EURO 2016 is coming up on us fast. The tournament in France kicks off on June 10th as the hosts face Romania in the curtain raiser.
The tournament has, for the first time in it’s history, 24 teams competing in the finals for the trophy and this means more of the continent’s finest footballers are set to take centre stage.
The expanded format has allowed the likes of Wales, Northern Ireland, Hungary, Iceland, Austria and Albania to have a crack at some of the most established nations, whereas beforehand they wouldn’t have been able to.
It promises to be an exciting month of football as Spain look to defend the title they won so emphatically against Italy four years ago, but face competition from France, Germany and Belgium predominantly for the title.
Meanwhile, England enter a new era of international football with a young exciting side that will hopefully ruffle a few international feathers as we enter 50 years since the World Cup triumph.
There’s plenty to look forward to then. No matter which side you follow or even if you don’t there’s set to be entertainment and here at FootballFanCast we think this TEN will be the headline acts…
Alli has undergone a meteoric rise for Spurs this year. The midfielder was plying his trade in League 1 for MK Dons only twelve months ago but looking at his performances at White Hart Lane this season you’d think he’d been playing in the top flight for years. He can pass, shoot, win the ball and has the competitive streak needed at this level. If he keeps his cool in England’s midfield this summer he could be the Three Lions leading man.
France have an impressive array of attacking talent. Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman will be important for Les Bleus, but Griezmann is the main attraction. The Atletico forward has evolved from a left winger into a second striker dropping deep and has been devastatingly good. 32 goals in all competitions underline his threat, taking Atleti to the Champions League final in the process and if he can replicate this at the EUROs the French may have a final of their own come July.
Think Portgual, think Cristiano Ronaldo has been the thought process for a number of years. Arguably, this has been fair in recent times too but EURO 2016 could be the moment the rest of the Portuguese national side make a name for themselves. The Portuguese have a young exciting team and Carvalho is the epitome of this in Portugal’s holding role – he could be the key for the team looking to go one better than the EURO 2004 side.
Gareth Bale’s quality is undeniable but it’s what he does with his Welsh team that could define his legacy. If he can help get Wales out of the group – and looking at it there’s no reason why they shouldn’t – then the Welsh could become a side no one wants to face. Wales will be fast on the counter and carry that surprise factor with not being in an international tournament since 1958 and if Bale can hit top form there’s no knowing how far they could go.
Another player with incredible talent, Lewandowski and his Poland team could be this tournament’s dark horses. Lewandowski has been in ridiculously good form for Bayern this season, he once scored five goals in nine incredible minutes, ensuring no defender at the tournament will want to face him if they can help it. 13 goals in ten qualifying games shows he has the international pedigree, too, and if his team-mates give him the service the former Dortmund man could be the top scorer in France.
The young Croatian has a lot expected of him at Barcelona and if he can showcase his talent on one of the biggest stages this summer, he could be in the Catalans’ first team sooner rather than later. Halilovic has been on loan at Sporting Gijon, providing five goals and five assists in 37 appearances, underlining his potential and could be the one to watch for a Croatia side that boasts Luka Modric and Mario Mandzukic, which says a lot.
Spain still have an incredible squad but are arguably looking for new heroes with the likes of Xavi, Carlos Puyol and David Villa off the international scene and they could come in the shape of Koke of Atletico Madrid. Five goals and an impressive 17 assists for Atleti have seen the midfielder become one of the most coveted in Europe and if the Spaniards do defend their crown, Koke will be right at the heart of it.
De Bruyne has begun to affirm himself as one of the best in the Premier League. Manchester City look a completely different proposition with him in the team and his injury lay off was part of the reason their title challenge faltered. If De Bruyne can bring this form into the Belgian set up he could guide his team to glory looking at the players around him allowing him to become one of the best in his position in Europe.
Sanches is another member of the exciting young Portuguese side that could go far this summer. The young midfielder secured a move to Bayern Munich earlier this month from Benfica and so evidently big things are expected from the teenager. If he and his national team are not overawed by the prospect of the continent’s finest they could surprise quite a few teams and a favourable draw for the groups means the young side should be able to build some confidence.
Alaba is the one to pick out of an Austria side that shouldn’t be underestimated. The Austrians only made EURO 2008 by virtue of being tournament hosts and have largely been missing from recent international tournaments, but an undefeated qualifying campaign has indicated better things to come. With Alaba leading the charge with his incredible left foot there’s no reason for them to fear anyone.