With the Euros fast approaching and with many players not only looking to perform well for their nation, but also catch the eye of a few potential suitors and make a name for themselves, I thought I'd pick out the best players to look out for, with this first piece looking at the potential key men in Group A.
Name: Odise Roshi
Club: HNK Rijeka
Roshi earned the nickname Raketa (Rocket) for his frightening pace and he is the man that gives Albania some offensive threat on the counterattack. It’s no secret that Albania are one of the weaker teams in the tournament and probably won’t have much possession against France or Switzerland so Roshi’s pace will be the outlet in their quest for major upsets.
His first international goal came against Slovenia in 2012 but his crosses could make him a dangerous player at Euro 2016 and he provided the cross for Bekim Balaj’s famous winner against Portugal in Albania’s qualifying campaign. Roshi will be hoping to help Albania to more upsets like that one. on the European stage.
Name: Paul Pogba
Almost every player in France’s squad is one to look out for, but the parallels between Pogba’s career and Zidane’s 1998 World Cup story are exciting and if there’s anyone who could blow this tournament apart it’s Paul Pogba.
Zidane went to the 1998 World Cup needing to answer his critics. He had yet to truly shine at Juventus and wasn’t yet one for the big occasion, especially given his poor performance against Borussia Dortmund in final of the Champions League that season. Despite a red card against Saudi Arabia displaying his inner maverick, Zidane ‘s career was ignited by his two headers against Brazil in the final that won France the World Cup on home soil. Pogba finds himself at a similar crossroads in his career and history looks as if it wants to repeat itself. Juventus have another diamond in the rough – Pogba, like Zidane before him, is a maverick and teeters on the fine line between being world class or crashing and burning. He has all the attributes to follow in Zidane’s footsteps – the physique, the technique, the confidence – and this tournament could launch him into the annals of footballing greatness alongside Zidane as players who defined their generation.
Name: Vlad Chiriches
Tottenham fans will recognise the name as the North London club broke the Romanian transfer record to secure his services. He played every minute of Romania’s qualifying campaign and partnered Dragos Grigore in the centre of a defence that conceded just two goals in qualifying. He will captain Romania and will prove influential as Romania lean on their defence to try and make it through a tough group. He may not score panenkas like his partner in central defence but he is a leader and is no longer the unpredictable risk-taker that he was at Tottenham.
Name: Breel Embolo
Embolo has been making waves in the Basel first team since 2014 having scored after just four minutes on his debut at the tender age of 17. He has also put in some good shifts for the Swiss national team and scored his first international goal against San Marino. Comparisons have been made to Didier Drogba given Embolo’s strength and athleticism and he also has the technical ability to take on defenders with his pace or hold up the ball effectively.
He may lack an awareness of teammates at times but he has enormous potential and certainly has the right attitude – famously telling an official he wrongly gave Basel a corner when his team was trailing 3-2 against Grasshoppers. His Swiss teammate Fabian Frei said of the young striker, “You can give him good advice and he is ready to take it without getting angry.” Switzerland certainly have the quality to make it out of their group and Embolo should be an important part of their campaign.