Euro 2020: From Romelu Lukaku to Diogo Jota, players who can be difference makers for their teams

·17-min read

After a COVID-19 enforced delay of one year, the 16th edition of European Championship will get underway on 12 June, with the final taking place on 12 July. The quadrennial football tournament will be played across 11 major cities in Europe.

Be it Finland, North Macedonia making their debuts, the COVID-19 regulations and the impact they make or how VAR impacts the tournament, football fans have plenty to watch out for.

Besides, there will be no dearth of talent on display. The young and the experienced will get together to make the tournament a delightful spectacle for fans across the world. And here, we take a look at one player from all the 24 teams who can make a major impact in the tournament:

Diogo Jota (Portugal)

Defending champions Portugal's star-studded Euro 2020 squad includes names likes Bruno Fernandes, Joao Moutinho, Bernardo Silva, Joao Felix and the one and only Cristiano Ronaldo. But besides the obvious ones, watch out for former Wolves man and current Liverpool forward Diogo Jota. He made an instant impact with his new club side last season but injury ruled him out for a few months. Jota's all-round skills in front of the goal make him a potent weapon for his nation. He has the speed, he can head the ball well, he has the knack of finding space and of course, he is good with his finishing.

Dejan Kulusevski (Sweden)

The youngster has shown his versatility last season with one of Europe's biggest club Juventus. He could play as an attacker on both wings and can also be useful as a second striker. His work rate during the matches with Juventus has also impressed many. He scored and then assisted another in the final of Coppa Italia, helping Juventus clinch the title. In the absence of their talismanic Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kulusevski has the ability to help Sweden battle past a tricky group, where the team will face the likes of Poland, Spain and Slovakia.

John McGinn (Scotland)

Scotland's two best players are left-backs Andrew Robertson and Kieran Tierney and there's the class of Scott McTominay in the midfield. But football is a game of goals and somebody has to score for Scotland if they aim to go deep in the tournament. Enter John McGinn. The Aston Villa player has scored 10 goals in 32 matches for his national team and he's coming after a solid season with his club, scoring three thrice and assisting six times. The numbers are not eye-popping but his dynamism is a vital component for Steve Clarke's team. He can be relentless in pressing, can be a playmaker and of course, there are goals in him as well. Scotland are playing in a major tournament after 23 years and they'll have the home advantage this time. McGinn and his team do have it in them to create major impact in a group consisting of Czech Republic, Croatia and England.

Memphis Depay (Netherlands)

There's always footballing talent with Netherlands but so does the inconsistency. The Dutch were happy with the postponement of Euro 2020 by a year because Memphis Depay would've missed the tournament after sustaining cruciate ligament injury but then they lost their captain Virgil van Dijk to another serious knee injury and the head coach Ronald Koeman left for the Barcelona job. Still, there's plenty of talent in the squad and they need to overcome bouts of inconsistency.

The Dutch will rely on Memphis Depay to prosper in the tournament. AP
The Dutch will rely on Memphis Depay to prosper in the tournament. AP

The Dutch will rely on Memphis Depay to prosper in the tournament. AP

Depay's form could really make things work for the Dutch. He's coming into the tournament after a great season with Lyon, 20 goals and 12 assists to his name in Ligue 1. He made significant improvements to his attacking game over the years and it showed with the numbers he has produced with Lyon and the national team. The Dutch will rely on him to prosper in the tournament.

Phil Foden (England)

Yes, Harry Kane might still be England's talismanic striker when it comes to delivering goals come Euro 2020, but another promising youngster who has come through the ranks over the years in midfielder Phil Foden.

He initially broke through Manchester City's youth set-up, before finally finding his feet in the senior City team in the 2019-20 season on a regular basis.

The 21-year-old was an instrumental part of England's title-winning squad in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in India, and needless to say, he has proved his potential yet again this season, scoring nine times and assisting five in 28 Premier League games.

To cap off a largely successful club season with City, Foden even recently became a recipient of the Premier League Young Player of the Season.

Christian Eriksen (Denmark)

The Denmark playmaker Christian Eriksen is coming off fresh from a roller-coaster season with Inter Milan, which saw the team clinch the Scudetto for the first time in 11 years.

Eriksen left Tottenham Hotspur in January 2020, leaving the north London club still without a major trophy in years, and moved to Inter with a desire of winning major silverwares.

However, during his initial days at Inter, he found it difficult to get game time under the then Inter coach Antonio Conte and by December 2020, he had asked if he could leave the club. Inter CEO Giuseppe Marotta had later informed that Eriksen was in fact to be transfer listed in January this year.

Amidst all the off-field speculations, Eriksen made an impact in the Copa Italia quarter-final against rivals Milan in January 2021, coming on as a substitute and scoring a last-gasp win to see off their arch-rivals. It was only after that match that manager Conte confirmed that Eriksen would not leave the club afterall.

His creativity in the midfield will add depth to the squad, and the 29-year-old will be the go-to man with Denmark being placed in a tricky group consisting of Belgium, Russia and newcomers Finland.

Ferran Torres (Spain)

Although he has not started each of the 24 games he has played in the Premier League this season, Ferran Torres at 21 years of age, remains an impactful youngster.

Joining Manchester City from his native football club CF Valencia in Spain in August 2020, Torres seems to have found faith in Pep Guardiola's set-up by playing in the wings, and he has netted 13 times in 36 appearances for the club in all competitions.

Torres can create miracles on his day, just like he did with a hattrick against Newcastle United in a thrilling 4-3 win in the Premier League in May.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

When Robert Lewandowski is around, you can be assured of a goal-fest. The prolific Bayern Munich striker is coming off a record-breaking season where he broke club legend Gerd Muller's record of most goals in a Bundesliga season, amassing 41 goals in just 29 appearances. In all competitions, he has aggregated 48.

Lewandowski is coming off a record-breaking Bundesliga season. AFP
Lewandowski is coming off a record-breaking Bundesliga season. AFP

Lewandowski (right) is coming off a record-breaking Bundesliga season. AFP

Poland have been an unpredictable side since making their debut Euro appearance in 2008, and if Lewandowksi is able to find his rhythm right from the get-go, it will be difficult to stop this Polish side.

Luka Modric (Croatia)

A veteran of the game, Luka Modric continues to be at the heart of the midfield for both Croatia and Real Madrid. Despite having endured a trophy-less season with Madrid, Modric seems to have retained faith within the club management following a contract he recently signed, extending his stay at the Bernabeu-based club till 2022.

While he continues to share a stupendous midfield partnership with German Toni Kroos, this would even be 35-year-old Modric's final shot at European glory with Croatia, and irrespective of that fact, there should be no doubt that he is a threat to be reckoned with for other teams.

Milan Skriniar (Slovakia)

While Slovakia aren't exactly close to the top of the betting charts of potential Euro 2020 winners, they head into the tournament with a strong squad that features some standout names. Chief among those is that of Milan Skriniar, the tough-tackling centre-back who is coming off an excellent with Inter Milan, in which he was an ever-present figure as they clinched the Serie A title in dominant fashion.

The 26-year-old is one of the best readers of the game, and his positional awareness and ability to come out on top in one versus one situations make him a vital asset for Slovakia, especially considering that they are very much the underdogs in their group. Also, while he isn't really a goal-scoring defender, he scored the only two international goals to his name a short while ago, in back-to-back World Cup qualifying games in the last week of March.

Karim Benzema (France)

France's squad depth is frankly ridiculous. In nearly every position on the pitch, Les Bleus have a couple of world class players to choose from, so it's really difficult to pick just one player to watch out for. Yet, among this overabundance of talent, one name in the squad sticks out like a sore thumb. Karim Benzema. The prolific striker who, in 2015, at the very peak of his career, was ejected from the national team for his involvement in the blackmail of France teammate Mathieu Valbuena.

Six long years and a missed World Cup trophy later, Benzema is finally back in the France squad, and the timing could not be better. Having scoring 30 goals in all competitions for his club this season, Benzema is currently regarded as one of the best strikers in the world. This tournament is an opportunity for the 33-year-old to finally get a taste of success on the international stage, and with his eye for goal, he's not likely to pass up the chance.

Joshua Kimmich (Germany)

After winning the 2014 World Cup, not much has gone Germany's way. Barring a win at the 2017 Confederations Cup, the historically strong side have not had much to be happy about, and heading into the Euros, they'll be hoping to change their fortunes. If they are to accomplish a reversal in form, they will need their best players to perform, and arguably, at the moment, the most polished footballer they have at their disposal is Joshua Kimmich.

Kimmich is an incredibly gifted and versatile player, who can perform as either a right-back or a central midfielder with great effect. He has an uncanny ability to keep the ball moving with great speed and accuracy, and with the experience he has gained over the past few years after becoming a mainstay in Bayern Munich, he could help Germany outperform any opponent.

Gareth Bale (Wales)

When it comes to Wales, there's one footballer who stands head and shoulders above the rest - Gareth Bale.

He has been in the spotlight for years, and likely will be for at least a couple more. His performance at 2016 was the stuff of legends, as he scored three goals and created a few more to take his team all the way to the semi-finals.

Gareth Bale will be keen reaffirm his status as one of the world's best footballers. AP
Gareth Bale will be keen reaffirm his status as one of the world's best footballers. AP

Gareth Bale will be keen reaffirm his status as one of the world's best footballers. AP

This time around, however, Bale has more on the line. With his status at Real Madrid currently looking less certain by the minute, this tournament could determine the path of Bale's career from here on. As such, he'll be keen to impress once again, and reaffirm his status as one of the world's best footballers.

Oleksandr Zinchenko (Ukraine)

On paper, Ukraine have a really good chance of making it past the group stage of the 2020 Euros. Drawn in a group with Netherlands, Austria and North Macedonia, Ukraine have more than enough in their arsenal to make their way out, and one of their key players in the tournament will likely be Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Manchester City full-back has grown by leaps and bounds over the past two years under the tutelage of Pep Guardiola, so much so that he was entrusted with a starting role in the Champions League final just a few days ago.

When playing for Ukraine, Zinchenko's dynamism and ability on the ball is utilised in a more attacking role than it is in City, with the 24-year-old often playing in a central midfield role, or on the left of a midfield trio. He's also taken on a leadership role in the team, and recently became Ukraine's youngest-ever captain, leading them to a 1-1 draw against 2018 World Cup winners France.

Caglar Soyuncu (Turkey)

Turkey qualified as runner-up from Group H in the qualifying on the back of stellar performances that saw them lose just one game. One of their wins came against World Cup champions France. The reason for their success has been their young and resolute defence led by Leicester City's Caglar Soyuncu.

Where Jamie Vardy, James Maddison and Kelechi Iheanacho grab the headlines for the Premier League side, it is Soyuncu who has been the rock at the back. A no-nonsense defender, Soyuncu is good on the ball, has a strong aerial ability, and is quick and agile with his movement.

Breel Embolo (Switzerland)

Away from the regular, well-established names in Xherdan Shaqiri and captain Granit Xhaka, there are other names that could make an impact at Euro 2020. Among them is striker Breel Embolo.

The pacy, powerful and versatile Breel Embolo (left) is a fan favourite in Switzerland. AP
The pacy, powerful and versatile Breel Embolo (left) is a fan favourite in Switzerland. AP

The pacy, powerful and versatile Breel Embolo (left) is a fan favourite in Switzerland. AP

Born in Cameroon, the Borussia Monchengladbach player found a new lease to football life after an injury-laden career. The youngest player in the Switzerland squad at Euro 2016, he earned praise from Paul Pogba in a draw with France. Watch out for the pacy, powerful and versatile forward who is a fan favourite. Also watch out for "Oh Embolo, oh Embolo. I de Nati, de Schwiizer Nati, isch de Breel diehi" chants from Swiss supporters to the tune of 'The Lion Sleeps Tonight'.

Teemu Pukki (Finland)

By far the most recognisable and impactful player in the Finland squad is Teemu Pukki. The striker has played his club football in Finland, Spain, Germany, Scotland but it is in England that he earned the limelight. In his three seasons in England for Norwich City, he has scored 67 goals earning them promotion twice.

On the international stage, he bagged in 10 goals in the qualifying campaign to help Finland to their first major tournament.

Artem Dzyuba (Russia)

Russia made the most of their hosting rights to reach the quarter-finals of 2018 World Cup. The task will be different now with the team moving on from retiring legends such as Sergei Ignashevich. In the qualifying process, Russia scored 33 goals (from 10 games) only to finish behind Belgium in the standings.

At the forefront of that jaw-dropping 3.3 goals a game statistic stands Artem Dzyuba. The 6 feet and 6 inch striker is physical and a handful to defend inside the box which explains his nine goals in qualifying. The Zenit Saint Petersburg player needs just two goals to become Russia's all-time top goalscorer.

Marcel Sabitzer (Austria)

Away from the well-established names in David Alaba and Marko Arnautovic, one name to keep an eye out for at Euro 2020 is Marcel Sabitzer. The RB Leipzig midfielder emerged as one of the players of the 2020-21 Bundesliga season with eight goals and four assists as the side finished second.

Known for his set pieces and long-range efforts, Sabitzer will hope to be on the mark during the tournament after a stiff qualifying campaign for Austria.

Little fact: Austria have never won a European Championship match and haven't had a win at a major tournament since the 1990 World Cup.

Goran Pandev (Macedonia)

Goran Pandev is a legend for debutants North Macedonia. At 37, he is older than the country (they gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991) and has been part of the national team for two decades now.

The veteran has been part of trophy-winning sides such as Lazio, Napoli, Galatasaray but it is with Inter Milan, in 2010, that he won a treble.

For the national team, he has scored 37 goals in 119 appearances, the 36th earning Macedonia a berth into Euro 2020 at the expense of Georgia. His 37th was the opening goal in a stunning upset over Germany.

Romelu Lukaku (Belgium)

It's tough to choose just one player from Belgium, one of the tournament favourites. They are overloaded with class players like Kevin De Bruyne and Eden Hazard. Their midfield also has stars like Axel Witsel, Yannick Carrasco, Leander Dendoncker. And that great midfield requires a world-class striker. Romelu Lukaku always had the talent but he has gained a level since moving to Italy.

He scored 24 goals in the last season of Serie A, helping Inter Milan clinch the title. Now he will aim to win another trophy, this time a big one with Belgium.

Nicolo Barella (Italy)

Italian national team is known for their defenders and stylish looking attackers but Inter Milan midfielder Nicolo Barella could prove to be their most important player at Euro 2020. Fresh from winning the Serie A title with his club, Barella will be expected to lead Italy's midfield and creative duties.

The dynamic player will have extra responsibilities on his shoulders given the injury to Marco Verratti but he has shown during his time with the national team that Italy can count on him. In eight qualifying matches, Barella provided three goals and two assists mainly attacking from the right.

His attacking play from the right provides Italy an extra dimension and his quick passing and playmaking make the lives of defenders tough. If he shines at Euro, there's a good chance Italy will also shine.

Tomas Soucek (Czech Republic)

Fans of the English Premier League are well aware of Tomas Soucek's capabilities. The tall defensive West Ham United midfielder has already made a name for himself as someone loves scoring.

In the recently concluded season, Soucek scored 14 goals for his club and country. He is 6 feet and 4 inches and that gives him an advantage while facing set-pieces, but he has also proved to be a footballer who is not bad with the ball at his feet. Apart from scoring, he is also a pretty solid midfielder who will be one of the key players for Czechia at Euro.

Adam Szalai (Hungary)

Adam Szalai is the most experienced Hungary player with 70 international caps. He also has 23 goals to his name. But there's another reason why he is going to be Hungary's most important player at the tournament and that is because of the injury attacking midfielder Dominik Szoboszlai.

Szoboszlai was to lead Hungary's attack at the tournament but now in his absence, veteran Szalai becomes all the more important.

The Mainz striker has not been in great form at the club level but he continues to find the goals at the international level and recently scored against Poland and San Marino. His strong aerial presence is a headache for opposition defence and his hold up play allows the midfield to make attacking moves.

Also See: Euro 2020: From Romelu Lukaku to Karim Benzema, six strikers to watch at the tournament

Euro 2020: Stanislav Cherchesov’s Russia aim to repeat heroics of 2018 FIFA World Cup in upcoming event

Euro 2020: Romelu Lukaku’s strike helps Belgium beat Croatia in warm up match; Netherlands hand Georgia 3-0 loss

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