The young Frenchman is capable of turning a game in an instant, creating something from nothing. Powerful and fast yet skilful, he can score or deliver an assist from anywhere. With the Juventus man at the centre of their midfield, France should qualify from a relatively easy group and, playing on home soil, are many pundits favourites for the competition.
He enjoyed a fine season with Atletico Madrid, reaching the Champions League final and narrowly missing out on the Spanish league title. The Frenchman, who has become his country’s main attacking force, particularly in the absence of Karim Benzema, scored 32 club goals this season in all competitions.
The Welshman appears to have settled this season at Real Madrid. Playing in a number of positions across the front line, Bale scored 20 goals and made 12 assists in all competitions. The Welsh will need the Madrid player to be on form if they are to stand any chance of exiting the group stage in their first major tournament in 57 years. With Bale at the centre of their attack, as well as a few other Premier League stars in other positions, such as Ashley Williams and Aaron Ramsey, Wales lost just once in qualification.
The Bayern Munich player is one of the world’s best goalscorers. If he continues his recent form in front of goal – he scored 13 in qualifying, equalling David Healy’s famous record – Poland stand a good chance of qualifying for the knock-out stage, despite facing tough tests in the form of England and Ukraine. In addition, Northern Ireland have proved themselves capable of upsetting bigger teams.
The Englishman enjoyed a terrific season, leading underdogs Leicester City to the Premier League title. He should offer some vital pace and dynamism to the England attack. It is still uncertain whether he will start for England, perhaps on the left side of front three, or play on the bench. In any case, the Leicester man, who scored in 11 consecutive league games this season, knows how to make an impact.
Kevin de Bruyne
Manchester City looked much less of a threat when Kevin de Bruyne dropped out of the team due to injury. His return saw City’s form improve, the Belgian scoring vital goals in the Champions League and helping them to secure fourth position and a place in next season’s Champions League. He should play a leading role in a Belgium team replete with stars, including Eden Hazard, Radja Nainggolan and Romelu Lukaku.
Not much needs to be said, really. The Portuguese is still one of the best players in the world and will have a good claim to the top spot after having led Real Madrid to their second Champions League title in three years. Portugal have a good mix of experienced and younger players so may do well.
With Miroslav Klose entering the Autumn of his playing career, the Bayern Munich man could be vital to his country’s attack. Muller has a knack for finding space in the opposition’s penalty area and always performs well in big tournaments. The German scored five goals at the 2014 World Cup, making him the second top scorer, and is in a rich vein of form for his country, having scored nine goals in qualifying for the Euros. Despite some problems with injury – Ilkay Gundogan and Antonio Rudiger have pulled out of the competition and Bastian Schweinsteiger has only recently recovered – Germany are still more than capable of going all the way, particularly if Muller is on form.
The diminutive Italian is a goal threat both from wide and the centre, with 13 goals and 11 assists in all competitions this season. It will be interesting to see if Antonio Conte makes space for the Napoli man in a team selection that is likely to be defensive.
What is there not to love about Andres Iniesta? Modest, selfless and immensely skilful, he also put his family vineyard up on Airbnb in 2014, expressing his desire to “share his other interests: a love of nature and the exquisite fruit of our vineyard”. His passing ability, cool demeanour and ability to dictate the pace of a game will be paramount if Spain are to relive the successes of 2010 and 2012, when they won back-to-back the World Cup and the European Championship. A few stars have retired since then, such as Iniesta’s former Barcelona teammate Xavi, but Spain remain a force and have a few up-and-coming talents.
If Sweden have any chance of escaping the group stage they are likely to rely heavily on Zlatan, and Zlatan knows this. He scored 11 of the team’s 19 goals in qualifying, including two in the playoffs against Denmark. “They thought I was going to retire but instead I have sent the whole of Denmark into retirement,” he said after the return game.