Mbappe, Ronaldo, Palmer: Top players to look out for at Euro 2024

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Mbappe, Ronaldo, Palmer: Top players to look out for at Euro 2024

Sports Mole picks out the top players to look out for at Euro 2024, including Kylian Mbappe, Cristiano Ronaldo and Cole Palmer.

Unlike the coronavirus-impacted Euro 2020 tournament, those attending the quadrennial continental gathering this time around have not been forced to put their summer plans on hold for an excruciating 12 months.

Twenty-four of the finest footballing nations that Europe has to offer will all be gunning for glory at Euro 2024 across various iconic venues in Germany, culminating in the final at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on July 14.

Among the favourites to wrestle the crown off of reigning champions Italy are England, France, Portugal, the Netherlands and the hosts themselves of course, all brimming with some of the finest experienced and embryonic talents the globe has to offer.

More on the young players later, but here, Sports Mole picks out some of the standout stars aged 22 and over to keep a particularly close eye on at this summer’s European Championships.

© Reuters

It would not be a proper Euros without Portugal icon Cristiano Ronaldo leading his team from the front, as the 39-year-old prepares to compete for continental glory for the sixth time, having firstly made his tournament bow all the way back in 2004.

Ronaldo shed tears of sadness back then, but the ex-Manchester United and Real Madrid attacker exploded into emotions of sheer joy 12 years later as Portugal conquered the continent, and with 14 goals to his name, he is the highest scorer to ever grace the Euros.

The delayed 2020 edition saw Ronaldo and Patrik Schick share the Golden Boot with five efforts apiece, and while the Al-Nassr man did not play in either friendly match, a spot at the tip of the attack is reserved for him when what is likely to be his last Euros gets underway.

France's Kylian Mbappe in action on June 5, 2024© Reuters

From a former Real Madrid stalwart to Los Blancos’ shiny new toy, Kylian Mbappe had already passed several successful Bernabeu auditions and heads to Germany on the back of his long-awaited move to the Spanish capital finally being made official.

The 25-year-old also sports the captain’s armband for his country and is chasing down Olivier Giroud at the top of the all-time Bleus scoring charts, although the former Arsenal and Chelsea man can also increase his tally in Germany.

Either side of shining at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups, though, Mbappe went scoreless at Euro 2020 and missed the crucial spot kick in France’s quarter-final loss to Switzerland, leaving him with some wrongs to right in the coming weeks.

Germany's Toni Kroos in action on March 26, 2024© Reuters

Sticking with the theme of Real Madrid players – or in this case, a now erstwhile Real Madrid player – Euro 2024 will mark the final occasion where fans get to witness a glimpse of Toni Kroos in competitive action.

The silky 34-year-old intends to hang up his boots when the home tournament is done and dusted, but he did not end his Bernabeu career without a coveted La Liga and Champions League double, becoming European champion for the sixth time at club level.

Real boss Carlo Ancelotti has left the door open for Kroos to make a U-turn on his decision, but the 2014 World Cup is determined to call time on his career while still performing at the highest level, and Euro 2024 stardom would certainly mark a retirement zenith.

Bayer Leverkusen's Alejandro Grimaldo pictured in November 2023© Reuters

Not the most instantly recognisable name among some of the greats on this list, but Bayer Leverkusen’s wing wizard Alejandro Grimaldo has excelled domestically for years and could now belatedly burst onto the international scene.

The ex-Barcelona product had already made a name for himself at Benfica before joining Leverkusen on a free transfer, undoubtedly one of the signings of the summer as he amassed an incredible 12 goals and 19 assists from a left wing-back position, playing a huge part in Die Werkself’s Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal double.

Grimaldo only has a handful of Spain appearances under his belt at the age of 28, but he has shown more than enough at club level to suggest that he can fill Jordi Alba‘s boots in the years to come.

Napoli's Khvicha Kvaratskhelia celebrates scoring their third goal on October 21, 2023 © Reuters

Sticking to the left flank for the time being, Georgia are sending a relatively unheralded selection of troops to Germany for their first continental championships, with the exception of ‘Kvaradona’ of course.

Despite not quite hitting the same heights as Napoli’s 2022-23 Serie A-winning season, Khvicha Kvaratskhelia still came up with 11 goals and nine assists last term and is by far and away the highest scorer in the current Georgian ranks.

Still just 23 years of age, it is seemingly only a matter of time before he becomes the greatest goalscorer his country has ever seen, and he will certainly carry the weight of a nation on his shoulders.

Chelsea's Cole Palmer celebrates with the match ball after the match after scoring four goals on April 15, 2024© Reuters

A penny for Pep Guardiola‘s thoughts as Cole Palmer just refused to stop scoring during his debut campaign with Chelsea, who may have remained entrenched in mid-table obscurity were it not for the England international in 2023-24.

With 22 goals and 11 assists to his name, no player in the Premier League amassed as many direct goal contributions as the 22-year-old, whose perpetual calmness from the penalty spot could also help buck England’s torturous 12-yard trend.

Palmer’s first senior England goal unsurprisingly came from the spot in their friendly beating of Bosnia-Herzegovina, and an intense battle with Bukayo Saka for the right-wing position could very well materialise.

AC Milan forward Rafael Leao on March 30, 2024© Reuters

Talk of Rafael Leao swapping the black and red of AC Milan for a lucrative Premier League contract may have died down over the past year, but if Ronaldo is nowhere to be seen, the 24-year-old will boast Portugal’s ‘one to watch’ label.

Despite experiencing a five-month goal drought in Serie A from September to February, Leao ended the domestic campaign with 15 efforts and 14 assists in all competitions, repaying Milan’s faith in him after he was handed a new long-term contract last summer.

As well as his blistering pace, eye for goal and trickery, Leao’s 6ft 2in frame has seen him draw comparisons with the legendary Thierry Henry, although he still has some way to go to hit those lofty heights.

Real Madrid's Luka Modric pictured on December 17, 2023© Reuters

Fresh from announcing that he will continue in the famed Real Madrid strip for another year, Luka Modric begins his latest and potentially last quest for international glory with Croatia at the age of 38.

Only Ronaldo has won more national team caps than his former teammate among Euro 2024 players, and Modric already has one Golden Ball and one Bronze Ball to his name from previous World Cups, not to mention his 2018 Ballon d’Or accolade.

Also named to the Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament, Modric may have lost his status as a regular Real Madrid starter last season, but he remains as pivotal as ever to Croatia’s chances of success.

Josip Ilicic celebrates scoring for Atalanta BC in November 2021© Reuters

One of the true heart-warming stories from the Euro 2024 selection period, many will remember Slovenia’s Josip Ilicic for pulling the strings in a free-scoring Atalanta BC side, before mental health problems led to him calling time on his career in the big European leagues.

However, the 36-year-old returned to his prolific ways – both in terms of goals and assists – with Maribor in his homeland last season, which saw him rewarded with a call-up for the Euros after two-and-a-half years away from the national team.

As if Ilicic’s revival story was not touching enough, the veteran attacker came off the bench to score the winner in Slovenia’s warm-up friendly with Armenia on June 4 – a contribution that was impossible not to smile at.

Trent Alexander-Arnold celebrates scoring for England on June 3, 2024© Reuters

While Trent Alexander-Arnold is already a celebrated figure on Merseyside, the Liverpool man has often fallen victim to the fierce competition for places among England’s right-backs during the Gareth Southgate era.

However, the Three Lions’ number eight has been trialled as a midfielder in his national team setup to brilliant effect, lashing home a stunning volley against Bosnia and again catching the eye with his magnificent range of passing.

Southgate is facing quite the dilemma over whom to pair Declan Rice with in midfield, but with Kyle Walker surely nailing down the right-back spot, Alexander-Arnold has certainly made his case to pull the engine room strings.

Netherlands' Teun Koopmeiners on June 11, 2022© Reuters

One man who could put himself front and centre of the shop window with standout performances at Euro 2024 is Netherlands and Atalanta midfielder Teun Koopmeiners, now a Europa League winner with his Italian outfit.

A lynchpin who is comfortable either in a deep-lying role or as an attacking force, the 26-year-old registered 15 goals for La Dea last season, attracting glances from Liverpool and Manchester United in the process.

Koopmeiners has already confessed that he is seeking to move up the club ladder this summer, and Atalanta are therefore keeping their fingers crossed for some stellar Euros performances from the Dutchman to add a few more pounds to his value.

Al Ittihad's N'Golo Kante pictured on September 1, 2023 © Reuters

Not many shocks were sprung in France’s Euros squad selection, but a recall for ex-Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante – who had not played for Les Bleus for 24 months – was certainly the standout inclusion.

Injuries hampered the midfielder’s last couple of seasons at Chelsea, but he managed 44 appearances for Al-Ittihad last term and even managed four goals and six assists, regaining Didier Deschamps‘s trust in the process.

The Bleus boss hailed Kante as an “angel” when explaining his selection – an assessment that is hard to argue – and the 33-year-old’s international comeback is another feel-good story from this summer’s tournament.

Ukraine forward Artem Doybyk celebrates scoring against Scotland in their World Cup playoff on June 1, 2022.© Reuters

One of two Ukrainian superstars key to Girona’s incredible third-placed finish in La Liga – the other being Viktor Tsygankov – Artem Dovbyk leads the line for the Blue and Yellow on the back of a phenomenal individual and collective display in 2023-24.

From 36 La Liga matches last season, Dovbyk had a direct hand in 32 goals – 24 of his own and eight assists – just about managing to hold off Alexander Sorloth to take home the Golden Boot accolade.

Chelsea had apparently been running the rule over the 26-year-old thanks to his wonderful campaign in Spain, and a big-money transfer will not be off the cards this summer if Dovbyk can also shine in his national team colours.

Pepe – Portugal

Portugal's Pepe celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates on December 6, 2022© Reuters

Our list will both begin and end with a long-serving Portugal veteran, this one even more senior to Ronaldo, as Porto defender Pepe represents the oldest player at this summer’s championships at a staggering 41 years.

One of the surviving members of the Selecao’s run to glory in 2016, Pepe still managed 34 appearances in the 2023-24 season in spite of his advancing years, a testament to his athleticism and dedication to staying in tip-top shape.

A three-time Team of the Tournament member from the 2008, 2012 and 2016 editions, Pepe’s on-field antics will always generate headlines and controversy, but the remarkable longevity of the 1983-born centre-back can only be applauded.

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