Euro Qualifying
What we learned from first round of Euro 2024 qualifiers
Euro Qualifying

What we learned from first round of Euro 2024 qualifiers

Updated Mar. 28, 2023 8:27 p.m. ET

The first set of qualifying matches for the 2024 European Championship concluded on Tuesday.

Here are four takeaways from the games.

Cristiano Ronaldo isn't done yet

When former Belgium manager Roberto Martínez replaced Fernando Santos after Portugal's quarterfinal loss to Morocco at the 2022 World Cup, one question superseded any other: What would the new boss do about longtime captain Cristiano Ronaldo? 


The top scorer in men's international scorer in history, Ronaldo also turned 38 last month and now plays his club ball in relative obscurity in Saudi Arabia. With one of the most talented young squads in the global game, it made plenty of sense for Martínez to move on from the living legend as his first order of business.

Yet not only was Ronaldo on Martínez's first roster, he scored two goals in each of Portugal's two March games and became the most capped men's player ever in the process. Granted, the opposition (Luxembourg and Liechtenstein) wasn't exactly elite. But with Euro 2024 just over a year away, it seems like Ronaldo might actually be able to hang around long enough to help Portugal try to reclaim the title it won in 2016.

Luxembourg vs Portugal Highlights | UEFA European Qualifiers

Spain, Netherlands in trouble early?

La Roja began qualifying well enough, beating an Erling Haaland-less Norway (the runaway Premier League scoring leader is injured) 3-0 last week. The Spaniards laid an egg in their next match, though, deservedly losing in Scotland 2-0 on Tuesday. The defeat was just Spain's eighth in 147 group stage qualifiers. It also snapped a 19-match unbeaten run in qualifying for the three-time European champion.

Meantime, the Dutch kicked off their Euro 2024 campaign by getting thoroughly embarrassed at World Cup runner-up France before taking out their frustration on 10-man Gibraltar Monday at Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam.

It's way too early for either giant to panic just yet. That said, if Erling Haaland's goals get Norway back on track this summer, there could be a three-horse race in Group A, which the Scots — who are aiming to qualify for their second straight tournament — top after two games.

It's the same story in Group B, where the Netherlands and Les Bleus remain the favorites. Yet that could change quick if Greece, the 2004 winner, pulls an upset in one or both meetings with the Oranje this fall.

Kylian Mbappé is Captain Marvelous

In his first match since replacing longtime France captain Hugo Lloris as skipper, Mbappé left his mark. The World Cup's Golden Boot winner picked up right where he left off in Qatar, scoring twice in that 4-0 drubbing of the Netherlands in Paris.

The 24-year-old superstar didn't get on the scoresheet in Monday's narrow 1-0 victory over Ireland — defender Benjamin Pavard was the unlikely match-winner in that one — but even Mbappé can't get a goal in every game.

Either way, this is officially his team now. Longtime coach Didier Deschamps has made his pick, perhaps to the chagrin of the more experienced Antoine Griezmann, who reportedly also wanted the armband, and it's hard to argue with the choice. If the added responsibility actually makes Mbappé a better, more complete player? That's a downright scary thought.

Ireland vs. France Highlights | UEFA European Qualifiers

Italy's misery continues

Sure, the Azzurri snared a 2-0 victory Sunday over Malta away from home to close out March's international break on a high. 

It still wasn't nearly enough to make fans of the four time world champs forget Italy's first match this month, a 2-1 loss to England in Naples in a rematch of the most recent Euro final. 

The defeat understandably set off alarm bells. Italy may be the defending European champ, but the program is also reeling from back-to-back failures to qualify for the World Cup. Missing next year's Euros in Germany would be catastrophic. 

Italy should still make it; the top two teams in each of the 10 groups will clinch a trip to Germany, and relative minnows North Macedonia and Ukraine round out Group C. But after those same Macedonians stunned Roberto Mancini's team last year and ensured a previously inconceivable second straight World Cup miss, the Azzurri can't afford to take anything for granted. 

Kane can keep England in the hunt 

When England fell to France in the quarterfinals of last year's World Cup, it looked like its championship window had closed. 

The Three Lions were coming off consecutive trips to major tournament final fours, including that runner-up finish at Euro 2020, with no trophies to show for it. The country that invented the sport still hasn't won a men's title in six decades.

Kane gives them a shot next summer. Of course England has plenty of other firepower in youngsters like Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford and Bukayo Saka. But Kane, the captain, is their one genuine match-winner. His goal from the penalty spot last week against Italy put him past Wayne Rooney as the Three Lions all-time goals leader, and he's not even 30 yet. Don't think Kane, who missed a vital spot kick against Les Bleus in Qatar, doesn't know that Euro 2024 represents his last, best chance to cement his legacy by hoisting some hardware for his country.

Italy vs. England Highlights | UEFA European Qualifiers

Doug McIntyre is a soccer writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a staff writer with ESPN and Yahoo Sports and he has covered United States men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @ByDougMcIntyre.

Top stories from FOX Sports:

FOLLOW Follow your favorites to personalize your FOX Sports experience
Kylian Mbappe
Cristiano Ronaldo

Get more from Euro Qualifying Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more