Heading into Euro 2016, Albania were certainly an unknown quantity. Aside from those of us who watch the Albanian Superliga each week, or have led the Red and Blacks to glory in the 2024 European Championship on Football Manager 2008, few of us would recognise many members of Gianni Di Biasi’s 23-man squad.
There is captain Lorik Cana, he of legendary Sunderland fame. And Taulant Xhaka, known more for not being trusted with the key to the family home despite being Granit’s older brother. Elseid Hysaj headed to France with quite the reputation, but the right-back’s agent has since confirmed he will not leave Napoli this summer.
Of those to emerge with credit from a respectable campaign despite an early group-stage exit, centre-half Arlind Ajeti ranks highest. The 22-year-old featured twice during the tournament, first helping thwart a France onslaught until his substitution in the 85th minute. It is no coincidence that Antoine Griezmann, who had been marked out of the game by Ajeti beforehand, scored within five minutes of his nemesis leaving the field. He even went on to hold the irresistible force that is Romania’s attack at bay. The Frosinone defender will surely have earned glances from clubs throughout Europe with some imposing performances, especially considering the combative centre-half made just 16 Serie A appearances for the club last season.
Do you want proof that Euro 2016 could have been the making of Oleksandr Zinchenko as a potential star? A quick Google search of the Ukrainian midfielder’s name rewards us with the holy grail of football transfers: The YouTube video titled ‘Oleksandr Zinchenko – Welcome to Manchester City | HD’. Because watching crisp five-yard passes simply will not suffice in mere standard definition.
Ukraine may have struggled in Group C, losing each of their three games, and conceding a goal to Gareth McAuley, but Zinchenko was one of their few bright lights. The youngest member of the squad at 19, his only start of the tournament came in the narrow defeat to Poland. Manager Mykhaylo Fomenko will do well to note that was his side’s best performance by far. Borussia Dortmund and Roma have also been credited with an interest in Ukraine’s youngest-ever goalscorer. The versatile teenager, who has played anywhere from left-back to right winger for current club Ufa, is blessed with skill, vision, and being a reported target for Pep Guardiola does no harm.
‘A relatively unknown 18-year-old playing in Denmark a couple of months ago, Emre Mor announced himself as a superstar with his performance for Turkey on Tuesday.’
That he did, UEFA’s official website. That he did. Eighteen-year-old Mor, who was afforded just 21 second-half minutes against Croatia, started against the Czech Republic in Turkey’s final group game, and he was really rather good. Borussia Dortmund have acted quickest to sign him from FC Nordsjaelland, but a loan spell elsewhere could serve all parties well.
Turkey struggled in their opening two games, but with Mor awarded a place in the starting line-up against the Czechs, they almost scraped through to the last 16 as a best-placed third-placed side. The teenager assisted Burak Yilmaz’s strike, and impressed throughout. The forward was eventually named official man of the match, but Mor was the man, or boy, pulling the strings behind the scenes. The game almost resurrected Turkey’s campaign but, according to the above UEFA article, ‘it also marked the dawn of a new superstar in Emre Mor’. That it did, UEFA’s official website. That it did.
When the best goals of Euro 2016 are remembered, it is likely that Austria’s only strike of the tournament will be overlooked. But when Alessandro Schopf waltzed through an Iceland defence which has conceded only three goals, before finishing ably past Hannes Thor Halldorsson, the 22-year-old’s strike was destined, like his country’s participation, to be lost among more memorable moments. It is through little fault of Schopf’s that Austria exit at this stage, with the midfielder not being afforded a single start by manager Marcel Koller. But when given his chance, he proved a solid, promising option, if not a remarkable one. The former Bayern Munich youth product signed for Schalke in January earlier this year, and has two goals in seven international caps.
A relative unknown prior to the tournament, Zlatan Ibrahimovic was a shock inclusion in Sweden’s 23-man squad for Euro 2016. Only a handful had even heard of the diminutive young forward before this summer. A reserved, private and precocious talent, Ibrahimovic was charged with leading the line by Erik Hamren. But the Swedes disappointed, falling at the group stage. It was not for the want of trying with regards to their star forward, who had 12 shots on goal; the rest of the squad registered 11 shots combined. He will leave France knowing that his previously understated reputation has been boosted, and that clubs will be interested in the man who will leave Paris Saint-Germain on a free this summer.
It reads here that Manchester United are considering making a move. Why hasn’t this been reported before?