Euro 2020 – Five players who could light up the European Championship

ONE of the joys of international football tournaments is the chance to see players you rarely get to.

As the world gets more globalised and English football more cosmopolitan, many of the names are more familiar but there will still be new faces and names you were aware of but never fully appreciated just how good they were.

Ahead of today’s opening game of the European Championship, Stuart Rayner picks out five players to watch...

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Kylian Mbappe (France): Mbappe showed at the last World Cup final what an exciting talent he can be, and made it onto the scoresheet too. Do similar at Wembley on July 11 and he will not so much beopening the debate about who is the heir to Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the world’s best player as ending it. It has, though, been a long season, with Paris Saint-Germain actually involved in a League 1 title race (and losing it) as well as a Champions League run, so tournament-long domination might be asking too much.

France's Kylian Mbappé.

Alex Kral (Czech Republic): West Ham United did a nice line in Czech internationals last season and manager David Moyes has raved in public about Tomas Soucek and Vladimir Coufal’s team-mate Kral, whose main job is to screen the midfield but does not mind getting forward too. The 23-year-old has a hairstyle which means you will probably notice him even if you try not to.

Frenkie de Jong (Netherlands): One of two exciting Barcelona central midfielders at the tournament but whereas 18-year-old Pedri might struggle to force his way into Spain’s starting line-up - though with Covid-19 and Luis Enrique’s squad selections do not second-guess anything - de Jong seems certain to be a big figure for the Dutch. Of the Ajax team that reached the 2019 Champions League semi-final, he and international team-mate Matthijs de Ligt are the ones who have really kicked on.

Billy Gilmour (Scotland): The 19-year-old has already been exciting football fans for a couple of seasons without yet stamping his authority. Without playing much (not necessarily such a bad thing as he will be fresher than Mbappe and co) for Chelsea last season he had a strong May. With Scotland he is likely to play a more adventurous role and like England’s Jude Bellingham, he has the makings of a player who will start the tournament on the bench and finish it in the XI.

Lorenzo Insigne (Italy): With a most un-Italian 37 goals in 10 qualifying matches, Italy generally could be a team to watch under Roberto Mancini. They have Rome advantage in Group A but might have to finish third to get it in the quarter-finals. Andrea Belotti top-scored in the qualifiers but is not guaranteed to play ahead of Ciro Immobile just as Manuel Locatelli faces a fight with Jorginho, Enrico’s son Federico Chiesa has the family pedigree but only one international goal. On the left of the front three, Napoli captain Insigne is a quality player who at 30 knows his game.

Czech Republic's Alex Kral, right.
Ajax's Frenkie De Jong and Tottenham Hotspur's Fernando Llorente.
Chelsea's Billy Gilmour.
Napoli's Lorenzo Insigne.