UEFA Euro 2020: Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku, France’s Kylian Mbappe among 10 players to watch in knockout phase
The 2020 UEFA European Championship group stage is now over and the round of 16 is set with some mouthwatering ties to come. Check out the current bracket here.
Belgium against Portugal in Seville and England vs. Germany in London are arguably the two headline clashes, but all fixtures provide some degree of intrigue.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Memphis Depay, Manuel Locatelli, Kai Havertz, Emil Forsberg, and Paul Pogba have all made strong early impressions, but some unexpected names have also grabbed the headlines.
We look at some of those already enjoying their summer and others waiting for theirs to truly catch fire.
1. Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
With three of Belgium’s seven goals as they topped Group B by a six-point margin, the Inter Milan man has carried his club form into this summer with his country.
Now up against Portugal and top scorer Cristiano Ronaldo, Lukaku will be key to the Red Devils’ hopes of further progression.
If the 28-year-old and Kevin De Bruyne can turn it on in Seville this Sunday, the Portuguese could find it hard to handle.
2. Georginio Wijnaldum, Netherlands
The Netherlands were expected to capitalize on home advantage in a group featuring Austria, Ukraine and North Macedonia, but Memphis Depay was the most likely key man — not Wijnaldum.
Instead, the now-Paris Saint-Germain star has come to the fore with three goals to display the prolific side of his game from midfield.
Wijnaldum, 30, is also thriving in the leadership role bestowed upon him Frank de Boer and the Czech Republic is another chance for him to play a starring role.
3. Alexander Isak, Sweden
Although Forsberg has been providing most of the goals for Sweden so far, it is the Real Sociedad man who has been generating more attention than his teammate with a string of impressive displays.
The 21-year-old’s technique has wowed those unfamiliar with his game and he is unlucky not to have a goal to his name to go with his assist as the Swedes topped Group E.
Ukraine in Glasgow will feel like a winnable clash for the Scandinavians, and it offers Isak another chance to shine.
4. Patrik Schick, Czech Republic
A spectacular double including a goal of the tournament contender saw the Czechs start their campaign in swift fashion and although they drew with Croatia and lost to England, all the results were reasonably tight.
If there is to be an upset against the Netherlands, it will likely be Schick who makes the difference such is his talismanic role for the team.
At club level, the Bayern Leverkusen man is less prolific but has been handed the confidence boost he perhaps needed this summer.
5. Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Denmark
Part of the heroic Danish team that has soldiered on after the traumatic experience of Christian Eriksen’s collapse on the pitch against Finland, the Tottenham Hotspur man has three assists to his name so far.
Hojbjerg has provided assists for Yussuf Poulsen, Mikkel Damsgaard and Joakim Maehle to score and his supply line will be vital if the Danes are to overcome Wales in Amsterdam.
Given their path toward the finals, a deep run could be possible if the 25-year-old can maintain this pace.
6. Kylian Mbappe, France
The PSG and France man needs no introduction, yet he has been unable to stamp much of a mark on this Euro so far as Didier Deschamps’ squad emerged from Group F on top.
A round of 16 meeting with Switzerland could be exactly what 22-year-old needs to belatedly get his tournament up and running with goals that have been missing against the likes of Germany, Hungary and now Portugal.
Mbappe’s attitude has sparked plenty of debate and it is now time for him to do his talking on the pitch if he wants to be recognized as Les Bleus’ main man.
7. Marco Verratti, Italy
Parisien teammate Verratti has endured a slow start due to injury, but wasted little time in showing what he can do against Wales.
Italy boss Roberto Mancini has a bit of a headache with Locatelli playing so well but almost every national team would love the presence of two top quality midfielders.
Verratti is looking to make up for lost time this summer and his inclusion in the XI against Austria could see the Azzurri take another step forward.
8. Jack Grealish, England
Used sparingly by England manager Gareth Southgate to the annoyance of the nation, the Aston Villa man and Jadon Sancho could play bigger roles in the latter stages.
Grealish provided the assist for Raheem Sterling to score against the Czech Republic and greater firepower will be needed against Germany at Wembley next week.
If the 25-year-old is given the nod against the Germans, then he will carry the hopes of his country on his shoulders with fans crying out for greater inclusion.
9. Gareth Bale, Wales
The star man for Wales is taking his time to come to the fore but does already have two assists to his name and he will need to show greater prowess in front of goal if the Welsh are to trouble Denmark.
The 31-year-old almost single-handedly led his country on a deep run back in 2016 and they will need similar from him now.
If Bale and Aaron Ramsey can both be at their best against the Danes, then Wales stand at least a chance of advancing.
10. Luka Modric, Croatia
The Real Madrid wizard delivered with a big goal against Scotland and his celebrations showed what it means to his after the final whistle.
With nothing left to prove in the game but still massively important for club and country, Modric’s ability to shine could swing the Spain clash in Croatia’s favor.
At 35, these could be his final steps at international level and he will want to carry his country as far as the 2018 FIFA World Cup — if not further.