Euro 2024 Team of the Group Stage
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Euro 2024 Team of the Group Stage

27/06/24 20:47

With the Euro 2024 group stage sadly behind us, a number of brilliant players and surprise packages have put their name in the hat for the player of the tournament award. Contributing brilliant moments, outstanding performances, and solid campaigns throughout the tournament thus far, this is the Euro 2024 team of the group stage.

GK: Giorgi Mamardashvili - Georgia - Valencia - Age: 23

Georgia have been outstanding so far, and are arguably the best story of the tournament to date. For a team attending their first ever major tournament, they look so comfortable on the big stage, playing exciting counter attacking football with purpose and desire.

Mamardashvili may have less of a say on the tactical side of things, but my goodness can this lad make a save or two. Georgia conceded four goals in the group stage, but without the young Valencia keeper, that figure could well have been into double figures. In Georgia’s first game against Turkey in particular he caught the attention, making multiple very impressive saves. He even went up the other end to try and get his name on the scoresheet in the dying moments, but a turkey counter attack put paid to that.

With multiple premier league clubs interested in him prior to the start of the tournament, Mamardashvili’s first three games of the campaign have announced him to the wider world. Don’t be surprised to see him wearing the number one shirt for a club near you soon …

RB: Joshua Kimmich - Germany - Bayern Munich - Age: 29

We all know what to expect from Joshua Kimmich at this point. Diversity, control, intensity. A commanding presence at the back or in a deep midfield role, he rarely, if ever, puts a foot wrong, and more often than not clears up any mess he makes. He can also be a creative force if he finds himself up the pitch, and he showed this by grabbing an assist against scotland in Germany’s opening game.

He’s also created nine chances over the course of 3 games, the 4th highest total of any player at the tournament, and level with midfield artist and compatriot Toni Kroos. With one year left on his contract, and rumors flying everywhere on where he will go if he departs boyhood club Bayern Munich, Kimmich will bolster the ranks of whichever team is lucky enough to sign him.

CB: Riccardo Calafiori - Italy - Bologna - Age: 22

Already receiving comparisons to Italy legend Paolo Maldini, both for his haircut and his composed defending, Calafiori has excelled alongside Alessandro Bastoni in what is, at international level at least, a relatively inexperienced Italian backline. Calafiori helped Bologna reach Champions League football for the first time in over 50 years in what was a standout season, while arguably more significantly bringing back the iconic early 2000’s “center back with a hairband look” (the game hasn’t gone after all!).

A diverse defender who can shift to left back and even left wing back, he also chipped in with seven goal involvements for Bologna last season, showing that he can be potent if he finds himself in advanced positions. He bounced back from an unfortunate own goal against Spain with a driving run to assist Mattia Zacagni for a crucial 98th minute equalizer against Croatia to underline his talents, and with the rumor mill throwing different interested clubs up every day, it can’t be long until we see him playing alongside the elite at club level.

CB: Jaka Bijol - Slovenia - Udinese - Age: 25

Plying his trade for mid-table Udinese in Serie A, Bijol’s name is unlikely to have been familiar to many readers before the Euro’s got under way. But after 3 games, he has now introduced himself to European football as a top defender with no fear and ultimate commitment. Having made 28 clearances at the tournament already, the most of any defender, his no-nonsense style has caught the eye, and he is in part as to why so few goals were scored in group C: no one could get past him.

In a well-rounded Slovenia team which contains world-class goalkeeper Jan Oblak and Wonderkid striker Benjamin Sesko, Bijol provides that extra quality and stability in their stubborn defensive wall of four. If Slovenia are to progress past Portugal in their next game and beyond, Bijol will have to stay fit to do the dirty work at the back.

LB: Marc Cucurella - Spain - Chelsea - Age: 25

Gary Neville has recently gone viral on social media for statements made on Cucurella. His exact words: “I think he (Cucurella) is probably one of the reasons we think Spain can’t go all the way.” Typically, I think Gary Neville is generally well informed and accurate with his opinion and analysis, but he missed the mark with this one.

Cucurella has been an absolute monster on the left of the defense for Spain, winning every 50/50 thrown his way, and pocketing top players Lovro Majer of Croatia and Federico Chiesa of Italy in the process. He appears to have brought with him his late season form with Chelsea, where he suddenly became a key cog in Chelsea’s eventually successful chase for Europe. A divisive figure at times, it seems the Spaniard has unlocked a new level to his game, and at just the right time as well, as Spain are on the same side of the draw as Germany, Portugal, France and Belgium. Security out wide is crucial against teams with electric wingers, such Mbappe for France and Trossard and Doku for Belgium. With Cucurella finding his niche within the Spanish squad, it seems they have the left flank covered at least.

CDM: N’golo Kante - France - Al Ittihad - Age: 33

70% of the earth is covered by water, the rest is covered by… well, you know exactly who. Kante, who vanished in his last couple of seasons at Chelsea through injury and through a drop in form, has suddenly become reborn this Euros. Absolutely everywhere all the time, he has two man of the match awards in three games, both coming against the toughest opposition in group D, Austria and the Netherlands respectively.

It’s not necessarily a surprise that he’s doing this, as we all know what he is capable of. But it’s the sudden return to form with so little warning that has shocked Europe. Playing 43 games with Al-Ittihad this season, managing to navigate the campaign without serious injury for the first time in years seems to have allowed him to regain his rhythm and fitness, and seemingly given him a new lease of life.

If he continues performing to the high standards he set in the early stages, he could be in for a player of the tournament award if France go as far as pre-tournament odds are suggesting …

CM: Fabian Ruiz - PSG - Spain - Age: 28

Fabian Ruiz doesn’t get the praise he should. Typically employed as a central midfielder at club level with PSG, he has fewer opportunities to get forwards and show off his quite brilliant creativity. Spain manager Luis De La Fuente has pushed into a more attacking role behind Alvaro Morata up front, and here he has blossomed before our very eyes.

After a fabulous performance in their opening game against Croatia, in which Ruiz got a goal and an assist, he controlled the midfield beautifully against a suffocated Italian side, dictating play like prime Zidane. His play style is relaxed and easy on the eye, and it always feels like a privilege to watch him at work.

Keeping talented RB Leipzig attacking midfielder Dani Olmo on the bench is no mean feat, given Olmo has featured heavily in previous major tournaments, and if Ruiz keeps up this level of performance, a move away from PSG to a team where he is more of a focal point could arrive sooner rather than later.

CM: Christian Eriksen - Denmark - Manchester United - Age: 32

A beautiful story unfolded in Denmark’s first match when they faced Slovenia. In the 17th minute, Jonas Wind cleverly flicked a throw-in into the path of Eriksen, who neatly controlled the ball and dispatched it into the corner past a despairing Jan Oblak. Three years previously, almost to the exact day, Eriksen had collapsed on the pitch due to cardiac arrest during Denmark's opener with Finland, and there were concerns he would never play again. Three years later, he scored his country’s opening goal at the tournament. Talk about a full circle moment.

But he’s not in the team of the group stages for that moment alone. Eriksen has always been a cool customer, whether it’s pouncing on a loose ball in the box or making a 40 yard switch of play to change the angle of attack, and he is well known for doing these with style and panache. Now 32, he is no longer in his prime, and has adapted to play a slightly deeper role both for club Man UTD and his national team, but Eriksen has adopted this with grace, and is still instrumental to the way the Danes play. Keep an eye on him in Denmark’s round of 16 clash with hosts Germany. His match up with Toni Kroos could get tasty.

RW: Jamal Musiala - Germany - Bayern Munich - Age: 21

Germany, despite hosting this year's competition, were not given their due respect pre-tournament, and I saw very few predictions which anticipated them reaching the final. However, the group stages allowed Germany to stamp their authority, stamp it they did. Against Scotland, they looked imperious, and against Hungary similarly so. Against Switzerland they struggled slightly, perhaps a little complacent after confirming their progress to the next round, but a draw was still an acceptable result.

One reason for Germany’s early tournament dominance was Jamal Musiala. Playing left wing for Germany, his mazy dribbling, rapid acceleration and determination to beat his man make opposition defenders turn in their sleep, and at just 21 years old, he still has so much time to progress his game. Already with over 150 appearances for Bayern and 32 caps for Germany, this kid has the world at his feet. When you're in the conversation with Jude Bellingham and Vinicius Junior as future Ballon D’or winners, you have to be doing something right.

LW: Cody Gakpo - Netherlands - Liverpool - Age: 25

Despite the Netherlands underwhelming group stage, they have a few positives to take into their knockout fixture against surprise package Romania. They drew to favorites France (and would have been victorious if VAR hadn’t unnecessarily intervened), and can draw on the morale boost that Wout Weghorst’s late winner against Poland provided for them. But generally, they haven’t impressed, and have looked unfamiliar with each other, disorganized at times.

One bright spot has been Liverpool winger Cody Gakpo, whose form from the 2022 Qatar World Cup has continued here. Scoring against Poland and against Austria, he is joint second in the goal scorers list, while also looking like the Dutch teams best attacking outlet whenever they go forwards. That being said, he, along with Memphis at center forward, is having to do a lot of the work by himself, with the inexperienced Dutch midfield currently not providing the required support to back up the attackers when an opportunity arises.

There is still time to turn things around for the Dutch, and with Gakpo in his current vein of form with an open half of the draw, the Dutch could surprise everyone with a run to the semi’s or further.

ST: Georges Mikautadze - Georgia - Ajax - Age: 23

From a Georgian at one end of the pitch to one at the other, Mikautadze currently sits at the top of the goalscorers list (behind own goal of course). Two of those goals may have been penalties, but in all honesty, the standard of his play in the tournament so far deserves that kind of tally. Constantly making defense stretching runs, the 23-year-olds energy tires out center backs, earning him chances in the closing stages of the game when play becomes stretched.

Georgia plays Spain next, and I have a feeling that game could be the end of the road for the tournament debutants. But with the superb chemistry between Mikautadze and Napoli starboy Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, there will be moments where on the counter attack Georgia will be presented with chances to punish any Spanish sloppiness. If Mikautadze brings his shooting boots, a colossal shock could be on the cards.

Benji Kosartiyer
Journalist
Harry Pascoe

Football Writer

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