Take my hand, dear reader. I feel your pain. The Euros are over and the long wait for USA 2026 has begun. You’ll be pleased to hear that Don Collins has been found and detained while going through customs in an Italian airport though, telling anyone who’d listen that “The special ingredient was deep fried vengeance”. By which I mean he’s recovering nicely from his unfortunate bout of flu. I’m John Hutchison. Let’s have a look back on a record breaking Final and then on Euro 2024 as a whole.
Belgium v Portugal
Emotions were at fever pitch. The two national sides lined up and backed by choirs of their countrymen tens of thousands strong, they blared their respective national anthems, which reverberated around the walls of the San Siro. Surely nobody in Milan could be oblivious to the fact that in their city, the Final of Euro 24 was about to begin.
But forget the score, I know what you’re all craving to know: How close were our lineup predictions from last week? Well, there’s no way to sugar coat it: We were way off. Belgium manager Filip Daems made the bold decision to make 6 changes to the side that blasted through France in the Semi-Finals, including an entirely different back 4. Wout Faes, Björn Engels, Jordan Lukaku, Leander Dendoncker, Youri Tielemans and Yannick Carrasco were all sacrificed in the reshuffle as Joran Devolder, Toby Alderweireld, Stéphan Vandamme, Corentin Fiore, Andreas Pereira and Cas Willems came in. Thomas Meunier was also shuffled in front of the defence as a makeshift holding midfielder. Could Daems’ radical changes pay dividends? Could fresher legs make all the difference, even at the expense of such pivotal players as Dendoncker and Tielemans?
See below our predicted XI (Left) v Belgium’s chosen XI (Right).
Our predicted XI (Left) v Portugal’s chosen XI (Right).
Before the half hour, their woe turned to misery. Or their misery turned to woe… Whichever’s worse, they were now feeling that. Once again Gelson sprinted down the right beyond the reach of Corentin Fiore, once again he crossed towards the near post and once again Zé Gomes arrived, this time tapping the ball over the line from close range with his boot. I should stress that the player who scored a 29 minute hat trick in the Euro 24 Final is currently transfer listed at Tottenham. In first half stoppage time, Gelson deservedly bagged a goal of his own, rifling into the top corner from the edge of the box after Bernardo Silva teed him up. At half time Portugal lead Belgium by 4 goals to 0. It was fair to summarise at this point that Filip Daems’ 6 changes had not been entirely successful.
Still, may as well make a couple more! Daems made his remaining substitutes at half time; sending on Yannick Carrasco and Dennis Praet, replacing Kevin De Bruyne and Mohamed Hamoudan and confirming onlookers’ mounting suspicions that he’d lost his f**king mind. With renewed confidence and vigour, the Belgians came out for the second half determined to at least make the score look more presentable and within 4 minutes, substitute Carrasco handled Silva’s free kick cross inside the box and gave the rampant Portuguese a penalty. With Captain Courtois flying off in the wrong direction, Zé Gomes coolly tucked the penalty into the bottom corner and completed his “haul” of goals.
With 25 torturous minutes to play for the Belgians and 25 euphoric minutes to play for the Portuguese, José Barros made all 3 of his substitutes. Off came Gonçalo Guedes, Renato Sanches and the magnificent Gelson Martins to rapturous applause, while Bruma, João Carvalho and Rúben Neves trotted onto the pitch for well deserved cameos. Within a minute, a long throw routine started by Dalot lead to a smooth passing move inside the Belgian box, finished when Guerreiro laid the ball off for Portugal’s number 6 Bernardo Silva, who slotted in goal number 6. 10 minutes later Silva’s cross was headed weakly away at the near post by Alderweireld, but with no support around him and Courtois in no mans land after poorly anticipating yet another cross, Bruma was left with a simple finish.
The whistle was blown, the trophy was raised.
Belgium 0-7 Portugal.
What is there to say? Whether it was the influx of changes in the Belgium side, the superior tactics of Barros, the superior Portuguese players, the bewildering Belgian substitutes, the loss of Divock Origi to injury, the benching of Youri Tielemans and Leander Dendoncker, the early goals, the early red card or a combination of some or all of the above, the simple facts were that Portugual were mesmerising to watch and that Belgium were beyond excruciating.
Former France manager WT Franjo was spotted at the San Siro with his colours pinned decisively to the mast, wearing the shirt of a Portuguese 2nd tier side and sitting amongst a group of Portuguese fans who were trying to wrap their nation’s scarves around his neck. He’ll surely have felt some catharsis watching Portugal twist the knife deeper and deeper into the Belgium side that knocked France out in the Semis and cost him his job, but it remains to be seen whether Filip Daems faces the same fate. He was cagey over his future in his post-match press conference but surely a humiliation like this is enough to force the hand of even the most generous football association. José Barros on the other hand is a name that will go down in Portuguese history for giving the fans a once-in-a-lifetime match and their second European Championship trophy in 8 years.
Euro 24 Review
And so with the last ball kicked and the final final whistle blown, the curtain has come down on Euro 24, a tournament packed with goals, drama, twists and turns. Let’s have a look back on some of the best and worst performing teams and players.
Remarkably, Portugal’s drubbing of Belgium moved them up to only 2nd place in the goal rankings behind France, who scored 24 at a staggering rate of 4 goals per game on average.
Down at the bottom of the list there are no surprises. FYR Macedonia will thank their lucky stars they finished 23rd and left Northern Ireland as the only side with no goals to their name.
Brave Scotland had the meanest defence in the tournament, conceding 3 times before their 2nd Round exit, but Portugal did well to even feature in the table for this one having played over twice the amount of football as some of the other nations represented. They conceded 5 goals, getting them joint 3rd with Czech Republic, England and Serbia.
At the other end of the table it looked like France were nailed on as the leakiest team at the tournament with 13 goals, although Croatia, Georgia and Poland deserve special mentions for conceding 10 in half the time. But Belgium’s decimation in the final surpasses even the French for goals conceded. They finished with 15 goals conceded in 7 matches.
Norway were by far the dirtiest team in the tournament, finishing top of both the yellow cards and fouls tables with Belgium following behind in both. In fairness, no Norwegian was sent off during Euro 24. A special mention must be given once again to Northern Ireland for collecting 10 yellow cards and a red in just 3 matches. They certainly put up a fight before their early exit.
Moving onto players then, the top rated footballer at Euro 24 was France’s Paul Pogba, who shone in the 5 appearances he made. Gelson Martins was Portugal’s top player in the list, making 6th place. We don’t actually have a list of the tournament’s worst players, which in my humble opinion is a bloody shame. In lieu of that, I’ll just give another honourable mention to Northern Ireland.
Pogba was also the top scorer with 7 goals, including a hat trick against Belgium. Zé Gomes’ haul in the Final was only enough to take him joint 2nd alongside such prestigious company as Germany’s Christopher Dieckmann and the Netherlands’ Thomas Buitink. Gelson also finished in the top 9, while Belgium’s Mo Hamoudan and Youri Tielemans finished joint 5th, although the latter scored 4 from the penalty spot.
The assists table looked set to be topped by a Frenchman too, but Gelson Martins’ hat trick of crosses against Belgium took him level with Lucas Digne with 6 assists. Finalists Bruma, Sanches, De Bruyne and the injured Origi all featured in the top 9, while a special mention should be given to Switzerland’s Arnel Kalac, who finished joint 3rd with Origi and Buitink on 4 assists despite being eliminated in the Group Stage.
Key Passes and Dribbles Per Game
Gelson also leads the way in terms of key passes and dribbles per game, finishing joint 1st in the former alongside Buitink, Morata and Cvitanovic and 1st in the latter.
Tackles Per Game
Looking at the more defensive side of the game, the tackles per game table is actually lead by Macedonia’s Arijan Ademi, with his countryman Ardit Aziri following closely behind.
Scotland’s Grant Wyness tops the key tackles table with 6 and I’ll give a special mention to Croatia’s Tin Jedvaj, who finished joint 4th, because I’m fairly sure it’ll be the only positive mention that a Croatian will get throughout this review.
Norway’s Markus Hagen made the most key headers, while Belgians Toby Alderweireld and Leander Dendoncker were also in the top 7.
The top 5 in the interceptions table includes as many as 3 Frenchmen, which I’ll applaud as along with their manager, Varane, Umtiti and Laporte have taken a lot of the criticism for their side’s poor defensive performance and deserve a bit of credit where it’s due.
And finally to the goalkeepers. Champion Diogo Costa can be afford the be pleased, having conceded just 5 goals and kept 3 clean sheets in 7 appearances. Shevchenko and Butland also kept 3 clean sheets, so the trio finish joint 1st of that particular table.
Match of the Tournament
While I appreciate JOE.ie’s pick for the “Match of the Tournament” award (Czech Republic’s 2-0 victory over Macedonia in Group B) may be justified and I imagine they’ll make many convincing arguments, I’m going to be less braindead in my pick and choose Belgium 5-4 France as my Match of the Tournament, with Norway (p) 3-3 England the runner up.
I will agree with JOE.ie’s pick for the biggest overachievers though as there can be no pick other than Norway for that title. A Semi-Final is better than anyone could have foreseen for a Norwegian side predicted by few to qualify from their group and being knocked out in non-embarrassing fashion by the eventual champions will no doubt send them home extremely satisfied with their performance. My runners up for this prestigious award are Ukraine.
Switzerland are a decent shout as progression from the Group Stage should have been accomplished with the squad at their disposal, but my pick for the biggest underachievers will come as no surprise. Croatia, a side full of world-known, extremely talented footballers, should not be crashing out of the Group Stage with 0 points and a -7 goal difference. Yes, they had a very tough group with Norway, Germany and Turkey, but their performance was unacceptable. I’ll name the Swiss as my runners up, although I will give an honourable mention to World Champions France for not even reaching the Final.
Goal of the Tournament
The Goal of the Tournament award for Euro 24 was given, no doubt slightly awkwardly, to Burnley’s Belgian playmaker Andreas Pereira, who became a villain after his stupid lunge 20 minutes into the Final. Still, his scorcher against Italy is certainly something for him to hold onto in the cold, sleepless nights to come.
Best Young Player
The Best Young Player of the tournament was given to Germany’s Bayern Munich striker Christopher Dieckmann, a decision that I support whole-heartedly. Although Germany bowed out in the Quarter-Finals to eventual finalists Belgium, Dieckmann was a highlight not just for Germany but for all of us watching. 6 goals in only 5 games is beyond impressive and in other years might even have won him the Golden Boot, so with the 22 year old only just getting started in his international career, the best is surely yet to come.
The Golden Boot of course was won by Manchester United and France midfielder Paul Pogba, whose remarkable tally of 7 goals from midfield highlights just how dangerous France were on the attack and is the 2nd highest ever scored in a European Championship tournament. Who was the highest? Paul’s fellow Frenchman and fellow midfielder Michel Platini, who bagged 9 back in 1984. It’s also the highest tally a player’s managed in any international tournament since Ronaldo, who scored 8 times as Brazil won the 2002 World Cup.
Belgium are well and truly down at this point, but the World couldn’t resist giving them one last kicking before they slunk away from Euro 24. The tournament’s Dream Team starting XI contains absolutely no Belgians whatsoever, which is remarkable for a team that won all 6 matches en route to the final. And which of their squad do make the substitute’s bench? Divock Origi, who missed the Final through injury, Youri Tielemans and Björn Engels who both missed the Final for reasons unknown.
Portugal however were pretty well represented in the Dream Team, with the European Champions having António Branco, Gelson Martins and Zé Gomes in the starting XI, while Rúben Dias, Bernardo Silva and Bruma all made the bench. England’s Jack Butland made the cut for the starting XI along with his compatriot Dele Alli, while Ukrainian captain Valeriy Luchkevych and Thomas Buitink of the Netherlands were also selected.
The largest contingent of the Dream Team’s starting XI was made of players from a Semi-Final nation. Raphaël Varane, Lucas Digne, Paul Pogba and Kingsley Coman were all selected from the French squad, with Corentin Tolisso and Djibril Sidibé both on the bench, drawing France level with Portugal in terms of number of players selected on 6.
If you’ve been eagerly paying attention during this review and if I’ve done my job correctly, you’ll probably have 2 names that are sticking out particularly brightly in your mind for this award. Although Paul Pogba was the highest rated player and the top goalscorer though, he didn’t lift the trophy or even reach the Final. One of the players that did both is a 29 year old winger who scored 4 goals and set up 6 more as Portugal romped to victory and that is why Real Madrid’s Gelson Martins is the Euro 24 Best Player. Take a bow, Gelson. It’s well deserved.
And that’s all I have for you on Euro 2024. Thank you for following along with us throughout the tournament, from the moment Andrei Ivan’s free kick deflected past Jared Thompson at the San Siro to the moment Rúben Dias lifted the trophy in the very same stadium, it’s been a long, long, long and winding road. I’m most likely going to go on a 2 year cruise now but don’t you worry. We’ll be back for World Cup 2026 in the United States of America. From my colleague, Don Collins and from me, John Hutchison, thank you and good night.
I close my laptop and stare out of the window, watching the clouds pass by in the darkness. The BBC’s gone to shit, it really has. None of these journalists can write a column any better than… Well, for example any better than I’d be able to. I let out a long and weary sigh.
“Good tournament, wasn’t it?” Says a small voice from beside me. I turn to see a young lad, no older than 10 on the seat between me and his father, who’s fast asleep in the aisle seat. “Who were you supporting?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a complicated question.” I reply. He beams as he recognises my accent.
“You’re English too!” He announces excitedly. “Did you see Alli’s goal against Denmark? And Oliver Webb against France! And Rashford when he scored all 4 against Georgia! Dad took me to every game!” He starts to breathlessly count off his favourite players and performances.
“Yeah, we were great.” I smile, once he’s finished. He beams again.
“Are you changing in France too? Dad says it was cheaper this way but I wanted to fly straight home. Planes are so boring aren’t they? And airports are the worst.”
“Aren’t they?” I agree, enthusiastically. “But no, I’m actually just flying to France. I live there.”
“Do a lot of people have metal faces in France?” He asks quietly, as if scared of the answer.
“Only the very cool ones.” I smirk. The boy laughs.
“What will you do when you get back?” He asks. I pause for a moment and turn to look back out of the window into the inky black sky.
“You know what?” I say slowly. “I have absolutely no idea.”