Month: June 2016

Top Five Flops Of The Euros So Far

The Group Stage of Euro 2016 has now been and gone, so BenjaminWillsBlog has taken a look at five players who have as yet failed to live up to the pre-tournament hype.

1) Antoine Griezmann – France

When Antoine Griezmann came off the bench to head France into a last-gasp lead against Albania it seemed like the Euros was about to burst into life for one of the continent’s top talents, however it has not yet been the case.

Atletico Madrid’s main man suffered a frustrating 90 minutes on opening night as Olivier Giroud and Dmitri Payet were needed to rescue the hosts and Griezmann was promptly dropped for the Albania game.

His goal got him back in the line-up against Switzerland, but again the Frenchman was ineffective as he has yet to get a proper foothold on this tournament which is underwhelming from a man many backed to win the Golden Boot.

2) Harry Kane – England

Harry Kane has been the top English goalscorer for each of the past two seasons, the current Three Lions squad is attacking and exciting, so, put the two together and you have a perfect blend, right? It would appear not.

At his club, Tottenham Hotspur, boy wonder Kane is used to being the main man, he plays on his own up front for Spurs, but with his country he finds himself deployed as part of a three-man attack and has so far struggled to find his scoring boots due to lack of service and perhaps is not suited to others doing the dirty work for him.

After unexpectedly failing to win Group B England find themselves on the harder half of the tournament table, and Kane will need to remember where the back of the net is if the Three Lions want to make a serious impression on this year’s Euros.

3) Paul Pogba – France

Since 1996, the Player of the Tournament at the European Championships has had two things in common: they were centre midfielders, and their country were crowned champions.

Paul Pogba and France were both tipped for glory this summer, both still might get their crowning glory, but neither have been entirely convincing as yet. The Juventus man has shown flashes of brilliance, in the first-half of France’s 2-1 win over Romania and during the 0-0 draw with Switzerland, but for a man touted as one of the best in the world and expected to command a fee of £70 million, the mercurial midfielder has not quite been firing on all cylinders.

Pogba will need to kick it up a notch if he wants to emulate his childhood hero Zinedine Zidane, who was the best player as France won Euro 2000.

4) Thomas Muller – Germany

The Germans. Ruthless, clinical, efficient, and any other cliche you want to use, none apply to Thomas Muller this summer.

He may only be 26-years-old, but Muller is as experienced as they come. The forward has 32 international goals in 74 caps, and a World Cup winners’ medal, but despite this he has never scored in a Euros, and that stat does not look like being wiped out any time soon.

Muller’s role is that of a Raumdeuter – a ‘space investigator’ in real terms – Mario Gotze as a false nine is supposed to create space for the supporting Muller, but so far the mean defences of Poland, and especially Northern Ireland, have managed to snuff out the Bayern Munich man out, leaving him ineffective.

5) Robert Lewandowski – Poland

This is new territory for Robert Lewandowski. Since his first season as a professional in the Polish second division with Znicz Pruszkow in 2006-07 he has scored fewer than 15 goals in a campaign only twice, but now when representing his country his magic touch seems to have worn a bit thin.

Lewandowski scored 30 goals in 32 matches for his club, Bayern in the Bundesliga last season and went into the Euros in hot form but after four games in France he has scored no goals and had just the one shot on target.

Despite one of the world’s hottest strikers blowing cold Poland have made it to the quarter-finals, getting on the scoresheet a grand total of three times in the process, but they need their star man to show up sooner rather than later, otherwise a great opportunity for history may go up in smoke.

Euro 2016 Team of the Group Stage

Goalkeeper: Michael McGovern (Northern Ireland)

International tournaments are a great way for lesser-known players to advertise themselves on the big stage and no-one has made the most of this quite like Michael McGovern.

McGovern is currently a free agent after leaving Scottish Premiership outfit Hamilton when his contract expired and should have no problem finding a new club due to his outing at the Euros.

Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper has made the second highest amount of saves (16) in the three games he has played and half of them (eight) came in the Germany game where impressively the Green and White Army only succumbed to a 1-0 loss, thanks to McGovern.

Right-back: Elseid Hysaj (Albania)

The 24-team Euros has allowed players from unfashionable European nations to shine, it is a shame we will see no more of Albania and their right-back Elseid Hysaj who has been a shining light in an average team.

Albania finished as one of the six third-placed teams but their goal difference of minus two led to them being one of the unfortunate pair, alongside Turkey, who did not do enough to secure a place in the last 16 of the competition.

Hysaj, who plays his club football in Serie A for Napoli, came into his own though, he defended well and was key for Albania going forward too. In the 1-0 loss to Switzerland he played a sensational through ball to Armando Siduku who fired straight at the keeper and similar occurred just over a week later when Ermir Lenjani blasted over the bar from point-blank range when picked out by Hysaj.

Centre back: Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Isn’t it great when a team lives up to the stereotype? Italy, the ‘tournament team you should never write off’ that are ‘built on solid defences’, have been, well, the typically efficient side that have been built on a solid defence that punish teams on the counter-attack.

Leonardo Bonucci, who is a serious target for Chelsea – the team Italy boss Antonio Conte will manage at the end of the Euros, has been the true rock and leader of the traditional sturdy Azzurri.

Bonucci even played a part in one of the goals of the championship to this point as well. A sensational directed ball landed at the feet of Emanuele Giaccherini with the most pinpoint precision and the ex-Sunderland winger was left with the simple task of tucking home past Thibaut Courtois.

Centre back: Jerome Boateng (Germany)

It takes a special defender to prevent a near-certain goal from going in but that is exactly what Jerome Boateng did, but that is what Jerome Boateng is.

Germany had taken an early lead in their Group C opener against Ukraine but looked certain to concede when the Bayern Munich deflected a cross towards his own goal but somehow the 27-year-old adjusted his body and cleared the ball away from danger.

Boateng did not put a foot wrong in the 0-0 draw with Poland or the 1-0 win over Northern Ireland either. Germany are one of only two teams to have not conceded a goal yet at Euro 2016.

Left-back: Jordi Alba (Spain)

Jordi Alba truly burst onto the scene with his dazzling displays at the last Euros and if he carries on in this vain, he will be among the nominees for the top player prize again without a doubt.

Alba’s best showing so far included a wonderful assist that lead Spain’s second goal that meant they had got into an unassailable lead against Turkey.

Centre midfielder: Andres Iniesta (Spain)

At Euro 2012, Spain won their third trophy in a row and Andres Iniesta was crowned the Player of the Tournament, four years later, he is at it again.

It took La Roja 87 minutes to break down the Czech Republic but the defensive tactic of the Czechs allowed Iniesta to caress the Stadium Municipal in Toulouse, and it was indeed him that finally unlocked the opposition defence with a floated delivery that Gerard Pique converted to get the Spanish out of jail.

The Turkey game four days later was even easier for Iniesta and it was the Barcelona playmaker the provided perhaps the highlight of the match, a defence-splitting pass that set club and country colleague Jordi Alba on his way to square in a cross for Alvaro Morata to convert.

Centre midfielder: Toni Kroos (Germany)

Toni Kroos was one of, if not the, best German performers two years ago as Die Mannschaft became the world champions and the midfield maestro has not let up this summer.

In Germany’s opening encounter, Kroos made 112 passes, five more than Ukraine’s top three passers combined and set up Shkodran Mustafi’s header from a free-kick in what was a real sight to behold – one of the world’s best having a stroll in the park.

Bayern Munich must rue the day they let him go to Real Madrid for just £20 million.

Centre midfielder: Luka Modric (Croatia)

Kroos has not been the only Real Madrid centre midfielder to shine at these Euros, Luka Modric has made a serious impression as well.

Modric originally made an impact on the Euros when his dipping volley beat Turkish goalkeeper Volkan Babacan all ends up and during that game he also made more passes and had more touches than any other man on the pitch.

Croatia are normally considered ‘dark horses’ , but thanks to the likes of Modric they won Group D ahead of Spain and now, thanks to being on a kinder half of the tournament table, they may well go all the way.

Right forward: Dmitri Payet (France)

Dmitri Payet may have scored the goal of the tournament on the night it all kicked off and it was justified after a really bright evening for the West Ham man.

France were understandably cagey in their first game, but Payet made things happen. Olivier Giroud scored a trademark header as a result of a superb cross from him and then the free-kick master proved he was just as good in normal play as he smacked a bending shot past a despairing Ciprian Tatarusanu as the game entered the 90th minute to give the hosts an opening day win.

Payet then sealed a 2-0 victory against Albania, scoring again in second-half stoppage time. The winger was only used as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with fellow Group A qualifiers Switzerland but hit the bar with a rasping effort just moments after coming on.

Striker: Alvaro Morata (Spain)

It took a long while for the Euros to start seeing plenty of goals, especially from strikers, but after a poor first game against the Czech Republic, Morata remembered where the back of the net was.

Morata, who recently re-joined Real Madrid after they activated his buy-back clause from Juventus, was the first player to score more than once in a match when he netted a brace in Spain’s dominant 3-0 win over Turkey.

Croatia felt the brunt of him too in the final round of group games when he tapped in the opener. Morata is currently the joint-top goalscorer at Euro 2016.

Left forward: Ivan Perisic (Croatia)

Initially, Ivan Perisic got people talking for being a winger who was unorthodoxly sporting the number four for Croatia, but now his football is the sole focus, and with good reason.

After just two games, he has a pair of goals and one assist to his name as Croatia somewhat unexpectedly topped Group C ahead of one of the pre-tournament favourites, Spain.

Perisic exploded onto the tournament with an accurate effort into Petr Cech’s far post after a cheeky step-over in Croatia’s 2-2 draw with the Czech Republic and then he was the star of the show against Spain. Nikola Kalinic’s goal came about as a result of a Perisic cross and then the Inter Milan forward put himself on the back pages with an 87th-minute winner.


The 24-team Euros will breathe new life into the tournament

UEFA’s decision to expand the European Championship by eight teams to a total of 24 for the first time was originally met with sceptisism, but it will become apparent in the coming weeks that this will bring a breath of fresh air to the competition.

To some extent, it has taken shape in that sense already. Romania, Albania, Wales and Northern Ireland, (who between them had qualified for just four Euros before this summer – all of them by Romania), have been involved in entertaining contests in their opening games and the likes of Iceland and Hungary are still to come. It is in the latter stages though where the true positive nature of the re-birth will take shape.

Back in the days of yore, a 16-team Euros led to its fair share of dead rubbers, however with four of the six third-placed teams now getting a spot in round two, practically every match has something going for it. This is perhaps best illustrated this year by Group A.

Group A is occupied by two teams that could definitely be considered stronger than the other pair – France and Switzerland have significantly more successful histories and better squads on paper than their Romanian and Albanian counterparts. In matchday one France beat Romania while the Swiss saw off Albania and in the second set of games the hosts face Albania while Switzerland take on Romania.

Football is far from a slave to bookies’ odds, however, if the favourites both triumph this would leave France and Switzerland on six points each with Romania and Albania on zero going into the final round of games.

Pre-2016, that would lead to a fascinating winner-takes-all clash between France and Switzerland, but Romania v Albania would be practically unwatchable. Not anymore. Three points and a positive goal difference should be enough to make it through to the last 16 so one win for the lesser nation could be all it takes to make history.

And that is what we, the fans, want. Football, and sport, attracts us with its unpredictable nature and the potential of a person or team triumphing against the odds.

The only problem the inclusivity this Euros brings is the difficulty of picking which crucial last group game to watch.


Five Young Talents You Should Be Looking Out For At Euro 2016

Summer tournaments are generally considered to be the biggest shop window for players looking for their next destination, and no-one can exploit this more than the potential stars of the future. Here are the top five that could light up Euro 2016.

Hjortur Hermannsson (Centre Back: Iceland and PSV)

Whatever happens in the next month Iceland will make history and cherish every minute at a major tournament. This is the first time the country, which has an estimated population of just over 330,000, has had June and July booked with competitive international football and anyone could be a hero.

Being an underdog for every game they play in France will give their defenders more opportunity to impress than most and 21-year-old Hjortur Hermansson may just fit that bill.

Hermannsson has also shown somewhat of a talent for finding the back of the net in his showings for the Icelandic development teams so could also be a threat from set-pieces which could be vital in Iceland’s attempts to upset the apple cart in Group F.

(Hermannsson can be seen here scoring Iceland’s Under-21 side second goal in a 3-2 win over France)

Ante Coric (Centre Attacking Midfielder: Croatia and Dinamo Zagreb)

Croatia are not exactly short of midfield talent. Options such as Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric of Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively will be the envy of most sides at the Euros and Ante Coric is the latest play maker off the seemingly never-ending Croatian conveyor belt.

Coric has been around the national side since Under-15 level, and earned himself a spot in Croatia’s final 23-man squad based on his domestic and development performances alone.

The 19-year-old was handed his first senior cap in the 1-0 warm-up match against Moldova and he was in action again during the 10-0 victory over minnows San Marino.

For his club, Dinamo Zagreb, the diminutive centre attacking midfielder has 10 goals in his 67 matches for the Croatian champions.

Leroy Sane (Winger: Germany and Schalke)

Germany’s failure at Euro 2000, where they went out at the group stages without winning a match, led to a complete overhaul of how the country looked at football both domestically and internationally and it is now rare to see a tournament squad without some real gems of young talent.

The class of World Cup 2010 are now matured, experienced and, in some cases, world champions and it is now down a new batch of stars with Leroy Sane perhaps being the biggest hope.

Sane has already played over 50 times for Schalke just two years after making his debut for the Gelsenkirchen club and is a big transfer target for mega-rich Manchester City as they look to rebuild under the incoming Pep Guardiola.

It will not be easy for Sane to get into the starting 11 ahead of the likes of Andre Schurrle, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil but if he is given the opportunity that youngsters before have then Germany may join the likes of France and Spain in winning the World Cup and then the Euros back-to-back.

Arkadiusz Milik (Striker: Poland and AFC Ajax) 

Poland possess one of Europe’s leading strikers going into the tournament in Robert Lewandowski and keeping him quiet will be difficult enough, but that might just open the door for an under-the-radar Arkadiusz Milik.

Milik, 22, is the latest in a long line of forwards to flourish in the open and expansive Eredivisie which regularly compliments strikers and the prolific Pole is currently up there with the best of the lot.

Ajax’s main man bagged 21 goals for the Dutch runners up last season and has been just as fruitful in-front of goal for his country with 10 strikes to his name in 24 matches.

In 2015 he was let go by Bayer Leverkusen for just 2.8 million Euros after failing to make a major impact in Germany, if he can do better in France then Leverkusen may rue dismissing him for such a paltry fee.

Breel Embolo (Striker: Switzerland and FC Basel)

He may be from Cameroon by birth, but Breel Embolo will be strutting his stuff for Switzerland in France thanks to being part of the set-up at the country’s top club, FC Basel, for the last six years.

Embolo made his professional debut at the tender age of 17 in March of 2014 and was already a first-team regular by the following season as he netted 10 goals in the 27 league games in which he featured for RotBlau. It made him the 10th top goalscorer in the Swiss Super League before he could legally buy a beer.

He was awarded his first Switzerland call-up just a year after being introduced to the nation, and to date has one international goal from seven caps

RB’s Leipzig looked to have secured Embolo’s signature for next season until about a week ago but now Manchester United look like a more likely destination for the 19-year-old. An impressive Euros though could provide further competition for his services.