Euro 2024 qualifiers: Portugal stays perfect, Italy closes in on red-hot England

This month’s slate of qualifying matches for the 2024 UEFA European Championship in Germany wrapped up on Tuesday. 

Here are six takeaways following the conclusion of September’s games.

Italy tops Ukraine but remains in a dogfight

The Azzurri must have felt a sense of déjà vu last Saturday, when they once again dropped points to tiny North Macedonia, the same nation that beat Italy last year and doomed the four time world champions to a previously unfathomable second consecutive World Cup qualifying failure.

Italy rebounded Tuesday, beating the Ukrainians 2-1 at the San Siro Stadium in Milan on a first half brace by Davide Frattesi. The three points keeps them clinging to second place (and the automatic Euro 2024 berth that comes with it). Still, this is a team that can’t afford to take anything for granted, not anymore, even if it has played one fewer match than the rest of its Group C opponents.

England’s margin for error narrows

The Three Lions reached the final of the last Euros and got off to a hot start in qualifying for next summer’s edition, winning their first four contests. But last weekend’s draw against Ukraine in the neutral site of Poland makes matters just a little more urgent for Gareth Southgate’s star-studded side.

England — which beat Scotland Tuesday in a friendly commemorating the 150th anniversary of the first international match in soccer history — still comfortably leads Group B. But Italy’s win Tuesday means they would be just three points behind the Lions if they win their game in hand.

Portugal stays perfect

The bookies never seem to like Portugal, which certainly wasn’t favored to win their first and only continental crown in 2016 when, with an injured Cristiano Ronaldo willing them on from the sideline, they upset the host nation at the State de France.

For 2024, a half dozen teams have shorter odds. But setting aside any debate about the relative strength of Group J, Portugal has been the undisputed best team in Europe during qualifying, with six wins in six tries and a +24 goal differential thanks largely to Monday’s record setting 9-0 drubbing of Luxembourg without the suspended Ronaldo.

Could the Portuguese be poised for another Cinderella run next summer?

Will coaching switch stir Germany?

As Euro 2024 hosts, Die Mannschaft are exempt from qualifying, their spot in the tournament already guaranteed. But after its humiliating group stage exit from last year’s World Cup in Qatar, Germany needs to show well next summer — which is why its 4-1 friendly loss to Japan last Saturday was met with so much hand wringing both inside the DFB and among the German public.

Coach Hansi Flick was fired the following day. His successor has yet to be named, but whoever it is must get Germany back on track quickly. The talent is there — on Tuesday, the three-time European champs, whose last title came decades ago now, beat World Cup runner-up France 2-1. But there’s now just three more FIFA windows to prepare before the main event kicks off in Munich next June.

Poland has plenty of work to do

The Poles topped the Faroe Islands, as expected, 2-0 in Warsaw last Thursday on two Robert Lewandowski goals. But the victory wasn’t as convincing as it should’ve been; both strikes, the first one via the penalty spot, came late in the second half.

That lackluster result foreshadowed the calamity that would follow on Sunday, a shocking 2-0 loss at Albania. The defeat left Poland in fourth place in Group E more than halfway through qualifying, putting them in danger of missing out on Germany 2024. They’ll likely need to win their final three matches (at the Faroes and home to Moldova next month, then home to Czechia in November) to have any chance of finishing in the top two spots.

Scotland keeps rolling against the odds

Tuesday’s 3-1 loss to England stings, but Scots stayed perfect this qualifying window by beating Cyprus — their fifth win in as many Euro 2024 preliminaries — to remain well ahead of Spain atop Group A for now. Scotland is comfortably on track to reach the finals for the first time this century.

The next three games won’t be easy, though. Three time Euro titlist La Roja — which pounded Cyprus 6-0 Tuesday — will be out to avenge its March loss in Glasgow in the Oct. 12 rematch in Seville. Scotland will then hit the road again in November (to Georgia) before closing out qualifying at home against Erling Haaland-led Norway.

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports who has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at FIFA World Cups on five continents. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

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