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Welcome to your fifth Euros group guide: Group E.

To help you navigate and prepare for the tournament, The Athletic have compiled group guides, containing each team’s tactics, key players, weaknesses, stats and quirks.

Expect screengrabs to show team shapes and tactics board gifs demonstrating attacking rotations and pressing structures. There will be podcast clips and videos embedded for further reading/listening.

Group E features Belgium, Romania, Slovakia and Ukraine. It is a group of new-ish head coaches, strong defences and young stars.


Belgium

  • Manager: Domenico Tedesco
  • Captain: Romelu Lukaku
  • Qualifying record: P8 W6 D2 L0 GF22 GA4
  • Euros debut: 1972 (third place)
  • Euro 2020: Quarter-finals
  • Average age of squad: 27.4 in qualifying
  • Most caps in squad: Jan Vertonghen (154)
  • Top scorer in squad: Romelu Lukaku (85)

How they play (tactics and formations)

This is a new era of Belgian football.

Out goes Roberto Martinez, his trademark 3-4-3 and most of Belgium’s ‘Golden’ generation — which some cruelly relabelled the ‘Bronze’ generation, as they were the only FIFA No 1 nation to never win anything. Martinez called it a “big psychological barrier”, one Belgium never cleared under him.

Domenico Tedesco replaced Martinez, making Romelu Lukaku captain following Eden Hazard’s retirement. Fourteen games in, there are green shoots, with 10 wins and no defeats. Belgium had a first win in Germany since 1954 in Tedesco’s first match and qualified unbeaten for a fifth consecutive major tournament.

Tedesco is more tactically flexible than Martinez, playing a 4-2-3-1 and then 3-4-3 in his first two games. Then he switched to 4-2-4 for the 3-2 away win over Austria, with Lois Openda playing off Lukaku to secure their finals spot.

“If it’s possible, I want to play dominantly,” said Tedesco in his first interview as Belgium head coach. He isn’t trying to reach a tactical utopia but rather to be tactically multifaceted and reactive to games and opponents.

For instance, he called the 0-0 friendly draw away to Ireland “boring” because of “slow rhythm, slow passes, no sharpness. It was really difficult to find the right shape”. Conversely, Tedesco loved Belgium’s second-half pressing away to England in the game three days later, having tweaked the press at half-time.

The shape is 4-3-3 and the build-up is mixed. Belgium play short to bait the press, though the defenders will go direct to the wingers or find No 9 Lukaku, rather than playing through midfield. Look for wide rotations against a mid-block, especially with a No 8 pulling wide and the winger/full-back interchanging.

Tedesco picks defensively-minded full-backs in Arthur Theate (a centre-back for Rennes) and Timothy Castagne, who are conservative in their own half but make crashing over/underlapping runs further forward. The defence is settled, with Theate and Castagne flanking Jan Vertonghen and Wout Faes in seven of Belgium’s eight qualifiers.

Belgium will go full-court press and scored from high turnovers against England, Serbia and Estonia. But they are equally content to defend in a 4-1-4-1 mid-block and hit teams on the counter-attack. Only Portugal (two) and France (three) conceded fewer goals than Belgium (four) in qualifying.

Tedesco has managed a tactical revolution while churning the squad.

“For me, age is not an important issue,” he said in 2023. “What the players are able to do on the pitch is what interests me”. That year Tedesco gave nine senior Belgium debuts, the most since 2020 (11) — and, with an average age of 20.6, they were the youngest group of debutants since 2013.

Belgium’s 2023 debutants

Player Age Position

19 years, 2 months, 22 days

Defensive midfield

19 years, 11 months, 4 days

Right-winger

21 years, 3 months, 11 days

Centre-back

23 years, 2 months, 14 days

Left midfield

24 years, 20 days

Left-winger

20 years, 8 months, 13 days

Central midfield

21 years, 2 months, 3 days

Right-back

21 years, 5 months, 3 days

Defensive midfield

18 years, 8 months, 6 days

Central midfield


Key player(s)

Lukaku. Tedesco has called him “our glue”, though by giving him the captaincy, goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois left the national team setup.

Lukaku’s goals alone are exceptional, the outright top scorer in qualifying with 14 (Belgium scored 22 combined). He was a scapegoat for Belgium’s World Cup 2022 failings, particularly in the final group stage game against Croatia, but his reaction shows both his quality and resilience.

With that goal record, Tedesco said “We did not see the necessity to take a third striker”.

Lukaku’s profile, a target man No 9 and one-touch box finisher, complements Belgium’s wingers and No 8s, who like to run beyond the ball, and is an essential out-ball when they face a good press.


What’s their weakness?

Courtois’ exclusion means Belgium must pick a No 1 from an inexperienced goalkeeper pool.

Courtois has 102 caps, over five times as many as the three goalkeepers combined: Matz Sels (Nottingham Forest; 8), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg; 10) and Thomas Kaminski (Luton Town; 1). All three played in Europe’s top five leagues last season but for a bottom-half team and none performed above-averagely as shotstoppers.


Kaminski in action for Luton in the Premier League last season (Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

One thing to watch for

Counter-attacks — a feature of recent Belgian teams. They had the most direct attacks at World Cup 2018, which Opta define as possessions starting in a team’s own half, with at least 50 per cent forward movement, ending with a shot/touch in the opposition box.

Tedesco described counter-attacks as “automatically a weapon” because of the side’s attacking profiles. Belgium leave Lukaku upfield when defending, and in Jeremy Doku and Dodi Lukebakio, they have quick, dribbling threats on both wings. Belgium’s third goals in 3-2 away wins over Germany and Austria are perfect examples. Look out for this — especially in the knockouts.

go-deeper

  • Manager: Edward Iordanescu
  • Captain: Nicolae Stanciu
  • Qualifying record: P10 W6 D4 L0 GF16 GA5
  • Euros debut: 1984 (Group stage)
  • Euro 2020: Failed to qualify
  • Average age of squad: 27.4 in qualifying
  • Most caps in squad: Nicolae Stanciu (70)
  • Top scorer in squad: Nicolae Stanciu (14)

How they play (tactics and formations)

“Back in business,” said Edward Iordanescu. It was March, the Euro 2024 group-stage draw had just been made, and Romania were looking forward to their first major tournament in eight years.

Romania qualified unbeaten, winning six and drawing four in a group containing Switzerland and Israel. They did the same for Euro 2016 (five wins, five draws) when Anghel Iordanescu, Edward’s father, managed them. For this qualifying cycle, Iordanescu said: “Not losing once was a clear demonstration of the many positive changes in our team”.

His 24 matches have seen only six defeats, only two of them by more than one goal, as Romania conceded fewer than a goal per game. Only Portugal (nine) kept more clean sheets than them in qualifying (six). Much of that owes to their structure, at their best in a compact 4-1-4-1 mid-block.

They quickly retreat into that shape from a high press — which they commit to more against inferior opposition — but keep a relatively high defensive line.

Romania ranked second of qualified nations for interceptions and third for tackles. The centre-backs jump aggressively on passes through midfield, while the full-backs and wide midfielders lock teams out wide.

In possession, Romania play for territory more than control. Expect to see wide combinations, especially between full-back, winger and a central midfielder, looking for third-man runs. They play plenty of switches, targeting advanced full-backs, and look to find narrow wingers running in behind. They are not patient in front of goal, launching counter-attacks with dribbles off regains and shooting from distance.

Romania play long against a press, though sometimes go short with the first pass before hitting the forwards, and only work rotations when they have established possession against a mid-block. Here, the lone defensive midfielder drops between the centre-backs, allowing them to split wider, opening more passing angles, providing counter-attack cover and enticing opposition midfielders out of shape.

Iordanescu is not approaching this as an all-or-nothing tournament. He has been honest — perhaps too honest — about their ambitions, saying Romania are not trying to win the group but that they should surprise opponents and rise to the occasion.

There is the added achievement that Iordanescu has given 18 players their senior national team debut since his appointment at the start of 2022, with 14 of them aged under 24 at the time.


Key player(s)

Romania are not stacked with talent but Tottenham Hotspur’s Radu Dragusin is the star. The 22-year-old started all 10 games alongside Andrei Burca as Romania’s centre-back pairing.

Romania are unbeaten and have kept seven clean sheets in the 12 games when Dragusin has completed the full 90. He has 17 senior caps after debuting in March 2022. Their style, demanding Dragusin to defend touch-tight and protect the box with clearances, gets the best out of him.


What’s their weakness?

Romania are not particularly threatening when they need to dominate the ball and create chances through longer passing sequences. In these situations, they are susceptible to counter-attacks and must avoid conceding early goals.

There is also a lack of top-level experience. Only three players (Nicolae Stanciu, Ianis Hagi and Dragusin) have played in the Champions League, while Stanciu and Denis Alibec are the only two remaining players from Euro 2016.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Romania Euro 2024 squad guide: Iordanescu has a settled defence but Coman could star

At the top end, they lack a goalscorer. Romania’s 16 qualifying goals were spread across nine players. Dennis Man, with four goals in 10 appearances, is a promising left-footed right winger coming off his best senior season to date (with Parma in Serie B), but Romania need more than just him for end product; Man is the top scorer in Iordanescu’s 23 games. They scored three goals in four friendly matches across March and June, facing Northern Ireland, Colombia, Bulgaria and Lichtenstein.


One thing to watch for

Stanciu’s direct free-kick threat.

He has scored 22 free-kick goals in his club career, which has spanned Romania, Belgium, Czech Republic, Saudi Arabia and China. Stanciu scored two in qualifying, opening strikes in important wins over Belarus and Andorra. Strangely, his penalty record is unfathomably poor, only scoring 16 of 26 career penalties and just one of four that he has taken for his national team.


Ukraine

  • Manager: Sergei Rebrov
  • Captain: Andriy Yarmolenko
  • Qualifying record: P10 W6 D2 L2 GF15 GA10 (qualified through play-offs)
  • Euros debut: 2012 (Group stage)
  • Euro 2020: Quarter-finals
  • Average age of squad: 26.1 in qualifying
  • Most caps in squad: Andriy Yarmolenko (118)
  • Top scorer in squad: Andriy Yarmolenko (46)

How they play (tactics and formations)

Euro 2020 was Ukraine’s best finish at a European Championship and the deepest they had gone in any major tournament since World Cup 2006. Andriy Shevchenko was head coach at Euro 2020, replaced by Oleksandr Petrakov. He failed to take them to the 2022 World Cup and now Sergei Rebrov is 12 matches into his tenure.

Ukraine qualified through the play-offs, beating Bosnia and Herzegovina and Iceland after finishing third in the hardest qualifying group, featuring both Euro 2020 finalists (England and Italy). They have an emerging generation, the youngest team to qualify (average starting age under 26) and play expansive, attacking football.

Excluding a recent friendly against Germany in which they played a 5-4-1, Ukraine shape up in a 4-3-3. Arsenal fans will see Oleksandr Zinchenko play as a proper No 8, with Everton’s Vitalii Mykolenko the first-choice left-back.

There is plenty of positional interchanging and short build-up, though they will go long to the No 9 or a winger/advanced full-back against an aggressive press.

Expect to see the full-backs positioned aggressively against a mid-block, with wingers rolling inside to play close to the No 9. The deepest midfielder will drop between the centre-backs, creating a 3-2-5 build-up shape.

Their main routes to goal are crosses and cutbacks, consistently getting three or four players (No 9, No 8, far-side winger) in the box at these scenarios. Considering Rebrov has played 35 players in his 12 games, it points to a high individual technical level in the squad but with limited time to establish partnerships.

The number of players used is also high because Rebrov is looking for more than just certain tactical profiles.

“The most important thing for all of them is to show a stable game,” he said ahead of the play-offs in March. “There are many players who will play brightly for two matches, and then it’s hard to find them at all”.

Defensively, they have improved. While they have only lost twice under Rebrov, they conceded five in his first two games. They went on a run of only six goals conceded in nine games after that, including clean sheets against Germany and Italy, before most recently losing 3-1 against Poland.

They will defend in a low block but spend most of their time out-of-possession in a 4-1-4-1 mid-block. Italy exploited their narrowness in that win with constant switches of play — and against better teams, Ukraine need defensive contributions from the wingers.

Ukraine made the most fouls (136) of any team to qualify. Chelsea’s Mykhailo Mudryk committed the most (18) and is one of the numerous dribbler profiles within the squad, which adds unpredictability (see his play-off final winner against Iceland) but often loses possession and opens up the counter-attack.


Key player(s)

For a squad packed with players operating in Europe’s top five leagues, Ukraine’s most exciting name is 21-year-old Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Heorhii Sudakov. He is a two-footed No 10, a stylish passer but with physical robustness. He played the most minutes for Ukraine in qualifying.

Ukraine have options up front but, after his 2023-24 season, Artem Dovbyk is in line for a big tournament. He won the La Liga’s Pichichi award with 24 goals in his debut season at Girona.

A striker very much in the target man mould of Ukraine’s Roman Yaremchuk, Dovbyk scored at Euro 2020 as a substitute in the round of 16 — he headed in Zinchenko’s cross to send Ukraine into the quarter-finals.


What’s their weakness?

Slow starts.

Ukraine have not played a genuine home game since March 2022, they have a particularly young team, and playing every match with the added emotional charge of knowing there is war back home, expecting them to fly out of the blocks is unfair. If they want to go deep into the knockouts, though, they have to improve their first halves.

go-deeper

Ukraine were outscored 9-5 in the first half during qualifying and four of their six wins — including both play-off games — came from losing positions.

This can be spun positively, in showing tactical and psychological resilience, but it is draining. Rebrov described the play-offs as “intense and demanding” and bemoaned Ukraine’s poor defence in the 3-2 win — from 2-0 down — over North Macedonia. This was evident in their final Euros warm-up game, a 3-1 defeat away to Poland, with Ukraine conceding three in the first 30 minutes.


One thing to watch for

Andriy Yarmolenko. The former West Ham forward is going to his fourth European Championships, having played at Euro 2012, 2016 and 2020.

At 34, he becomes part of an exclusive club of 22 players to play at four Euros. He could break national records too. Yarmolenko (46) needs three goals to overtake Andriy Shevchenko as Ukraine’s top scorer (48). Expect to see him operating as a winger more than a No 9, given the profiles of Dovbyk and Yaremchuk.


  • Manager: Francesco Calzona
  • Captain: Milan Skriniar
  • Qualifying record: P10 W7 D1 L2 GF17 GA8
  • Euros debut: 1960 (as Czechoslovakia, third place)
  • Euro 2020: Group stage
  • Average age of squad: 29.9 in qualifying
  • Most caps in squad: Peter Pekarik (127)
  • Top scorer in squad: Juraj Kucka (14)

How they play (tactics and formations)

Francesco Calzona will hope Euro 2024 goes better than the recent Serie A season with Napoli. He became their third head coach of 2023-24 when he took interim charge, job-sharing with his permanent role as Slovakia head coach.

Calzona could not save the sinking Napoli ship. They served up the worst title defence of any team in Serie A’s three-points-per-win history. It is a team which sounds like the group Calzona inherited in July 2022, which he described as a “depressed and passive team devoid of any trust in its abilities”. They were dumped out of Euro 2020 in the group stage after a 5-0 defeat to Spain.

“Putting together 25-30 players from at least 11 or 12 different championships with different roles and mentalities was the hardest part,” said Calzona. “Getting them to all think along the same lines, and in a short time, was really difficult. But we always play to win.”

And win they did… eventually. Despite not winning in Calzona’s first five matches, Slovakia went on to win seven of 10 qualifying games. It is a team packed with experience: they were the oldest side in qualifying (29.9 years average age), with 11 of the squad featuring at Euro 2020 and six having been a part of Euro 2016.

Their shape and system are much the same as the other teams in the group: attack in a 4-3-3, defend in a 4-1-4-1. For a team in blue and with Stanislav Lobotka as the defensive midfielder, there are, ironically, tactical shades of 2022-23 Napoli about Slovakia.

A lot of their build-up looks pattern-based. Even under pressure, they play short passes into central midfielders, trying to bait a central press to release a full-back or winger. Alternatively, when teams lock them out wide they look to release a central midfielder, or go direct to the No 9 to try to access the midfielders that way.

Slovakia had the most offsides and fouls won of any side to qualify, underlining their comfort in playing in behind, and how their midfielders often take contact as a result of playing into pressure.

Slovakia showed important tournament traits in qualifying, only losing twice and those were home and away to Portugal, both times by a marginal goal. Only three teams kept more than their total of five clean sheets.

Their wingers often press out-to-in and the No 9 drops onto the opposition defensive midfielder, funnelling play centrally where their midfielders can tackle; Slovakia are particularly dangerous from midfield-third regains, counter-attacking quickly and releasing the winger.


Key player(s)

Nine different Slovakia players have Champions League experience. This includes Paris Saint-Germain centre-back Milan Skriniar (national team captain), Newcastle goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and Napoli’s Lobotoka. They ranked second, third and fourth for minutes played in qualifying respectively. Those three are the spine of the team, but left-back David Hancko is one to keep an eye on.

The 26-year-old plays centre-back for Feyenoord but left-back for Slovakia. His passing range is important in the team’s build-up, especially given right-footed Skriniar plays left centre-back. Hancko played in all 10 qualifying games, the only Slovakian to do so, and while he is less positionally aggressive than right-back Peter Pekarik, he has an excellent cross (see his assist against Bosnia and Herzegovina in qualifying, or versus Bulgaria in the 2022 Nations League, below).


What’s their weakness?

Positionally, the team is back-loaded.

Their strong spine suits playing underdog football but they really lack a goalscorer, despite putting four past Iceland, San Marino and Wales in their past six games. Nobody scored more than three in qualifying, while joint top scorers under Calzona are Lukas Haraslin and Juraj Kucka, with four apiece. An inverted winger (Haraslin) and central midfielder (Kucka), these are the positions you want players to chip in with goals — not be the team’s primary threats.

Tactically, they are strong when defending in settled possession but exploitable on the counter-attack. This has shown especially against better nations, with Slovakia giving up 10 big chances in a 3-2 loss away to Portugal in qualifying. Slovakia’s defenders are big aerial threats but do not have the athletic profiles to recover and defend at speed.

go-deeper

One thing to watch for

Goals from outside the box.

Only France (seven) scored more than Slovakia’s five in qualifying. For a team lacking in attacking stardust but with a strong defence, it might be the difference between them getting out of the group or not.


Fixtures

Round 1:

  • 17/06/2024 — Romania vs Ukraine (2pm BST, 3pm CEST, 9am EDT)
  • 17/06/2024 — Belgium vs Slovakia (5pm BST, 6pm CEST, 12pm EDT)

Round 2:

  • 21/06/2024 — Slovakia vs Ukraine (2pm BST, 3pm CEST, 9am EDT)
  • 22/06/2024 — Belgium vs Romania (8pm BST, 9pm CEST, 3pm EDT)

Round 3:

  • 26/06/2024 — Ukraine vs Belgium (5pm BST, 6pm CEST, 12pm EDT)
  • 26/06/2024 — Slovakia vs Romania (5pm BST, 6pm CEST, 12pm EDT)

How to follow Euro 2024 on The Athletic

(Header design: Eamonn Dalton, photos: Getty Images)



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