Marcel Sabitzer
Marcel Sabitzer scored the winner for Austria against the Netherlands Image Credit: Reuters

With Euro 2024 resuming on Saturday when the last 16 gets underway, could one of the underdogs advance all the way to the final, 20 years after Greece’s shock triumph at the European Championship?

Pre-tournament favourites France and England have failed to live up to expectations – both teams have only found the back of the net twice in their opening three games – while Portugal were stunned by minnows Georgia on Wednesday.

In truth, the only team to make a real statement in the group stages was Spain, who were the only side to win all three of their games. Going off what we’ve seen so far, they look the team to beat in Germany.

But football is a fickle game and I’ll likely change my mind on that following the completion of the last 16. Knockout football is a whole different ball game to group stage action – there’s so much jeopardy involved that upsets happen often.

That, coupled with the fact that many of the underdogs at Euro 2024 have played far better than expected, could be the reason why we see one of the smaller nations in Berlin on July 14 for the final.

I’d love to sit here and say Georgia will be the ones to make it happen after winning the hearts of the footballing world by advancing to the knockout stages in their first major international tournament.

The lowest-ranked nation in the tournament have played without fear and their attacking flair has been very easy on the eye. It’s safe to say that Georgian playmaker Khvicha Kvaratskhelia will have plenty more suitors following the culmination of the tournament.

But, unfortunately for the Georgian heroes, they’ve been drawn into the tougher half of the knockout stages, alongside the likes of Germany, France, Portugal and Spain, who they will face on Sunday at the RheinEnergieStadion. Their race will likely end there.

Instead, it’s the other half of the draw where we could see an upset or two.

Switzerland, Romania, Turkey and Austria will all fancy their chances of progressing to the final, while Slovakia will certainly be a difficult test for England on Saturday.

For me, Austria have been the team of the tournament so far.

Manager Ralf Rangnick was almost a laughing stock after his time at Manchester United, where he failed to deliver results and performances at Old Trafford.

Ralf Rangnick
Ralf Ragnick celebrates Austria's victory over the Netherlands Image Credit: Reuters

But the man who is known as the 'Godfather of the Gegenpress' has proved exactly what he is capable of when given time to coach players to his way of playing.

France, the Netherlands and Poland – Austria’s three opponents in the group stage – were not given time to breathe when facing the Ragnick’s Austria.

The team hunted at will, pressing on all fronts, which helped them secure top spot in the group following the impressive 3-2 victory over Netherlands and 3-1 triumph against Poland. Only a Maximilian Wöber own goal prevented them from picking up any points against France.

The statistics also back up Ragnick’s plan to not let the opposition out of their own third.

Opta data on 'PPDA', which stands for 'opposition passes allowed per defensive action', shows that only Germany allow their opponents fewer passes before closing them down.

Each individual on their team knows their role and they collectively execute their game plan to perfection.

Austria’s next opponents? Turkey, who are ranked 17 places lower than them in the world rankings.

I’d expect them to come through that, with Netherlands the likely opponent in the quarter finals.

Having already beaten them once, Ragnick is more than capable of masterminding another result against the Dutch.

Italy or England will likely await in the semi-finals, with neither flattering to deceive this tournament. Italy might be defending champions, but they are still a team going through a transition, while England’s embarrassment of riches has failed to deliver.

That’s not to say that Austria will beat either of them, but it is certainly not as unlikely as it would have been had you discussed this before the tournament started.

Should they reach the final then France, Germany or Portugal will likely stand in the way of Austria becoming the unlikeliest champions of the tournament since Greece beat Portugal in their own backyard in 2004.

"I already said months ago I don't think it is very probable to win the Euros," said Ragnick of his team’s chances

"If someone ask me if I would completely rule it out, I'd say it is still not very likely, but the lads want to go as far as possible and we will take it step by step."

Ragnick is likely just playing his cards close to his chest. Don’t let him fool you into thinking that Austria cannot win this tournament. They well and truly can.