Euro 2024 talking points: Predicting the final; scrap extra time?

Euro 2024 is down to the final four teams, but we can all enjoy another round of fixtures before the winner is crowned on July 14.

So far, the tournament in Germany has been full of surprises, but what has stood out from the quarterfinals as Portugal and Germany fell to leave France vs. Spain on one side of the bracket, with Switzerland and Turkey exiting to leave England vs. Netherlands on the other?

We asked ESPN FC’s writers at the tournament what they have made of things so far now that we’re heading into the semifinals next week.


What was your main takeaway from the quarterfinals?

Gab Marcotti: Overall, a reminder of what an outsize role luck and randomness — rather than playing well — have to do with a tournament like this. It makes little sense that France and (especially) England are still in it given how their games unfolded. But it’s football — it often does not make sense. Oh, and Spain play really nice football. Maybe you don’t need a fancy, big-name coach after all. A competent one will suffice.

Rob Dawson: That Spain are the best team in the tournament. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll win it, because it’s all about getting the job done rather than the quality of the performances, but they have been terrific. They deserve more credit for coming through that quarterfinal against Germany (winning 2-1 in extra time), particularly after conceding so late in normal time.

Sam Marsden: It’s impossible to pick a champion (although we will have a go in a bit). Pre-tournament favourites France and England have ambled through the tournament and both look beatable — even if neither have lost yet. Spain have been great but could easily have gone out against Germany before Mikel Merino‘s 119th-minute winner. France will pose a different challenge, and the winner of that tie will probably be the favourite in the final, but it’s hard to rule out England or Netherlands. The Dutch have now scored nine goals at the tournament. Only Spain and Germany (both 11) have netted more.

Mark Ogden: We don’t have an outstanding team at Euro 2024. Spain are probably the best remaining side, but they have their flaws and they only stand out because they are different in the sense that possession of the ball is still their way to win. The rest don’t quite know what they are, or what they want to be, but they have individuals capable of winning any game. This tournament is wide open because no one team is clearly better than the rest.

James Olley: You don’t have to play well to win. France and England ground out results with a level of performance way below their individual star quality. Spain were better against Germany but more attritional than many probably expected, picking up seven yellow cards in the process. And as if to underline the point, Germany looked so vibrant in the group stage but will watch the semifinals at home.

Julien Laurens: We got some very tense games, which is normal because we are in the money time of the tournament. It’s more about character than anything else. No one wants to make a mistake, and the level between teams is very close. I have been disappointed, nevertheless, by the performances of forwards and top players in the quarterfinals. Kylian Mbappé, Harry Kane, Álvaro Morata, Memphis Depay, Kai Havertz, Jamal Musiala … Teams relied on others to be their match winners, which is no bad thing.

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1:27

Burley slams Portugal’s Martinez for ‘pandering’ to Cristiano Ronaldo

The ESPN FC crew criticizes Portugal coach Roberto Martinez for his inability to remove Cristiano Ronaldo for the benefit of the team.

Will Cristiano Ronaldo be at the 2026 World Cup?

Marcotti: As a player? Maybe. Because he’s polarizing, folks will pile on, judge him on this tournament, and say he shouldn’t be there. And yes, he had a very poor tournament. But that was five games, coming after a good season, both at club and international level. Any player can go off the boil for five games, especially when he’s playing too many minutes. Portugal would have been far better off using Cristiano Ronaldo more efficiently. It’s a shame coach Roberto Martínez didn’t realize that.

Laurens: No chance. Ronaldo should retire from international football now. After what we saw in Germany, he is not good enough anymore at this level. And even if he wants to continue, then Martínez has to take the decision of finishing his international career for him. Ronaldo is one of the greatest ever and had an amazing international career, but it is time to admit that it is over now.

Ogden: Yes he will. He shouldn’t be, because he can’t move like he used to and that won’t improve with age, but if he wants to be there, he will be. The problem for Ronaldo is that he is now tarnishing his reputation. He is one of the best players the game has ever seen, but he is becoming a figure of ridicule, and that’s a real shame.

Olley: Yes. It felt significant that Ronaldo made it clear this would be his last Euros, not his last tournament, and that leaves the door open to one last dance in the U.S. Ronaldo is obviously flawless in his professionalism and if anyone can impact a World Cup in his 40s — even if it is off the bench — it is surely him.

Dawson: Yes. The timeline would give him two more seasons in Saudi Arabia with Al Nassr and then retire after the World Cup. With players like Bruno Fernandes, Bernardo Silva and Rúben Dias still in their prime, Portugal could do well in the U.S., and there’s no way Ronaldo will want to miss out.

Marsden: He probably will be, won’t he? If he is, let it be by accepting, finally, at the age of 41 by then, that he cannot be on the pitch all the time. Only goalkeeper Diogo Costa (510 minutes) played more than his 486 minutes during the finals for Portugal. Martínez’s side may have been better off without the Ronaldo road show in Germany — zero goals from 23 shots, making this the first time he’s failed to score at a major tournament — and the same will be true in two years if his attitude and expectations do not change.

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Burley rants on ‘ridiculous’ Euro 2024 suspension rules

Craig Burley feels for the Spain players who will miss their Euro 2024 semifinal for picking up just two bookings in five games.

Should players be banned for two yellow cards when you get to the knockout rounds?

Marcotti: So first of all, if a game is officiated well you’re not going to have a zillion cards because good referees know how to keep discipline without waving them around. And that’s when you likely have banned players. Wiping from the round of 16 is silly. I don’t want to give guys a licence to collect two yellows in three games, especially given the damage tactical fouls do to the game. Maybe you could make it two yellows in your last four games? I guess the issue, as ever, is that not all yellows are created equal.

Marsden: Absolutely not. Two yellow cards in five games and you miss a semifinal? Excessive. Yes, there needs to be a deterrent to make players think twice about foul play and tactical fouls, but in these short tournaments it’s important for the spectacle to give players the best chance to be on the pitch in the latter stages.

Dawson: It’s a hard balance because you want to do everything you can to put players off committing tactical fouls which spoil a game, but wiping bookings after the round of 16 is fair enough. These tournaments don’t come around very often and it’s important to have the best players on the pitch and not watching from the stands.

Ogden: If it’s yellows in back-to-back knockout games then yes. But start with a clean slate after the group stage. The key issue now is that officials are so inconsistent that a suspension is only one bad decision away, and that is unfair.

Olley: No. The accumulation of cards should be wiped after the round of 16. Obviously players still need to retain their discipline but the prospect of key players missing a career-defining occasion — not to mention the damage it does to the overall spectacle — does not benefit anyone.

Laurens: Definitely not. If you get two yellow cards in the three games of the group stage then you are banned for one game. But you start from scratch again in the knockout phase. And if you get two cautions again in your first two or three games then you get a one-match ban.

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Is it time to put ‘England are bad at penalties’ to bed?

Steve Nicol says the quality of penalty takers that England have means that they should no longer fear penalty shoot-outs.

Should the Euros go straight to penalties, like the Copa América, or do you like extra time?

Marcotti: WHAT?! Get rid of extra time? This isn’t the League Cup. Extra time brings drama, which is what this knockout football is all about.

Ogden: Yes, go straight to penalties. Players are shattered after a long season and extra time now seems like a punishment, and it also impacts on the winners for the next game. And also, from a fan perspective, getting rid of extra time means they can worry less about missing trains home.

Olley: Anything that helps reduce the likelihood of a penalty shootout is all right by me. Extra time is often turgid with many sides reluctant to take risks, but the 90-minute matches themselves could be more like that if the prospect of 30 additional minutes were removed. Mind you, getting out of these stadiums after a 9 p.m. kickoff, extra-time and then penalties is not always enjoyable for fans.

Laurens: Why would you get rid of extra time? What could be a valid reason? Games should not go straight to penalties, it is not right and not fair. Extra time gives you a bit more time to win the game, it brings more potential drama, possibly more twists as we saw on Friday in the Spain-Germany game.

Marsden: Keep extra time. It may often feel like two teams waiting for penalties, but the knock-on effect of removing it would change how teams play in the final 20 minutes of normal time. Besides, there have been two extra-time winners from the five games which have gone into an additional 30 minutes at this Euros: Spain against Germany and England against Slovakia.

Dawson: Players and managers would probably like to get rid of it because it means less time on the pitch, but removing it would take something away from the spectacle. With lots of tired legs, extra time can sometimes be quite frantic which is entertaining to watch. Keep it.

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1:54

Melchiot: Netherlands stepped up under pressure to complete comeback win

Former Netherlands defender Mario Melchiot breaks down how the Dutch turned things around to beat Turkey and secure a spot in the Euro 2024 semifinals.

Who is your pick to reach the final, and who will win it all?

Marcotti: I’ll say Spain to play Netherlands in the final and Spain to win it. Spain have played the best football of the four semifinalists by far. The Dutch haven’t been great, though they’ve had their moments. France and England have looked like a lot less than the sum of their parts. Of course that’s what I want to happen. More realistically, France will just win it all again because player for player they’re just so much better than everybody else. And coach Didier Deschamps can commit crimes against football — like leaving Ousmane Dembélé out — and get away with it.

Olley: I went with France before a ball was kicked and I’ll stick with them now. They are grinding their way through the draw like England but, unlike England, they have proven pedigree in getting over the line. Spain are a formidable obstacle, however.

Ogden: I’m going for Spain against England. France have been so disappointing, but they do have the ability to blow Spain away if they click. Spain are just in better form, so I’m backing them. And although England have been dismal in most of their games, the Dutch aren’t great. They have no striker and a lightweight midfield. England can, and should, beat them.

Dawson: Spain have been the best team at the tournament by a distance and England seem to be finding a way to get over the line each time they play. Spain to play England in the final, with Spain winning. England’s luck has got to run out eventually.

Marsden: Copy and paste what I said after the group stage: A Spain-France semifinal and the winner to beat England in the final. If pushed on which of Spain or France, I am leaning toward the French. Spain have been the best team at the tournament, but they are missing some key defenders through suspension, Pedri is injured and they have fitness doubts around Fabián Ruiz and Dani Olmo. Les Bleus, meanwhile, have a habit of finding their way through under Deschamps, who is aiming to reach a fourth final in the six major tournaments at which he has coached them.

Laurens: France are still my pick and my favourite because of the experience they have in big tournaments and because they are by far the best defensive unit at the Euros. They will frustrate Spain in the semifinal and Mbappé will finally shine. Then they will face England in the final, after they beat Netherlands on penalties. And in the “Laurensico” between France and England, Les Bleus will prevail!