France and England on Course for Euro 2024
Both teams deliver standout displays in opening matches
Two games into qualifying and both France and England appear to be shoo-ins to reach next year’s European Championship. For Norway and Erling Haaland, however, it’s already looking like a bumpy road to Euro 2024 in Germany. Scotland, Serbia, Switzerland, and Portugal also impressed as group leaders with two wins and no goals conceded.
France and England Record Strong Victories
France and its new captain, Kylian Mbappé, swept aside the Netherlands 4-0 in Paris on Friday. England got off to a fast start by beating Italy 2-1 in a rematch of the Euro 2020 final, which the Italians won in London. Both teams added second victories three days later.
Norway’s Struggle to Qualify
Norway, considered one of Europe’s up-and-coming teams because of the presence of Haaland and Martin Odegaard, is still looking for a first win in qualifying. Without their star forward, nursing a groin injury sustained playing for his club, Norway lost in Spain 3-0 and then drew 1-1 at Georgia. Based on its Nations League standings, Norway is likely to enter the playoff route next March when the last three Euro 2024 places will be decided.
Unexpected Goal Scorers
Few would have predicted that Rasmus Højlund and Scott McTominay would be at the top of the scoring chart alongside Cristiano Ronaldo. Højlund scored a hat trick in a 3-1 win over Finland and then gave Denmark a two-goal lead in Kazakhstan in a 3-2 loss. McTominay suddenly became a predator in the penalty area with four goals within 60 minutes of play, twice late in a 3-0 win over Cyprus and two more to stun Spain. Ronaldo ended the international break with two more goals in each of Portugal’s routs of Luxembourg and Liechtenstein, bringing his men’s record total to 122.
Familiar Strikers Return to Form
Belgium and Serbia both failed to advance out of the World Cup group stage, when more goals from Romelu Lukaku and Dušan Vlahović might have made the difference. Three months later, each scored three times in qualifying and Lukaku got a hat trick in Belgium’s impressive 3-0 win at Sweden. Vlahović’s goal sealed a 2-0 home win over Lithuania, then the Juventus forward struck twice late in a 2-0 win at Montenegro that lifted Serbia to the top of Group G.
A Newcomer to Watch
A newcomer to watch is Zeki Amdouni, who scored in each of Switzerland’s wins over Belarus and Israel. The Basel forward has family ties to Turkey and Tunisia but turned down their advances to represent the country where he grew up.
Captain’s Armband Back in Action
The captain’s armband that caused a soccer diplomacy incident with World Cup host Qatar in November was back in Euro 2024 qualifying. Kane and the Netherlands captain Virgil van Dijk both wore the anti-discrimination symbol — a heart with multi-colored, rainbow-like stripes — in recent days. Although FIFA caved to Qatar’s wishes and pressured European federations to drop the armband at the World Cup, it is welcomed by UEFA in its competition. Gio Wijnaldum previously wore it as the Dutch team’s captain at a Euro 2020 game in Hungary.