After a gruelling domestic season in the various European leagues, attention now shifts to France, where the best teams are set to battle for glory. From June 10th 2016, the best players in Europe will go head to head to see which country will emerge as the European Champions 2016.
Most top teams will be trying to wrestle the trophy back from a Spanish side who have not be flamboyant so far since their not-so-good showing at the 2014 world cup, after previously being European champions back-to-back (2008 and 2012), and also adding the 2010 FIFA world cup along the way.
We at 352ng have picked out 10 top players (in no particular order) to watch out for at this year’s European championship.
10. GIANLUIGI BUFFON (Juventus/Italy): Being the first choice for club and country at the age of 38 is no mean feat. Add that to setting new records in Serie A, then you know Gigi Buffon is not a pushover. It is almost 20 years since he made his debut for Parma, first appeared for Italy in 1997 and also won the world cup in 2006. If the Italian players have their scoring boots on, then they know they have a good chance of winning the Euros with a solid goalkeeper like Buffon, who went 973 minutes without conceding a goal for Juventus this season (a new Serie A record), between the sticks.
9. SERGIO RAMOS (Real Madrid/Spain): The last time Spain were in a major tournament, we remember they were humiliated by Netherlands (who won’t even be in this tourney). If Spain would have any chance to progress from their tricky group, “La Furia Roja” will need their defensive partnership of Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique to work, and work very well. Ramos will want to use the spur of winning the champions league final to inspire him to have a fantastic Euro campaign.
8. TOBY ALDERWEIRELD (Tottenham Hotspur/Belgium): Coming off a fantastic season (even though the team still came 3rd) with Tottenham Hotspur, Alderweireld will want to take that form into the Euros. He will be tasked with the responsibility to fill the void left by the injured Vincent Kompany in central defence, and will need to be on top of his game along with his partner Jan Vertoghen.
7. PAUL POGBA (Juventus/France): Young player of the tournament at the 2014 FIFA world cup, Paul Pogba has gone on to establish himself as a regular in Didier Deschamps side. He is entering the tournament as a senior figure in the French National team. What better time to translate his scintillating form for Juventus over the last four seasons with a major triumph for the national team than in front of the ever vocal and passionate “Les Blues” fans. Will he be able to bear the huge weight of expectations on his 23 year old shoulders? We wait.
6. MESUT ÖZIL (Arsenal/Germany): Ask anybody from the ‘Arsenal supporting part’ of North London, and they will tell you that this young man (still a baby boy at 27) is the best player in the world. After 19 premier league assists (which is just one short of Thierry Henry’s record of 20 in a top flight season), we wait to see if Özil can assist Germany in winning their second major tournament in as many years, after their 2014 World Cup triumph in Brazil.
5. THOMAS MÜLLER (Bayern Munich/Germany): Six years on from his surprise inclusion for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa – where he picked up the Golden boot and best young player, Thomas Müller is almost the first name (we think Manuel Neuer edges him in this regard) on Joachim Löw’s team sheet. Versatile, experienced and a proven goal scorer, Germany will need Müller to be at his very best if they are to win their first European Championship since 1996.
4. GARETH BALE (Real Madrid/Wales): Having scored 7of his country’s 11goals in qualifying, Gareth Bale ‘almost singlehandedly’ (we say almost just to recognise the fact that other people played and scored too) brought Wales to their first major finals since 1958.Gareth Bale isn’t a stranger to big occasions, but we hope he inspire his team to give a good account of themselves and also enhance his stock as the one of the best (of the rest) players in the world.
3. ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI (Bayern Munich/Poland): The classic number 9 from Poland, what more can be said about him. Highest goal scorer in qualifying for the tournament with 13 goals, 66 goals in the past two seasons with Bayern Munich, 189 career goals, we expect his goals to lead Poland far enough in the tournament. He might be on the move after the tournament. Real Madrid maybe?
2. ZLATAN IBRAHIMOVIC (PSG/Sweden): Ego✔ Self-confidence✔ 6ft+✔ Goals✔ Stunners✔ Everything✔ This guy here does not need any introduction. He’s the all-time Swedish goal scorer with 62 goals, scored 11 goals during qualifying (second only to Robert Lewandowski), and recently just left Paris Saint-Germaine after breaking various records, winning numerous trophies and becoming the club’s highest goal scorer with 156 goals in 180 appearances. This could be his last major tourney for Sweden (we hope to see him in Russia 2018 though), so he will want to leave with a bang. Also, having just left PSG, he would be looking to move to a new club. Will a good outing fetch him more money at his next club?
1. CRISTIANO RONALDO (Real Madrid/Portugal): Three-time world footballer of the year, Real Madrid’s highest goal scorer, multiple European golden shoe winner, scored 50 goals for 6 consecutive seasons etc. I could go on and on, but we all know this narrative. Ronaldo is already Portugal’s highest goal scorer and will surpass Luis Figo’s record appearances of 127 if he features in at least 3 games at this season’s tournament. He has been part of the ‘golden generation’ in Portugal that were runner-ups in 2004, quarter-finalists in 2008 and semi-finalists in 2012. Ronaldo will hope he can go one better by lifting this year’s European Championship with this Portuguese team that has faltered to deceive on many occasions. We wish Messi could come, just so the deb…or not.
- Antoine Griezmann (Atletico Madrid/France)
- Luke Modric (Real Madrid/Croatia)
- Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur/England)
- David De Gea (Manchester United/Spain)
- Manuel Neuer (Bayern Munich/Germany)
- Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City/Belgium)
- Romelu Lukaku (Everton/Belgium)
- Gerard Pique (Barcelona/Spain)
- Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus/Italy)
Article by: Amusa Oluwatimilehin, @timileyin_