Michael McWilliams: Tried and trusted French can emerge as Euro stars in Germany

Continental glory may have eluded France manager Didier Deschamps so far in his illustrious reign, but with a squad full of winners and a proven tournament pedigree, Les Bleus are the best bet for glory at Euro 2024

France manager Didier Deschamps and his band of proven winners – with Kylian Mbappe and Antoine Griezmann the key men – can add more silverware to their collection at Euro 2024 in Germany

AS we stand on the cusp of what, for a sports fanatic like myself, is a hugely exciting month of top-quality international soccer with the cream of this continent poised to do battle in Euro 2024, it is hard to believe the competition will be visiting these shores four years from now.

What is even harder to fathom is that a large portion of the population here don’t want these games travelling north for political reasons in 2028, and it now seems they are likely to get their wish.

As someone who lapped up the Open Championship at Royal Portrush in 2019, and will do so again next summer, the more top-class action we can attract, the better for everyone.

That is a debate for another day, however, and for now the focus is on Germany, where the third successive 24-team European Championships get going on Friday night when the host nation take on Scotland in Munich.

The expansion from 16 teams was a controversial move going into Euro 2016, but it has worked out fairly well and there are certainly fewer one-sided group games than in the World Cup, with that problem only going to get bigger two years from now.

Italy head into this renewal as defending champions, but it is the nation they vanquished on penalties in the final at the delayed Euro 2020 – England – who are favourites before a ball is kicked.

I’m finding it hard to see how that tag is justified, although Gareth Southgate does have an array of attacking weapons to go into battle with. His side are a best-priced 7/2 (Betfred) to win their first major title since 1966 (I think) and they do have strengths that will be the envy of every other team in Germany.

England football star unveils Skims campaign ahead of Euros
Jude Bellingham will have to be at his very best if England are to triumph in Germany (John Walton/PA)

Jude Bellingham, Harry Kane and Phil Foden are all coming in after outstanding personal campaigns in Spain, Germany, and the Premier League respectively, while Bukayo Saka and Declan Rice are growing into high-class performers.

Southgate made some bold calls in his squad selection, opting for young, in-form players ahead of a number of stalwarts from previous campaigns, but doubts persist whether the manager can make the same kind of brave decisions when a game is going against his side.

His fans will point to a World Cup semi-final in 2018 and reaching the final at Euro 2020, but those tournaments really opened up for England, and the latter was essentially at home, while they found a way to lose the biggest games and have continued to do so since.

England’s defence is a weakness, especially if Luke Shaw fails to regain fitness, and they have stuttered in their warm-up games, although they should still win Group C ahead of Slovenia, a transitional Denmark side, and a Serbian outfit who stumbled through qualifying.

That may even prove a problem further down the line, with a group win setting Southgate’s men on a collision course with World Cup 2022 conquerors France in the last four.

There was little to choose between the sides then, but the French found a way to progress, as they tend to do under Didier Deschamps despite the personnel slowly changing.

If those teams do battle in the last four, I’d heavily fancy France, and indeed they should be clear favourites for the whole event.

Instead, we have them tucked in behind England at 4/1, and they are my idea of the best bet given their tournament pedigree and their lack of weaknesses, which exist in all of their rivals.

Deschamps has taken his team to three of the last four major tournament deciders, losing on home soil at Euro 2016, and on penalties to Argentina in Qatar 18 months ago.

They did pocket the World Cup in 2018, and the established front three of Antoine Griezmann, the unheralded Olivier Giroud, and the sensational Kylian Mbappe is still going strong.

Indeed, their only flop in recent tournaments came three years ago when Deschamps tried to reintegrate Karim Benzema, with a last-16 exit to Switzerland the outcome.

Les Bleus’ boss rarely makes such mistakes, and the team comes above all else. Outside of the front trio, he has quality and depth throughout, with goalkeeper Mike Maignan an upgrade on Hugo Lloris, William Saliba arguably the best defender in the Premier League over the past two seasons, and Eduardo Camavinga and Aurelien Tchouameni bolstered by another Real Madrid Champions League success.

There is experience and class everywhere you look, while Mbappe is the glittering jewel in the crown and, even at 4/1, I make the French the stand-out bet of Euro 2024.

With the top two in the betting expected to be in the same side of the draw if they win their groups – and France should also do so ahead of Netherlands, Austria and Switzerland – there would appear an easier path to the final in Berlin on July 14 from the other half.

The tournament would benefit from a deep run from Germany, although the home nation haven’t won the Euro since France in 1984, and that wait could go on.

Germany’s Jamal Musiala had a warning for Scotland ahead of their Euro 2024 opener .
Germany’s Jamal Musiala has real star quality and may just inspire the hosts to have a long run at Euro 2024 (Adam Davy/PA)

Julian Nagelsmann has turned things around since taking over from Hansi Flick late last year, with a friendly win over France in March a cause for optimism, but they lost six of 11 games in 2023 on the back of a group stage exit in Qatar.

There is a spine of real experience in the German ranks, while Florian Wirtz and Jamal Musiala bring youthful verve and craft, and there has to be a chance a swell of home support carries them to the latter stages should they start well in Group A alongside Hungary, Switzerland and the Scots, but at they are too short at 11/2.

Spain, 8/1 chances generally, are dangerous but have reverted back to their pre-2008 to 2012 tendency to look like world-beaters one day and no-hopers the next, as they did in Qatar after starting like a house on fire before exiting at the hands of Morocco in the last 16.

I struggle to see where their goals will come from, which is the major worry with Ronald Koeman’s Netherlands (18/1, Sky Bet), while being in the same group as France doesn’t help.

The Dutch have loads of quality defenders to play alongside Virgil van Dijk, and they do have a great record across the border in Germany, but this vintage doesn’t have the class of Cruyff in 1974 or the European champions of 1988, when Koeman played a massive role.

Goals won’t be a problem for Belgium (20/1, William Hill) with Romelu Lukaku, Kevin De Bruyne, Leandro Trossard and Jeremy Doku around, but they have a shocking defence which makes the decision to leave Thibault Courtois at home even harder to understand.

Defending champions Italy (18/1, William Hill) surely can’t retain their crown as they lack the class and momentum of three years ago, although they have a top-quality manager in Luciano Spalletti, who has succeeded Roberto Mancini after guiding Napoli to Serie A success.

Portugal colleagues Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo will no longer be clubmates at Manchester United.
Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo are the key men in a star-studded Portugal outfit

Star quality can take Portugal to final despite Roberto Martinez’s shortcomings

It could hardly be argued that Portugal have a boss of the highest calibre, with Roberto Martinez somehow managing to walk away from the rubble of Belgium’s group stage exit in Qatar and into an even better job in charge of one of the best squads you will ever see.

Cristiano Ronaldo still hogs the headlines, rightly or wrongly, and he still scores goals, with 10 coming in an admittedly easy qualifying campaign as Portugal won all 10 games.

Bruno Fernandes has been brilliant for his country of late as Martinez has found a way to harness him and Bernardo Silva in the same midfield, while Ruben Dias controls a miserly defence.

With Goncalo Inacio and Joao Neves two of the most-coveted young talents in world football, Diogo Dalot going to a new level, Diogo Jota and Rafael Leao always a goalscoring threat, and Pepe still bringing the nastiness, it is hard to pick holes in Portugal – apart from the manager.

This team might even be good enough to go deep despite him, and they will definitely have backers at 7/1, although I’d prefer to have them as the highest scoring side at the same price with Bet Victor given they are in possibly the softest group along with Turkey, Czech Republic and Georgia.

Portugal should ease through, and things open up nicely from there with a third-placed team and then a group runner-up awaiting, so a repeat of the 2016 decider against France is a very strong possibility, with Sky Bet going 14/1 about that happening.

The Portuguese ruined the party in Paris eight years ago, but revenge could be lying just around the corner for Deschamps and Les Bleus.


France, 4/1 (General);

Portugal, highest-scoring team, 7/1 (Bet Victor);

France-Portugal final, 14/1 (Sky Bet);

England to be eliminated in semi-finals, 9/2 (Sky Bet)