The European Championships in France are vastly approaching and with less than two weeks until the tournament starts. It may be time to consider the contenders for the tournament and what footballers may impress. Here are five potential winners to consider.
When host nation France kick off the tournament on June 10th 2016 at the iconic Stade De France stadium in Paris, expectations will rise and reach fever pitch. It only seemed yesterday to most followers of Les Bleus, when they lifted the trophy back in Rotterdam in 2000. Since then French football has gone through many transitions and from the devastation of an early group stage exit at the 2010 World Cup a new young and exciting side has emerged.
Built around the young and powerful Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba, Didier Deschamps has produced a side that can threaten any side in Europe on their day. They possess huge potential in young strikers Antoine Greizmann and Anthony Martial, who have had great seasons respectively with Atletico Madrid and Manchester United, and will be the blueprint of French football for many years to come. Experience is vital too and they can look to wise old heads of Patrice Evra and Bacary Sagna to help carry a nation.
However, the loss of Karim Benzema may be a big blow to their hopes. After he was excluded from the squad regarding a bizarre blackmail story with fellow French teammate Mathieu Valbuena. It has left a dark cloud over French football. The striker much like Pogba is a genuine world class footballer and will be devastated to miss out on a home tournament. Someone will have to fill the gap that Benzema has left.
In some ways Spain have gone quietly under the radar coming into the tournament and this may help their chances. This is a side that for all their world class talent were so underwhelming in Brazil and were never really able to get going. They still are to be taken seriously however and Vicente del Bosque will be desperate to make up for that disappointment.
What cannot be underestimated is that they are still much very strong defensively and offensively. Real Madrid and Barcelona defenders Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos are in their prime and are still on their day as good as any centre-backs in Europe. Barcelona full-back Jordi Alba can still be a dangerous outlet for the national side going forward too. Their midfielder is full of quality and they have strength in depth in so many areas. David Silva, Cesc Fabregas and Koke can all open up defences with great movement and passing.
The question mark and in recent times has been their strikers. Spain have struggled to really find a natural goal scorer in matches and have tried numerous experiments. They have tried Diego Costa, Roberto Soldado and Paco Alcacer in lone roles and all have failed to establish themselves as Spain’s main man up front. They may place their faith in Juventus striker Alvaro Morata, who at 23 has a bright future and continues to impress at the Italian club, domestically and on the European stage.
When the tournament starts it will be fifty years since the national side lifted the World Cup trophy back in 1966 at an ecstatic Wembley and still to this day it is a source of inspiration for the suffering fans. Every tournament is the same too, the expectations rise only for the side to perform poorly. Only for another golden generation to fail where their predecessors were so successful.
The 2014 World Cup added to a long line of failures at major tournaments and since then Roy Hodgson has vowed to create a brand new generation that can be exciting but at the same time be able to rise to pressure. Emerging is a new generation of young players with big potential and exciting ability.
Harry Kane is a prime example of this new system. He has adapted well to international football bringing the form that helped him win Premier League golden boot for Tottenham this season. There are mentions for his club team mate Dele Ali, who like Kane has been a revelation since he made the move from League One side MK Dons last summer and Ross Barkley. The young Everton midfielder, who is exciting to watch and has a huge future for the Merseyside club.
From an England’s fan viewpoint, they will be hoping they can go one better than the past generation that featured David Beckham, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard. Wayne Rooney is the last remaining active player of that generation and would be desperate to at least be one player to win a major international tournament.
It would be great also to note the achievements that Leicester and Jamie Vardy have achieved this season. It was not so long ago that Jamie Vardy was playing in the lower tiers of non-league football in England has had a remarkable rise. He has helped Leicester achieve a fairy tale by winning the Premiership this season and that story may continue with England.
Germany are the World Champions and will be hoping to replicate recent sides such as France and Spain, who in recent times have followed World Cup wins with winning a European Championship. They are in good shape but may be slightly different from the current side that ended the World Cup with several stars retiring and will have to replace the hole their influence had on the side.
Phillip Lahm, the Bayern Munich full back was the engine of the German National side and has retired leaving a huge gap to fill in defence. Miroslav Klose was always the talisman with a knack for always scoring vital goals for the national team and his retirement was always set to happen at the age of thirty seven. The record scorer with seventy one goals would always be a big miss for any side.
There is still enough world class talent to make them favourites and forward Thomas Muller is their star man going into this tournament. A man for the big occasion. His record in World Cup finals for goals is very impressive and will be eager to make a mark in this European Championship. Mesut Ozil is always a creative force and with numerous assists for Arsenal will be looking to unlock defences for the national side.
Matts Hummels, who has swapped Bayern Munich from Dortmund in recent days is a world class performer and adds defensive stability to the back four. It would be good to look out for Wolfsburg’s talented midfielder Julian Draxler as well who has huge potential. Mario Gotze may have had little game time at Bayern but still could be a game changer on his day as well.
Out of all the contenders Italy are the most unpredictable. They usually reach the final of a major tournament and win it or struggle and fail by crashing out at the group stages. However they could never be counted out due to the quality and pedigree they possess.
The Azzurri are Europe’s most successful side in World Cups and will be eager to make up for the final disappointment back in 2012. In truth, they were simply torn apart by Spain on that night and Antonio Conte was appointed in the aftermath to lead Italy to glory. His domestic success with Juventus has made him one of Europe’s best coaches and will be changing the blue of Italy for Chelsea at the start of next season.
His management has built a calmness to the national side and this is based around the legendary goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, who at the age of 38 is still one of the best goalkeepers in world football. A huge influence on the national side and still breaking records too, going 870 minutes without conceding a goal in Serie A for Juventus this season. The experience of Daniele De Rossi is still there for the Italian side and the Roma midfielder can still have an influence breaking up the play in the midfield.
Leonardo Bonucci is the man in defence for the Italians after a rock steady season for Juventus and will be the man to help keep things nice and steady defensively. Lorenzo Insigne is a dangerous and exciting performer for Napoli. Huge expectations may be on his shoulder to deliver the goals for the side and will be looking at the influence of Lazio winger Antonio Candreva to supply the chances.
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