With the Euro semi-finals offering two tantalising clashes we decided to have a look at 5 players with something to prove, something to achieve or something to gain. Some want to make history with their nation; others strive for personal success; and some have one eye on the transfer window. With the games too close to call, it could be these five who make the difference.
The French star started to pull the strings in the quarter final against Iceland but still has lots to prove if he is to live up to his extreme billing before the tournament started. The Juventus star featured in their kit launch on Tuesday so is yet to seal a multi-million Euro deal move abroad, which could also prove to be a factor in his performance on Thursday against Germany. If he can dominate the game and bring his unique personality to bear on France’s campaign then he will be justifiably highly sought after, but he is yet to dominate a game like he will have expected too. It’ll be hard to do it against the Germans, but the world’s biggest clubs will want to see him do it against the best. Also, we all want to see him dab properly. C’mon Paul, half dabs don’t do anyone justice!
Two years after he scored the most important goal in German football since 1990, Mario Götze is in a rut. Left out more often than not by Pep Guardiola at Bayern Munich, injury issues have hampered his attempts to get back into the side. Guardiola wasn’t a fan, for whatever reason, but moves away also didn’t come off and a reunion with Jürgen Klopp didn’t materialise as Götze decided to fight for his place after Carlo Ancelloti arrived at Bayern. He will want to put in a good performance in the semi-final as he will be filling in for fellow Mario, Mario Gomez. Gomez’s tournament is over after injury against Italy in the quarter final, so for Germany to have any chance of winning they will need Götze firing. If he can play a pivotal role in them beating France and then again in the final then he will be back in favour with the German public and firmly in Ancelloti’s plans.
The Wales captain bleeds dragon blood (that’s a fact, I think) and the possibility of a European final will be an extra motivation for the proud Welshman. He will want to lead his side where no British side has been before and where England fans can only dream of at the moment; the final of the Euros. Without star midfielder Aaron Ramsey and defensive counterpart Ben Davies he will have to be on motivational form and on top of his own game to combat the threat of Portugal. The pride he will have in his side and the drive he has to succeed are clear after years of success at various levels as captain of Swansea City and the highly rated pro will be wanting to crown his personal success by reaching the final in Paris on Sunday. With a supporting cast fully behind him he will be leading the most unified squad at the tournament and the neutral’s favourite to what he hopes will be a date with the hosts or the world champions in the capital.
The Borussia Dortmund youngster was probably expecting a quiet tournament with Sami Khedira, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Toni Kroos ahead of him in the pecking order for the holding midfield position. With the first two all but ruled out with injury many are now suggesting the key member of Dortmund’s midfield could make his first appearance of the tournament at the semi-final stage. Huge pressure will be on his shoulders but after a very successful first season in the Schwarzgelb of Dortmund nothing will intimidate the young star. Reaching the semi of the Europa League and finishing runner up in the league to Bayern are good starting points for an extremely long and successful career. I predicted in November he is a future captain of Dortmund and Germany if he keeps on his upward spiral at this rate and he can take motivation from the success of Renato Sanches in Portugal’s quarter final. The two are the stand-out young talents in the Bundesliga, so keep an eye on Sanches too. If Weigl starts he will be in at the deep end, but how he copes will be an indicator of where his career is heading.
Gareth Bale vs. Cristiano Ronaldo
Technically two players, I know, but the underlying rivalry here is fascinating. Normally we would avoid anything too obvious, but I am excited to see how this pans out. The two are very different personalities who have reached the top in much the same way; hard work and phenomenal physical ability. Ronaldo has been the king of the Bernabeau for around a decade now but the tide is starting to change toward the future and Bale is an exciting prospect as Prince Regent. If Pogba is signed by Real the era of Ronaldo’s personality will certainly be on the wane and this game could be his last chance to show his dominance over his current team mate. Wales are a team with a stand-out player; Portugal are a Ronaldo, supported by a reasonable cast. There can only be one winner but it could shape the future of more than just these two team’s Euro Championship progress. Personally I would love to see Wales win but if Ronaldo could win the Euros it would be a phenomenal reward for a man who has carried the weight of the nation’s expectations on his shoulders since Luis Figo retired. As the era of Neymar, Rakitic, Bale and Kroos dawns over the final embers of the Ronaldo, Pique, Ramos and Messi era, this could be the best range of talented players to play in La Liga since the 2003 Galacticos. This semi-final is more than Wales vs. Portugal and Bale vs. Ronaldo; it could decide who wears the crown at Real Madrid once the new season starts.
This is where it all begins. Our resident analysts study the unrecognised players and examine the matches that are of interest across Europe.