Is Euro 2024 the toughest tournament in the world?

Is Euro 2024 the toughest tournament in the world?

Updated Jun. 13, 2024 11:36 a.m. ET

It seems to make basic sense that the World Cup would be the most difficult tournament to win in international soccer, as it features the best of the best, with no superstar individual or powerhouse nation left out of the party.

Yet there has long been a school of thought that the European Championships, on account of their specific nature and format, are just as tough a gauntlet, or — wait, what? — perhaps even more challenging.

That thinking was backed up this week by none other than Kylian Mbappé, who made no secret of the fact that he thinks even mighty France will face a brutal challenge over the next month.

"The Euros are complicated," Mbappé told reporters, ahead of France's first Group D game against Austria in Dusseldorf next Monday (3 p.m. ET on FOX). "For me, (it is) more complicated than a World Cup, even if there is more pressure at the World Cup. All the teams, they know each other, we play against each other all the time. Tactically, it is very similar."


Mbappé should know. He won the World Cup at age 19, injecting speed and sparkle to a loaded France team as it surged through the field at the 2018 tournament in Russia. In the winter of 2022, it is impossible to forget, he was magnificent as France came nail-bitingly close to another World Cup, scoring a hat-trick in the final in a penalty shootout defeat to Lionel Messi's Argentina.

In the Euros, however, essentially that same France team has struggled of late, losing to Switzerland in the round of 16 last time out to round off a stuttering campaign.

Mbappé's comments were backed up by Javier Tebas, president of Spain's La Liga. Spain won the Euros in 2008 and 2012, with a World Cup win sandwiched in between, and Tebas regards the difficulty level of the continental victories with supreme respect.

"The Euros are very difficult to win," he said recently. "I would say even harder than the World Cup."

But why would a tournament featuring just the best of Europe be considered more favorably than the World Cup, which also has Europe's heavyweights, in addition to the strongest teams of South America, most notably Argentina and Brazil, plus the crème of talent from other continents.

The key behind the thinking, and this is all based off personal preference obviously, lies in the inherent depth of European soccer.

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On occasion, the best nations can breeze through a World Cup group, sometimes taking advantage of the inexperience or lower quality of teams from, say, Asia or Africa — though it should be noted the worldwide standard of the game continues to improve at a rapid pace.

At the Euros, in most cases, every game is a tough one. Looking at the 24-strong field for this year's event, which begins on Friday with Germany vs. Scotland (3 p.m. ET on FOX), Georgia (world ranked No. 75) is by far the weakest team on paper, and maybe the only one where opposition teams will fancy an easier ride.

Eight of the world's top 10 men's soccer nations, according to FIFA, hail from Europe. The continent also boasts 17 of the top 29, including both Wales and Sweden — neither of whom even managed to qualify for the festivities in Germany this summer.

When things get going, don't expect much in the way of one-sided games. The last Euros, scheduled for 2020 but delayed until the following year due to COVID, saw eight of the 15 knockout round games go to extra-time. 

The most lopsided scoreline ever seen at the Euros is five goals, which has happened on five occasions. The World Cup has witnessed six instances of wins by eight goals or more, with three seven-goal victories coming this century.

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"The Euros is much more balanced," Giorgio Chiellini, who was part of the reigning champion Italy squad and will be a FOX analyst for the tournament, told me. "It is harder because your opponent really knows you and how to play against you. But in one sense, a little easier because you know them. 

"But there no longer exist any ‘bad' teams who arrive at the tournament, maybe just in the qualifiers there might be one or two that are not competitive. And in terms of passion, at the Euros you feel it in every street, everywhere you go, how everyone cares about what happens. It is the same passion as for the World Cup." 

Examples of teams that have found the World Cup easier than the Euros are in plentiful supply. A good one is Croatia, finalist and semifinalist in the last two World Cups and conqueror of Brazil in 2022, but without a single victory in the knockout stage of the Euros.

The searing standard all conspires to make Euro 2024 an irresistible carrot for the likes of Mbappé. The star forward, who recently completed a move from Paris St. Germain to Real Madrid, regards the trophy as the main missing piece in the career cabinet.

"I have won the World Cup, I have won the Nations League," he said. "I am missing the Euro."

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.


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