Euro 2016 kicked off couple of days ago, and by now you’ve probably consumed all the match previews and tournament predictions there are to see. Aside from the World Cup, the European Championship tends to be the most exciting event in international football. While the tournament has produced a lot of surprises in recent years, it also typically offers a wonderful platform for stars to shine.
From major names like Fernando Torres and David Villa to lesser-known heroes like Angelos Charisteas (who converted a corner to top Portugal and solidify Greece’s improbable 2004 title), there are always players who step up to dominate the tournament and capture its most important moments. So who will be the man to do it this year?
Well, part of the magic always lies in not knowing. The best players tend to do well on the biggest stage, but we can never be certain who will shine the brightest. Just for fun at the outset of the tournament, here’s a look at 10 players in good positions to emerge as heroes for their nations.
Suffice it to say big things are expected of Paul Pogba at Euro 2016. Just 23 years old, he’s considered by most to be the best player for the host nations, and if France is to triumph it will likely be on his back. Not to mention if France does find a way to win they’ll immediately become one of the teams to watch heading into the 2018 World Cup. No pressure, Mr. Pogba!
Despite the fact that he continues to perform astoundingly well in big matches, it’s been suggested by some publications that this could be the last chance for Ronaldo to shine on the international stage.
Indeed despite Ronaldo’s greatness, Portugal has not been a serious threat of late, and Ronaldo is now 31. He may be in the early stages of his inevitable decline come 2018. Portugal doesn’t appear likely to contend for the title, but betting against Ronaldo as a possible Euro 2016 hero seems foolish.
Many are looking to this summer’s England team to carry the ship for English football on the international stage, and they certainly have the firepower to do it. The Three Lions’ starting XI was allegedly leaked and includes a stockpile of deadly attacking players (not to mention Daniel Sturridge and up-and-comer Marcus Rashford on the bench). But Harry Kane is now the best of the bunch, and he has a shot to lead England back to glory.
Largely because Bale has become such a star at Real Madrid, Wales seems to have become a favorite underdog at Euro 2016. It’s very unlikely that this team can make a deep run but even advancing past the group stage would be a huge achievement, and would likely mean some heroics from Bale.
Is there a more captivating personality in European football? Recently, in a pre-Euro interview, the 34-year-old Swedish striker known for self confidence claimed he was a 20 out of 10 as a person (and an 11 out of 10 as a player).
Love him or hate him, how could you not want to see a player like that at the center of the action? If Sweden manages to advance past the group stage that’s just where he’ll be. And really at his age it’s his last chance to make a major impact in an international event.
Let’s just say Muller has established himself as a premiere goalscorer in major events. In 2014 he became just the third player to score five goals in each of his first two World Cups, and did so while leading Germany to the title in Brazil.
I’ve tried to space these selections out across multiple teams, but it feels appropriate for the host nation to get two mentions. One of the leading betting markets has singled out Giroud as a possible unlikely hero at Euro 2016, and frankly it’s easy to imagine. As often as he’s used as a scapegoat at Arsenal, Giroud puts the ball in the back of the net, and if France is to go far he’ll likely need to perform well.
Robert Lewandowski gets most of the spotlight at Poland, but there’s always some fun in looking for young, emerging players to star in international events as well. In that regard, Arkadiusz Milik may be one of the more interesting players in the tournament. Poland has a shot to get out of the group stage and given Milik’s strong play in qualifying he could help propel them to unexpected heights.
The 6’5” Austrian striker was a constant problem for opponents during qualifying, scoring seven goals in 10 matches. That accounted for nearly a third of the 22 total goals Austria scored en route to a stunning 9-1-0 finish in qualifying, and it makes Janko a fascinating potential hero heading into the tournament.
Finally, it feels only right to include a goalkeeper on the list. There’s little argument that Manuel Neuer is the best keeper in Europe, but Sommer has been mentioned among the best of the bunch, and plays for more of an underdog. In a way, Germany can get by without a spectacular performance from Neuer; but if Switzerland are going to make any noise, it’ll likely mean Sommer has a terrific tournament.
These are 10 great players to watch, but as mentioned it could be anybody who steps up as the hero of Euro 2016. We’ll just have to see who’s ready to emerge.