Lars’ Euro 24 Preview: Group E

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Lars’ big Euro preview continues with group E, where Belgium are huge favourites ahead of Ukraine and Romania, with Slovakia favourites to go out. 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 C here.
Read Lars’ preview of Group D here.
Read Lars’ preview of Group F here.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 20.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 9.00
  • Odds to win the group: 1.40
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 11.00

The 2022 WC was billed as the last chance for Belgium’s golden generation, but as the tournament proved, the actual last chance was probably Euro 2020. Now only a couple of players remain from that much-vaunted group, and while we are starting to see a handful of terrific young players starting to come through for Belgium, the expectations this summer will be dialled way down.

One of the big name Belgians that remain with the team is the biggest name of them all, Kevin De Bruyne. Injuries restricted him to just 15 starts for Manchester City this season, but when he plays he is still just about the best playmaker in world football. In the PL there have been little signs that time is starting to catch up with him, but in the less hectic and more languid football of a summer tournament he should still thrive. Up front Romelu Lukaku is coming off a reasonable season as the focal point up front for Roma, while at the back the now 37-year-old Jan Vertonghen is still doing his part. At the other end of the age curve, Belgium have the excellent young defensive midfielder Amadou Onana, the exciting Manchester City-winger Jeremy Doku and PSV’s Johan Bakayoko – who is likely to get a big move this summer after a productive season in the Dutch league. Charles De Ketelaere has gotten his career back on track with Atalanta this season, tough he’s never really established himself as a part of the national team. Add Arsenal’s Leandro Trossard and the lively Sevilla winger Dodi Lukebakio to the mix, and it’s clear that Belgium have some pretty enticing options going forward. Should Lukaku struggle, the RB Leipzig forward Lois Openda has 24 goals to his name in the Bundesliga this season and will be pushing for a chance in the team.

The concerns for Belgium, as ever, are down the other end of the pitch. The injury to Thibaut Courtois is a blow, as the Real Madrid man is arguably the best goalkeeper in the world when fit. And Belgium could use a good goalkeeper, because a potential backline of Timothy Castagne, Wout Faes, Jan Vertonghen and Arthur Theate doesn’t really inspire confidence, at least not compared to the big tournament favourites. If Belgium win their group, they will face a team that’s finished 3rd in their group in the next round, so most likely a team they will expect to beat. In the next round, there is a high likelihood of them bumping into France (provided the French avoid any early hiccups). Kylian Mbappe running at a 37-year-old Jan Vertonghen would not be a good situation for Belgium, and it’s hard to see the Belgians winning such an encounter.

But of course, these things rarely pan out quite the way you expect them to before the tournament. The point is rather that while Belgium do have the quality to get out of this group, and to get out of it rather comfortably, this is not a squad you would necessarily back against the very strongest opponents in the tournament. A quarter-final exit seems a likely outcome.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 100.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 25.00
  • Odds to win the group: 6.00
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 2.50

Football is clearly an irrelevance when set against the backdrop of the horrors the Ukrainian population are having to endure. Yet as Oleksandr Usyk recently demonstrated, sport can be both a welcome distraction and a source of pride for the besieged Ukrainians. The players speak of receiving supportive messages from soldiers on the front line, and the extent to which that spurs them on. No team at the tournament will be arriving with a greater sense of mission.

And what an interesting team it is. Andriy Lunin started the season as third choice at Real Madrid but ended up deputizing ably for the injured Courtois and the unimpressive Kepa Arrizabalaga. Here he faces competition from Anatoliy Trubin, who is coming off a fine campaign with Benfica. In defense, 21-year-old Illia Zabarnyi will already be on many big clubs’ radars after a fine first season in the PL with Bournemouth, and the hard-working Everton man Vitaliy Mykolenko is a perfectly capable left back. The Shakhtar Donetsk duo Mykola Matviyenko and Yukhym Konoplya are expected to make up the rest of the back four, and the experienced Shakhtar man Taras Stepanenko should anchor the midfield. And midfield is where it really gets interesting. The Arsenal man Oleksandr Zinchenko is a leading figure for his country, and while he does well in his hybrid left-back position for Arsenal he tends to look even more at home in a leading midfield role for his country. Next to him we expect to see 21-year-old Heorhiy Sudakov, another Shakhtar player, a clever midfielder who has been tipped as a potential breakout star his summer. The Girona duo of Artem Dovbyk and Viktor Tshyankov are expected to play up front and wide right, respectively, and both are coming off outstanding domestic seasons where they helped Girona to an unlikely third place finish in La Liga. At left wing we will see Mykhailo Mudryk, who has looked weighed down by expectation at Chelsea but is undeniably a talent. In qualifying, Ukraine were drawn in a group with England and Italy yet still nearly finished second. Having been bested by Italy on goal difference, they qualified for the tournament through the Nations League playoffs where they beat Bosnia and Iceland. On paper, this has all the makings of a team that could spring a surprise or two this summer.

There are weaknesses of course. It’s hard to truly judge the levels of the players who play in the domestic league (though Shakhtar did beat Barcelona in the group stages of this seasons’ Champions League). Midfield anchor Stepanenko is 34 and has had his fair share of injuries, and they lack convincing replacements. Dovbyk has scored a remarkable number of goals for Girona in La Liga this season, but he hasn’t always been as prolific for the national team – and if he fails to fire the options up front look a little underwhelming. Mudryk was an immensely frustrating player to watch in the PL this season, and Ukraine will hope that the winger can make better decisions and provide more end product here.

Still, this team has got a lot going for them. The manager, Serhiy Rebrov, has some pedigree as well, having won the Ukrainian Premier League with Dynamo Kyiv and taken Ferencvaros to three Hungarian league titles. If Ukraine finish second in this group, they will face the team that finished second in Group E, so likely Austria or the Netherlands. Not an insurmountable task for this group, if things break their way. That would set them up for a quarter-final that could feature Portugal, a formidable team but one that’s not without flaws. Ukraine could be an interesting dark horse to do well this summer.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 200.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 50.00
  • Odds to win the group: 7.50
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 2.20

Football fans may still associate Romania with their swashbuckling golden generation of the 1990s, but this team is a very different beast. They qualified top of their group, though that was much more to do with their stellar defensive record. Romania conceded just five goals over 10 qualifiers, but they also scored just 16. Their group, containing Switzerland, Israel, Belarus, Kosovo and Andorra, was also not exactly the toughest qualifying group ever assembled.

Still, they got there, and they got there under the stewardship of Edward Iordanescu, who is actually the son of Anghel Iordanescu – who was the manager who took Romania to the 1994 and 1998 WCs. Perhaps acknowledging that his crop of players is far more limited than the one his father had at his disposal, the younger Iordanescu sets the team up in a fairly conservative and unambitious manner. The team’s main strength is said to be their togetherness and resilience, and certainly their defensive performances during the qualifiers would suggest a certain ruggedness to the team. And to give them their due, they did finish ahead of Switzerland – who most observes would consider to be a far more capable team.

Romania have a number of players who were thought to be good prospects when they were younger, but whose careers have never fully reached the heights that were anticipated. This is particularly true of the team’s biggest star, 31 year old attacking midfielder Nicolae Stanciu. He was once seen a potential star, but ended up spending much of his career in Belgian and Czech football, with lucrative detours to Saudi Arabia and China. Another player of whom much was expected is Ianis Hagi, son of the legendary Gheorghe Hagi, but at 25 the younger Hagi finds himself mostly on the bench for Alaves – and frequently on the bench for the national team as well. Defensive lynchpin Radu Dragusin moved to Tottenham in January, where he has also spent most of his time on the bench.

Finishing ahead of Switzerland in qualifying is at least something, and their defensive record in that group commands some degree of respect. But it’s very hard to get too excited about this Romanian team, and an early exit this summer seems the most likely outcome.


  • Odds to win the tournament: 500.00
  • Odds to reach the final: 150.00
  • Odds to win the group: 14.00
  • Odds to get knocked out in the group stage: 1.80

Slovakia are one of the lower ranked teams in the tournament, but they are not entirely without strengths. They have a solid defensive pairing in Milan Skriniar and Denis Vavro, with Martin Dubrovka, a capable goalkeeper, behind them. They also have a reasonable midfield, with Stanislav Lobotka playing well for Napoli this season, Ondrej Duda bringing plenty of experience from both the Bundesliga and Serie A, and the 37 year old Juraj Kucka is another player who has a long career in Serie A behind him. Up front options seem more limited, with few players of notable pedigree.

They’re managed by the Italian Franco Calzone, with legendary former midfielder Marek Hamsik acting has his assistant manager. Earlier in his career Calzone was part of Maurizio Sarri’s coaching staff at Empoli and Napoli, and in the second half of this season he has divided his time between being the Slovakia boss and serving as interim manager at Napoli – a curious arrangement to say the last. The team qualified by finishing second in a group that consisted for them, Portugal, Luxembourg, Iceland, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Luxembourg. Slovakia are likely to finish bottom of the group, but they do have some wily, experienced players, primarily with a background from Italy’s Serie A. If they catch either Serbia or Denmark on a bad day they might cause some trouble, but Betsson have priced them as clear favourites to finish bottom of the group and that seems fair enough.

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

Last updated: 05.06.24