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Top young stars of Euro 2016

By: Bryan Encarnacao

International tournaments in soccer are the stages that allow the brightest stars to shine. Many soccer fans to this day lament superstar’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi’s inability to lead their respective nations to international glory comparing them to legends who have flourished on this same stage such as Diego Maradona or Pele. While the international stage is where established superstars can cement their legacies as all time greats, it is also the stage where young superstars can begin to compete with the best. While some of these players are already plying their trade with some of Europe’s elite clubs the 2016 euros has allowed some of the youngest stars to shine even brighter on the biggest stage. Below are a couple of standout players that have impressed in France this summer:

Renato Sanches – Portugal

Renato Sanches

Two minutes into Portugal’s quarter final showdown with Poland they found themselves down 1-0 after a burst of speed from Poland’s midfield and a clinical finish from Bayern Munich striker Robert Lewandowski. After several chances fluffed by the all time leading goal scorer and captain for Portugal, Cristiano Ronaldo, it was 18-year-old sensation, Renato Sanches, who took the game by storm with a thunderbolt of a shot in the 33rd minute to become the third youngest player ever to score in the Euro’s. Working tirelessly throughout the game, controlling Portugal’s midfield, and showcasing an impressive blend of burst, flair, and strength Sanches showed the world exactly why Bayern Munich shelled out an initial €35 million ($39.89 M) in a deal that could end up costing close to €80 million ($89.11 M).

Sanches had impressed for Portugal impacting as a sub in the group stages and even earning the ‘Man Of The Match’ award as a substitute in the knockout stage game against Croatia. These string of impressive performances led Portugal manager, Fernando Santos, to give the 18 year old his first start ever for Portugal in a elimination quarter final game. Sanches did not disappoint finishing the game with 94% passing accuracy, three interceptions, two tackles, seven take on dribbles, and a goal that helped save his country with an impressive all-around display. The teenager also calmly netted the second penalty in the penalty shootout to help ensure his country of a spot in the semi finals. Overall, it looks like FC Bayern have found themselves quite a gem as it is impressive to see a 18-year-old flourish on such a big stage with such big expectations to justify a hefty price tag.

Joshua Kimmich – Germany

Joshua Kimmich

Germany, one of the tournaments favorite to win it all, boast one of the most star studded lineups you will see in all of Europe this summer. They are headlined by the best goalkeeper in the world in Manuel Neuer, arguably the best centerback duo in Europe with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, supported by midfield maestro’s Toni Kroos, Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil, and Mario Goetze. It is safe to say that Germany are not lacking in star quality. This being said it makes it even more impressive that a 21-year-old could work his way into the starting lineup by the third game of the Euros.

Joachim Low, Germany’s manager, inserted the versatile Kimmich at right back in the third game against Northern Ireland after two lackluster performances by natural centerback Benedikt Howedes in a move that seemingly opened up Germany’s natural flow of attack. His performance warranted another start in the knockout stage game against Slovakia where he most surely did not disappoint. Kimmich, a midfielder for Bayern Munich, fit into the squad flawlessly in both games at right back giving his country a perfect blend of defensive ability with plenty of quality in the final third to help support Germany’s attack. His defensive quality and passing ability has been impressive but his versatility allowing him to slot in at right back or anywhere in the midfield further highlights the young talent Germany has at its disposal. If his performances in the last two games are anything to take notice from there should be no doubt in the mind of Low that this young star should continue starting for his country.

Kingsley Coman – France

Kinglsey Coman

As hosts of the Euros, France has burdened the expectations throughout the tournament of delivering for country. Along with being hosts the incredible talent that Didier Deschamps has at his disposal has only heightened the burden of expectation that has been brought upon the French. Kingsley Coman, at the young age of 20, has been a player that has helped exert energy and dynamism to an incredibly deep midfield with his direct running and exquisite dribbling ability.

A midfield that boasts the likes of Paul Pogba, Dimitri Payet, Blaise Matuidi, N’Golo Kante, and Anthony Martial would be incredibly difficult to breakthrough for minutes but Coman has done exactly that. The Bayern Munich winger was used as a substitute in the first match, but after a lackluster display by Deschamps men in the first game he was inserted into the starting lineup the following game. Following the first two games he became the youngest French player to ever play and start in a major international tournament. Following the group stage Koman was highlighted as the fastest player in the entire tournament clocking in at 20.4 mph against Switzerland. While Koman is far from a guaranteed starter in a star studded French squad his electrifying pace and tricky dribbling has given Deschamps a major weapon to utilize this tournament whether as a starter or super sub at the young age of 20.

Arkadiusz Milik – Poland

Arkadiusz Milik

Coming into Euro 2016 Robert Lewandowski was highlighted as his country’s main weapon and biggest hope in advancing far into the tournament. Lewandowski, largely regarded as one of the top strikers in the world, was below par in the group stage and unable to even muster a shot on target until Poland’s quarterfinal match vs Portugal where he scored. Luckily, Poland had twenty-two year old Arkadiusz Milik to help carry the country out of the group stage. Playing alongside Lewandowski, Milik was able to flourish in Poland’s hybrid 4-4-2 formation. Milik had a hand in the only two goals Poland had in the entire group stage by providing a goal and an assist.

Milik, a player never short on confidence with the ball at his feet, has impressed with his willingness to take on defenders and help support the attack when given the chance. Currently playing for Dutch club Ajax, if Milik can build off this impressive tournament and continue with consistent play for his club it is only a matter of time before Europe’s biggest clubs begin to fight for his signature.

Raphael Guerreiro – Portugal

Raphael Guerreiro

With some of Portugal’s defenders being relatively poor and inconsistent this tournament it has to be a great sigh of relief for manager Fernando Santos to see Raphael Guerreiro flourish for his country at left back. Highly touted as an exceptional young talent from scouts around Europe it was German Club Borussia Dortmund that snatched up his services right before his tournament. His display in this tournament has only led to questions as to how the biggest clubs in Europe did not cause more of a fight for his signature. Extremely comfortable going forward, as he started his career as a winger, it has been a surprise to see just how well he has defended this tournament. Guerreiro’s quality of crosses into the final third, dribbling ability, pace, and tactical awareness has been highlighted as he has commanded games on the left side for Portugal.

Not only has he impressed when he has played, but missing games against Hungary and Poland (because of injury) has further highlighted his importance to a young Portuguese team. Without Guerreiro in both games Portugal got exploited down the left flank with opposing forwards continuously getting clear crosses and chances down that left side. If Guerreiro is fit for the clash against Wales he will be key in a effort to contain explosive Welsh forward Gareth Bale. In the meantime Borussia Dortmund have to be delighted at the displays of a young talent who cost them only €12 million ($13.4 M).

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Bryan Encarnação

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