A tough draw means that Turkey will do well to survive the Group Stage, but they qualified ahead of the Netherlands thanks to their youngsters, and Calhanoglu is one to look out for in midfield and especially at set-pieces. Born and brought up in Germany, he opted to play for Turkey because of family loyalty, declaring he wanted to become their version of Mesut Ozil.
Bayer Leverkusen signed him from Hamburg for €14.5 million in 2014, and he has repaid them with 21 goals in two years and a similar number of assists. His strike rate from free-kicks puts him alongside players such as Pirlo, Ronaldo and Messi.
Antonio Conte has picked mostly experienced players for his squad but Bernardeschi is one of the exceptions. The 22-year-old had his first call-up in March and has only played 40 matches in Serie A for Fiorentina, but his versatility makes him a big asset. He can play as a striker, a playmaker, attacking midfielder and even as a wingback if required. Benardeschi is unlikely to be in Italy’s starting XI – he struggled in the experimental 3-4-3 line-up that went down 4-1 against Germany in March – but he gives Conte some very good options coming off the bench.
Born in Cameroon, Embolo left his homeland aged six, and eventually became a Swiss citizen just 18 months ago, at the age of 17, soon after making his league debut for Basel. He scored within 5 minutes of coming on and now has 30 goals to his name in all competitions – plus three league titles.
Originally a midfielder he has become a predatory striker. He models himself on Mario Balotelli, and like Balotelli has a knack of getting between defenders, but he is more of a team player, with the speed and physique to lead the line or play on the right.
For the rest of Europe, and especially the French, a topsy-turvy Premier League has turned England into the dark horse of this tournament, and Dele Alli is one of the potential stars. Says France Football: “It has to be said that in the land of box-to-box midfielders like Gerrard or Lampard, Alli has an arresting style, especially with a technical finesse rarely seen from English players.” The Tottenham contingent give England more coherence, at least in attack, and Alli’s aggression in midfield can make the difference – always provided that aggression stays under control.
“What are you waiting for?” France manager Didier Deschamps challenged Martial back in August 2014. “With the qualities you have it could it be a huge waste.” Martial got the message, applied himself, and 12 months later Manchester United made him the most expensive teenager in football history. He had a dip in form after his initial success, but Deschamps continued to show faith, and his speed, technique and eye for goal bring inevitable comparisons with Thierry Henry, who was top scorer for France in the 1998 World Cup when he was still just 20.
Were it not for Martial, all France would be talking about Coman, who has already played for three of Europe’s top clubs and only turns 20 during this tournament. He quit PSG for Juventus, and then last summer left Turin for Munich on a two-year loan. With both Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben in decline Coman suddenly became Bayern’s main wing man, equally at home on the left and the right. His finishing is erratic and he still has a lot to learn, but his pace makes him a devastating weapon in reserve should Deschamps keep him in the squad.
€35 million is a staggering sum for an 18-year-old at the end of his first season and with two caps.
Yet that is what Bayern Munich has agreed to pay Benfica to sign Sanches – and the fee could rise as high as €80 million if he meets specified targets during his five-year contract.
Man Utd were ready to pay a similar sum for his services, and his all-round ability and authority in midfield, as well as his energy and his shooting, are such that he could already play a key role for Portugal in this tournament.
Kimmich was the big surprise of Pep Guardiola’s final season at Bayern. Signed as a midfielder from second division Leipzig, he was seen as a potential replacement for Bastien Schweinsteiger. But when all four of Bayern’s centre backs were injured, Kimmich proved to be an excellent stand-in defender, despite his lack of inches. “He’s got the desire, the will, the passion. He’s got absolutely everything,” said Guardiola, after Kimmich starred against Dortmund in March. He could become a priceless asset for his country as well.
Nicknamed Batsman, Belgium’s 22-year-old striker sometimes acts more like the Joker. His attitude has caused him problems on several occasions and Belgium manager Marc Wilmots has criticised him for not being a team player. His speed, balance and finishing have however marked him out as special talent ever since he scored 21 goals in 34 games for Standard Liege. Since his move to Marseille he has continue to shine, even in a struggling side, and also shown more signs of maturity off the field, staying focused and playing down transfer talk in the media.
After Carrasco moved to Atletico Madrid from Monaco for €20m last summer it seemed he might take time to settle, but his ball skill and acceleration have given him an important role in Atletico’s counter-attacking game, as he showed in the Champions League against both Barcelona and Bayern and again in the final against Real, where he netted the equaliser .
Nominally a wide midfielder he also appears up front. A great team player whose work rate and all-round ability enables others to shine.