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Tighter matches, new faces and more surprises: an increasingly competitive EURO

It has been a thrilling ride to the UEFA EURO 2024 final with results that highlight an increasingly level playing field in European football and further signs that the tournament is evolving to offer more teams more opportunities to make their mark.

Dani Olmo celebrates his team's second goal in the UEFA EURO 2024 semi-final match against France
Dani Olmo celebrates his team's second goal in the UEFA EURO 2024 semi-final match against France UEFA via Getty Images

Spain and England will face off in the final of UEFA EURO 2024 in Berlin on Sunday, as both teams emerged 2-1 winners in their semi-finals versus France and the Netherlands, respectively.

Dani Olmo scored the winning goal for Spain, while Ollie Watkins clinched victory for England in the final minutes, with both semi-finals proving tense affairs.

The close-fought knockout matches followed an extremely competitive group stage, from which tournament debutants Georgia made the round of 16. Slovenia also reached the knockouts for the first time while Romania returned for the first time since 2000.

Opportunity knocks

These results illustrate how the 24-team set-up introduced for the championship's 2016 edition has increased the variety of teams competing at the top level while maintaining the level of competitiveness.

In 2016, Wales got to the semi-finals and debutants Iceland not only qualified from their group but stunned heavyweights England in the last 16. Their Nordic counterparts Denmark were then semi-finalists at EURO 2020.

Equally, the opportunity for third-placed sides to qualify for the knockout stage means more teams have something to play for throughout, and gives some of the less-fancied nations a greater chance of going further in the tournament. At EURO 2020, 23 of the 24 sides had something at stake ahead of their final group games, while this time only Poland were already out heading into Matchday 3.

 Denmark celebrate their victory against Czechia in the EURO 2020 quarter-finals
Denmark celebrate their victory against Czechia in the EURO 2020 quarter-finalsUEFA via Getty Images

Increasingly unpredictable tournament

The matches at EURO 2024 have been incredibly tight, exemplifying the growing competitiveness of the tournament. The average margin of victory at EURO 2024 has been just 1.08 goals – the lowest since the eight-team 1992 edition and well down on the 1.39 average winning margin seen at EURO 2008.

This is not just a result of the closely fought knockout matches, because the average margin of victory at the end of the group stage was 1.03 goals.

All 24 teams claimed at least one point, and the average points difference between first and fourth in each group – 4.5 points – was the lowest since EURO '96, the first to feature 16 teams.

Of this summer's four semi-finalists, only Spain won all their group stage games as the Netherlands lost to Austria, while England and France both also had to be satisfied with registering just the one victory.

Level playing field

The expansion of the EURO has contributed to UEFA's continuing aim to increase the competitiveness of the whole of European football.

The introduction of the UEFA Nations League not only offers a new route to EURO qualification but provides the regular competitive matches that some of Europe's smaller footballing nations have historically struggled to come by – and which are crucial for facilitating improvement and driving interest. Georgia's EURO 2024 success represents the latest marker in a period of development in which the Nations League plays a significant role.

Providing financial support is another means of strengthening the European game. Following the culmination of the EURO, around two-thirds of the revenue generated by the tournament will be redistributed between all 55 of UEFA's member associations to be put towards football development on and off the pitch.

Get the lowdown on the four teams in the semi-finals

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