Source: Imago Images
Source: Imago Images

EURO 2024, Round of 16: does the group stage matter?

EURO OlyBet 27.06.2024

We are now 13 days and 36 games into EURO 2024… but have we learned anything at all? History suggests that being perfect in the first few games might not be a sign of triumph lurking around the corner.

Was grass greener in the past? Ever since the European Championship was expanded to include 24 teams, the group stage often feels a bit… dry. Sure, more teams are in the mix until the end and the sense of excitement remains (if getting excited about Slovakia is your thing), but the heavyweights often end up going through even while struggling.

In the three tournaments since the expansion, 2024 Croatia is by far the most decorated team to head home early, and they were seconds from doing just about enough not once, but twice (vs Albania and then again vs Italy). Everyone else has survived again and again. Which begs the question: does the group stage even matter?

Last time out, Italy was perfect in the group stage (three wins, three clean sheets, seven goals scored) and went on to win the tournament. In 2016, Portugal scraped through the group phase without a win as the third-best third-placed team, yet achieved the same result. They won just one of their seven games in 90 minutes (the semi-final vs Wales). The corresponding teams in 2024 could be Spain (perfect) and the Netherlands (lacklustre, yet to win)… and the latter seems to have an easier route to the semi-finals.

Going even further back, the World Cup had a 24-team period for four tournaments between 1982 and 1994; six teams (Brazil in ’82, ’86, and ’90, England in ’82, Denmark in ’86, and Italy in ’90) had a perfect record in the group stage, and just one of them reached the semi-finals (Italy in ’90). Brazil, meanwhile, won the only tournament in which they were not perfect in ’94.

We could say that the group stage has been devalued, but we will never see the number of participating teams lowered; more participants means more involved people means more money. Expanding to 32 teams is a likelier direction for UEFA, which would mean including more than half of its 55 members. But for now, let’s just enjoy reaching the games where every mistake could be crucial.

England (vs Slovakia), Spain (vs Georgia), and Portugal (vs Slovenia) will be considered heavy favourites going into R16; Romania could prove to be a handful for the Netherlands, who have not impressed, while Austria surprisingly won their group and will meet a wounded Turkey. But which three games stand out in the Round of 16 and why?

All times listed below are in Eastern European Summer Time (GMT+3).

Switzerland – Italy

Saturday, June 29th 19:00

The Swiss have been regulars at the knockout stages for a while now, reaching this stage at each of the last six major tournaments, but they have won just one of their Round of 16 clashes (vs France at EURO 2020 via penalties. They have been blowing hot and cold this year, a (fair) draw against eliminated Scotland was followed by troubling the Germans in another stalemate.

Italy have not conceded more than once at a major tournament for 18 straight games, meaning Switzerland will have to take the most of their chances. The reigning champions were shaken in the group stages as they were twenty-something seconds from elimination, but this could give them a necessary nudge to come alive.

Player to watch: Was he praised enough in 2021? Gianluigi Donnarumma kept Italy in it vs Spain and produced a number of great saves vs Croatia, again showing a nose for penalties (he has saved 15 and conceded 41 over his career). Without the likes of Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci present, a lot will come down to the still-25-year-old to save Italy when it matters.

Germany – Denmark

Saturday, June 29th 22:00

Many were quick to praise Germany when they dispatched the Scots, but games against Hungary and Switzerland were not as impressive. They are unbeaten in their last seven games and have not conceded more than once over that series – if they can manage another strong showing defensively, it could be enough in what is a re-match of the EURO 1992 final (which Denmark won 2-0).

The Danes have not impressed yet as three draws were enough to take them through in second place. They have won only three of their last 15 matches at major tournaments, but a resilient showing vs England shows potential. They reached the semi-finals last time; are they past their best or is there more to come?

Player to watch: Julian Nagelsmann trusts Kai Havertz to lead the line, but their impact sub Niclas Füllkrug is as deadly as any other striker. The 31-year-old Borussia Dortmund man has scored 13 times in 19 games for Germany, with four of them coming in major tournaments; on average, he scores one every 35 minutes, mostly as a substitute.

France – Belgium

Monday, July 1st 19:00

The big one that was definitely not supposed to happen as interestingly neither won their group. France is yet to score from open play themselves (their two goals came via an own goal and a penalty). They might have been the side to beat on paper, but 270 minutes have proved otherwise. Maybe finishing their preparations by meeting Luxembourg and Canada was not challenging enough to hit top gear instantly, and they could now step it up when it matters.

Belgium have not convinced either. They were supposed to dominate their group, but it got surprisingly tight and the team was booed off by the fans after a goalless draw vs Ukraine – a back-and-forth game that sealed their progression in the end. xG-wise, they were the better side in all three group games, but turning it into goals has proved to be a problem.

Player to watch: A masked Kylian Mbappe returned vs Poland, but another star name was absent from the starting XI, with Didier Deschamps dropping 33-year-old Antoine Griezmann. Possibly the most creative player in the current France squad, his time as one of the stars might be coming to an end. Or will he use it as motivation?


This piece of content has been lovingly crafted by the hard-working sports people of OlyBet. Hope you like it!