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Five players to watch at Euro 2024 in Germany

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Fresh from helping Real Madrid to La Liga and Champions League glory in his first season in Spain, Jude Bellingham turns his attention to trying to end England’s 58-year wait for major tournament glory.

The 20-year-old is part of a star-studded array of attacking talent alongside Harry Kane, Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka.

Bellingham played in a deeper role at the 2022 World Cup and was used sparingly when England reached the final at Euro 2020.

But he has thrived in the more advanced position given to him by Carlo Ancelotti this season, scoring 23 goals, including the winners in both La Liga clashes against Barcelona in El Clasico.

Victory at the Euros could also position Bellingham as the leading candidate to win this year’s Ballon d’Or — awarded to the world’s best player.

France’s forward Kylian Mbappe controls the ball during a training session in Clairefontaine-en-Yvelines on May 30.
Image Credit: AFP

Kylian Mbappe (France)

Speculation over Kylian Mbappe’s future has finally been put to bed, with the forward on his way to Real Madrid from Paris Saint-Germain.

The 25-year-old has faced accusations that he has wasted some of his prime years in his homeland as PSG still await their breakthrough in the Champions League.

Instead, Mbappe is a throwback to a previous generation, making his name as one of the world’s best players thanks to his exploits at international level.

After becoming the first teenager since Pele to score in a World Cup final to help France to victory in Russia in 2018, he became the first player since 1966 to net a hat-trick in the World Cup final 18 months ago. Ultimately, Les Bleus lost to Argentina on penalties in Qatar.

But Mbappe also has a score to settle at the Euros. He missed the crucial penalty in France’s shock last-16 exit to Switzerland three years ago, having failed to score in the coronavirus-delayed tournament.

Florian Wirtz-1717498985694
Germany’s midfielder Florian Wirtz arrives for a training session of the German national football team in Blankenhain.
Image Credit: AFP

Florian Wirtz (Germany)

Florian Wirtz carries the hopes of the home nation after playing a starring role in Bayer Leverkusen’s unbeaten German league and cup double.

Germany have suffered a rare fallow period, bowing out at the group stage of each of the past two World Cups and the last 16 at Euro 2020.

Wirtz, named the Bundesliga’s player of the season, offers hope that a new generation can rejuvenate the fortunes of the three-time European champions under Julian Nagelsmann.

Both a goalscoring threat and creative hub, Wirtz, 21, netted 18 goals and provided 20 assists as Leverkusen reached the Europa League final on top of their domestic dominance.

Cristiano Ronaldo-1717498982911
Al Nassr’s Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates scoring a penalty against Al Hilal during the Saudi King Cup final at King Abdullah Sport City, Jeddah on May 31.
Image Credit: Reuters

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Cristiano Ronaldo continues to defy Father Time as he prepares to take part in a record sixth Euros at the age of 39.

Already the all-time top goalscorer in Euro final tournaments, with 14 goals in total, the five-time Ballon d’Or winner is still setting new scoring landmarks in Saudi Arabia.

Ronaldo broke the Saudi Pro League record with 35 goals in his first full season in the Gulf to give Portugal coach Roberto Martinez a headache heading to Germany.

Portugal have been in supreme form since the Spaniard took charge after the World Cup, winning all 10 of their qualifiers.

However, Martinez must decide whether to trust in Ronaldo’s eye for goal over a younger, more mobile focal point to his attack such as Diogo Jota or Goncalo Ramos.

Rodri-1717498978659
Manchester City’s Rodri celebrates scoring their third goal during a Premier League match against West Ham United at Etihad Stadium, Manchester, on May 19.
Image Credit: Reuters

Rodri (Spain)

Manchester City’s FA Cup final loss to Manchester United was Rodri’s first defeat for club or country since March 2023, excluding penalty shootouts.

In a Spain squad lacking the star names of the past, the 27-year-old is now the standard bearer.

“He’s an unbelievable player. He’s the best midfield player in the current world by far,” said City coach Pep Guardiola, himself a former midfielder.

“The holding midfielder has to think for the rest of the team and does not expect the recognition. But internally? All teammates and staff, they all know how important and decisive he is.”

Rodri’s tenacity out of possession and poise on the ball will be the foundation on which Luis de la Fuente can build.

The three-time European champions will need it as they are in the toughest-looking group alongside defending champions Italy, World Cup semi-finalists Croatia and Albania.

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