Gareth Bale. Cristiano Ronaldo. Dimitri Payet. They’re just three of the world-class players shining at this summer’s tournament, and rightly getting the acclaim they deserve.
But there are plenty of other key men alongside those famous names who have played a huge part so far at Euro 2016. And we pay tribute to five of them…
Neil Taylor (Wales)
The 27-year-old has been arguably Wales’ most consistent performer at Euro 2016, playing every minute of football for the Dragons in France. A classy performer adept at building attacks from the back, the Swansea City left-back has also shown his intelligent game-reading and positional sense for the national side.
One thing he hasn’t been is a natural goalscorer, with his last goal before this tournament coming for Wrexham in a defeat to Tamworth in 2009. However, a neat finish (second time around!) against Russia saw him find the net for the first time since.
We can guess which goal he’ll remember in 50 years time – and it’s not the one at the Lamb Ground. But can he repeat the feat in the semi-final with an even more memorable goal? 25/1 says he scores anytime, while it’s 50/1 for Taylor to net and Wales to win.
Olivier Giroud (France)
The weight of expectation on France has seen the 29-year-old made an unfair scapegoat during this tournament, following a handful of high-profile misses. But – and whisper it quietly – he’s actually been quite effective.
Despite going almost four months without a Premier League goal for club side Arsenal, he’s had no such trouble for France. Netting three goals in four games at Euro 2016 so far, he’s also provided two assists, with Les Bleus winning every game in which he’s featured. Hardly the hallmark of a player off-form.
And it’s 11/5 that Giroud continues to prove the naysayers wrong by scoring anytime against Germany, with 12/1 for him to find the net twice or more – a feat he achieved in the quarter-final clash with Iceland.
No, we’ve never seen Pepe in a list of ‘heroes’ before either, but the man fans love to hate has been in fantastic form at Euro 2016. There’s no doubting he’s a master of the defensive dark arts, but a masterful display against Poland saw him block everything within a five-mile radius.
Comfortably the strongest centre-back Portugal have, the Real Madrid man has led the Selecao back four to two clean sheets already this summer – against Austria and Croatia respectively.
Interestingly, his last international goal came in a crucial European Championship clash against Denmark in 2012, by way of an ingenious near-post header. Could he finally see his Euros displays given due credit with a semi-final goal against Wales at 11/1?
Thomas Meunier (Belgium)
It’s the sad truth of life as a defender that if you’re doing your job well, often you simply don’t get a mention. We tend to hear more about defensive howlers than those neat and tidy members of the backline who rarely – if ever – put a foot wrong.
That’s certainly true of Meunier, whose displays have avoided the spotlight, despite him being integral to De Rode Duivels reaching the quarter-finals. Drafted in following the defeat to Italy, he produced four flawless defensive displays and provided that inch-perfect cross for Axel Witsel’s goal against the Republic of Ireland.
Whoever compiles the next edition of the Oxford English Dictionary can simply insert a picture of the 24-year-old Belgian alongside the word ‘reliable’.
Mario Gomez (Germany)
Injury has robbed the Besiktas striker of a semi-final berth for Die Mannschaft as they face France – but he’s already done more than his fair share of work for Joachim Low’s men this summer, and will be thoroughly deserving of his winners’ medal, provided his teammates can get the job done without him.
Gomez netted the only goal of the game against Northern Ireland to ensure Germany secured top spot in Group C, and he effectively ended Slovakia’s resistance with a smartly-taken second goal in the 3-0 knockout victory over Slovenski sokoli.
He’s also led the line tirelessly and unselfishly, holding up the ball and bringing creative teammates like Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil into play. Germany are 10/11 to reach the final, and if get there, they could well miss the 30-year-old, who has been their player of the tournament so far.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.