Lars’ Euro 24 Preview: Group B

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Our football expert Lars Sivertsen continues his preview of the Euros with group B, where we find Spain, Italy, Croatia and Albania. This will be a tough group to advance from, with Spain, Italy and Croatia all having to be at their best to avoid an early ticket back home.

Read Lars’ preview of Group A here.
Read Lars’ preview of Group C here.
Read Lars’ preview of Group D here.
Read Lars’ preview of Group E here.
Read Lars’ preview of Group F here.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 9.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 4.50
  • Odds to win the group: 1.65
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 6.00

During the decade that’s followed Spain’s golden era they have, at their worst, descended into a kind of parody of themselves. In both the 2018 and the 2022 WCs they exited the tournament after losing to unfancied opposition, and after games where the team played an endless, aimless string of sideways passes with no discernible purpose. All tiki, no taka. But sandwiched between those two failures was the 2020 tournament, in which they reached the semi-finals and were really rather unlucky to be eliminated by eventual champions Italy. And perhaps more relevantly for this upcoming tournament, Spain won the 2022-23 Nations League, beating Italy in the semi-final and Croatia in the final. Manager Luis de la Fuente has little experience at the elite level, but he has previously managed the Spanish under 19s, under 21s and under 23s – meaning that he had a strong pre-existing relationship with a number of the national team players when he took over.

In players like Gavi, Pedri and Lamine Yamal, Spain may well have the beginnings of a new golden generation. But injuries have been cruel to both the two midfielders, and Gavi will miss the Euros entirely. They have the best holding midfielder in the planet in Rodri, and a midfield three of him, Pedri and Real Sociedad’s Mikel Merino has a pleasing balance to it. As you would expect from a Spanish national team, they have a number of gifted attacking players. Athletic Bilbao’s Nico Williams a wide option that stands out, not just because of his quality but because of his somewhat more direct style of play.

The French born pair of Aymeric Laporte and Robin Le Normand complement each other well in central defence, but Laporte choosing to play his club football in an uncompetitive league may not be ideal. As always with Spain, Alvaro Morata will play up front and will divide opinion. It wouldn’t really be an international tournament without “the Morata debate”, now would it. Joselu, at 34, is a deceptively dangerous presence in the box – just ask Bayern Munich. Having these options to turn to, like a more direct runner in Williams and a strong penalty box presence in Joselu, gives us reason to think that this Spanish team can do more than simply play tidy triangle passes until everyone falls asleep. But then again we did have similar thoughts about them ahead of the 2022 WC, and look how that turned out.

So then, impossible to write off but hard to fully trust. And the difficult draw means Spain will face some stern tests early on. They are surely one of the most difficult teams to predict in this tournament. But with their array of technically gifted players, they are certainly a team with a very, very high ceiling.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 15.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 7.00
  • Odds to win the group: 3.25
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 6.00

There are a fair few question marks hanging over this Italy side heading into this summer, but as the reigning European champions they are still a national team that commands respect.

Qualifying was not entirely uncomplicated, with Luciano Spalletti taking charge two games in after Roberto Mancini left his post to go manage Saudi Arabia. Spalletti has long been a respected coach, and his status was further elevated by bringing the Scudetto to Napoli in 2023. An uncompromising and brusque character, Spalletti also has a reputation for meticulousness and for being a deep tactical thinker.

Under his leadership Italy managed to avoid the dreaded playoffs to reach the tournament proper, though there were hiccups along the way.

Defeat to England and dropped points against North-Macedonia and Ukraine meant they only finished ahead of Ukraine on goal difference.

Going into the tournament it’s a little bit difficult to predict how Italy are going to set up. Mancini had introduced a more up-tempo, high-pressing approach and set the team up in a 4-3-3-formation.

Spalletti initially opted for continuity, and the team completed their qualification campaign in a similar shape. But in the March friendlies, Spalletti introduced a 3-4-2-1-system, and there would be a logic to that. Inter, the dominant team in Serie A this season, plays in a similar setup, and going three at the back would give Spalletti the option of starting an all Inter back three of Alessandro Bastoni, Fracesco Ascerbi and Mateo Darmian in the exact same positions they’re used to playing for their club. Other significant players like wingback Federico Dimarco and midfielder Nicolo Barrella would also be playing in very familiar positions. Exploiting connections and synergies that players bring with them from their clubs is a strategy that’s often worked well in international football, as it can negate some of the challenges caused by the fact that the squads don’t actually spend a lot of time together.

That last point, the lack of time the squad has to train and gel, will of course be a new challenge for Spalletti. It’s unreasonable to expect him to make Italy as fluid and coordinated as his Napoli team were, though at least he has had some time at the helm to get used to the very different circumstances a coach has to deal with at international level.

Perhaps the biggest question mark with this team is right up front.

Ciro Immobile is now 34, has been struggling for Lazio in the second half of the season, and was left out of the squad altogether. The Argentina-born Mateo Retegui scored twice against Venezuela in March to stake a claim for the spot, but his 7 goals in Serie A for Genoa this season is not exactly a scoring record that will have opponents quaking in their boots. Gianluca Scamacca on the other hand has had a very strong second half of the season with Atalanta, and could be the man who gets the nod. Either way, Italy may have to find some goals from other parts of the team if they are to go far here.

It’s entirely possible that the clever Spalletti finds a way to turning this squad into more than the sum of their parts. But if he doesn’t, there doesn’t seem to be enough star power here to carry Italy through on sheer individual quality. Much will depend on whether last season’s Scudetto-winning manager can work some magic here again.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 40.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 18.00
  • Odds to win the group: 5.00
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 3.00

Croatia have been punching above their weight for so long, it’s easy to forget that they’re actually one of the great underdogs of world football.  They are, after all, a country of just four million people.

For a nation of that size to produce a team of this calibre is remarkable. They got to the final of the 2018 WC and finished third in the 2022 edition, and with players like Mateo Kovacic, Marcelo Brozovic and Luka Modric they still have one of the classiest midfields around. With the emergence of Josko Gvardiol, they also have a world class defender at the back.

Compared to the very best in the tournament, there are some concerns.

Brozovic deciding to step down from elite level football and ply his trade in Saudi Arabia is not ideal, while time surely must be starting to catch up with the majestic, now 38 year old, Luka Modric. Striker has always been something of a problem position for Croatia, at least since Mario Mandzukic retired. Andrej Kramaric has over 100 goals in the Bundesliga for Hoffenheim, but is more effective as a second striker or coming inside from wide areas. The somewhat mercurial Bruno Petkovic could be an option, as could Ante Budimir. Budimir has rarely convinced in a national team shirt, but is a clear focal point up front and has been prolific for Osasuna in La Liga this season.

With some of Croatia’s mainstays starting to age out – this must, surely, be Luka Modric’s last big tournament – so there is the sense that this could be Croatia’s last chance to go far in a tournament for a while. Surely, a country of their size cannot be expected to keep producing generations like this one? The draw has been unkind to them. Facing both Spain and Italy in the group stage is less than ideal, to put it mildly, though a clear win against Albania would put them in a good spot to qualify in third place as well. That, of course, would mean running into a group winner in the last 16. It’s a tough route either way, but Croatia do have an enticing blend of talent and experience. With Germany being home to a sizeable Croatian diaspora, they can expect plenty of support from the stands. And if the last two WCs have taught us anything, it is that only a fool would write off the chances of this Croatian team.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 500.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 150.00
  • Odds to win the group: 20.00
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 1.20

The God of football giveth, and the Gods of football taketh away.

Albania were handed a fairly comfortable qualification group to make it to Euro 2024, but for the tournament itself they’ve been plonked straight into something of a group of death. The hash draw is a shame, because Albania’s performances in the qualifiers showed real promise.

This is a different Albania team to the ultra-defensive outfit that qualified for Euro 2016 under Italian coach Gianni De Biasi. They’re now managed by Sylvinho, the former Arsenal and Barcelona fullback, and he has adopted a slightly more adventurous style. Though with 12 goals scored in eight qualifiers, they’re hardly a swashbuckling fun-machine either. The Brazilian manager has shown commitment to the cause by  basing himself in Albania full time, and even attained Albanian citizenship in December 2023.

The team lacks household names, but what they do have is a core group of players who play regularly at a good level in Italy’s Serie A.

These include right back Elseid Hyasj (Lazio), central defenders Berat Djimsiti (Atalanta) and Ardian Ismajli (Empoli), as well as midfielder Ylber Ramadani (Lecce) and playmaker Nedim Bajrami (Sassuolo). The 22 year old midfielder Kristjan Asllani has struggled to get regular minutes for Inter the last two seasons, but showed a lot of promise in his breakout season with Empoli before that and is a key player for the national team.

While Albania have plenty of rugged, experienced professionals at the back and a decent mix of craft and industry in the middle, options look less convincing up front. Armando Broja has yet to reach the levels he performed at before his ACL injury, and his lack of minutes for Fulham in the second half of the PL season will be a concern. The alternatives to Borja up front are uninspiring, and Albana also lack wingers of real pedigree. That being said, finishing ahead of the Czech Republic and Poland in their qualifying group is nothing to sniff at, with Albania taking four points off the Czechs and beating Poland 2-0 at home. If they had been blessed with a friendlier draw I would look to Albania as a team that could spring a surprise or two this summer, but it’s very hard to back them against opponents of this calibre.

The odds might have changed since the writing and publication of this post.

Last updated: 05.06.24