Serbia, Denmark and Slovenia - what England can expect from their Euro 2024 opponents

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From tactics to players, this is the lowdown on England’s group stage opponents at Euro 2024

Just about every element of England’s preparation for Euro 2024 is under the microscope right now – from surprise training squad inclusions down to the fine details of the tactics (where exactly should Phil Foden play?) there is not one part of Gareth Southgate’s masterplan that isn’t under scrutiny or a source of bar stool debate. But there’s one piece of the puzzle that shouldn’t be forgotten – England’s opponents.

England have one of the softer groups in the opening round of the tournament on paper, but their three opponents still have plenty of talent and the potential to spring a surprise somewhere down the line. To make sure you’re up to speed and ready to be the most knowledgeable fan in the WhatsApp group when the games get underway, we’ve got the lowdown on England’s three opponents in the opening phase. These are the strengths and weaknesses, the strategies and the stars, and the ways they’ll hope to trip the Three Lions up in Germany.

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England get their tournament up and running at the end of the opening weekend when they face Serbia in the second match of Group C on 16 June. This is the first time that Serbia has qualified for the European Championships as a lone nation – as part of Yugoslavia they were runners-up in the 1960 and 1968 editions and also qualified to Euro 2000 as Serbia & Montenegro.

They scraped into the main draw this time after finishing second in their qualification group behind Hungary, who beat them home and away, and have been in patchy form – they lost 4-0 to Russia over the March international break alongside a narrow 1-0 victory over Cyprus. The team that qualified in impressive fashion for the 2022 World Cup has struggled to maintain consistency since.

Head coach Dragan Stojković lines his charges up in a compact 3-4-3 formation which looks to keep the pitch small and play with a high line. Width is almost exclusively supplied by the wing-backs (usually Juventus’ Filip Kostić and PAOK’s Andrija Živković) and the front three typically play extremely close together, with all-time leading goalscorer Aleksandr Mitrović at the tip of the spear.

They’re a possession-based side who look to play short passes and keep the ball away from opponents and are generally tight at the back – aside from the anomalous 4-0 defeat to Russia, the only side to beat them by more than one goal in the last two years was Brazil at the World Cup. They also average around two goals per game themselves – in other words, they’re no joke, and will give England a stern test.

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Other stars of the side include Juventus striker and rumoured Arsenal target Dušan Vlahović, who usually plays in a deep-lying role behind Mitrović and veteran former Southampton and Ajax midfielder Dušan Tadić, who now plays for Fenerbahçe. Another familiar name – at least for Football Manager veterans – is dynamic midfielder Sergej Milinković-Savić, although he has not been a regular starter in recent matches. Premier League interest comes from Fulham’s Saša Lukić and Chelsea’s Đorđe Petrović (the latter of whom is a back-up goalkeeper only).

This is a well-rounded side with plenty of quality, especially up front, but one weakness is a lack of pace in defence – Fiorentina’s imposing Nikola Milenković has some speed in his boots, but other likely starting defenders like Srđan Babić and Miloš Veljković are rather more sluggish and could struggle to deal with quick runs off the shoulder, especially if they play with their usual high line.


Four days later, England will face Denmark in Frankfurt – the nation who pulled off one of the greatest shocks in football history when they won the tournament back in 1992, drawing 0-0 with the Three Lions along the way. Much has changed since then, of course, but Denmark seem to have found their winning habit once again.

A surprising 2-0 defeat to Northern Ireland in November may make them look more fragile than they are – that was their only loss in their last ten matches, although that run admittedly includes home and away games against San Marino and a friendly against the Faroe Islands. Nevertheless, they came through qualifying at a good clip, topping their qualifying group with 22 points from 10 games.

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Those results do bely a sense of a side without an identity, however. Under manager Kasper Hjulmand – the same coach who was in charge when they were beaten in the semi-finals of Euro 2020 by England – they have been chopping and changing formation and personnel of late with 4-3-3, 3-5-2 and 3-4-3 all used in the last year, while there has been a constant churn of strikers, with Manchester United’s Rasmus Højlund sharing caps around with the likes of Yussuf Poulsen, Jonas Wind and Kasper Dolberg.

Performances have, accordingly, been up and down. They were only able to scrape many of their recent wins and barely escaped San Marino with three points – they were appalling in a 2-1 victory. The fact that national legend Christian Eriksen isn’t the quite the player he once was hasn’t helped.

Denmark feel like a side caught in transition between fading stars like Eriksen and goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel and the next generation of players like Højlund and Leicester City’s Victor Kristiansen, but they do have plenty of grit and solidity in midfield courtesy of Tottenham Hotspur’s Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Brentford’s Christian Nørgaard.

Ultimately, Denmark are inconsistent in attack, capable but lacking creativity and spark in midfield and despite looking decent enough in defence, they always seem to find a way to concede one goal somewhere. This is a considerably weaker side than the one England faced in the semi-finals three years ago, but if Eriksen can muster up a moment of brilliance, anything is possible.

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England’s final group stage opponents are the team most people will be least familiar with – Slovenia, who England play on 25 June in Cologne, are not a star-studded side and only have a couple of players whose names are likely to be known to a general footballing audience, but their form suggests a team who shouldn’t be underestimated.

Slovenia have only qualified for the Euros once since gaining independence from Yugoslavia, when they went without a win at Euro 2000, but they only missed out on top spot in their group by head-to-head record, qualifying as a runner-up. That happened to be Denmark’s group, and while their recent form is similarly boosted by that rather soft qualifying round, they went toe-to-toe with the Danes and have proven themselves to be a formidable side, not least by stunning Portugal with a 2-0 win in a friendly in March.

Where Denmark seem to have a new formation for every day of the week, Slovenia are refreshingly straightforward – head coach Matjaž Kek plays a straight-down-the-line 4-4-2 formation like the Nineties never ended, with overlapping full-backs supporting traditional wingers and an emphasis on quick counter-attacks. They are a disciplined side with a simple game plan who know how to win despite a comparatively weak squad.

The quality comes from two players in particular – Atlético Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak, who gives them one of the best last lines of defence in the tournament, and RB Leipzig striker Benjamin Šeško, who is tall, powerful and a superb finisher (and currently on a seven-game scoring streak). Arsenal and Chelsea are among the clubs supposedly in the market for Šeško and a goal or two at the Euros could go a long way to ensuring a big move for him this summer.

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Man-for-man, England comfortably outgun Slovenia, but they will have to be wary of getting overloaded down the wings and will have to effectively mark Šeško, who towers over the likes of Harry Maguire and John Stones. They may also have to be patient, as Slovenia don’t concede too many and will set up ready to frustrate England for long period while they lure them in before breaking quickly.

Overall, England should get out of this group relatively comfortably. All there opposing sides have the quality to be a banana skin on their day and to deliver the occasional sucker punch, but there is no question that England are the strongest side in the group on paper. That said, Serbia will likely be the toughest opposition they face, and there should be sterner tests later on in the tournament.

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