The Euro are finally here and in association with our friends at Four Star Pizza we are looking for all your predictions for the main stars of the Tournament. Money where your mouth is and all that, we will then collate all the predictions and report back in July about how prophetic we all were. For some direction we have put the following together.
As much as we’d like to say that Shane Long is a contender to be top goalscorer at Euro 2016 it’s probably fair to say that there are a few candidates with a slightly better chance than the Tipperary man. As you might expect, any discussion about the potential top scorer wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Cristiano Ronaldo. The Real Madrid man plundered 51 goals for Real Madrid last season and is coming into the tournament on the back of a Champion’s League win, so he will surely be looking to add some international honours to his already bloated trophy cabinet.
If not Ronaldo, then who? Robert Lewandowski is about as natural a goalscorer as there is in the competition but is he part of a team that will give the Pole enough opportunities to hit the back of the net as the competition progresses?
If the home nation are to do well you would think that they will be relying on the goal scoring exploits of Oliver Giroud and, more particularly, Antoine Griezmann. The Atletico forward doesn’t quite possess the same goal scoring prowess as his Portuguese rival on the other side of Madrid, but as the figurehead of a very talented French side, and with home advantage, a strong case can be made for Griezmann as a candidate for top scorer in the competition.
And what about Harry Kane? Despite Tottenham’s implosion towards the end of the season, Kane has developed into a truly predatory striker and is a nailed-on starter for England. His goals tally will be largely dictated by how far the English progress in the tournament but, as history has shown us, you can never really be sure if they’ll enter the tournament with a roar or a whimper.
The award for best goalkeeper is an interesting one as it’s usually dictated by a combination of the best goalkeeper AND the best defence but, in terms of individual prowess, it is hard to look beyond David De Gea. The Manchester United custodian is arguably the best pure shot-stopper in the tournament but his participation is very much dependent on the whim of Vicente Del Bosque, who is apparently still occasionally under the impression that Iker Casillas is his best number one.
Hugo Lloris is another keeper expected to have a solid tournament, particularly with a mean French defence in front of him. The home nation are expected to go far in the Euros, maybe even to win the thing, and the Spurs man will be crucial to their success.
Despite what was a bizarre season for Chelsea, Thibaut Courtois is still one of the finest goalkeepers in the Premier League and a big (and very, very tall) part of a much-fancied Belgian side. If indeed Courtois does get the nod for the competition’s top keeper, let’s just hope that doesn’t preclude the possibility of a Shane Long hat-trick next week.
Another strong candidate is, of course, German goalkeeper (and occasional member of the back four) Manuel Neuer. The consensus pick for the number one number one in the world, Neuer has been about as dominant between the sticks as any keeper before him. While he can be a liability when he attempts his gung-ho ventures outside the penalty area, seeing him race outside of the box to head a long ball clear is one of the most exciting sights in all of football.
The striker wheeling away in celebration may get all the headlines, but where would he be without the magician who conjured up the chance for him in the first place? The Premier League's top sorcerer this season by some way was Mezut Ozil. If Germany are to feature in the final scenes of this tournament you can guarantee that 'Nemo''s fingerprints will be all over the script.
Equally if France are to have a chance of feasting on victory snails on July 10th, they need West Ham playmaker Dimitri Payet firing on all cylinders. With 12 assists in the Premier League this year, also look out for a spectacular free-kick or two. Portuguese icon Cristiano Ronaldo is always worth a mention as he tries (again) to carry a nation's expectations on his broad, often shirtless, shoulders.
Meanwhile Belgium's Eden Hazard to be sneaking into some kind of form in his final games of the season for Chelsea and will fancy using Stephen Ward to bolster his assists tally in a Belgium team that we can expect to go far if they catch a run of form. On his day Hazard is one of the top five players in Europe and at times in the 2014/15 season he was a regular catalyst of humiliation for hapless full-backs. A sneaky shout for Ozil's team-mate Thomas Muller could be worth it and, in a glorious utopian parallel universe where Shane Long's goals win us the tournament, Wes Hoolahan.
Player of the tournament
Obviously there is an incredibly wide spectrum from which to choose here, and the winner depends on what kind of a tournament we have. For example when Greece defended their way to the Euros title in 2004, captain and defensive lynchpin Theo Zagorakis was essential to their gameplan and won player of the tournament. I might take some flak for only (seriously) plumping for attacking players here, but not since Matthias Sammer has a defender won 'best player'.
Paul Pogba is first up. Juventus don't give just anyone their famous number 10 shirt, and the Frenchman didn't disappoint. A big tournament sees Pogba shoot into superstar status. Belgian wizard de Bruyne lit up the Premier League for Manchester City for whom he will continue to torment Jose Mourinho next season. De Bruyne's ability to pick passes and long-range shooting ability are virtually unmatched in Europe. We move now to Gareth Bale.
An outsider here purely because of the team he plays for, Bale at 26 is practically unstoppable when at full tilt. Just ask Marc Bartra. France legend and friend of Balls Marcel Desailly believes that Antoine Griezmann is the key man for the host nation, and with 33 goals for Atletico Madrid this season, it's hard to disagree. He needs to translate club form to the international stage though, which has proved difficult for him thus far. For a combined token defensive and Irish shout, I'm expecting great things from Seamus Coleman, who I can't wait to see terrorize Martin Olsson.