There has been no shortage of drama or excitement on show on or off the pitch so far this summer in France as some of the best players on the continent battle it out for a chance at ultimate glory in the European championship. Thankfully, most of the big name players have stood out and turned in some quality performances and we’ve been treated to some phenomenal goals already, which bodes well for the remainder of the contest. It hasn’t been so positive in terms of the behaviour of certain fans as well as question marks over security but certain performers have done their utmost to keep us concentrated on the actual football. With the conclusion of the tournament, it’s time to single out a handful of players for praise.
So what if he has never won a Ballon d’Or. Big deal. The way he manipulates a football match, it’s as if time itself stands still to admire him – who needs awards when you’re that good? Anyone who knows their football is fully aware of just how influential a player the man nicknamed El Ilusionista (the Illusionist) is in the beautiful game, even more, how lasting his impact on the sport will be when he does eventually call a halt to his amazing career. What we have seen at this edition of the Euros has only served to reinforce that further.
Plenty of other footballers have gone from zero to hero in the history of the game, and there have been some really impressive cases in recent memory, but there’s little doubt that Dimitri Payet is the best example on show at the Euros this summer. He has been scoring phenomenal goals for fun for the France national team. It’s hard to know which of his two spectacular goals so far have been the better one – his strike against Romania in the tournament opener or his lovely curled effort from inside the box to steal a win against a stubborn Albania side? Opinion is divided on that front, but what’s a lot clearer is just how world class the West Ham United midfielder has been.
Arguably Germany’s best player so far, Toni Kroos has been the most accomplished passer of a ball from any of the 24 teams involved. Against Northern Ireland in their 1-0 win, Kroos completed 121 passes which was more than the entire amount recorded by Michael O’ Neill’s team throughout those 90 minutes. Quite an impressive feat. Of course, the number of passes means little unless you’re creating chances aplenty with it for your team-mates, and that is exactly what the Real Madrid playmaker has been doing. Dictating the tempo and moving the ball with intelligence and fluidity, he has given the Germans a real inventiveness to their midfield, as well as providing the right sort of balance necessary for the big stage.
Ireland have amassed a tidy little collection of fond memories over the years that showcase their ability to get going when the obstacles start coming thick and fast, and while they have never been the best team in Europe (or indeed the world) by any stretch of the imagination, the Green Army have nonetheless produced some tremendous examples of how to punch above your weight. Their inspiring performances at the 2002 World Cup, their surge to the quarter finals of the 1990 edition of the biggest competition in international football – and now their qualification to the last 16 of Euro 2016, thanks in no small part to their tricky playmaker Wes Hoolahan, have all proven their worth.
Undoubtedly the best defender to grace the Euros this summer, Leonardo Bonucci has really impressed with his near-perfect defending at the heart of Italy’s three-man rearguard. In particular, against Belgium and Sweden, the 29-year-old centre back was a pillar of coolness as he surveyed the landscape sitting in front of him, often repelling the dangers which came his way. Bonucci is no stranger to performing at the highest levels of the game as he plies his trade with Juventus in the Serie A but he has still really impressed with the manner of consistency.