Which Dark Horse Teams Could Win the European Football Championship in the Next Decade? - The Redditch Standard

Which Dark Horse Teams Could Win the European Football Championship in the Next Decade?

Redditch Editorial 8th May, 2024 Updated: 10th May, 2024   0

The European Football Championship is undeniably one of the most important international competitions, perhaps only outdone by the World Cup in terms of the excitement and agitation around it.

With the 2024 edition set to take place in Germany this summer, everyone is making their Euros Cup predictions
Will it be the hosts who claim their first such title since 1996?

Perhaps England could “bring it home” after coming incredibly close last time? Or France, the World Cup finalists?

But no less interesting is predicting the so-called dark horses, the non-obvious teams that may take the competition by storm and go all the way like Denmark in 1992 or Greece in 2004. And even if we do not get to see a surprise winner this summer, it is not impossible to imagine such a scenario in the next 10 years.

Belgium: The Never-Ending Golden Generation

Belgium’s improved performances in the last two decades are not down to chance. After a disappointing showing at the 2000 Euros which they co-hosted with the Netherlands, the local Football Association realised that the system was in a dire need of an overhaul.




The local footballing authorities undertook an evidence-based approach, grounding their new strategy in the research done by four Belgian universities.

The country made the bet on youth football and adopted a player-centred approach, where the development of an individual player was more important than the results of the team. The youngsters were encouraged to take risks, and most teaching was game-based as opposed to normative drills.


As a result, the last decade Belgium has given us such superstars as Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard, Romelu Lukaku, Thibaut Courtois and many others. While most of the familiar names are in their thirties or already retired, there is a new generation of ballers growing up – Jeremy Doku, Arthur Vermeeren, Amadou Onana to name a few.

Belgium’s top achievement to date remains the third place at the 2018 World Cup, having also been runner-ups at the European Championship back in 1980. In the last two decades, though, the Red Devils have never made it past the quarter-finals at the Euro. But with such a large pool of young talents, their chance to go for the gold will certainly come sooner or later.

Croatia: The Might-Have-Beens

Croatia’s incredible journey at the 2018 World Cup will be remembered for generations, as a national team that was never considered a “big footballing nation” was one step away from becoming world champions. And to prove that their second place in 2018 was not a fluke, the Croats came in third at the next edition in Qatar. However, Croatia has never made it past the quarter-finals at the European Championship as an independent country.

Croatia’s success story is somewhat similar to that of Belgium, except that they did not have a decisive moment of restructuring. Instead, Croatia was able to build on and modernise the solid foundations that they inherited from Yugoslavia, the two-times European runner-ups. The senior players have been crucial in translating their experience and helping grow the new generation.

Thus, the solid youth system has played an important role in why a country of only 3.5 million people has given the world the likes of Ballon d’Or winner Luka Modric, Ivan Rakitic, Ivan Perisic, Markio Mandzukic and so on. While coach Zlatko Dalic may not have an unending list of talents to pick from, he can always count on a small group of extremely-talented players and a dozen others willing to do the dirty work.

An inconspicuous advantage of coming from a small country is that the players know each other well from either training together or facing off at the highly-rated academies of Dinamo Zagreb and Hajduk Split. It is thanks to this unity and comradery that Croatia has been able to punch above its weight in recent years.

As long as Croatia does not lose their X-factor, there is no reason not to believe that they can come out triumphant in a knockout tournament. Having the best players is not enough  as football is played on the pitch, not on paper.

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