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Could these Napoli and Leverkusen midfielders be among those making their name at Euro 2016?

The Boot Room

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With kick-off to another major tournament incredibly close, millions of eyes will watch the best players on the strongest footballing continent compete for dominance. Euro 2016 is a tough one to call: France, the hosts, are unpredictable and under pressure; Germany, World Cup champions, are rebuilding but still formidable; Spain, defending champions, have ideal philosophies with a declining squad; England, Belgium and Portugal have strong squads, but lack the winning mentality of dark horses Italy.

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The obvious stars – namely Ronaldo, Bale, Iniesta, Pogba, etc. – will look to make Euro 2016 their tournament, with a stand-out performance to last generations of memory. Just as Van Basten is associated with Euro ‘88, Gascoigne with ‘96 and the ageless Pirlo with 2012, someone will especially make their mark in France this coming month.

Not all those who feature in the defining vignettes of each tournament are popular names before it begins – some define their legacies, or at least start them off, at a major tournament. Wayne Rooney burst on to the scene at Euro 2004 and has been considered by most as world class ever since. Andrei Arshavin used a few stellar performances in 2008 to put his name on the premium shelf and Arsenal paid up.

As TBR continue our countdown to Euro 2016, we profile five players who are all capable of creating a universally lasting memory with a strong showing at Euro 2016, whether it be as a moment or two of brilliance, announcing themselves as an in-demand commodity, or a reminder of a veteran’s quality.

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Marek Hamšík – Slovakia

With Russia being the highest ranked rival by UEFA’s dubious ranking system, and the obvious allure of the home nation fixture, not much has been made of England’s and Wales’ other rival in Group B, Slovakia. The central Europeans represent stuffy opposition with some spikes of genuine quality bursting through, most of which are represented by Marek Hamšík’s often outrageous hair.

With a decade of Serie A experience, the midfielder is a national star and household name for Napoli, his club since 2007. At 28-years old, Slovakia’s second most capped player will not be remotely phased by the media attention surrounding a match against England, or going head to head with Welsh superstar Gareth Bale. Like Bale, he will be his nation’s brightest hope for creating a legacy at Euro 2016, and form suggests Hamšík is in a good place ahead of the opener against Wales on 11th June. Five goals in qualifying was followed by recently starring (with another goal) in the 3-1 friendly defeat of Germany in Augsburg.

Unlike others on this list, Hamšík has experience playing at a major tournament already; Slovakia made it to the last 16 of the 2010 World Cup. To go far, Ján Kozák’s squad will likely have to rely on that kind of experience and a little bit of magic from their talisman.

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Albania

Five players to watch in Euro 2016 Group A feat. Bayern and Juventus stars

Jake Jackman

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Group A of Euro 2016 features the tournament hosts, Switzerland, Albania and Romania. France are huge favourites for the group and have several exciting players who are set to make their name this summer, arguably making them one of the most fancied teams for the tournament itself. There is also a lot of talent in the other three teams and although on paper, France should ease their way through, the other matches in the group will be intriguing to watch. Albania are debutants at the competition and could cause a few shocks, while Romania have some excellent young players coming through and could be one to watch.

Over the next couple of pages, we have picked out five players to watch from the first group of Euro 2016. Leave your thoughts on the selection in the comments below, and let us know if there are any others who should be closely observed as the tournament progresses.

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Paul Pogba – The Juventus midfielder is without doubt the star of the French side and he will be integral to their hopes this summer. He is one of the leading players in world football and will want to help his country win the competition on home soil. If he manages to do that, he could enter the reckoning for the Ballon D’Or picture.

Pogba is a complete midfielder, capable of dictating play from deep, creating chances, driving forward with the ball and shooting from distance. This season for Juventus, he scored ten goals and racked up fourteen assists, which is an excellent return for a central midfielder, and he was hugely influential in the club’s record-breaking run to the league title.

France have a great deal of expectation on them and many see them as favourites to lift the trophy, so it will be interesting to observe how Pogba deals with the expectation.

This summer will determine if he belongs in the top bracket of players alongside Lionel Messi, Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo, or if he still has some way to go.

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Breel Embolo – The FC Basel striker made his debut for the national side in 2015 and has emerged as a starter, which is impressive for a 19-year-old. Switzerland do not really possess a regular goal threat, with 14 players sharing the goals in qualifying.

In Embolo, they have a raw talent, who could become very good in the future. He has been scouted by the likes of Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United. The forward is likely to leave FC Basel this summer and he will see the European Championships as a great opportunity to showcase his talent.

He is a strong centre forward, capable to holding off challenges and beating defenders in the air, but he is also very quick, making him able to play a number of different roles. Embolo is arguably a fairly complete forward already, but remains inconsistent and can go missing in big matches, which is something that will improve with age.

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