in defence has been leaking goals while playing a high line — something that has kept it winless since last November — with a loss to Brazil and a draw each with Belgium and Macedonia.

Gareth Southgate will be desperate to get his squad selection right, given that Euro 2024 might be his last dance as manager.

Gareth Southgate will be desperate to get his squad selection right, given that Euro 2024 might be his last dance as manager.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

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Gareth Southgate will be desperate to get his squad selection right, given that Euro 2024 might be his last dance as manager.
| Photo Credit:
Reuters

Chasing the Danish dream

Denmark, the 1992 European champion, had its continental dreams broken by Kane in the last edition of the tournament, losing 1-2 in extra time in the semifinals — its best-ever finish since the title.

It will look to avenge that early on, coming into the tournament after topping its qualification group with 19 goals, with Hojlund leading the scoring charts (seven strikes), including a hat-trick in his first start.

In 2021, Mikkel Damsgaard had turned heads, scoring with an outrageous free-kick in the semifinal. This season, that responsibility would lay on the shoulders of Hojlund, who started the tournament after winning the FA Cup in his maiden season at Old Trafford.

Hojlund’s Carrington days with Eriksen and the chemistry of Brentford teammates Mathias Jensen and Damsgaard — two avenues for forward progression of the ball along the flanks — would be Denmark’s point of action.

But its biggest woes lie in defence. It was the second team across all groups in the European qualifiers (after Turkey in Group C) to top its own group and still concede more goals than the second-placed side (Slovenia) — something it will look to improve in this tournament.

Andreas Christensen, who missed the March friendlies after recuperating from an Achilles tendon irritation, will be Denmark’s best bet at the back.

Christensen, who has been a reliable defender with FC Barcelona along with his exploits in the air, will look to continue a similar momentum with the National team.

Christensen, who has been a reliable defender with FC Barcelona along with his exploits in the air, will look to continue a similar momentum with the National team.
| Photo Credit:
REUTERS

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Christensen, who has been a reliable defender with FC Barcelona along with his exploits in the air, will look to continue a similar momentum with the National team.
| Photo Credit:
REUTERS

Captain Simon Kjaer, also a defender, is 35 now and injury-prone, while Kasper Schmeichel — whose father won the championship in 1992 — will look to fill in his boots in national team colours.

Both Simon and Kasper are likely to play their last European Championship this year.

Hopes from Eastern Europe

Serbia, which features Sergej Milinkovic-Savic along with Dusan Vlahovic and Aleksandar Mitrovic (who have scored a combined 58 club goals this season), can be a dark horse as it participates in the tournament for the first time as an independent country.

While Mitrovic, over the years in England with Fulham, specialises in striking through set-pieces and drawing opponents towards him to release the other striker, Vlahovic relishes scoring with long-range shots, making their combination a lethal one.

With a defence containing players with a minimum height of 184 cm (six feet), using long balls in attack will be like running into the Berlin Wall of Serbia and getting killed in the process.

Slovenia, on the other hand, will have a pillar between the sticks in Jan Oblak, the most successful active goalkeeper in La Liga, with five Zamora (best goalkeeper) trophies as Atletico Madrid’s goalie.

Matjaz Kek, who took the side to the 2010 World Cup, emulated former manager Srecko Katanec’s feat by taking it to the Euros. He has found a new goalscorer in Benjamin Sesko, who at 21, has already become the seventh-highest goalscorer for his country.

Benjamin Sesko celebrates scoring a goal for RB Leipzig during the Bundesliga match between against Borussia Dortmund in Leipzig, Germany.

Benjamin Sesko celebrates scoring a goal for RB Leipzig during the Bundesliga match between against Borussia Dortmund in Leipzig, Germany.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

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Benjamin Sesko celebrates scoring a goal for RB Leipzig during the Bundesliga match between against Borussia Dortmund in Leipzig, Germany.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

With five goals in Euro qualifying, he was second only to Hojlund and was one of the scorers against Kazakhstan when his side qualified for the tournament after 24 years.

Though veteran Josip Ilicic has returned to the squad after two years, it might be a stretch to expect too much from the 36-year-old who is well past his prime.

Knockouts prediction:

England and Denmark, on paper, look like clear favourites to qualify for the round of 16, but the remaining two will carry the responsibility to keep the potpourri interesting in the group stage. With four of the best third-placed teams set to qualify for knockouts, both will look to advance beyond the group stages for the first time.

Jude Bellingham

Jude Bellingham.

Jude Bellingham.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

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Jude Bellingham.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

In his first season with Madrid, Bellingham has scored 23 goals — his stoppage-time winner in El Clasico proved him to be clutch too. Additionally, his stint at Borussia Dortmund could aid England further in Germany.

Rasmus Hojlund

Rasmus Hojlund.

Rasmus Hojlund.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

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Rasmus Hojlund.
| Photo Credit:
Getty Images

Hojlund, known for his quick-firing ability — he became the fastest Premier League goalscorer for Manchester United away (37 seconds) — scored 16 times in all competitions for his club, while using his blistering pace often against the run of play.

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