Albania, Slovenia and Slovakia: the surprises on the road to Euro 2024

The road to the 2024 European Championship continues. This week there will be two more rounds in the qualifying round. With most teams already playing five or six games, and some, such as Spain, with only four due to the Nations League, it is possible to observe some trends in the qualifying groups.

The teams with the best results so far are Portugal, France and Scotland. The National Team, seen as one of the title contenders next summer in Germany, has won all six games so far. The Welsh and the British are also on a winning streak but have played one game less.

Scotland, Spain’s opponents in Seville on Thursday, are the surprise of this stage, a fact they confirmed by beating Spain in Glasgow and beating Norway away from home. The Tartan Army thus managed to pass between two of the best teams on the continent in the top 3.

But the list of surprises doesn’t end here. Group E is led by Albania, who have achieved positive results against two theoretically superior opponents. The draw in Prague, against the Czech Republic, and the victory in Tirana, against Poland, put them in a strong position to play in their second European Championship in history, after having participated in Euro-2016, won precisely by Portugal, where they managed to defeat Romania.

Slovenia is very close to return

Slovenia has established itself in recent years as a powerhouse in different sports, despite having just over two million inhabitants. This is the case of basketball, where the national team led by Luka Doncic was proclaimed European champion in 2017, or cycling, where it has grand tour winners such as Primoz Roglic and Tadej Pogacar. In football, they have not yet reached that level, but they are on course to return to a UEFA European Championship, something that has not happened since Belgium/Netherlands in 2000, when Zahovic, led by Zahovic, faced Spain in the group stage.

In this qualifying phase, the team is performing well. They lead Group E, level on points with Denmark, with four wins, one draw and one defeat, and have Atlético de Madrid goalkeeper Jan Oblak as one of their main exponents, as well as Panathinaikos striker Andraz Sporar, former Sporting and SC Braga player, their top scorer.

Slovakia in Portugal’s shadow

The Slovaks are second in Group J, just behind the unbeatable national team. Victories over rivals such as Bosnia and Herzegovina (2-0) and Iceland (1-2) put them in a privileged position. They only lost to Portugal, who they face again this Friday, at Estádio do Dragão.

Slovakia has participated in the last two European Championships and is dreaming of a new participation on German soil in nine months’ time. Led by veteran Juraj Kucka and Napoli midfielder Stanislav Lobotka, they also feature Mallorca defender Martin Valjent.

Israel and Moldova

Other teams that are performing well are Israel and Moldova. The Jews, whose game against Switzerland was postponed due to the war provoked by Hamas, are just a point behind Romania, who are in second place. Granada’s Shon Weissman, along with Manor Salomon and Oscar Gloukh, are the pillars of the team.

Moldova is third in Group E, level with the Czech Republic and two points behind Albania. The Moldovans were held to a goalless draw by the Czechs in Chisinau and defeated Poland 3-2 at the same venue. The Moldovans have never qualified for a major event and have Heerenveen striker Ion Nicolaescu as their all-time top scorer.