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.
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.
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.