One of the best things about football’s European Championship is that it features a mix of veteran, rising, and in-their-prime stars. For many, it is their first or last time representing their country in arguably football’s most competitive competition, and for others they desperately seek to personally end their nation’s hardware drought.
We’ve named six players to watch that could make bettors and supporters alike very happy this summer at Euro 2016.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Having won just about every honour there is on the club level, Cristiano would love nothing more in his career now than to taste glory on the international level. Having lost in the semi-finals, quarter-finals, and finals in the last three Euros, C. Ronaldo will hope to lead his talented Portuguese side past a relatively soft group (containing Iceland, Hungary, and Austria) and on back to the finals.
His current club form indicates that should be a doable feat, as he leads both his club, La Liga, and the Champions League in goals. With just one cap and one goal in June he will become Portugal’s European Finals all-time leader in both those categories.
Artyom Dzyuba (Russia)
Finishing second in qualifying group G was Russia, led there by eight goals from striker Artyom Dzyuba. With only 15 international caps to his name, Dzyuba will look to help Russia have a Euro campaign more akin to their 2008 one (semi-finals) as opposed to 2012 (knocked out in the group stage).
Although Euro will likely be his first major international competition representing Russia, the Zenit St. Petersburg star has already proved he can perform well on an inter-European stage. Earlier this season for his club, he scored six goals in seven Champions League appearances before being ousted in the round of 16.
Harry Kane (England)
England has had a number of new stars emerge for their national side since World Cup 2014, and based off of their performance domestically and in their stellar qualifying campaign for Euro 2016, they are all going to be worth watching this summer. However, one man that is going to earn extra special attention from opposing defenders is Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane.
Although he was only third in goals for England during qualifying (Rooney, Welbeck), many are already predicting manager Roy Hodgson to start Kane, the Premier League’s-leading goalscorer, over Rooney.
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Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
Sweden snuck into their fifth consecutive European Championship after winning their two-legged playoff match with Denmark, 4-3. Three of those four goals were scored by captain Zlatan, who had the team on his back for much of the rest of the qualifying campaign as he scored 11 goals on the way to his own fourth straight Euros. This performance has been mirrored with his club this season as well, as he leads Paris Saint-Germain (and Ligue 1) in both goals and has helped PSG into the quarterfinals of the Champions League.
Of the three Euro Championships Ibra has participated in, the Blue-Yellow have only advanced past the group stage once. Having been drawn into a Group of Death (with Italy, Belgium, and Ireland) for this summer’s tournament will make it tough for that statistic not to continue unless Ibra continues to play in top form.
Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
The leading scorer in all of the Euro 2016 qualifying campaign was none other than Robert Lewandowski with 11 goals, tying the all-time European Championships Qualifying Record.
Poland has failed to record a single win the last two Euros, and except for Lewandowski, the squad isn’t exactly a star-studded one. However, a group draw featuring Ukraine and Northern Ireland might allow Poland to sneak in behind probable-winners and defending World Cup Champions Germany. That’s of course if he keeps maintains his club form that (as of the end of March) has him as the Bundesliga’s leader in goals and the Champions League’s second-top scorer.
Gareth Bale (Wales)
Appearing in their first ever European Championship, Wales’ breezy qualifying campaign was spearheaded by seven goals from Real Madrid star Gareth Bale.
The winger’s form with his current side has been exceptional, and the world will be curious to see how far he can take The Dragons. In their biggest competition since the 1958 World Cup, they’ll have to play a manageable a group that contains Russia, fellow first-timers Slovakia, and rivals England.