What have Mattias Sammer, Zinedine Zidane, Theo Zagorakis, Xavi and Iniesta have in common? Yes, they’re all balding but they’ve all been UEFA’s Player of the Tournament at a European Championship. The stats nerds amongst you will also be able to tell you that they all came from the winning country and they are all midfielders.
With that in mind and with the last 16 getting underway yesterday, we decided to scour through the odds for Player of the Tournament and make a case for three of the potential stars and a couple of outsiders.
Andres Iniesta – CM – Spain –
No one’s ever done back to back awards and Spain are still in the hunt for their three in a row. So what’s stopping the Barcelona star to take it for a second successive tournament? Well, Italy and the fact that Spain are in the tougher half of the draw.
Iniesta shone for the Spanish in the group stages, and Spain have been the most impressive of the so called ‘big guns’ in the early stages of the tournament. England are being England, Germany have been slow and France have almost choked on their baguette.
It’s that game against the Italians on Monday night that could cause the bother. If Spain come out on top you can be sure Iniesta will be behind it. He pulls the strings but doesn’t usually get on the scoreboard, which might hurt his cause for the award as we head towards the final on 10th July.
Paul Pogba – CM- France –
When France hosted Euro 84, it was a Juventus central attacking midfielder that finished top scorer and ran the show. 16 years later in 2000 in Belgium and the Netherlands, a Juventus central attacking midfielder ran the show and won Player of the Tournament. Unfortunately in 2016. France don’t have any Juven – wait a second.
He’s their wonderboy, and the pressure was on the 23 year old shoulders of Paul Pogba. He’s starting to thrive under it. Platini and Zidane have set the standard in the previous two French triumphs, in France’s last group game we could see Pogba begin to show what he can do. He’ll get space against Ireland to continue testing the goalkeeper and the woodwork as he did in the group.
His team mate Dmitri Payet is the current favourite for the Player of the Tournament at odds of, but that could just be down to his winners against Albania and Romania. This is the risk though, because we all know the Irish love an underdog win.
Gareth Bale – LM/CAM – Wales –
Wales are in the quarter finals. Gareth Bale has scored three times to get them there. Now, we’ve made a million and four jokes about how Wales are a one man team but could that one man make history and become the first Brit to win the award?
Wales will come up against Hungary or Belgium after getting past Northern Ireland. That won’t exactly worry Chris Coleman’s side – they were unbeaten against the Belgians in their qualifying group. So there’s a reasonable chance that Wales could be in the semi finals. Then again, there’s a reasonable chance that my ex will drunk dial me this weekend. Don’t even think about it Sharon.
No one’s been able to stop Bale so far. The top scorer hasn’t won the award before, it’s usually been the engine in the midfield that controls the side. Bale is doing both of those for Wales.
If anything, it’d piss off Ronaldo if Bale got further than him and took the award. What more motivation does he need?
Toni Kroos – CAM – Germany –
The Germans have been efficient but unimpressive in the group stages and are on a collision course with the winner of Italy/Spain should they get past Slovakia. Toni Kroos has been the standout so far, averaging four key passes per game in the groups and attempting the most dribbles to add onto one assist.
Gianluigi Buffon – GK – Italy –
Buffon is yet to concede a goal in what is sure to be his last major tournament. Zlatan Ibrahimovic? No problem. Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku? No chance against Gigi. It’d be a bolt from the blue if a goalkeeper was given the award. But if Italy navigate their way to the semis, Buffon is in with a serious shout. Just pray he doesn’t come up against Wes Hoolahan.
Romelu Lukaku – ST – Belgium –
Belgium have the easy half of the draw and have a baby bull as a striker. Lukaku will know how to play against the Welsh defence (he does it against them in the Premier League) and has grabbed six goals in his last seven Belgium appearances- including two against Ireland in the groups, and one against Portugal in a warm up friendly. No striker has ever won the award – if Belgium fulfill their potential, Lukaku will be important.