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UEFA Euro 2024 Group E preview: Last chance for Belgium’s De Bruyne and Lukaku?


Belgium come into UEFA Euro 2024 in devilishly good form, while Ukraine have shown they will not be beaten. Slovakia and Romania are also looking to spring a surprise in an open Group E…

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The Red Devils are at their seventh Euro finals and got to Germany on the back of an unbeaten qualifying campaign that saw six wins and two draws in which they scored 22 goals and conceded only four. Belgium have often been among the favourites going into recent major tournaments and are again up there in 2024.

Top star: Kevin De Bruyne

The 32-year-old can often be the decisive factor for Belgium, given his range of passing and shooting abilities – with both feet – that he has demonstrated for many years with his country and club Manchester City. De Bruyne spent his formative years in the Bundesliga with Werder Bremen and Wolfsburg, where we got glimpses of what was to come. On his day, the playmaker is almost unstoppable. However, injuries have really hampered his form this past season, featuring in only 18 out of 38 games in City’s English Premier League title success. He still chipped in with four goals and 10 assists, though, showing just how big an impact he can have when fit and playing.

Coach: Domenico Tedesco

Tedesco may only be 38 – the second-youngest coach at this year’s Euros after Julian Nagelsmann, his old classmate from the DFB coaching school – but he is already vastly experienced on the touchline. He saved Erzgebirge Aue from relegation in 2017, guided Schalke to a runners-up finish in the Bundesliga in 2017/18, has coached at Spartak Moscow and then led RB Leipzig to their first major trophy with the 2022 DFB Cup. Tedesco then took the Belgium job in March 2023 and is still yet to lose in 14 games, with a record of 10 wins and four draws.

One to watch: Loïs Openda

Belgium have two exciting young forwards in Jérémy Doku of Manchester City and PSV Eindhoven’s Johan Bakayoko, while Romelu Lukaku is the nation’s all-time top scorer with 85 goals in 115 games, but keep an eye on Leipzig’s Openda. The all-action 24-year-old only has 17 senior caps (two goals) but comes into the tournament in his adopted homeland as one of Europe’s form strikers. He scored 24 goals in his maiden Bundesliga campaign, with only Harry Kane, Serhou Guirassy, Kylian Mbappé and Erling Haaland bagging more league goals in 2023/24.

Watch: The best of Openda


Belgium have boasted some fine players in recent years. Think back to new Bayern Munich coach Vincent Kompany, Eden Hazard, Dries Mertens, Thomas Vermaelen and goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois – who isn’t in the squad after a falling out with Tedesco and only just returning from a cruciate ligament injury – but that ‘golden generation’ failed to win a trophy. De Bruyne and Lukaku are the last of that group and perhaps going into their last international tournament, so it’s likely now or never.


Can Belgium finally go all the way? On current form under Tedesco, yes. The team has a good balance of youth and an experienced core. It would be a huge upset if they failed to get beyond the group stage. The big test then will be keeping De Bruyne fit for the tougher knockout games to come.


Romania were one of the surprise packages of European qualifying, finishing ahead of Switzerland in Group I thanks to an unbeaten campaign. It’s the country’s sixth appearance at the Euros, although their best finish was the quarter-finals in 2000, coming six years after they got to the same stage at the FIFA World Cup.

Top star and one to watch: Radu Drăgușin

The 6’3’’ central defender joined the Juventus academy as a teenager among interest from a number of top European clubs but only made one senior league outing as a 90th-minute substitute for current Bayern man Matthijs de Ligt in December 2020. Loan spells in Italy at Sampdoria, Salernitana and Genoa ended with a permanent move to the latter in 2023 before Tottenham Hotspur signed the now 22-year-old six months later. Tough in the tackle and strong in the air, he’s had to find his feet in England but there are high hopes for Romania’s 2023 Footballer of the Year.

Coach: Edward Iordănescu

Iordănescu’s father Anghel was a Steaua Bucharest legend as a player and then led the club to the 1989 European Cup final before taking the national team to the World Cup quarters in 1994. Iordănescu Jr’s playing career was far less illustrious, but the 45-year-old has been Romania boss since 2022, having led Cluj to the league title in 2020/21.


“Our full squad will only develop in a few years' time,” said midfielder Ianis Hagi, son of Romanian legend Gheorghe, of the current team. His father played in the quarter-finals of the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000, and Hagi Jr. reached the semi-finals of the 2019 European U21 Championship with some of his teammates today. Things look to be coming together in Romania without the great pressure of expectation.


Iordănescu’s team were consistent in qualifying and will hope to take that form onto the stage of an international tournament. Results against Ukraine and Slovakia are definite possibilities, so second place will be a target. But you can’t see them progressing too far in the knockout stages.


Defence was key for Slovakia in qualifying, conceding only eight times in 10 games as they finished second in Group J on 22 points behind Portugal (10 wins from 10).

Top star: Milan Škriniar

Much of that is down to Škriniar, who made his name at Inter Milan and now plays for Paris Saint-Germain. The central defender is a pillar of whichever team he plays in, both in tackling and how he builds up from the back. The captain and four-time Slovakian Footballer of the Year is part of the core for the Sokoli with goalkeeper Martin Dúbravka (Newcastle United) and Napoli midfielder Stanislav Lobotka.

Coach: Francesco Calzona

Up until a few years ago, Italian Calzona was mostly a number two, working as an assistant coach under Maurizio Sarri for the best part of two decades and then under Luciano Spalletti at Napoli. He was given his first professional head coach job in August 2022 when appointed Slovakia boss on the recommendation of legend Marek Hamšík. Calzona had an interesting 2024, though, when asked in February to oversee the rest of Napoli’s season as their third coach of 2023/24. He did so while remaining in charge of Slovakia, becoming the first person in Serie A history to work as both a coach in the league and manager of a national team (excluding Italy) at the same time.

One to watch: Leo Sauer

An 18-year-old left winger, Sauer has only two senior international caps but has caught the eye of many around Europe. After a loan spell at Feyenoord, the Bratislava native made a permanent move to the Dutch club this season just gone. He played for the club’s U19s, U21s and first team in 2023/24, scoring two goals and providing four assists in 13 Eredivisie games as Arne Slot’s side finished runners-up but won the KNVB Cup. Sauer also got a brief taste of UEFA Champions League action.


People in Slovakia believe their team can make some waves this summer. They’ve only conceded 16 goals in as many games under Calzona, keeping six clean sheets. Also boasting an experienced core that includes current and ex-Bundesliga players in Ondrej Duda, Peter Pekarík, László Bénes and Matúš Bero, they will believe they can at least get into the knockout rounds.

Watch: The best of László Bénes


Belgium are clear favourites to top Group E, but second place – third could also be enough – is very much up for grabs. Slovakia will be very tough to beat and have a good chance of coming out ahead of Romania and Ukraine. However, finishing second would see them face one of France, Netherlands, Austria or Poland from Group D, so you feel progress beyond the round of 16 may be a step too far.


Ukraine made it through the play-offs against Bosnia and Iceland, netting an 84th-minute winner in the final against the latter to qualify for a fourth straight Euros finals and give the people back home something to get excited about in tough times.

Top star: Oleksandr Zinchenko

Zinchenko plays where he’s needed for his team, flitting between left-back, holding midfielder or left wing – sometimes even covering multiple roles. The 27-year-old Arsenal man is confident on the ball and has an eye for a pass to those further forward. He’s often the one playing the assist for the assist, finding attackers like Mykhailo Mudryk, Roman Yaremchuk or Viktor Tsyhankov. He’s vocal both on and off the pitch, stating that he would immediately fight if called up by the army after seeing many of his old friends battling to defend Ukraine against Russia. Zinchenko also donated over a million Euros to help those fleeing the war in Ukraine.

Coach: Serhiy Rebrov

A former forward and one-time strike partner of the legendary Andriy Shevchenko for both Dynamo Kyiv and the national team, Rebrov has been in charge of Ukraine since June 2023. As a player, the now 50-year-old had spells with Tottenham, Fenerbahce, West Ham United and Rubin Kazan, before moving into coaching with Dynamo’s U21s and then guiding the first team to two Ukrainian Premier League and Cup titles each. He’s also had stints with Al-Ahli, Ferencváros and Al-Ain.

One to watch: Mykhailo Mudryk

A quick and lively winger, Mudryk was on the radar of many teams around Europe before Chelsea got there first to sign him from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2023. Capable of beating defenders one-on-one, shooting and picking out teammates, he’s someone who can make the difference for this Ukraine team and will be hoping to shine on the big stage after some difficulties at Chelsea following his big-money move.

Ukraine have twice held Germany to draws in the past year. - Alex Grimm


“The Euros are an opportunity to show that Ukrainians are also concerned with life, joy and victories on the football pitch,” wrote sports journalist Oleksandr Sashko in Tribuna. The players have their entire country, which has suffered under the Russian war of aggression for more than two years, behind them. There’s big motivation. They want to give something back to Ukraine.


Ukraine have shown in recent times that they can cause even bigger teams problems with their disciplined defending and quick counter-attacking play. They’ve twice held Germany to draws in the past year or so, and also took points off England and Italy in qualifying. A place in the round of 16 is very much a possibility. They will not be a team you want to face in the knockout stages.

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