Three players that can help the football forces shrug off ‘dark horse’ tag at Euros
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THIS year’s European Championships tournament, which kicked off last night, presents a perfect opportunity for several nations to redeem themselves and reclaim their seat amongst European football’s true forces.
In recent major tournaments Spain, once almost unbeatable in a dominant era between 2010 and 2012, Italy and the Netherlands have failed to live up to expectations and find themselves in the unfamiliar “dark horses” category as they head into the 16th edition of the contest popularly called the “Euros”.
Portugal, despite their status as holders, also fall into this category as they find themselves in tricky Group F which includes heavyweights France and Germany and is completed by Hungary, clearly no pushovers as they rank 37th in the latest Fifa national team rankings.
All four nations, Spain, Italy, Netherlands and Portugal are former winners of the coveted Henri Delaunay trophy and will look to once more get their hands on the prestigious prize on July 11 – at the hallowed turf that is the home of English football, Wembley Stadium.
Key Player: Gerard Moreno Balagueró
The hero of Villarreal’s successful 2020/2021 Uefa Europa League campaign, Moreno is a late comer to the international scene having made his La Furia Roja (The Red Fury) bow aged 27 in late 2019.
A slouch he has not been though, as he has racked up five goals in 11 caps for Luis Enrique’s side since that debut against Sweden in Euro 2020 qualification. Now 29, and making his first appearance at a major tournament, the Catalonia-born forward will be hoping to display the goalscoring form which saw him notch 30 goals across all competitions last season for The Yellow Submarine if Spain are to reclaim the Euro trophy.
Key Player: Cristiano Ronaldo
Arguably the greatest player to ever grace a football pitch, the 36-yearold Juventus sharpshooter needs no introduction. Even at his advanced age, the man dubbed CR7 ended the 2020/2021 Italian Serie A campaign with 29 league goals in 33 games for the Old Lady, landing the fabled Capocannoniere title which is awarded to that league’s top goalscorer.
The only missing piece of silverware in his colourful major honours list is the Fifa World Cup.
But a second European Championships crown would more than make up for a lack of World Cup glory should he be able to fire A Seleção (The Selection) to a defence of the title they won at the Stade de France in SaintDenis, north of Paris, five years ago.
Added motivation for the five-time Uefa Champions League winner, who has rattled the net 104 times in 175 outings for Portugal, will be the chance to make history by becoming the first captain to lift the European Championships trophy in two successive tournaments.
Key Player: Marco Verratti
If the diminutive Paris Saint-Germain midfielder finds top form and gets the Italians playing, then Roberto Mancini’s Azzurri (The Blues) could go on to enjoy a tournament to remember.
The 28-year-old is both industrious and crafty in central midfield, not afraid to get stuck into a tackle but also blessed with the ability to pick an exquisite pass in equal measure.
It is that exquisite range of passing from the 40 times capped Verratti that Italy’s strikers Ciro Immobile and Andrea Bellotti will be looking to feed off as the Italians aim to add a second Euro title to their 1968 triumph and finally banish the ghosts of the final defeats of 2000 and 2012 to France and Spain respectively.
Key Player: Memphis Depay
Linked with a move to join Dutch compatriot Ronald Koeman at FC Barcelona, Euro 2020 presents the perfect opportunity for the flamboyant Depay to prove himself amongst the finest players in the game and remove any doubts about his ability to make the grade should he move to the Catalan giants.
The 27-year-old endured a horrid spell at Manchester United earlier in his career, but has steadily restored his reputation as one of the game’s potent forwards in the five seasons he has since spent at French Ligue 1 giants Olympique Lyonnais during which he has scored 76 goals in 178 matches. Depay will need to be in the form of his life if Ronald De Boer’s Oranje (Men in Orange) are to emulate their Total Football playing class of Euro 88 compatriots.