Special to Sports News Highlights

(SNH) — The UEFA European Championship 2024 is set to kick off this Friday in Germany, the first time the country has hosted the competition since reunification.

The 2006 FIFA World Cup also took place in Germany, but West Germany hosted the 1988 edition of the European soccer tournament.

Outside the favorites like France, Germany, England and Spain, here are three nations that could make a surprisingly deep run in the tournament:


Belgium has a great chance to progress out of Group E over Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine.

Midfield maestro Kevin De Bruyne, 32, has been a vital part of Manchester City’s four consecutive Premier League titles. In 18 matches for the English club this season, he notched four goals and 10 assists. After missing a lengthy stretch with a hamstring injury, it was the first time in four seasons that he failed to eclipse 18 combined goals and assists.

Arsenal’s Leandro Trossard also figures to be a key chance creator from the wing. In 34 games for the Premier League squad, he logged 12 goals and an assist.

Forward Romalu Lukaku, 31, also had a productive season for Roma in the Serie A while on loan from Chelsea. In 32 league appearances for the Italian club, he scored 13 goals and had three assists. Lukaku also scored seven goals and had one assist in 13 Europa League matches.

Although Anderlecht center back Jan Vertonghen, 37, is past the peak of his effectiveness, he will have a key role in mentoring a trio of young, promising center backs in Wout Faes, Arthur Theate and Zeno Debast.

Debast, 20, is part of a center back pairing with Vertonghen at the Belgian side Anderlecht, while Faes, 26, held a starting role at Leicester City and Theate, 24, started nearly 80% of games with Stade Rennais in the top French league.

The main downside for this experienced squad is that Real Madrid goalie Thibaut Courtious will miss the tournament after an injury-riddled season. Courtois, 32, missed 42 games after suffering a left knee ACL injury last August, then a torn meniscus in his right knee in March while training to return from the previous injury.

Koen Casteels, 31, figures to get the first shot in goal over Thomas Kaminski of Luton Town and Matz Sels with Nottingham Forest.

In 25 appearances for Wolfsburg this season, Casteels conceded 39 goals and kept four clean sheets.


The Swiss got a slightly tough draw in Group A alongside the host Germany, Scotland and Hungary. However, this versatile squad has played well in recent Euros, reaching the Round of 16 and the quarter-finals in the past two tournaments, respectively.

Goalkeeper Yan Sommer was a massive part of that success and continues to play a key role in net. In 34 starts for Inter during the Italian season, Sommer allowed 19 goals and kept clean sheets in nearly 56% of the games he started.

Veteran winger Xherdan Shaqiri also figures to remain potent from the wing. He logged a goal and an assist in four matches at Euro 2016 and had three goals and an assist in five appearances at Euro 2020.

Granit Xhaka, 31, will command the midfield and is coming off a record-setting season under Xabi Alonso at Bayer Leverkusen. Serving as a defensive midfielder for the German side, Xhaka contributed to a defensive effort that allowed just 24 goals in 34 matches – an average of 0.71 goals per match.

Although it may be unrealistic to claim the top of the group from the host Germany, Switzerland should surely advance to the knockout stage over Hungary and Scotland.


Under new manager Zlatko Dalic, the Croatian side are no guarantee to advance out of the group stage. They were drawn into Group B with the defending champions Italy, soccer powerhouse Spain and Albania – who return to the Euro competition for the second time in the nation’s history after failing to qualify for Euro 2020.

To advance to the knockout stage, Croatia will need to claim one of the top two spots in the group or finish third and be one of the four best third-place teams out of six groups.

Croatia have the talent and experience to accomplish this, as they have advanced to the knockout stage in each of the past two European competitions.

Veteran central midfielder Luka Modric is likely playing in his last Euro at the age of 38. The captain tallied a goal and an assist in five matches at Euro 2020 before the team lost in extra time to Spain in the Round of 16. He also tallied a goal in three matches at Euro 2016 before another extra time defeat to Portugal in the Round of 16.

Defender Josko Gvardiol, 22, is coming off a sensational season at Manchester City in which he tallied four goals and two assists in 28 games from the left back position. He will likely be used as a center back as he was for five of the six European Qualifier matches.

Hoffenheim’s Andrej Kramaric, Feyenoord’s Luka Ivanusec and Wolfsburg’s Lovro Majer will likely provide most of the attacking threat for the nation. Kramaric has scored 28 goals in 90 games for Croatia, while Ivanusec has scored twice in 20 matches and Majer has eight goals in 30 matches.

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