Before Europe’s eagerly awaited top international tournament gets underway on June 11, FRANCE 24 takes a look at nine of the top stars expected to entrance the footballing world.
Delayed by a year due to the global Covid-19 pandemic, the Euros finally get underway this Friday. FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at nine players who could make all the difference to who will win and who will lose.
In the 2016 championship that was played out in France, Ronaldo led Portugal to its first Euro win in history. Five years on, Ronaldo is looking to pull off the same feat. Ronaldo, who is Portugal’s No. 1 record-maker (175 games, 104 goals), recently warned his Juventus teammate, Frenchman Adrien Rabiot, to “watch out” during the Euro meet. That said, the French are keen for revenge on the team that deprived them of the trophy on home turf in the 2016 final.
Ronaldo was only 19 years old when he led Portugal to the 2004 Euro final, but the team was then snubbed of the trophy by Greece. At 36, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner has since scooped up an impressive collection of trophies with Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Juventus. Although Ronaldo has just rounded off a tough season with Juventus, Ronaldo remains a dangerous player – his 36 goals in 44 games for Turin testify to that.
This will be Ronaldo’s fifth European Championship, and he is expected to put up stiff competition to lead his team to yet another win.
Group F (Germany, France and Hungary).
De Bruyne is the incarnation of the Belgium team, jam-packed with talent but seldom able to experience the sweet smell of victory; the team often reaches the top ranks but has never carried away the trophy. They came third in the 2018 World Cup.
The Manchester City midfielder De Bruyne, who will celebrate his 30th birthday at the end of this month, currently seems to be at the absolute peak of his career, having been named the Premier League’s best player this season. Under Pep Guardiola’s watchful eye, De Bruyne has now become one of the world’s best football players, and his star is shining all the brighter now that Belgium’s other favourite player, Eden Hazard, has come off a rough season with Madrid.
But will De Bruyne be able to cut recent club losses to bring his country its long-awaited cup? Belgium’s No.7 is still reeling from City’s loss to Chelsea in the Champions League final, where he was injured in the nose and left eye and forced to walk off the field after just a half hour of play. He has since had to undergo surgery and is likely to miss Belgium’s opening game against Russia on Saturday, June 12.
Three years ago, Kylian Mbappé was the French team’s prodigy during the World Cup in Russia. Back then, he was only 19, and his obvious talent had already made him a must-have for just about any team, with regular comparisons to Brazilian football legend Pelé. Today, the 22-year-old PSG striker has risen to the top, and is designated as one of the best players in the world. His PSG record says it all: He scored a total of 42 goals last season and has put in splendid performances against both Barcelona and Munich. After already helping the French team take home the World Cup, the Euro is sure to be next on his list: France only reached an honourable, but bitter, second place in the last.
To accomplish that, he has both Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema to assist him in his attacks on the goal.
He just has one year left on his contract with PSG, and Real Madrid already have their eyes on him. If he helps France take the Euro, he will be the player everyone will be clamouring to sign.
Seven years ago, Harry Kane was considered nothing more than a flash in the pan, a player who couldn’t shine for more than a season. Since then, however, Kane has proven time and time again his doubters wrong, pulling off stunning performances with both Tottenham and the England team. At the World Cup in Russia, Kane was tapped the top scorer with a total of six goals.
While playing with the Spurs, he has earned his keep too, having been named the Premier League’s top scorer three times, in 2016, 2017 and 2021.
But the England captain still lacks an international meet trophy, and the “Three Lions” are more than hungry to finally add another feather to their cap: England last won a trophy in the 1966 World Cup.
The same can be said for Tottenham, whose best results dates back to 2019, when it made it to the Champions League final.
According to British tabloids, Kane is now looking to move to a more successful club. Whether or not these rumours are correct, Kane’s priority now is to show the goalscoring prowess at the Euros that won him the 2018 World Cup Golden Boot.
It was the sort of comeback almost no one had believed in. Until May 18. Rumours had swirled all day about a long talk held between the Real Madrid striker and Didier Dechamps, with the France coach allegedly wanting to add Benzema back to the team. Later that evening, the rumours were confirmed by the coach himself: Five-and-a-half years after he last sported the “Les Bleus” jersey, Benzema was back on the squad.
After spending the past 12 years at Real Madrid, the 33-year old is a force to count on. After both Ronaldo and Gareth Bale’s departures, Benzema is now the one skillfully leading the attacks for “Los Blancos”. During the 2020-2021 season he showed proof of his striker talents, scoring 30 goals and making nine assists during the course of 46 games. Banned from taking part in the 2016 euro, in which the France team finished second, and with a knee-ligament injury preventing him from taking part in the victorious 2018 World Cup, Benzema has a lot to look forward to.
For the longest time, Müller thought he would have to keep up with this tournament from the spectator’s seat, after having been banished from the German team by coach Joachim Low following Germany’s crash out of the 2018 World Cup. But two years on, and the more than efficient midfielder is back on the “nationalmannschaft” (national team), and he is bringing his impressive track-record of 39 goals in 102 matches along with him.
At 31, the 2014 World Cup winner and Bayern Munich player, is indispensable for Germany’s shot at the golden trophy. Although Bayern, winners of the 2020 European championship, may have lost out in the Champions League after reaching the quarter finals, they still secured a ninth consecutive win in the Bundesliga – much thanks to Müller’s 11 goals and 18 decisive assists.
Currently ranked as the world’s ninth best footballer, Lewandowski caps what can only be described as a phenomenal season with Bayern Munich, during which he set a new record for the number of goals scored during a single Bundesliga season, beating Gerd Müller’s 40-goal record. Lewandowski is, in other words, turning up at the Euro in very, very good form.
Lewandowski has been the captain of the Poland team for the past six years, and is the team’s top-scorer with a total of 66 goals in 118 games played. Will Lewandowski be able to bring the otherwise adequate “Biało-Czerwoni” (white and reds) to victory? With a striker like that, anything is possible.
With 16 goals and five assists, Yilmaz was nothing but crucial to Lille when it clinched the French championship. Nicknamed the “kral” (king), the 35-year-old striker joins the Turkish national team for an international tournament for the first time in 15 years, and he’s in better shape than ever.
The former Fenerbahce, Galatasaray and Besiktas player will be looking for any reason to make a spectacular come-back after a somewhat fluctuating national team career. The same goes for the rest of the Turkish team, after it failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
If the Euro 2020 hadn’t been delayed by a year, the 27-year-old striker, who just finished off a stunning season with Olympique Lyonnais, wouldn’t have participated due to a 2019 knee ligament injury.
But now he’s back, and he is replacing Virgil Van Dijk as captain of the “oranje” (the orange) after the latter was hit by an injury. Depay has refined his game, and has become a reliant and consistent force. He was tapped the best passer of his team during the qualifiers, making a total of eight assists.
After the Netherlands failed to qualify for both the Euro 2016 and 2018 Word Cup, Depay will step onto the field with the ambition of proving that the “oranje” belong among the best of world football.
This is an adaptation of the original article which was written in French.