Lars’ Euro 24 Preview: Group C

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Our football expert Lars Sivertsen continues his preview of the Euros with group C, a group featuring England, Denmark, Serbia and Slovenia. Read on for Lars’ thoughts on this group.

Read Lars’ preview of Group A here.
Read Lars’ preview of Group B 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: 4.25
  • Odds to reach the final: 2.35
  • Odds to win the group: 1.28
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 10.00

It’s easy to forget the state that England were in before Gareth Southgate took over as manager. Their performances at the Euros back in 2016 were farcical: In the group stages they were held by Russia and Slovakia, and needed an injury time winner to get past Wales – and in the Round of 16 they were knocked out by Iceland. And the script was familiar to anyone who had seen England stink up the place at WC 2010 and WC 2014: The team breezed through qualification, but then a squad filled with players who played key roles for successful teams in the English PL suddenly seemed incapable of playing football to any kind of standard once the summer tournament came round. Was it mental, was it tactical, was it the weather, or was it just England? Debates would rage, though typically much of the blame would inevitably be heaped on the manager. And true, playing Wayne Rooney in midfield at Euro 2016 was not Roy Hodgson’s finest hour, but you also felt that the England manager’s main function was to be a scapegoat – to be ritually pummelled and ridiculed by the fans and the media alike when England inevitably failed to live up to expectations. The England managers’ sizable wages were not so much renumeration for coaching a football team, but a kind of emotional and reputational hazard pay. “I need a pain sponge”, the shifty Swedish billionaire Lukas Mattson tells the hapless Tom Wambsgans in the last season of Succession. For Matsson, see the English people. For Wambsgans, see whoever happens to be in charge of the England team.

This is still the case, though Southgate has managed to ease the national sponge requirement. Under Southgate, England have at least come close to matching the eternally high expectations of their fans and media. The mild-mannered waistcoat enthusiast led England to a semi-final in WC 2018, which after a handful of dismal tournament appearances felt like a major triumph. Crucially, Southgate appeared to have created an atmosphere and a culture around the squad where the players didn’t feel weighed down by pressure and expectation. WC 2018 was the first tournament in a very long time where the England players performed more or less to the same level we were used to seeing from their club teams. In short, they looked like themselves. This remained the case in the next European tournament, were they reached the final and lost to Italy on penalties. And it mostly held true in the 2022 WC, where they were dumped out by France in a narrow defeat the quarter-finals. How would Southgate and England be viewed if Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka hadn’t missed their penalties in 2020? Or indeed if Harry Kane hadn’t missed his 84th minute penalty against France in 2022?

So, under Southgate England have gotten far, but not quite over the line. Which is a vast improvement from the nonsensical performances England had been producing in summer tournaments before Southgate took over. But it’s a long time since 2016. People forget, and familiarity breeds contempt. Rather than being the man who cured England of its weird tournament blockages and made the team respectable again, Southgate is increasingly being recast as a conservative manager whose lack of in-game tactical nous has kept a golden generation from fulfilling their destiny. And you can make that case. It’s entirely possible to pick holes in Southgate’s in-game management of the semi-final against Croatia in 2018, the final against Italy in 2020 and the quarter-final against France in 2022 – though of course we do so with the benefit of hindsight. Perhaps this English generation, with all its gifted attackers, should have produced more thrilling attacking football than they have done so far under Southgate. From the outside it can seem like all England generations are golden in the eyes of the English, but it’s hard to deny that this is a crop of players who are doing pretty special things at club level. And so the situation is clear: Anything other than a tournament win will be seen as a failure. Southgate will either go down as the man who helped England kick their tournament hoodoo and then went on to lead them to glory, or he will be the bumbling fool who wasted the greatest golden generation England has seen since, well, the last one. There seems to be no middle ground here.

So, which one will it be? Well, the squad certainly has a lot of excellent players. Jude Bellingham is, at just 20 years of age, the dominant player in a La Liga-winning Real Madrid team. Harry Kane has scored 36 goals in 32 games in the Bundesliga for Bayern Munich, even though the team has fallen below their usual standards this season.

Bukayo Saka has been the creative fulcrum and Declan Rice the midfield general of an Arsenal team that took one less point than The Invincibles. Phil Foden is the PL player of the season after notching up a remarkable 19 goals and 8 assists for serial league winners Manchester City. Cole Palmer’s remarkable season for Chelsea has made him an interesting wildcard option. From midfield and onwards, there is so much to like here.

But there are also issues. Southgate seems fully devoted to his captain Harry Maguire, who has been back in the Manchester United team this season but hardly inspires confidence. Injuries and squad rotation has seen John Stones play a reduced role for Manchester City.

Luke Shaw has had injury issues, and there are few credible options at left back. In fact, out of Southgate’s preferred back four, Kyle Walker is the only player to go into this tournament in full fitness and with a convincing club season behind him. In goal Jordan Pickford can be a mixed bag. And then there is the midfield. Rice is clearly one of the best players in the world in his position, as is Jude Bellingham, but who will be the third player in midfield?

Southgate favourites Kalvin Philips and Jordan Henderson are out of contention. The energetic Conor Gallagher is an option, as is the hugely promising but very inexperienced Kobbie Mainoo. There will be a temptation to try Trent Alexander-Arnold in midfield again, though he has very little experience in the role. One possibility could be to drop Bellingham deeper and start James Maddison as a number 10, but Maddison’s indifferent from in the second half of the season with Tottenham makes this option less appealing. The likely outcome is that Southgate will tailor his midfield to different opponents and different situations, but on paper none of these options are fully convincing.

England are favourites to win the tournament with Betsson, and they certainly have the talent to go all the way. But the team also has some glaring weaknesses, particularly at the back, and Southgate’s in-game management in pivotal games has been questioned. The manager has done a lot to exorcise the demons of failures past, but it’s still hard to shake the feeling that in the end England will find a way to not win this tournament. It is, after all, what usually happens.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 45.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 18.00
  • Odds to win the group: 5.00
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 2.75

For the last few tournaments, the line on Denmark was always the same:

If only this team had a proper striker. Now they have one in the shape of Rasmus Højlund, who scored seven goals in eight qualifiers for Denmark on their way to this tournament. But Højlund has arrived just as key players of the squad have started to decline. Kasper Schmeichel is 37, Simon Kjær is 35 and Christian Eriksen is 32. The playmaker has had a very difficult time for Manchester United and has clearly struggled with the tempo of PL games, though the hope will be that he can still shine in the more considered tempo of international football in the European summer.

Manager Kasper Hjulmand has a strong record overall with Denmark, but the team was a massive disappointment at the 2022 WC. They won their qualifying group, but given that they were up against Slovenia, Finland, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland and San Marino, you’d expect nothing less. The qualifying campaign saw Hjulmand frequently change his formations and line-ups, and while tactical flexibility can be a plus it’s also hard not to wonder if the number of changes can be detrimental to the players. It is, after all, notoriously hard to build squad cohesion and chemistry at international level since the players have very limited time together.

The upside is, of course, that there are still plenty of good players here. A back three of Joachim Andersen, Simon Kjær and Andreas Christensen should provide a good mix of brawn and ball-playing ability. The manager has a number of accomplished central midfielders to choose from in Pierre-Emile Højbjerg, Mathias Jensen, Morten Hjulmand and Christian Norgaard, as well as the more experienced Thomas Delaney and, of course, Eriksen. This is still a very solid group of players, though if Eriksen is unable to raise his game then you do wonder a little bit where the spark and creativity is coming from. His heir apparent from Euro 2020, Mikkel Damsgaard, has seen his career stagnate somewhat.

With their disastrous World Cup performance fresh in the memory and their qualifying group too soft to provide any real answers, it may be wise to temper our expectations when it comes to Denmark. There is enough quality that they should be beating Slovenia and at least provide a stern test for England, which would leave an intriguing last group game against Serbia. Expect a large and vocal Danish contingent in the stands, as Germany isn’t much of a trek for the away fans.

Clearly not a bad team and should make it out of the group, but it’s difficult somehow to get too excited about their prospects beyond that.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 65.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 25.00
  • Odds to win the group: 10.00
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 2.25

A fearsome attack, an unreliable defence, and a strangely underwhelming qualifying campaign – Serbia come into this tournament as a bit of a mystery box. They qualified for the 2022 WC by going undefeated through qualifying and topping their group, ahead of Portugal, but they then proceeded to go out in the group stage. The disappointing showing in Qatar will have been a reality check for Serbian fans, but looking at the squad this should still be at team that’s capable of big performances. There is a reason they took four points off Portugal on their way to the WC.

Up front Aleksandar Mitrovic is one of the great goal scorers of international football, with 57 goals in 89 caps for Serbia. He is ably supported by the slick playmaker Dusan Tadic and the excellent Sergej Milinkovic-Savic. And if that trio fails to click, coach Dragan Stojkovic can turn to the Juventus striker Dusan Vlahovic. The team favours a three at the back system, with wingbacks Filip Kostic and Andrija Zivkovic looking to rain crosses in towards Mitrovic. This is clearly a dangerous attack that will give most opponents pause. That being said, Tadic has turned 35 and Milinkovic-Savic and Mitrovic have both opted for semi-retirement in Saudi-Arabia. At the back they have some rugged defenders, but they’re not the quickest and lack some confidence and finesse when playing out from the back. Qualification for this tournament started solidly enough with 2-0 wins against Lithuania and Montenegro, but after that the trouble began. They drew both home and away against an unimpressive Bulgaria team and lost both games against Hungary.

Are their attacking stars quite as good as they were a few years ago?

Will their defence hold up better than it did in Qatar, where they conceded eight goals in three games? Just two clean sheets from eight games in a fairly soft qualification group would suggest maybe not.

The team will back themselves to get out of the group, but it’s difficult to envisage them going much further than that.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 500.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 150.00
  • Odds to win the group: 15.00
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 1.40

Since they became independent in the early 90s Slovenia have managed to qualify for two WC, and now two Euros. For a country with a population of just 2.1 million, that’s not bad going.

The team that qualified for Euro 2000 and WC 2002 is considered something of a golden generation. This group included the playmaker Zlatko Zahovic, who was in turns both temperamentally magnificent and magnificently temperamental. In the 2002 tournament, Zahovic was sent home after the first game, in spite of being arguably the best player the country had ever produced, because the national team manager felt his attitude was “damaging for the atmosphere surrounding the team”.

We’re unlikely to see the kind of fireworks Zahovic could produce, both on and off the pitch, with this group.

Managed by Matjaz Zek in his second stint as national team boss – in his first he led them to the 2010 WC in South Africa – the team manage to scrape their way out of a qualifying group that also contained Denmark, Finland, Kazakhstan, Northern Ireland and San Marino. Throughout qualifying Zek set them up in a classic 4-4-2 formation, and it’s fairly obvious that the team’s major strengths lie in both ends of the pitch. Jan Oblak didn’t have his best season for Atletico Madrid, but he is still an outstanding goalkeeper who is capable of some heroic shot-stopping. Up front Slovenia have a real gem in Benjamin Sesko. The 20 year old striker has been part of the Red Bull system since 2019, and has long been touted as a potential future star. The second half of this season was something of a breakout moment for him, as he finished the season for RB Leipzig by scoring in seven straight Bundesliga appearances. The four goals he scored earlier this year means he comes into this tournament having scored 11 goals in his last 16 Bundesliga appearances. With his mix of size, mobility and powerful shooting, Sesko can trouble any defense – provided his teammates can get the ball to him. This part could be more difficult, as Slovenia’s midfield looks short on pedigree.

Slovenia are rank outsiders in this group, and it will take some real heroics from their two stars in either and of the pitch if they are to avoid finishing bottom of the group.

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

Last updated: 05.06.24