Football fans around the world will be running out of four weeks of the European Championship over the next month, as Euro 2020 prepares to fill the void of a major three-year tournament.
Some of the world’s best footballers will compete for the chance to be crowned the continent’s best player, although the major leagues often also provide a platform for lesser-known names to make their mark.
With the luxury of the internet, YouTube and endless football-themed video games, the days of complete unknowns taking to the stage are a distant memory.
However, for fans who are not well versed in the domestic leagues outside of Europe’s elite five, Euro 2020 offers an opportunity to see a group of players who are not often seen in action.
Here are five lesser-known players who could become household names this summer.
Bruno Petkovic – Croatia
Croatia are heading to this summer’s European Championship with optimism after reaching the World Cup final three years ago, although the retirement of several famous players after their Russian adventure means this team makes a fresh appearance under Zlatko Dalic.
One of the main issues was choosing who to top the line in the absence of retired Mario Mandzukic, although Dalic’s pre-tournament comments on Dinamo Zagreb star Bruno Petkovic suggested he would be the man tasked with filling those big boots.
Petkovic plays football in his native Croatia with Dinamo Zagreb, having struggled during stints in Italy with the likes of Bologna and Hellas Verona during his previous career.
Since returning to Zagreb – the club where he spent time as a young player – the 6-foot-4-inch forward has become a key player, reaching over a dozen goals in all competitions in each of the past three campaigns.
He made his Croatia national debut in 2019 and started brilliantly at international level, scoring five goals in his first eight international matches, including four during the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
However, he has been criticized for profligacy during a disappointing Nations League campaign, now putting pressure on Petkovic to beat England’s opening group game on June 13.
While he has been far from productive in his football career so far, the 26-year-old is hoping to prove himself a handful for Croatia’s opponent in Group D.
Young defender Josko Gvardiol is shaping up as another person who could make a name for himself if the opportunity presents itself, and the 19-year-old – who was the subject of interest from Leeds last summer before signing with RB Leipzig – has already received calls for inclusion despite making his debut as a substitute at 6 June.
Alexander Sobolev – Russia
Russia impressed during the World Cup at home in 2018 to reach the quarter-finals, and with the home matches against Belgium and Finland in Saint Petersburg, it will be hoped that those performances will be repeated.
Stanislav Cherchesov’s side are still counting on Artem Dzyuba’s goals in attack, as the 32-year-old Zenit St Petersburg striker scored a whopping nine goals during the Euro 2020 qualifiers.
The massive striker will be the main goal-scoring threat to the team, although the appearance of Alexander Sobolev has provided Cherchesov a good alternative or partner to the captain of Russia.
Sobolev enjoyed an exceptional season with Spartak Moscow, having risen from the lower levels in Russia to become one of the division’s stars, scoring 15 goals in all competitions in 2020/21.
The 24-year-old settled a previous conflict with teammate Dziuba over the phone and took his chance now after being called up to the national team, scoring three times in just six matches.
Sobolev’s towering 6-foot-5 frame and aerial ability offer the option of threatening a giant duel alongside Dzyuba in attack, as Russia was no stranger to seeing stars explode onto the scene at the European Championships, with Andrei Arshavin, Yuri Zhirkov and Roman Pavlyuchenko Among those who earn Premier League Moving after the 2008 finals.
Jonas Wind – Denmark
The experienced Danes will face Belgium, Russia and Finland in Group B, having lost only one of their previous 12 international matches ahead of the Euro 2020 finals.
That period included a win over England at Wembley and a draw with Germany, and a mix of national team players and young teens raise optimism ahead of this summer’s tournament.
Denmark’s list of attacking options includes Barcelona striker Martin Braithwaite and RB Leipzig star Josef Poulsen, although Jonas Wind is among the prospects hoping to make an impression.
Wind plays with his football team in Copenhagen after reaching the ranks of the academy and developing to become one of the best players in the division, scoring 17 goals in all competitions last season with West Ham among the clubs linked to the transfer.
The 22-year-old made his international debut in 2020 and has since scored three times in seven matches for Denmark, with Wind combining towering physical strength with movement and footwork that belies his stature.
Injuries have halted his progress somewhat, but the striker appears to be a player ready to rise to a higher quality league and is hoping to showcase his talents with Denmark this summer.
Viktor Tsygankov – Ukraine
Ukraine received the nickname “Black Horses” this summer after a strong qualifying performance and a positive draw, with coach Andriy Shevchenko’s team leading a group including European champions Portugal to reach the finals.
Ukraine heads into Euro 2020 with a host of technical talent who have helped fuel optimism about the country’s hopes, with midfielders such as Ruslan Malinovsky and Oleksandr Zinchenko working under the guidance of the greatest footballer in the country’s history.
One of the players less familiar with the fans will be Viktor Tsygankov, who has developed into one of his country’s best domestic players as a key element of the Dynamo Kiev side.
The winger has scored an impressive 60 goals in just 125 league games since breaking into the Dynamo team, winning the Ukrainian Premier League Player of the Year award for 2020.
The 23-year-old has taken some time to settle down at international level amid competition from veteran duo Andrei Yarmolenko and Yvn Konoplyanka, but he has scored five times in his past 13 matches and is hoping for a prominent role in this summer’s finals.
Having established himself as one of Ukraine’s best players, some impressive performances at Euro 2020 could convince teams on the continent that he is ready for a big move. Chelsea-linked teenager Ilya Zabarni is another player to watch in the center of defence.
Ugurcan Cakir – Turkey
Another team that many have backed to make a surprise at Euro 2020, Turkey are heading into the tournament with the average smaller team, but one full of talent and up-and-coming quality.
Turkey qualified as runners-up for the French Championship and conceded only three goals during that period, with budding goalkeeper Ugurkan Kakir attracting huge interest from the continent in recent months.
LiverpoolLeicester and Tottenham credit the interest in the Trabzonspor goalkeeper, who is hoping to win his battle with more experienced Mert Gonuk for the number one shirt ahead of Euro 2020.
The eight-game keeper will be hoping to regain the defensive strength that has been lacking in an indifferent campaign in the Nations League, even though Turkey have lost only one of their past 13 international matches.
Shakir is tall, strong and has good shots with no major weaknesses in his game and will be closely watched by Premier League teams if he gets the chance at Euro 2020.
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