11 players you need to know for Euro 2024: Keep your eyes on these soccer stars

Who will be the king of Europe?

The 2024 European soccer championship – Euro 2024 – gets underway Friday in Germany, with some (most?) of the world's greatest players hoping to win one of the sport's biggest prizes.

England and France are considered the favorites entering the 24-team tournament, which will be played at 10 different stadiums across Germany with the final set for July 14 in Berlin.

From a World Cup winner and international icon (France's Kylian Mbappé) to an exciting young star leading his country in its first-ever tournament (Georgia's Khvicha Kvaratskhelia), here's a look at some of the names you need to know heading into Euro 2024:

Kylian Mbappe and France lost in the Round of 16 at Euro 2020.
Kylian Mbappe and France lost in the Round of 16 at Euro 2020.

Kylian Mbappé, France

After years of speculation and false-starts, Mbappé has officially joined Real Madrid from PSG and the 25-year-old will captain France at these European championships. "He is a formidable leader ever since he's been with us," France manager Didier Deschamps said of his star in the lead-up to the tournament. A World Cup winner in 2018 and runner-up in 2022, Mbappé scored nine goals in eight qualifiers and has his sights set on a first European title.

Jude Bellingham, England

After winning the Champions League in his first season with Real Madrid, the 20-year-old is already among the favorites to win this year's Ballon d'Or as the best player in the world and has England fans dreaming of European glory this summer. A true modern box-to-box midfielder, Bellingham scored 23 goals in all competitions for Madrid in 2023-24 and Euro 2024 will mark his third major tournament. "We are not putting everything on Jude," England manager Gareth Southgate said. "We’ve got a lot of good players and it is a collective thing to go and try to win this tournament."

Jamal Musiala, Germany

Germany's Jamal Musiala.
Germany's Jamal Musiala.

After choosing to represent Germany after years with England's youth teams, Musiala became his country's youngest-ever player in a major international tournament at the last Euros and had a breakout World Cup in Qatar. The 21-year-old has become a mainstay in the Bayern Munich lineup and can play just about anywhere in the midfield or on the wings. Following Germany's string of disappointing results in World Cups (group stage in 2018, 2022) and European championships (round of 16 in 2021), Musiala and his teammates are dealing with the weight of expectations as the host nation this summer.

Pedri, Spain

The 21-year-old Barcelona midfield has been hampered by injuries the past two years, but Spain is counting on their talisman for the tournament in Germany. "The best version of Pedri we don't know where he is, because he's so good," Spain manager Luis de la Fuente said. "We expect so much from him that it's infinite." Pedri enters Euro 2024 in good form, having scored his first career international goals in a pre-tournament friendly.

Joško Gvardiol, Croatia

In his first year with Manchester City, the 22-year-old defender played a big role in his club winning its fourth consecutive Premier League title. Gvardiol showed an unusual knack for popping up to score goals and while he is largely stationed as a left back for City, is expected to anchor the center of Croatia's back line this summer. He will certainly be challenged in the group stage with matchups against Spain and Italy.

Xavi Simons, Netherlands

A product of Barcelona's famed youth academy, the 21-year-old Simons spent this season at RB Leipzig on loan from PSG. A quick attacking midfielder who can also play wide, Simons is a cool finisher and had a team-high 11 Bundesliga assists as Leipzig qualified for the Champions League. His club situation is somewhat unsettled entering the summer and a strong performance at Euro 2024 will only increase his profile.

Romelo Lukaku, Belgium

Belgium's Romelu Lukaku.
Belgium's Romelu Lukaku.

It's hard to believe that Belgium's striker is only 31 years old, making his senior international debut at age 16 back in 2010. Now his country's all-time leading scorer with 85 goals, Lukaku has spent the past two seasons on loan in Italy after an ill-fated return move to Chelsea in 2021 and expectations are somewhat lower for Belgium on the presumed tail end of the national team's"Golden Generation" that peaked with a third-place finish in the 2018 World Cup. He scored 14 goals in eight Euro 2024 qualifying appearances, setting a new record for most goals in a single campaign. "Romelu is our glue,” Belgium manager Domenico Tedesco said.

Rasmus Højlund, Denmark

After a scoreless start to his Manchester United tenure, the 21-year-old came on strong down the stretch with 10 goals in 16 Premier League games to end the season, and he's expected to lead the line for Denmark after scoring seven goals in qualifying. Højlund works hard without the ball, earns praise for his pressing and should be able to keep back lines on their toes in Denmark's tough group with England, Slovenia and Serbia.

Mykhaylo Mudryk, Ukraine

Mudryk might never live up to the $100 million price tag on his transfer to Chelsea in January 2023, but the winger showed some flashes in his first full Premier League season and has an opportunity to change his narrative in his first major tournament. The 23-year-old scored the winning goal against Iceland in the qualification playoff final to secure Ukraine's spot in Euro 2024.

Dušan Vlahović, Serbia

The 24-year-old Juventus striker scored 16 league goals in the 2023-24 campaign and has tournament experience under his belt after playing in the 2022 World Cup. Vlahović is powerful at 6-foot-3, known for his clinical finishing and can be lethal on free kicks. Despite a big-money move to Juventus less than two years ago, the Italian giants might not be able to afford to keep Vlahović and Euro 2024 could be a spring-board to another transfer.

Khvicha Kvaratskhelia, Georgia

With Georgia qualifying for its first tournament, the 23-year-old Napoli winger gets a chance to shine on the international stage. Kvaratskhelia scored 23 goals for his club over the past two Serie A seasons, becoming one of Europe's most highly sought-after players in the process. In a fairly weak group with Portugal, Turkey and the Czech Republic, don't be surprised if Kvaratskhelia's individual brilliance leads Georgia to the knockout stage.

Contributing: Reuters

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Euro 2024: 11 players you need to know for soccer championships