Category Archives: Uncategorized

Surely it’s time for Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane to step down?

Watching the UEFA Nations League opening game between Wales and the Republic of Ireland, it became clear very early on that two things were happening with both national sides.

First off, Wales manager Ryan Giggs should be commended for implementing his belief that Wales could be a match for any national team. Prior to Thursday night, the dragons only managed to score twice in the previous seven games with the Boys In Green. Last night they doubled that over 90 minutes.

“Credit to ourselves, not many teams could have lived with us tonight,” Giggs said after the match. “I think we’d have given anyone a game.”

Wales looked comfortable on the ball, got into incredible space off it. And played with so much belief and confidence that it made Ireland looks worse than we actually are.

The other thing that happened was with Ireland’s management team. Ireland were absolutely outplayed, outclassed and defeated in every aspect of the game. The style of football which Martin O’Neill has the lads playing seems somewhat stale. While one could argue that there’s not enough talent in the Irish squad, it doesn’t take away the fact of Martin O’Neill and Roy Keane are both, in my opinion, done in the Ireland dugout.

Roy Keane is someone in particular who the FAI would need to have a re-think about. It’s pretty astonishing that there is even rumours of him clashing with players to the point where they pull out of coming to play. Coupled with Martin O’Neill’s ineffective management methods, I feel that surely we are closing in on time for the duo.

But who could Ireland get in to whip the lads back into shape, you ask?

A good question. Somebody with a new philosophy for many of the upcoming younger players would be ideal. Somebody with the passion to do the job. I don’t know who this person is, but I know it needs to happen. But I say this from the outside the circle of the Irish football team. I say this as a fan who regularly goes to games. And I guess it’s easy for me to say so.

But it doesn’t take away the fact since last November, Ireland have won only one match which was a friendly against the USA in June. In that time, we have conceded thirteen goals in seven games, scoring just four. Is this acceptable? Who’s to blame? The players? The management?

You know who I think.

 

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An animated Maradona watches Argentina march onto the last 16.

It seemed like the end was near. From national outrage to mourning to a TV studio holding a minute’s silence after Argentina’s 3-0 loss to Croatia, it seemed the albiceleste found their hero in Manchester United defender Marcos Rojo. His an Leo Messi’s goals gave Argentina a 2-1 victory over Nigeria and pushed them into the last 16 of the World Cup, where they’ll face France on Saturday in Kazan.

But it was a former Argentina player’s antics off the pitch that sent social media into meltdown. His name is Diego Maradona.

He looked like a man possessed after Messi’s goal.

He looked like he was then napping at one point.

And then celebrated Argentina’s progession to the next round with a middle finger salute on both hands

He then seemed unable to walk unattended and was seen by paramedics inside the stadium in St. Petersburg

Then, apparently, he was okay.

An eventful evening in the eventful life of the world’s greatest ever.

 

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Don’t believe all you read on social media.

The blog was extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Fiorentina’s captain, Davide Astori,  who had been found dead in his hotel room, while his side were preparing for a Serie A game against Udinese. He was just 31 years old.

The tragic news of the Italian international, came just weeks after the news of the death of our own Liam Miller. It was made public just last November that the Corkman was receiving treatment for pancreatic cancer.

Both players, taken tragically years before their time, had another thing in common. And it’s the rumours that surrounded them on social media.

In the weeks before Miller’s death, I would often see “news” that the midfielder has passed away. Tweets with the hashtag #RIPLiamMiller would go viral, despite nobody checking the sources. Not very pleasant for the former Ireland international’s family I’m sure, and no doubt deeply upsetting for his three children as they watch their father literally fight for his life.

It was the same with Davide Astori. 

The Italian defender had passed away less than 24 hours, when tweets emerged that Fiorentina were going to provide a posthumous contract for life, with the Astori family the benefactors. Serie A representative Giovanni Malagò even “confirmed” the story. Which wasn’t true. 

Social media can really be a cesspit of humanity with regards the beautiful game. There are things said and shared that shouldn’t be fit for human consumption. False rumours are just the tip of the iceberg. Don’t believe everything you read. On social media, that is.

 

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Life after Coutinho won’t leave Liverpool rudderless.

Liverpool fans have every right of being miffed, having lost arguably their best player in Philippe Countinho to the might that is Barcelona for a reported inital €120 million transfer fee plus €40 million in variables. But it is a deal that was somewhat inevitable with the Catalans having registered their interest in the Brazilian international during the summer to replace the PSG-bound Neymar.

But what next for Liverpool? They spend an enormous amount on acquiring Virgil van Dijk from Southampton (a player the were keen on during last summer also). But Jurgen Klopp will be more than aware that he would need to strengthen his goalkeeping situation. I feel that Loris Karius is a decent goalkeeper, but not at a sublime level needed to keep out the plethora of strikers itching for goals in the level of the Premier League. As for Simon Mignolet, personally I feel his time at the Merseyside club is done.

Their midfield may need strengthening too. Jordan Henderson is a decent leader for the Reds and I can’t see him going anywhere anytime soon. Georginio Wijnaldum is superb too. But with Emre Can agreed a pre-contract with Juventus for next summer, don’t be surprised if Klopp tries to acquire the services of the frankly brilliant Leon Goretzka or outrageously gifted Max Meyer, both from Schalke, and both players’ contracts run out this summer. As does a certain Mr Wilshire from a certain north London club.

I think it’s an interesting time to be a Liverpool fan. The club face FC Porto in the round of 16 in the Champions League. A betting man could be forgiven for expecting them to go through. They currently lie 4th in the Premier League and are still in the FA Cup. They may have lost a Brazilian magician to Barcelona, but they have been doing well thus far and life there won’t be much of a Coutinho-shaped hole in Liverpool as you’d expect.

 

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The top 20 footballers of 2017 (part two).

Part one of my top 20 footballers of the year weren’t met without both criticism and praise on social media. But that’s what football is – opinions. Hopefully part two here and now will cause equal debate. Here’s my top 10 for 2017:

10. Gareth Bale (Real Madrid & Wales)

A true phenomenon. The Welsh winger possesses all the attributes required of a bona fide world-class star. His strength and speed has been dazzling the crowds across all stadia in La Liga. A key player for Real Madrid and at just 27, he clearly has more to give at the highest level.

9. Antoine Griezmann (Atlético Madrid & France)

While many would argue that 2016 was a better year than 2017 for the striker, few would expect a slump in form for 2018. A gifted striker, Griezmann has an eye for goal that most strikers can envy. His off-the-ball positioning makes him a lethal opponent for any defender. It’s no wonder all of the major clubs want the 26-year-old’s signature.

8. Eden Hazard (Chelsea & Belgium)

At his peak, Hazard is pretty much an unstoppable force. But his peak isn’t consistent enough to earn him a place in my top 5. That said, he is a dazzling and multi-talented star who would fit into just about any elite team worldwide. He will be 27 next week – is the best yet to come?

7. Jan Oblak (Atlético Madrid & Slovenia)

In the Diego Simeone era of Atléti, the one consistent powerhouse of their success is Oblak. He stands over 6’2 and has a knack of making his goal seem frustratingly small for his opponents. His footwork, distrubution and agility, coupled with his clean sheets record, make him the envy of many a striker. Only 24, the Slovenian is surely destined to be one of the great goalkeepers of his era.

6. Sergio Agüero (Man City & Argentina)

As of right now, Agüero has scored 134 goals in 195 games. This makes him lethal. He’s always been lethal. In fact, he doesn’t often have an off day. A dead cert starter for club and country, he’s will be 30 next summer – approaching the end of his prime. But make no mistake, by next summer, he will be in a prime position to help his club win another Premier League trophy, and country to possibly another World Cup final?

5. Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich & Poland)

The 29-year-old has always been a top goalscorer. Since arriving in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund in 2010 from Lech Poznan, Lewandowski has been scoring time after time in Germany’s highest tier. He’s now is his eighth season in Germany, but he’s already the second-highest foreign scorer in Bundesliga history and 11th in the all-time scoring charts with 164 goals in 240 matches. An elite number 9.

4. Neymar (PSG & Brazil)

It’s no surprise that PSG had to break the record transfer fee for the Brazilian and splash out an obscene €222 million for the 25-year-old. At Barcelona, he was always living in the shadow of Leo Messi. At PSG, he has become the centre point of focus and, in turn, he has made them more exciting and watchable and will be a driving force in helping the French side go one step closer of reaching their ultimate goal of a Champions League victory. A star on and off the pitch and improving on and off the pitch.

3. Kevin De Bruyne (Man City and Belgium)

The Belgian attacking midfielder has probably got the best vision of any player on the planet right now. His passing skills are a phenomenon in their own right. His other attributes such as his technique and long range strikes make him one of the deadliest players right now. If he carries on with the same form his displayed in 2017, he could easily become the world’s greatest player in no time.

2. Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid & Portugal)

When Cristiano signed for Real Madrid in the summer of 2009, I didn’t think that at almost 33, he would be a consistent elite level player, capable of single handedly changing games. I firmly believe that he will probably put most players to shame when he will be 40, should he stay active that long. A five-time Ballon d’Or winner and multiple other individual and team titles, Ronaldo has always been nothing short of remarkable. His status as one of the best in the history of the sport is already cemented.

1. Lionel Messi (Barcelona & Real Madrid)

Messi is, in my opinion, the greatest footballer to ever play the sport. I know people will argue about Maradona, Pele, Cruyff, Ronaldo, Di Stefano, Beckenbauer and Baresi. But Messi has had something else. It’s almost as if he was put on this planet to play the sport. Head and shoulders above everyone else, the only person who even comes close is number two on this list. He has been the sole reason why Barcelona keep winning. I don’t mean since the summer. I mean since he first put on the Blaugrana shirt.

 

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Is Gennaro Gattuso really the man to fix AC Milan?

Gennaro “Rino” Gattuso was a very good player. He played 468 times for AC Milan across all competitions over a 13 year period. Today the Serie A side named the 2006 World Cup winner as their manager.

Despite spending €200 million plus during the summer and bringing in a plethora of talent such as the world class defender Leonardo Bonucci, Turkish playmaker Hakan Çalhanoğlu, Portuguese wonderkid Andre Silva to name but a few, Vincenzo Montella’s approach was simply not working.

Gattuso may embody everything a fan of the Rossoneri loves about their club – a passionate Italian leader with a no nonsense approach. And he certainly was that on the pitch. It’s his managerial credentials that I question. Is Rino really the answer to the problems for the red and black half at the San Siro?

Having joined Swiss side FC Sion in the summer of 2012, he was made player-manager in February 2013. In his twelve games in charge, he only won three times, he lost five and drew the rest before being sacked in summer 2013.

He was then appointed manager of Palermo in June 2013 during a turbulent time at the club both on and off the pitch. Eight games, three wins, and four losses later, he was relieved of his duties at the Stadio la Favorita. To be fair, the club went through a ridiculous twelve managers between summer 2011 and winter 2015. Talk about a lack of stability.

His next job was with Greek side OFI Crete, whom he joined in June 2014. He lasted just seventeen games with the club, losing a staggering nine times and only winning five games. He resigned from the club in December 2014. He actually resigned twice, having previously gave in his notice the previous October, only to change his mind.

He then applied for the job at SPL side Hamilton Academical in January 2015 but to no avail.

He did find work with Lega Pro side Pisa in August 2015. The following June, he led the side to Serie B via the play-offs, but then left the club mere weeks later, citing “serious, constant and unacceptable” problems at the club. He left with a 32% win ratio.

Is he really the man to fix the issues at Milan? He certainly knows the club inside out, and has previously been training the stars of tomorrow with the Rossoneri’s youth system.

His managerial credentials would make me think that there’s some sentimental figures in Milan’s boardroom that like the idea of a club legend taking them to great heights. But not everyone can do a Pep Guardiola or Zinedine Zidane. Some might do a David Unsworth.

 

 

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A La Liga without Barcelona would be everyone’s loss.

With the recent political events in Spain, many fans, pundits and even players have taken a few moments to ask what exactly would happen if Catalonia was to get it’s independence. What would it mean in terms of Barcelona? And what would it mean for La Liga?

The truth is that it’s a very, very complicated situation in Catalonia politically. At the moment it doesn’t look likely, but if Catalonia was to break away from Spain, there would have to be amendments to the country’s sporting laws.

Article 32 of Spanish sporting law states that any club that wants to participate in any “Official competitive sporting activities at state level has to to be integrated within the corresponding Spanish sporting federations.”

All clubs in Catalonia would have to leave La Liga. This wouldn’t really do anyone any favours.

El Clásico, the heated rivalry between Real Madrid and Barcelona gets an estimated television audience of 650 million people worldwide whenever the two sides meet. If that was to disappear overnight, that would create a sporting and financial hole for the La Liga bosses.

Apart from Barcelona, a Catalan league would consist of teams such as Espanyol, Girona, Tarragona, Reus, Sabadell and Barcelona’s and Espanyol’s reserves. This wouldn’t make it the most exciting or competitive league with the power FC Barcelona have in the region.

“I cannot imagine the Spanish Liga without Barcelona,” Real boss Zinedine Zidane even said. “I just can’t see it as a fan of football and of sport in general.”

The situation here in Catalonia is tense and that will have to be resolved – despite many pro-independence supporters dispute Spanish ownership on what they consider non-Spanish soil.

It might be some time before that cools down – and for some it never will until Catalonia becomes an official republic.

All eyes will be on the next El Clásico on December 23rd.

 

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No easy route to Russia next summer for the Boys In Green

Having guaranteed a play-off place for the World Cup next year, the Boys in Green have no real easy way of getting there with out potential opponents being either Italy, Croatia, Switzerland or Denmark.

The two must win games at the weekend against Moldova and Wales will provide some inspiration for whoever we face in November in the play-offs. And hopefully with a full strength team. The two games weren’t the most attractive of games to watch, but six points were needed – and six points were earned.

https://twitter.com/FAIreland/status/918178283488989189

Croatia and Italy are the two teams I would avoid if I could. I’d fancy us giving Switzerland a go. We beat them 1-0 in a friendly in March of last year, but that said, it was only a friendly. Denmark won’t be easy, but I would be of the opinion that we can overpower them over 180 minutes.

The draw for the ties will be held next Tuesday in Zurich. Fingers crossed.

 

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Tough fixtures ahead as Champions League draw is made.

Some very difficult fixtures in store for the group stages of the Champions League. Manchester United avoided some seriously tough opponents, but still have a difficult task as they will face FC Basel, Benfica and CSKA Moscow.

Celtic have been given a ruthless draw as they face German giants Bayern Munich, the Neymar-led PSG and Belgian big boys Anderlecht. Chelsea could have wished for easier opponents too as they face Atlético Madrid, Roma and Qarabag.

Most pundits will expect Man City to top their group ahead of Shakhtar Donetsk, Napoli and Feyenoord, but only a fool would think that an away game against any of these clubs will be a walk in the park.

Liverpool can be thankful for missing out on some serious heavyweights such as Barcelona and Juventus, but they face Spartak Moscow, Sevilla and Maribor and no doubt Jurgen Klopp will be after the group’s top spot.

Finally Tottenham have been dealt heavyweights in Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund. Along with APOEL, Mauricio Pochettino will face an uphill battle if they are to make it to the knock-out stages.

The groups in full:

Group A: Benfica, Manchester United, Basel, CSKA Moscow

Group B: Bayern Munich, Paris Saint-Germain, Anderlecht, Celtic

Group C: Chelsea, Atlético Madrid, Roma, Qarabag

Group D: Juventus, Barcelona, Olympiakos, Sporting

Group E: Spartak Moscow, Sevilla, Liverpool, Maribor

Group F: Shakhtar Donetsk, Manchester City, Napoli, Feyenoord

Group G: Monaco, Porto, Besiktas, Leipzig

Group H: Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Tottenham, APOEL

 

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Spurs flop Paulinho’s move to Barcelona raises eyebrows

With the recent news of Neymar’s world-record transfer to PSG, one would assume Barcelona would be in dire need of a winger to fill the gap that the Brazilian will no doubt leave. There is talks about Liverpool’s Philippe Coutinho and Dortmund’s Ousmane Dembélé. But the Catalan giants did make a signing this week. And one that has many raising questions.

When Paulinho left White Hart Lane in 2015, nobody would have predicted – not even the player himself surely – that within two years and two months, he would earn a dream move to Barcelona. While he was undoubtedly a big name player for Chinese Super League side Guangzhou Evergrande, the €40 million Barça spent on the 29-year-old seems somewhat excessive.

To begin, Barcelona have players in his central midfield position. Lots of them. It would be unlikely that Sergi Busquets, Ivan Rakitic, Andres Iniesta, Andre Gomes or Arda Turan to name but a few, would be replaced by the former Spurs man. Barcelona have bought a player for a position they already have more than enough for.

But there’s also reports that the signing may not have been for sporting reasons. Reports suggest that Barça’s not-too-popular club president Josep Maria Bartomeu, who is the CEO of a company called ADELTE Group (which is into designing, manufacturing, supplying and maintaining airports, seaports and road transport operations) and that that the group is expanding into China and bidding on projects like the Ocean Flower Island, which is being built by the Evergrande group – the same people who own Paulinho’s club Guangzhou. A bit far-fetched? Maybe. Would it be likely that this is the reason? It’s a possibility. But it’s a rumour at this point.

Conspiracy theories aside, Paulinho should be judged by what he does on the pitch.

It must be noted that Paulinho has not only excelled in the, admittedly lower standard, Chinese Super League, but he has returned to the Brazilian national team set-up. In World Cup qualification, the Seleção started their campaign with sub-par performances and results. However, they won all eight games after Paulinho’s return in the yellow jersey, even scoring a in a 4-1 away win against Uruguay.

Interesting times at Camp Nou. The signing of a certain fellow Brazilian who lives in Liverpool, will take the heat off Barcelona’s president. And indeed the fans who have yet to give Paulinho a chance.

Cheick Tioté RIP.

It is with great sadness that the blog learned of the passing of former Newcastle United player Cheick Tioté. The Ivorian collapsed while training with new club Beijing Enterprises and died a short time later.

Tioté spent seven season in the North-east of England where he was a fan favourite – especially after the screamer and his only goal for the Magpies that he scored in the 4-4 draw with Arsenal in 2011.

https://twitter.com/Joey7Barton/status/871798078122201089

https://twitter.com/didierdrogba/status/871777720748855297

https://twitter.com/No1shaygiven/status/871759300015816705

 

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This summer’s free transfer XI

As players’ contracts are winding down at the end of this month, many will be moving on. But let’s have a look at the best eleven that will be available on a free transfer at the end of the month.

Iker Casillas. (GK)
The Spanish World Cup winning captain has been linked with a move to Liverpool, and would possibly be a starter ahead of Mignolet. What’s that saying…class is permanent?

Bacary Sagna. (RB)
He may be 34, but Sagna has always been a solid right-back for all the clubs he’s turned out for. Still Premier League quality, he would be a wonderful addition for any club.

Gonzalo Rodriguez (CB)
The Fiorentina captain will be coming to the end of his contract this month after five years with the Serie A side. One of the newly promoted sides of the Premier League for next season should really consider acquiring the services of the Argentine international.

Pepe (CB)
I was going to include John Terry for this position, but the fiesty Portugese centre back has been a more consisent player in recent years. His final days at Real Madrid are upon us and, like his one-time team mate Casillas, he would fit into just about any team.

Gael Clichy (LB)
Another player the press has linked with a move to Liverpool, this French left-back who at 31 would still be considered a top acquisition by most teams at the highest level.

Jesus Navas (RM)
Predicted to return to his native Spain, the talented winger has long been wanted by managers over the years. Still only 31, with the right club, this is his last chance to impress to regain his place in the Spanish national team before his career begins slowing down.

Lucas Leiva (CM)
The Brazilian has been at Anfield for a decade and will leave this summer with Besiktas ready to take him on board. Not all players succeed in Turkey, but I’m sure Lucas will be surveying his options. There will be a lot of teams interested, no question.

Miguel Veloso (CM)
The 31-year-old has been a full international with Portugal for 10 years now, appearing at two World Cups and as many European Championships. Soon to be out of contract with Genoa, the midfielder should gather some interest with lots of clubs.

Valentin Eysseric (LM)
This 25-year-old is coming to the end of his contract at Nice and with plenty of clubs – especially in his native France – keeping an eye on him. A talented midfielder, the right move could be easily benefit both club and player.

Mario Balotelli (FW)
His excellent season with Nice last year will see Super Mario a wanted man once more. Heavily linked with a move to Napoli, no doubt his agent Mino Raiola will ensure the most lucrative offer possible. A great if sometimes difficult striker, he’s worth a punt.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (FW)
If Mourinho wants the Swede to stay at Old Trafford, he more than likely will get him to stay. But anything is possible. Ibra will only want to play at an elite level and make no mistake – elite clubs will be keeping tabs on him.

 

Substitutes:
Nilmar, Rachid Ghezzal, John Terry, Seydou Keita, Marouane Chamakh.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Xabi Alonso calls time on a remarkable career.

Bayern Munich midfielder Xabi Alonso announced this week that he would retiring from playing at the end of the current season.

In a tweet, the Spaniard simply wrote “Lived it. Loved it. Farewell beautiful game” and received subsequent praise from the his peers and fans around the world for his 17 years playing top flight football with such class.

Alonso was captain of the John Toshack-coached Real Sociedad where the Welshman built the team around the young midfielder. During the 2002-03 season, Alonso was instrumental in helping Sociedad to a club record for their highest ever points total, and qualifying for the UEFA Champions League for the first time.

He joined Liverpool in 2004 under a new era at Anfield under the tutelage of Rafa Benitez as well as a number of his compatriots. He played a massive part in the famous Champions League victory for the Reds in Istanbul in 2005.

He completed a €40 million move to Spanish giants Real Madrid in 2009, where he was ever-present in the midfield role for Los Merengues. He won La Liga once during his tenure in the Spanish capital and the Copa del Rey twice, and this was topped off with a Champions League medal.

Approaching 33 years of age, Alonso was still in high demand with clubs and it was Pep Guardiola who took him to German giants Bayern Munich where he was deployed as both a midfielder and a centre-half. He won the Bundesliga twice during his stint in Bavaria.

A naturally gifted midfielder, a player of Xabi Alonso’s class comes along not too often.

 

Follow Rob Smith on Twitter (@robsmithireland)

Graham Taylor R.I.P.

The blog is very saddened to learn of the passing of former England manager Graham Taylor, following a suspected heart attack. He was 72.

“With the greatest sadness, we have to announce that Graham passed away at his home early this morning of a suspected heart attack,” read a family statement. “The family are devastated by this sudden and totally unexpected loss.”

Taylor’s playing career took him to Grimsby Town and Lincoln City, managed England during a difficult time as they failed to qualify for the 1994 World Cup. He also had two spells in charge at Aston Villa, Watford as well as Wolves (where he signed a 14-year-old Dubliner called Robbie Keane).

Elton John, Paul McGrath and various clubs and sportsmen led the tributes to Taylor, a true footballing man.

 

Five players to keep an eye on during Euro 2016.

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.

julian-draxler

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.

Koke (Spain)

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.

 

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