Euro 2016: 10 players to watch

Ten young wunderkinds who could steal the show in France.

Meryl D'Souza June 8, 2016

We’re sure you know of the Ronaldos, Bales and Ibrahimovics of the world who will demand the limelight no matter what team you’re supporting at the tournament.

But Euro 2016 is also a great time for young stars to announce themselves on an international level. Here are 10 you should keep an eye on throughout the competition.

Dele Alli
Country: England
Age: 20

It’s easy to get caught up in the hype for an English player with the media proclaiming any young player who can kick a ball decently as “the next George Best”. But when Manuel Neuer, the best goalkeeper in the world right now, tells you he’s impressed by a kid from England, you don’t argue.

It’s worth noting that the 20-year-old was not even on Tottenham’s bench until this season. Alli is more old-school compared to modern midfielders, in that he doesn’t specialise in just one aspect of the game. If he isn’t helping out the attack with a thunderous strike or a pinpoint assist, he’s more than willing to track back, snap at the opposition’s heels and lunge for a challenge.

Joshua Kimmich
Country: Germany
Age: 20 

A little over six months ago, the talented young midfielder had played just one minute of Bundesliga football. Now he is all set to go to the Euros as a star. The credit for his transformation goes to Pep Guardiola. Like he did with Javier Mascherano at Barcelona, Pep saw Kimmich’s talent as a defensive midfelder and did everything he could to act as a catalyst to turn the boy into a central defender.

The 20-year-old has proved to be a disciplined footballer, but two things set him apart from other German defenders. First, he boasts some of the best passing stats alongside veteran club teammate Xabi Alonso.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, Kimmich is willing to take part in an attack by drifting forward. He is from the elite class of ball-playing defenders like Franz Beckenbauer and Gerard Pique. 

Antoine Griezmann
Country: France
Age: 25

In a league featuring Ronaldo, Messi, Neymar and Suarez, it’s easy to overlook other outstanding contributions. Yet, over the last year-and-a-half, Griezmann has transformed from a talented but unpolished wide forward into a ruthless, consistent winning machine for Atletico Madrid.

The 25-year-old isn’t just a regular creative midfielder or lethal finisher; he shows up during high-pressure situations. Here’s some perspective on just how important this guy is: of his 22 league goals this season, Griezmann’s nine have been match winners, while eight have been opening goals.

Kevin De Bruyne
Country: Belgium
Age: 24

With Eden Hazard down in the dumps, the onus of helping his team clinch their first Euro Championship will fall on De Bruyne. The young midfielder would have been a player of the season contender had he not missed a third of the season due to injury.

His absence coinciding with Manchester City’s slump in form is no accident. He has been a force to reckon with every time he takes to the field.

Alvaro Morata
Country: Spain
Age: 23

Spain’s squad selection left us scratching our heads a bit. Especially the exclusion of Chelsea’s prolific but controversial Diego Costa. That leaves Vicente del Bosque with a few new faces to lead the attack in front of Spain’s overly creative midfield. While many will be tempted to go with Athletic Bilbao’s Aduriz Zubeld who has bagged more goals, Morata is the more exciting prospect.

Sure he has just one international goal and should have scored more for Juventus, but that’s down to not being given a decent run of games. In terms of minutes per goal ratio, Morata is just as good as Mario Mandzukic. With the pace he offers, Morata could well take Euro 2016 by storm. Think Fernando Torres circa 2008.

Michy Batshuayi
Country: Belgium
Age: 22

Where fellow countrymen David Origi and Christian Benteke have struggled to hit any semblance of form at Premier League club Liverpool, this SpongeBob SquarePants-loving striker is one of the lone bright spots for a struggling Marseille side that finished 13th in the French League - only Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had a direct hand in more Ligue 1 goals this season.

The 22-year-old may be inexperienced in terms of number of matches played for Belgium, but he stands head and shoulders above the others when it comes to scoring efficiently from the limited number of chances he gets. Batshuayi will be expected to share striker responsibilities with Romelu Lukaku.

Andriy Yarmolenko
Country: Ukraine
Age: 26

You probably haven’t heard of Andriy Yarmolenko. And it’s probably because the 26-year-old plies his trade at Ukranian club Dynamo Kiev, far from the shutterbugs of English or Spanish football. That’s no reason to underestimate the winger though. Consistently linked to the Premier League since his breakthrough year in 2013, Yarmolenko is most likened to Arjen Robben for his belter of a left foot, which he likes to use after cutting in from the right.

At six feet tall, Yarmolenko is an unorthodox winger, with a quick turn of pace and an insatiable eye for goal. But perhaps his ability to play as a centre forward when his team needs him makes the 26-year-old key to Ukraine’s progression at the Euros. Expect him to be Ukraine’s shining light just like he was in Euro 2012 and this year’s qualifiers.

Leroy Sane
Country: Germany
Age: 20

Being the kind of team they are, the last thing Germany needs is another midfielder thrown into the mix. Sane will find it hard to break into the squad, but should the boy who takes his hairstyling cues from Marouane Fellaini get a chance, expect him to zip past defenders and curl one into the top corner. That’s how he announced himself in the UEFA Champions League against Real Madrid.

But he’s no one trick pony. He knows when to push the ball forward and dart towards goal and when to protect the ball and thread a pass. If he’s one-on-one against a defender, put your money on him.

Kingsley Coman
Country: France
Age: 19

Try not to judge him by that awful faux mohawk with blonde tips and a rat-tail. As a teenager, he’s allowed outrageous choices no matter how juvenile they may seem. At just 19 years of age, Coman can boast of one thing (or three) that no one else on this list can: winning three league titles with three different clubs.

Sure he made his international bow only in November last year when Paris was attacked, but he was the architect and driving force behind Bayern overcoming a 4-2 deficit on aggregate and making it past the round of 16, and led the assists rankings for this year’s Champions League. That should tell you how good this kid is.

Renato Sanches
Country: Portugal
Age: 18

The subject of a tussle between Manchester United and Bayern Munich, Sanches ultimately chose to head to Germany for £28 million (AED 149 million). A German team that won the Bundesliga wouldn’t spend that much on an average player would they?

Sanches is a midfield engine who thrives in the box-to-box role of a central midfielder. He covers just about every blade of grass on the pitch and when the match calls for its, he’s not afraid to let out a thunderous strike from a range that should be illegal to score from. And yet, the boy does.