Foden, Wirtz and Yamal among the players who could light up Euro 2024

Sat, Jun 8, 2024
Soccer News (AP)

Foden, Wirtz and Yamal among the players who could light up Euro 2024

The Associated Press takes a look at some of the players expected to light up the European Championship in Germany which kicks off on June 14.

PHIL FODEN (ENGLAND)

Nurtured with care by Pep Guardiola, Foden has taken some time to break through to world-class level. He's there now - and the Manchester City forward is heading into a major international tournament as a certain starter for England for the first time and as the Premier League's best player this season. While defenses occupy themselves with Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham, it might be Foden who benefits the most with his quick feet and eye for goal. Where he starts - as an attacking central midfielder or on one of the wings - will be interesting to see. But he will start, and that's exciting for England fans who have been waiting for Foden to blossom.

FLORIAN WIRTZ (GERMANY)

A player in the mold of Foden - and maybe another Man City player in Jack Grealish because of his low-slung socks - is Wirtz, who has established himself as a standout in the German league at newly crowned champion Bayer Leverkusen. At age 21, Wirtz is a No. 10 with amazing balance, technical ability and creativity who dovetails that with a relentless pressing game - something demanded of attacking players in the modern era. Once the youngest scorer in Bundesliga history (at age 17), he was one of the youngest ever players for Germany and scored against France after seven seconds in March. It was thought to be the fastest international goal ever before that record was broken later that day. This is his first major international tournament - a knee injury ruled him out of the 2022 World Cup - and surely won't be his last.

LAMINE YAMAL (SPAIN)

The old saying "if you're good enough, you're old enough" certainly applies to Yamal, the Spain winger who was 15 years, 9 months and 16 days when he made his debut for Barcelona and will still be 16 when Euro 2024 begins. Yamal, born near Barcelona to a mother from Equatorial Guinea and a father from Morocco, is the latest prodigy to come out of Barcelona 's famed La Masia academy and he hasn't stopped breaking records. The youngest player to debut - and score - in the Spanish league, the youngest to start in the Champions League, the youngest to score for Spain's national team and the youngest to score in a European Championship qualifier. Fast and direct, Yamal already has quite a presence despite his age.

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RAFAEL LEAO (PORTUGAL)

Portugal will one day arrive at the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era and the team will need an attacking star to build around. Leao has the ability to be that player, even if his standout performances have been rarer than many at AC Milan would have wanted this season. Leao's talent is clear - he is one of the world's most exciting wingers and few are able to run with the ball with such pace, power and athleticism. A reported release clause of 175 million euros ($190 million) is testament to that but there's certainly room for improvement with Leao, particularly when he hasn't got space to run into and he is tasked with breaking down packed defenses.

KHVICHA KVARATSKHELIA (GEORGIA)

Georgia's success at its first major tournament might boil down to the performances of a winger whose playing style and status at Napoli is such that he has gained the nicknamed "Kvaradona" -- in homage to the late Diego Maradona, who also played for the Italian club. A relative unknown when he joined Napoli in the offseason of 2022 from Georgian club Dinamo Batumi, Kvaratskhelia is now one of Europe's most exciting attackers and the poster boy of the Georgia national team that qualified for the Euros through the playoffs. Listen to the decibel levels rise among Georgia's fans whenever he gets the ball.

LUKA MODRIC (CROATIA)

Now 38, Modric finished the season at Real Madrid largely as a substitute who entered in the second half to bring more control and see out games. Don't worry: for Croatia, he is still the main man. Modric might no longer be the force he once was but his technique, vision and game-management is still at a level that will set him apart from most central midfielders at Euro 2024. It was only 18 months ago that Modric, the guy who in 2018 broke the decade-long Ballon d'Or hegemony of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, was one of the best players at the World Cup as Croatia upset the odds to reach the semifinals. Football fans are savoring the opportunity to see him at another - perhaps final - major international tournament. Make the most of it.

GEORGI SUDAKOV (UKRAINE)

A European Championship can be a shop window for young talents to secure a big-money move to a top club, and Sudakov could fit into this category. The 21-year-old Ukraine midfielder has grown up fast these past few years. Off the field, he got married, had a daughter who is now aged 2, and seen his country get invaded by Russia to start a war that's ongoing. On the field, he has established himself as a star at nomadic Ukrainian team Shakhtar Donetsk, made his debut in the Champions League - even scoring against Barcelona - and is set to play in the Euros and the Olympics this summer. He says he is happy to be developing at Shakhtar, but expect Sudakov to be the subject of some sizable offers this offseason.

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