Five late bloomers who can become heroes at Euro 2016
Many of the headline names at Euro 2016 are experienced international campaigners. Bastian Schweinsteiger. Wayne Rooney. Cristiano Ronaldo. They’ve been here before, and they know the score.
Others, like Shkrodan Mustafi – who netted for Germany in Sunday’s victory over Ukraine – are young stars breaking into the national side and taking their chance with both hands.
But this summer’s showpiece is also packed with experienced gems who’ve had to wait their turn for a chance to shine on the international stage. The first man on our list has already produced an unforgettable winning goal – could the rest follow suit by making a major impact in France?
Dimitri Payet (West Ham United & France)
The Hammers star did manage three appearances for France in 2010, during his time at Saint-Etienne. But with the following two years yielding no international appearances, the fleet-footed midfielder may well have believed that that trio of outings may have been his only chance to represent Les Blues.
Not so, as it turned out. After an impressive run of form for Lille, he returned to the side in June 2013, as France fell to a 3-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil. But despite that disappointing outing, national boss Didier Deschamps kept faith with Payet, and it paid dividends.
The West Ham man has now netted in four of his last seven outings for France, and having scored the last goal on three of those occasions, he could be well-priced at 9/2 to score last against Albania.
Aritz Aduriz (Athletic Bilbao & Spain)
The experienced striker has been a steady source of goals in La Liga for much of his career, but it took until age 29 for the Basque-born striker to get his first Spain cap, as La Roja Furia defeated Lithuania 3-1.
It looked to be a one-time thing, but in 2016, the 35-year-old was sensationally recalled by the man who gave him his international debut – Vicente del Bosque – after netting a career-high 36 goals for Athletic Bilbao in 2015-16.
He booked his spot on the plane for the Euros following an instinctive equaliser in a 1-1 friendly draw against Italy in March, and a series of impressive cameos. And despite not featuring in the opener against Czech Republic, expect the veteran hitman to get some minutes in the upcoming group games.
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City & England)
The 29-year-old’s incredible rise from Non-League to national team is a story well-known by fans, but it remains an incredible stat that less than five years after lining up for Fleetwood Town against Alfreton in the Conference Premier, he’s the Football Writers’ Player of the Year and a major part of the England set-up.
The Leicester City man didn’t see action in the Three Lions’ opener against Russia, but following an unconvincing attacking display from Roy Hodgson’s men, he’s just 8/11 to start against Wales – while 19/10 says he nets a first tournament goal.
Having struck 24 times in last season’s Premier League campaign, his pace, strength and outstanding finishing would surely prove too tough for the Welsh defence to handle. During Euro 2012, few had heard of him. At Euro 2016, is he set to become England’s new hero?
Graziano Pelle (Southampton & Italy)
Having netted 85 goals in his last four seasons at club level – first for Feyenoord, and now Southampton – it’s easy to forget that the established Italy striker once struggled to get a game at club level, never mind for the national side.
Beginning his career at boyhood club Lecce, the imposing forward failed to score during two seasons in the first team. In fact, it took a move to Rotterdam to turn what seemed a rather uninspiring career into an outstanding one.
He netted 50 times during two seasons in the Eredivisie, leading to an Italy debut aged 29 in March 2015. Pelle justified the selection, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win in Malta – the first of five he’s netted in 11 starts for the Azzurri.
And the Saints star is hot favourite to finish the tournament as the leading marksman for Antonio Conte’s men, with 3/1 for him to be Italy’s top scorer, while 40/1 says he takes home the tournament Golden Boot.
Hannes Halldorsson (FK Bodo/Glimt & Iceland)
He may not be a familiar name on these shores, but the well-travelled keeper is fast becoming a legendary figure in Iceland, with his superb displays a huge part of the reason that Strakamir okkar (or ‘Our boys’) made it to their first-ever major tournament.
Featuring nine times in qualifying, the stopper – who plies his trade in the Norwegian top-flight – was arguably Iceland’s most impressive performer, managing six clean sheets, including a duo of them against Euro ’88 winners Netherlands.
And joint head-coaches Lars Lagerback and Heimir Hallgrimsson may be wondering how the confident keeper hadn’t made his debut until late 2011.
Since then, the 32-year-old has hardly missed a game for the Nordic nation, and his displays have gone from strength to strength. Those backing the tournament debutants to keep a clean sheet against Portugal, with Halldorsson in net, could be onto a winner at 15/4.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.