Eight players to watch at Euro 2024

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With the European Championships getting underway this weekend, I simply cannot wait. In the meantime, I thought I would pick out eight interesting names to keep an eye on in this tournament. Some of these names you will undoubtedly know; others you undoubtedly won’t. So, if you want to enhance your Euros knowledge and impress or annoy friends at the pub, here are some names to remember.

Benjamin Sesko – Slovenia

One of the more famous names on this list, Sesko has been touted for a big summer move. If he performs at the Euros, Leipzig could get away with slapping another £20 million on his fee, with Arsenal and Chelsea sniffing around.

Sesko stands at 6ft 5in at only 21 years old, cutting an imposing figure in the centre forward position. Superb performances have turboboosted the Slovenian’s progress through the Red Bull system, with his first season at RB Leipzig bringing fourteen goals. Already Sesko is one of Slovenia’s integral players. Eleven goals in 28 appearances for his country is an outrageous record and already matches that of his 30 year old strike partner Andraz Sporar, whose primary role will be to facilitate Sesko’s best performances.

Slovenia face an uphill battle to escape the group, and will look to their match against Serbia with hope. If goalkeeper Jan Oblak and Sesko hit their stride in their first major tournaments, they may well just have a chance.

Superb performances have turboboosted the Slovenian’s progress through the Red Bull system

Otar Kiteishvili – Georgia

This probably the most football hipster I’m going to get in this article. Georgia’s qualification has ignited interest from the Caucasus for the first time in Euros history and they represent the only new nation at this summer’s championships. Like Slovenia, they have stars at both end of the field. Khvicha Kvaratskhelia was the face of Serie A before a disappointing season as Napoli finished tenth, whilst Giorgi Mamardashvili had been Valencia’s best player over the last three years.

Between these two are largely unknowns to the casual viewer. However, they do have a midfield diamond in Otar Kiteishvili. The midfielder is a lynchpin in the defensive structure of Georgia’s low block, but is liberated in transition and can produce moments of creative excellence and ruthlessness in his ball-striking. He was voted the best player in the Austrian Bundesliga thanks to his nine goals and talismanic contribution to Sturm Graz’s surprise title charge. At 28 and at Georgia’s first major tournament, this is his chance on the world stage.

Christoph Baumgartner – Austria

Ralf Rangnick’s Austria are many experts’ tips to be dark horses this tournament, following a strong qualifying campaign where their only dropped points came against Belgium. Baumgartner will play as the number ten in a 4-2-3-1 despite the two men either side of him, Marcel Sabitzer and Konrad Laimer, laying a claim to the central position and arguably being bigger names in the global game. But is Baumgartner is dynamite. A steady debut season for RB Leipzig saw him score five league goals, about par for the course when you consider his return of seven goals in each of the four seasons prior for Hoffenheim.

What really sets him apart is his goal record for the national team, however. Fifteen goals from 38 games is extraordinary for a midfielder in a traditionally mediocre European team. Even more encouragingly, he comes into this tournament having scored in both of Austria’s warm-up games and a goal after six seconds against Slovakia in March, making him the scorer of the fastest goal in international football history. He’s still only 24.

He’s the scorer of the fastest goal in international football history

Heorhiy Sudakov – Ukraine

Ukraine’s front five should be so exciting to watch at the Euros. Artem Dovbyk claimed the Pichichi trophy this season, given to the top scorer in La Liga, thanks to his plunder of 24 goals in the Spanish top division for surprise package Girona. He was Ukraine’s matchwinner against Sweden in the last 16 of Euro 2021. Mykhailo Mudryk and Oleksandr Zinchenko are firmly familiar names to Premier League fans as well, whilst Viktor Tsyhankov was exceptional at times this season playing with Dovbyk for Girona. However, the real excitement circles around Heorhiy Sudakov

The 21 year old has only scored one goal in fourteen caps for his country, but is the most exciting prospect in the war-stricken Ukrainian first division. The attacking midfielder has very quick feet and will work overtime off the ball too. Ukraine’s team looks strong on paper and they were unfortunate to need the play-offs to qualify, thanks to them being landed in a group with England and Italy. With their second string side’s loss to Poland cast aside, Ukraine has claimed positive results against Italy and Germany in their last six matches, and with Belgium appearing the most fragile of this tournament’s top seeds, they are well-placed for a surprise push deep into the tournament.

Roland Sallai – Hungary

To stop Hungary, you have to stop Dominik Szoboszlai. That much is clear. Hungary’s build-up play mostly comes down their left flank as they seek to supply the Liverpool midfielder the ball in his advanced role, just behind the striker. Bournemouth’s Milos Kerkez will fly down their left flank as a wing back and aid Szoboszlai. However, with so much attention on him, opposition teams will seek to stifle his creativity and cannon-like long shots. Number nine Barnabas Varga has hit a goal a game for Ferencvaros this year. But it is Roland Sallai, the third point of this attacking triangle, who will be the biggest surprise package.

Playing his football in Freiburg, next year will be Sallai’s seventh successive season at the club. Following a dip in form in 2022-23, Sallai performed well this season, even if his numbers are not outlandish. In this withdrawn role for Hungary, he will be a menace to pick up, as he and Szoboszlai are given license to roam between the midfield and defensive lines. Many people have Hungary as second place finishers in Group A, but their build-up has been mixed. An encouraging 3-0 victory over Israel saw both Sallai and Varga score, but against the Republic of Ireland manager Marco Rossi played his strongest team, only to see the Irish seal a late 2-1 victory.

To stop Hungary, you have to stop Dominik Szoboszlai

Lamine Yamal – Spain

Okay, he’s already a big name I know. But Yamal is one of the most exciting players in the world to watch right now. Still only sixteen, the Barcelona wonderkid is in line to start in the right wing berth for his country after a successful first seven caps for his country in the last year. In Spain’s final warm-up match against Northern Ireland, Yamal terrorised the defence and was awarded man of the match despite not scoring any of Spain’s five goals, such was his dynamism. This is a scary talent.

Spain are expected to win their group, but their matches against Croatia and Italy are likely to be uncomfortable. Much will depend on the success of Yamal and left winger Dani Olmo and how successful they are in their match-ups against their respective full backs. Alvaro Morata will continue to spurn chances yet score goals down the middle. Expect both Olmo and Yamal to cut inside onto their strong foot, and Yamal especially to attempt some audacious and electric dribbles inside the full back and round the left centre back.

David Hancko – Slovakia

Going into this tournament, Slovakia actually have their best chance at major tournament progression in a generation. They find themselves in the weakest group in the competition and come into the tournament off the back of two 4-0 wins, against San Marino and Wales. In that Wales match they started the eleven that will start their first Euros match against Belgium. Juraj Kucka, Stanislav Lobotka, Milan Skriniar, and Martin Dubravka all have experience in Europe’s top five leagues, but it is David Hancko who is their player in form.

Hancko plays as a centre back for Feyenoord in the Eredivisie. His performances earned him praise from Dutch football experts as the Rotterdam club finished second. But, for Slovakia, he will play on the left of a back four. His posititional nous and uncompromising tackling should shine through at the Euros. At 26, he will be posturing for a move to an elite club.

Expect Yamal to attempt some audacious dribbles inside the full back

Maximilian Mittelstadt – Germany

There was much consternation within the German border over Julian Nagelsmann’s squad selection. National team stalwart Mats Hummels was the biggest of a few famous names to be left out of the squad entirely, many of whom have been replaced by those with little to no caps. Waldemar Anton, Chris Fuhrich, Deniz Undav all join Maximilian Mittelstadt in the squad from Stuttgart, following a remarkable season which saw them finish second in the Bundesliga, a tale which would have gained ten times the recognition had it not been the unbeaten Bayer Leverkusen that beat them to the title.

Mittelstadt is the only one of these four who will start against Scotland on the 14th June. The left back has benefited from Germany’s lack of depth in that position, facing competition for his position only from Leipzig’s David Raum. Since his debut in March, Mittelstadt has massively impressed and even scored his first international goal against the Netherlands. His attacking intent will be good to watch in a group where Germany will have the possession dominance to utilise him.

Image credit: mlsz.hu via Wikimedia Commons

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