from Cristiano Ronaldo to Karim Benzema, nine players to watch

European football stars meet this summer, from June 11 to July 11, for a continent-wide football Euro. France 24 has selected nine players to follow closely during the competition.

As Euro-2021 prepares to start a year late due to the Covid-19 pandemic, France 24 has selected nine stars to follow, who could weigh on the European championship by the 11th. next july.

Cristiano Ronaldo: a title to defend


In 2016, during the Euro played in France, he took his selection until the coronation, the first title in the history of Portugal. Five years later, Cristiano Ronaldo still wants more. The record-breaking man in the Portuguese jersey (175 capes, 104 goals) also warned his French teammate at Juventus, Adrien Rabiot: “Watch out for us”. A message a priori useless, the Blues probably not having forgotten their home defeat in the final against the Lusitanians.

CR7 was only 19 when he climbed with Portugal to the final of Euro 2004, lost to Greece. Now 36, the five-time Ballon d’Or has since won numerous trophies and awards at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juve. If he comes out of a complicated season with the Old Lady, Cristiano Ronaldo remains a formidable opponent. His 36 goals in 44 matches in Turin bear witness to this. For his fifth Euro, he should once again be the guide of Portugal facing stiff entry competition, with this group F raised (Germany, France and Hungary).

• Kevin De Bruyne and Belgium dreament a first title

He is one of the symbols of this Belgium packed with talent but always frustrated in major events, often placed but never rewarded, like this Mondial-2018 finished in third place. Kevin De Bruyne, who will celebrate his 30th birthday at the end of June, appears to be at his peak. Still named the best player in the Premier League by his peers this season, the Manchester City attacking midfielder is the playing master of the Skyblues and the Red Devils. Under Pep Guardiola, he became one of the best footballers in the world. His aura is also growing with Belgium, especially since the other national star, Eden Hazard, pales in Madrid.

But will KDB be recovered from its recent setbacks? Belgium’s No.7 remains on a lost Champions League final with City against Chelsea. Final which he only played the first hour before leaving the field, annoyed, victim of fractures of the nose and left orbit. These injuries forced him to undergo surgery. Kevin De Bruyne may lack rhythm and could skip Belgium’s first match, Saturday June 12, against Russia.

• Kylian Mbappé, time for maturity?

Striker Kylian Mbappé during training at the Stade de France, November 16, 2020
Striker Kylian Mbappé during training at the Stade de France, November 16, 2020 © Franck Fife, AFP

Three years ago, Kylian Mbappé was the little gem of the Blues world champions in Russia. He was only 19 at the time, and his talent already made him a must, compared to the great Pelé. Today, the PSG striker is quite simply one of the best players in the world. Untenable in Paris, he scored 42 goals during the past season and signed great performances against Barcelona and Munich. The 22-year-old Parisian has already conquered the world with the France team. Europe is now on the menu.

This summer 2021 promises to be a new turning point in his young career. Above all, there is this Euro to go for with this selection tricolor vice-champion of Europe during the previous edition. For this, he can rely on Antoine Griezmann and Karim Benzema in attack. After which, it will be time to decide the thorny question of his future: he has only one year of contract with PSG, and Real Madrid still gives him soft eyes. With an additional Euro gleaned, Kylian Mbappé would be even more attractive.

• King Harry Kane in search of a coronation

Harry Kane will lead the English attack at Euro-2021.
Harry Kane will lead the English attack at Euro-2021. © Scott Heppell, AFP

Harry Kane was considered a flash in the pan a few years ago, a player capable of only shining for a season. It was seven years ago. The striker has since amply proven that he is much more than that, with Tottenham and with England. In Russia, the Englishman finished top scorer in the World Cup, with six goals. With Spurs, he was also three times top scorer in the Premier League (2016, 2017 and 2021). No one doubts it, Harry Kane is one of the best goal hunters in Europe.

On the palmares side, on the other hand, the English captain is still doing nothing. The Three Lions are still chasing a first title since the only World Cup, won in 1966. And with Tottenham, it is not much better, with the best result of a Champions League final lost in 2019. Alas, Harry Kane would be seen elsewhere, in a more ambitious club, announce several British media. Before that, there are some nets to shake during the Euro.

• Karim Benzema: the ghost

French striker Karim Benzema during the friendly against Wales in Nice on June 2, 2021
French striker Karim Benzema during the friendly against Wales in Nice on June 2, 2021 FRANCK FIFE AFP/Archives

It is the return that many people did not believe in, until this rather crazy day of May 18. The rumor swelled throughout the day: Didier Deschamps and Karim Benzema would have discussed at length, and the first would have decided to call on the Madrilenian in the Blues. The confirmation fell in the evening, from the very mouth of the coach of the France team: five and a half years after his last selection, the striker is back. And with him in the list of 26, France presents itself with an attractive line of attack.

Unbeatable at Real Madrid for twelve years, the former Lyonnais has taken on a new dimension at the height of his 33 years. Cristiano Ronaldo gone, Gareth Bale too, it is he who carries the attack of the Merengue now. And even the whole Madrid club in fact. This 2020-2021 season has again shown all the leadership of a very effective striker (30 goals and 9 assists in 46 games). Banned before Euro-2016 where the Blues ended up vice-champions, absent from the tricolor group mounted on the roof of the world in 2018, Karim Benzema has the opportunity to finally know the consecration with the national team.

• Thomas Müller: the other ghost

He believed for a long time that he was going to follow this Euro as a simple spectator. Banned by coach Joachim Löw after the German defeat of the 2018 World Cup, Thomas Müller has regained a place in the Nationalmannschaft after two years of absence. For his last at the head of the team, the German technician could not do without the attacking midfielder, his experience of major events and his formidable efficiency (39 goals in 102 selections).

At 31, the 2014 world champion remains essential in the Bayern Munich jersey. The Bavarians, European champions in 2020, were certainly eliminated in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, but they won their ninth consecutive German league title thanks to Müller’s 11 goals and 18 assists.

• Robert Lewandowski: from golden shoe to top scorer in Euro-2021?

Polish Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski is elated after his 41st goal in a single Bundesliga season in the game against Augsburg in Munich on May 22, 2021
Polish Bayern striker Robert Lewandowski is elated after his 41st goal in a single Bundesliga season in the game against Augsburg in Munich on May 22, 2021 © Christof Stache, AFP

He is currently the best number 9 in the world. He is coming off a phenomenal season with Bayern Munich, during which he erased the record for goals in one Bundesliga season, held so far by legend Gerd Müller (40 goals). No doubt Robert Lewandowski comes to Euro-2021 with the intention of shining.

Captain of Poland for six years, most capped player with 118 appearances, top scorer with 66 goals… Robert Lewandowski is essential for the “Biało-Czerwoni” (“white and red”). A little too much perhaps, since Poland seems too destitute apart from its chief pyrotechnician to be surprised. But with such a striker, anything is possible.

• Burak Yilmaz, the “kral” of the Mastiffs


It was essential to allow Lille to conquer the French championship. With 16 goals and 5 assists, he has been one of the key offensive players in the North. The “kral” (“king”, his nickname) thus arrives in the form of his life in selection.

At 35, Yilmaz will taste his first major competition with Turkey, more than fifteen years after his first match in red and white, April 12, 2006 against Azerbaijan (1-1). After a fluctuating career in the selection, the time for a comeback could ring this summer for the former Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray and Besiktas. As for Turkey, absent from the 2018 World Cup.

• Memphis Depay and the return of the Oranje on the international scene

Author of an exemplary season with OL, the Batavian striker should not have participated in the Euro if it had taken place in 2020. Indeed, victim of a rupture of the cruciate ligaments of the knee in December 2019, his participation in the competition was practically impossible.

Since the injury of his compatriot Virgil Van Djik, Memphis Depay has become a leader of the Oranje. He gained in regularity to become essential and finished best passer of the playoffs in his group with 8 offerings to his teammates. After the aberration constituted by the absence of the Netherlands from Euro-2016 and the World-2018, the spearhead of the Batavians will be keen to prove that the Oranje are back at the highest level of world football.

Dutchman Memphis Depay congratulated by his teammates after his successful penalty kick in the friendly against Georgia in Enschede on June 6, 2021
Dutchman Memphis Depay congratulated by his teammates after his successful penalty kick in the friendly against Georgia in Enschede on June 6, 2021 © François Walschaerts, AFP

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