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Euro 2024: What we learned in the group stage

Tom Gennoy in Hamburg
June 27, 2024

Since kicking off just under a fortnight ago, Germany's summer in the spotlight has afforded observers a few lessons. Here are five things we've learned during the group stage of Euro 2024.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia raises his arm to celebrate a goal
Georgia have made it through to the last 16 after a shock win over PortugalImage: David Rawcliffe/Propaganda Photo/IMAGO

Expecting efficiency? Think twice

Perhaps the most talked-about takeaway from the tournament so far has been this: German efficiency isn't what it's cracked up to be. Surprised? Well, while locals are well accustomed to a rail network characterized by caprice and chaos, transport headaches came as an unwelcome shock to tens of thousands of visiting fans.

The country that many supporters expected to find – where things work as advertised and the trains run on time – has turned out to be a mirage. Many have faced delays, overcrowding, or unexplained cancellations, in various locations right across the country.

Some cities have managed to handle the pressure — Hamburg, Frankfurt, Leipzig among them — but Cologne, Düsseldorf, Munich, and above all Gelsenkirchen have made energetic contributions to the dismantling of the German efficiency myth.

On the walk to the Cologne Stadium on Wednesday evening, one supporter told DW of his disbelief and dismay. A veteran of previous tournaments, he summoned wistful memories of happier days. "I was here in 2006, and there wasn't a late train all summer!"

Old-school football enjoying a renaissance 

The clipboard-wielders, data nerds, statisticians and tacticians might have taken over in the world of club football, but it seems there's still space for anarchy in the international game. Several matches so far have delivered a welcome shot of old-school, high-octane energy.

Take Turkey's opener against Georgia, arguably the standout fixture of the group stage. It was anaerobic football; don't pause for breath, dash, sprint, charge! Panicked attacking was preferred to patience in possession, all-or-nothing dice throws to damage limitation in defense, and arrogant shots from distance to intricately crafted passing moves.

These were the makings of a rich, unforgettable encounter, a remarkable first-ever appearance at a European Championships for Georgia, which they were made to play in a deeply inhospitable setting. The noise of the Turkish supporters was ear-splitting, their power fearsome. A riotously loud BVB Stadium in Dortmund was the spectacular stage that this fixture deserved, and the football was fitting too; chaotic, electric, captivating.

Politics can't be kept at bay

The motto of Euro 2024 is "United by Football," and in the sense that 24 countries have been brought together in one country to play the beautiful game, it is apt.

The case of Mirlind Daku, though, is one of many that speaks of discord under the surface. Daku was suspended for two games by UEFA after initiating nationalist chants with Albanian supporters after their 2-2 draw with Croatia. UEFA said that the songs in question brought football into disrepute. The Albanian federation was ordered to pay a total of $50,000 (€46,800) in fines after supporters reportedly chanted "Kill the Serb," during the same fixture.

There have also been reports that Croatian supporters chanted the same thing. At Serbia's opening match, English supporters held aloft the flag of independent Kosovo during the singing of the national anthems.

Opposite them, Serbians raised a banner on which the inscription "No Surrender" was emblazoned across a map of Serbia incorporating Kosovo. Ahead of their subsequent game, a group of supporters was reportedly heard chanting "Kosovo is the heart of Serbia" as they marched across Munich's Marienplatz.

Albania player Mirlind Daku shouts in to a megaphone
Albania player Mirlind Daku was suspended for two games in a tournament marked by Balkan tensionsImage: Sergei Mikhailichenko/SOPA Images/Sipa USA/picture alliance

With so many sources of tension discoloring relations between Balkan nations, and so many of those in attendance at the tournament, it ought to come as no surprise that politics have forced their way into view at the Euros.

A whole host of hosts

Back in 2018, Germany won the right to host Euro 2024 against one other bid. Funny then, that six years down the line, the unsuccessful applicant should end up competing in a home tournament regardless. Then again, given that between two and a half and three million people living in Germany have Turkish roots, it's no wonder that their fans at these Euros have been so formidable.

Twice in Dortmund and once in Hamburg, the Turkish 11 have walked out of the tunnel feeling right at home, with tens of thousands of raucous supporters puffing wind into their sails. Their poor opponents have had to endure the cauldron, suffering deafening concerts of whistles during every spell of possession.

Germany's neighbors to the northwest, the Netherlands, might also have a claim to the title of honorary host nation. The Oranje invasions of Hamburg, Berlin, and Leipzig were little short of seismic.

Euro 2024 group phase ends with plenty of surprises

And while we're on the topic of special supporters, the Scots also won plenty of German hearts during their short sojourn at the tournament. So endearing were the Tartan Army that an online petition calling for Germany and Scotland to play an annual friendly has gathered close to 50,000 signatures.

Nothing like a 'proper' tournament

As many fans from many different countries have told DW, the attraction of a "proper" tournament — in summer, in one place, in a time without pandemic woes — is immense, particularly after such a long time without one.

Transport woes and first-week weather aside, Germany has been a perfect host. The stadiums are world class and the atmospheres they've helped create have been exceptional. Security fears have so far been allayed and crowd trouble has been almost entirely absent.

Those long-guarded local hopes of a second "summer fairytale" feel like they're being fulfilled — that is, as far as it's possible to measure a phenomenon so nebulous and elusive.

It certainly won't hurt in that regard if Germany stick around in the competition a little while longer. But even if they vacate the stage, whoever is left will be given a gracious welcome. It's a credit to the host nation that so many visitors have felt so at home here, too. 

Edited by: Matt Pearson