Ahead of this week’s international friendlies, Ben Lyttleton identifies eight players who could force their way into their country’s plans for Euro 2016.
This week sees the penultimate round of international matches before squads are announced for the 2016 European Championships. It may be the first and last chance for new boys to impress.
There are over 10 weeks until the tournament gets underway, which will be a stressful period for the 24 coaches hoping their star players don’t get injured between now and the end of the season.
History has shown there are always one or two surprise names that emerge from springtime to make a late run into the squad, and the first team, like Franck Ribery in 2006 and Raheem Sterling in 2014. Here are some players who will make a big impression in the last few months of the season:
Danny Drinkwater (England)
While Roy Hodgson would never admit to closing the door on anyone, his squad for this week’s friendlies spells bad news for Michael Carrick andLeighton Baines. Neither made it and they can probably book their summer holidays. But Hodgson needs to find a back-up for Jack Wilshere in holding midfield as the Arsenal player, who the England boss rates highly, has not kicked a ball in anger this season. That has given Drinkwater the opportunity to impress and he is likely to play some role against Germany or Netherlands.
Baines’s omission has also given Danny Rose an opportunity to stake a claim for the left-back spot. Once again, Hodgson’s preference is for a player who is injured, Luke Shaw, but if he does not recover in time it will be a straight choice between Rose, Kieran Gibbs and Ryan Bertrand for the No. 3 jersey.
Ousmane Dembele (France)
Didier Deschamps has spent two years without a competitive match trying to find the perfect formula for his squad and it has not been easy. A sex-tape blackmail scandal has derailed some of his preparations, and neither Karim Benzema nor Mathieu Valbuena are in his latest squad. He has so many attacking options to choose from that the latest squad is without last season’s Ligue 1 top scorer Alex Lacazette, Nabil Fekir (returning from injury), Hatem Ben Arfa and Dembele, the latest hot property to burn up French defences.
Earlier this month the Rennes winger became the youngest Ligue 1 hat-trick scorer for over 10 years and he has been linked with a move to Barcelona. Another stellar performance in Friday’s 5-2 win at Marseille helped his case. Kingsley Coman and Anthony Martial may be the first choice wide-men at the moment but Deschamps could always look to the Breton prodigy, who on Monday was linked with a move to Bayern Munich, if required.
Joshua Kimmich/Jonathan Tah (Germany)
The player on the receiving end of Pep Guardiola’s hairdryer treatment at the end of an intense goalless draw with Borussia Dortmund last month, Kimmich did not make it into the world champions’ squad to face England and Italy next week. Instead he was picked for the Under-21s, along with other potential summer call-ups Leroy Sané, Julian Weigl and Mitchell Weiser.
Given that injuries have currently left Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Howedes andHolger Badstuber on the sidelines, there may be a vacancy at centre-back. Getting the nod last week was Jonathan Tah, the 20-year-old who has been outstanding at Bayer Leverkusen, forcing Kyriakos Papadopoulos onto the bench. Tah’s inclusion also means the end of any hopes that Leicester’s Robert Huth might have had of a first cap since June 2009, a 7-2 win over UAE. But Kimmich’s versatility might give him the nod for France.
Aritz Aduriz (Spain)
The Athletic Bilbao forward is 35 and may well have thought that his international opportunity had gone. His first – and last – cap was five and a half years ago but this season has been his Indian summer. He is the highest-scoring Spanish player in La Liga and last week Spain coach Vicente del Bosque called him into the squad in place of Diego Costa, who is injured. Whether he will keep him there remains to be seen. Del Bosque is smart when it comes to evolving the squad but loyalty has been a weakness as much as a strength, as there can’t be many who believe David De Gea deserves to be number two behind Iker Casillas on current form.
Other Spanish players knocking on the door include Sergi Roberto, also called up this week. The Barcelona all-rounder has played at full-back (left and right) as well across the midfield and in wide attack for the Liga leaders this season. One other player expecting a call-up was Atletico’s breakout star this season Saul Niguez; the 21-year-old stayed in the Under-21s this week but could yet make the cut for the seniors in time for the summer.
Roman Neustadter (Russia)
That’s right, Russia. The Schalke midfielder has been in talks with the Russian FA over naturalising because his two appearances for Germany, the last in 2013, were in friendly matches. Russia boss Leonid Slutsky opened the door to naturalised players by selecting Lokomotiv Moscow’s Brazilian-born goalkeeperGuilherme for next week’s games against Lithuania and France. Neustadter was expecting a call-up as well but there has been a hold-up.
RP reported that German authorities want Neustadter to give up his German passport while the player told Kicker: “I have handed in all documents, and I am not sure what the holdup is. Not all hope is lost. We will have to see how the situation will develop in the next few weeks.” Time is running out though: while Neustadter might improve Russia’s issues at centre-back, where he can also play, will Slutsky take the risk on picking a player without any international games under his belt?
Federcico Bernardeschi (Italy)
The Fiorentina striker was named in the Under-21s this week but his versatility will work in his favour as he can play as No. 9, 10 or wide on the right. Reports in Italy last week suggested that coach Antonio Conte prefers Bernardeschi toLorenzo Insigne, whose form this season, with 11 goals and 10 assists, has helped Napoli put together a title challenge.
Insigne has not played for Italy since the 2014 World Cup and Conte was said to be cross that the player left the Azzurri training camp last October to seek treatment for a knee strain. Also hoping to jump from the Under-21s to the senior team is Napoli team-mate Jorginho, but that might depend on the fitness of Claudio Marchisio and Marco Verratti.
Harry Arter (Ireland)
Harry Arter celebrates scoring the first goal for Bournemouth with Charlie Daniels – Reuters
Arter has only won one cap for Ireland, and that was in last summer’s friendly against England. A groin injury kept him out of action for five months of the season but since his return, he has been outstanding in Bournemouth’s successful debut season in the Premier League.
He was an unused substitute when Ireland booked their Euros place beating Bosnia-Herzegovina in the play-off and realistically is competing with four other players – Alan Judge, Darron Gibson, David Meyler and Stephen Quinn – for two more spots in the squad. As one of the few Premier League regulars that Martin O’Neill can call upon, it would almost be a surprise if Arter did not make it.
Viktor Kovalenko (Ukraine)
The midfielder is having a breakout season for Shakhtar Donetsk and has been rewarded with his first call-up to Ukraine’s senior squad. He was outstanding in the Under-20 World Cup last year, scoring five goals (including a hat-trick against USA) to reach the last-16.
He can also play as a holding midfielder but for a side that’s often over-reliant on Andriy Yarmolenko to provide the creative spark, he could be a late and important addition to the squad.