What to look out for in Euro 2024 qualifying

football05 September 2023 07:40| © AFP
Luis de la Fuente © Getty Images

The road to Germany resumes this week as Euro 2024 qualifying kicks back into action with key games for the continent's heavyweights.

AFP Sport picks out some of the highlights with two rounds of matches spread over six days from September 7 to 12.

A new coach for Italy

Reigning European champions Italy have a new coach after Roberto Mancini's resignation, with Luciano Spalletti hired as his replacement.

Mancini resigned in mid-August, saying his decision had "nothing to do" with a possible move to Saudi Arabia. Two weeks later he was named as the new Saudi coach on a four-year deal.

Spalletti, who left Napoli after leading them to the Serie A title last season, takes over a team that is third in qualifying Group C, with three points from two games.

Italy go to Skopje on Saturday to face North Macedonia, the team that knocked them out in a World Cup qualifying play-off last year. They then host Ukraine in Milan in a potentially vital encounter.


Spain coach Luis de la Fuente will hope to turn the focus back to football after he faced criticism for applauding a controversial speech by the country's federation president Luis Rubiales last month.

Rubiales sparked worldwide outrage when he forcibly kissed Jenni Hermoso after Spain beat England in the Women's World Cup final in Sydney on August 20.

He provoked further ire with a defiant speech at an emergency meeting in which he refused to resign despite mounting pressure and instead railed against "false feminism", as De la Fuente applauded.

De la Fuente was an eyebrow-raising appointment when he replaced Luis Enrique after the World Cup. La Roja began Euro qualifying in stuttering fashion and lost to Scotland in March. However, they won the Uefa Nations League in June, beating Croatia on penalties in the final.

They will now be expected to beat Georgia in Tbilisi and Cyprus in Granada, and De la Fuente could hand a debut to 16-year-old Barcelona starlet Lamine Yamal.


Moving to the Saudi Pro League does not appear to have jeopardised the international prospects of European stars, not yet anyway.

Cristiano Ronaldo continues to be called up by Portugal at the age of 38 and having joined Al-Nassr in January. He has been joined in Roberto Martinez's latest Portuguese squad by two new arrivals to the Saudi league in Ruben Neves and Otavio.

"We will see what state the players coming from the Saudi league are in," Martinez told Portuguese media.

"It is a different situation, but that doesn't mean it has to be negative. We need to adapt to these new circumstances in football without making a big deal out of it."

Jordan Henderson is in the England squad despite joining Al-Ettifaq, while there are plenty of other examples, including Al-Nassr's Aymeric Laporte featuring for Spain.

France coach Didier Deschamps opted not to call up N'Golo Kante, now playing for Al-Ittihad, but did insist he was "available" for selection.


Portugal are one of four teams with a maximum 12 points from four games, along with Scotland, France and England. But the Euro 2016 winners are the only ones among that quartet to have two qualifying matches this month and they can close in on securing a spot at the finals in Germany.

Roberto Martinez's team face Slovakia in Bratislava and Luxembourg in Faro in Group J. Two wins would leave them on the brink of qualification given that the top two progress from a group also containing Bosnia and Herzegovina, Iceland and Liechtenstein.


Expanding the Euros to 24 teams offers a greater chance for some of the continent's lesser lights to qualify and Kazakhstan have emerged as surprise contenders to do just that.

The vast nation of 19 million people is situated mainly in Central Asia but joined Uefa in 2002. They have never qualified for a Euro or World Cup, and have never really come close – they failed to win a game in qualifying for last year's World Cup.

However, three straight wins in Group H, including at home to Denmark and away to Northern Ireland, have propelled them up to second place. They are behind only Finland, who they host on Thursday in Astana before then hosting Northern Ireland.

Two more victories and the dream really will be alive for a team ranked 104th in the world and whose players are almost all based domestically.