IT’S farewell to the group stages, and Scotland obviously, and hello to knockout stages, extra time and the dreaded penalty shoot-out.

Gone are the carefree days of three games a day, it’s regimented double doses of action now until only one country holds the trophy aloft. And that country will probably still be France despite how badly they have played to date.

For laughs, we have picked our ‘best’ and ‘worst’ of the opening couple of weeks of Euro 2024, which I think we can all agree is the rainiest tournament there has ever been.

Jamal Musiala has been the star of the group stages, according to Dan BarnesJamal Musiala has been the star of the group stages, according to Dan Barnes (Image: PA)


Dan Barnes: Jamal Musiala is such an exciting talent and it’s painful to think he could have been wearing an England shirt if things had turned out slightly differently. He got on the scoresheet in the victories against Scotland and Hungary, and the sight of him running with the ball at his feet is enough to give defenders nightmares.

Marc Iles: Musiala would probably be shunted to left-back. My pick is Austria’s Marcel Sabitzer – conqueror of the Dutch, wearer of a dreadful pencil moustache, owner of a pony tail and the ability to play practically anywhere in attack. Proper geezer.


DB: I’ve been really impressed with Spain so far. They brushed Croatia aside during a ruthless 45-minute spell and also got the better of Italy en route to finishing top of Group B. For me, they are now the team to beat after France’s uninspiring group stage.

MI: Everyone expected Spain and Germany to do well, many predicted Austria as dark horses, but who had Georgia in their second round? Brilliantly bonkers football at times from Willy Sagnol’s team and I would “love it” if they found one more victory in this tournament.

Romelu Lukaku has been poor for Belgium, says Marc IlesRomelu Lukaku has been poor for Belgium, says Marc Iles (Image: PA)


DB: I hate singling out players for criticism so I’ll go with Phil Foden, but with a big asterisk. My criticism isn’t aimed at him, it is aimed at Gareth Southgate for not using the Manchester City starlet in his best role. I would love to see Jude Bellingham drop deeper against Slovakia and Foden occupy the No. 10 role, which would also open the door for someone like Anthony Gordon to play on the left.

MI: Unlike Dan, I don’t mind singling anyone out if they deserve it. Romelu Lukaku gets my vote, and I suspect Kevin De Bruyne would say the same. His finishing in this tournament has been woeful considering the chances Belgium create. And, yes, I know he had a goal wrongly denied.


DB: There aren’t any obvious choices so I’ll have to go with Croatia, who missed out on a place in the knockout rounds following Mattia Zaccagni’s cruel equaliser in the eighth minute of stoppage time. Failure to beat Albania proved costly, with Klaus Gjasula scoring another last-gasp leveller.

MI: Au contraire mon amis, France have played miles within themselves so far, as have Belgium and England, but if we are picking one team who barely threw a punch in this tournament you have to say Scotland. Class fans, poor team.


DB: Netherlands 2-3 Austria. Started with a sensational own goal from Donyell Malen and there was also a moment of magic from Cody Gakpo early in the second half. Marcel Sabitzer eventually lashed home the winner from what seemed like an impossible angle as Georgia defied the odds to finish top of Group D.

MI: Portugal 0-2 Georgia. I don’t care if there was no Bruno Fernandes, Pepe and Co, this was what tournament football is all about. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia and Georges Mikautadze did the damage but this was a team effort. Goalkeeper to subs bench, they were terrific.


DB: Going for the obvious choice but Clive Tyldesley and Ally McCoist have been superb yet again. It’s a disgrace Tyldesley will be signing off with a round of 16 tie! As for the worst, Lee Dixon always sounds like he’d rather be anywhere else (he does have to commentate on England games, in fairness).

MI: Cesc Fabregas has absolutely bossed every game he has done for the BBC, no cliches, no self-publicity, just a guy you could sit with in the pub and talk about football who’d probably get a round in as well. The worst, I agree with Dan. Dixon out.


DB: Gareth Southgate should have called up Marcus Rashford. I appreciate he didn’t have the best of seasons for Manchester United, but his pace to get in behind and stretch defences has been badly missed, especially when Harry Kane decides to play centre-back for some reason.

MI: Jordan Henderson should have been in his squad. It isn’t fair to bring square pegs for round holes, and while Southgate would have been lambasted for going back to ‘old faithful’ he’s now stuck in the middle of a tournament having tried three different players alongside Declan Rice, none of which looks especially suited.

Anthony Gordon complete with his inadvertent soul patchAnthony Gordon complete with his inadvertent soul patch (Image: PA)

England View – Marc Iles

IT’S time for England to take the stabilisers off and pedal hard to the final at Euro 2024.

Even after three dire group games Gareth Southgate’s side still find themselves unbeaten, in a favourable half of the draw and facing a workmanlike Slovakia team for a place in the quarter-final.

Yes, it has all been a bit subdued. The negativity seems to be confusing the players and causing some idiots to spill their beer at six quid for less than a pint.

But it is nothing that cannot be rescued with a positive win in the last 16. A few goals and we will all be singing Three Lions again by Sunday evening.

I don’t think Southgate will make many alterations to the team – Conor Gallagher obviously didn’t work in midfield, so you suspect Kobie Mainoo is next in line, even if I’d like to see Adam Wharton given a run, to see if he can spark England into life.

Is Luke Shaw fit enough for an hour? It would be a massive plus if he could come through a game before a potential meeting with Italy or Switzerland and just having that extra bit of balance could be transformative.

The conversation about Phil Foden, Jude Bellingham and Bukayo Saka rumbles on, and in which order they play. I honestly don’t see Anthony Gordon as an international starter just yet – apologies, Anthony, I am sure you will take my point on the chin.

I suspect Southgate will give the same formula another go. I hope for everyone’s sake that they have had a decent rest and that frolicking around on turbo bikes hasn’t tired them out too much.

International football sure has changed. Back in Italia 90 they had to make do with a set of cards and Nigel Kennedy playing violin.

And what Fabio Capello would have made of his team zooming around on motorised vehicles a couple of days before a game wouldn’t be printable.