Not long to go now until kick-off for the first game for Euro 2016. This competition, much like the World Cup, are where stars are born. If a promising player has a good tournament, then all the big clubs are keen to sign him.
However, this tournament will, as I’m sure you well know, be contested by 24 teams, having been expanded from the 16-team format. There will be a plethora of talent on display throughout. But here’s my list of some fine stars and hot prospects to firmly keep an eye on.
Mateo Kovačić (Croatia)
I’ve previously featured Kovačić in my One To Watch section a little over three years ago just as he signed to Inter Milan. He excelled at the Milanese club, and was signed by giants Real Madrid last August. With the talent at Zidane’s disposal, chances have been limited, but performances have been great. Kovačić is set to shine alongside Ivan Rakitic and Luka Modric for Croatia.
Julian Draxler (Germany)
The 22-year-old midfielder has got some serious competition to make it into the German starting XI. They are, after all, world champions (not that that fact would phase Shane Long…). But Draxler has the sheer talent, speed and determination to be exactly what Joachim Löw needs. This is a player you should definitely keep an eye on, whether he’s in a Germany or a Wolfsburg shirt.
Grzegorz Krychowiak (Poland)
Ireland fans may remember Krychowiak. He scored the first Polish goal against the Boys in Green in Warsaw last October. In truth, the Sevilla midfielder is actually a very clever player in an improving Polish team. The 26-year-old has been linked with a number of clubs, including Arsenal. A good tournament here and many more heads, other than Arsene Wenger, will definitely be turning.
If you have been watching La Liga, you will be more than familar with this 24-year-old. Atlético Madrid’s Koke is absolutely brilliant. I believe that the current Spanish side’s midfield, which usually contains the likes of Busquets, Iniesta, Fabregas and David Silva, can only be complimented by his presence. Spain are one of the favourites to go far – keep your eye on him in this.
Antoine Griezmann (France)
Koke’s Atletico Madrid team-mate, Antoine Griezmann is, on a good day, pretty unstoppable. His hunger to win and his form (he scored 32 goals across all competitions for Atléti this season) would mean that the 25-year-old just may well get in Didier Deschamps’ starting XI ahead of the likes of Giroud, Gignac or Martial. With no Benzema around, it could well be his time to shine.
Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)