The UEFA Euro 2016 group stage came to an end in dramatic fashion as Portugal, Iceland, Belgium and Republic of Ireland secured their places in the knockout phase. It brought us a number of extraordinary performances with a host of players stepping up for their nations. However, we also had the opportunity to see experienced footballers ruining their countries’ hopes of advancing with their below-par and even dreadful performances. 

What follows is the combined lineup of the players who let down their nations in the Euro 2016 group stage.

Goalkeeper: David de Gea (Spain)

David de Gea beats Salvatore Sirigu for the goalkeeping position in our flop XI.

The Spaniard had little problems in the first two matches as he watched his team dominate proceedings against the lowly Turkey and the Czech Republic. It was Croatia that put his abilities to a proper test for the first time in the tournament – and he failed miserably.

His needless dribbling left Rakitic with a glorious chance to score early on, but the Croatian could only find the crossbar. Went on to concede two goals at the near post, both of which could have been easily avoided.

Right-back: Aleksandar Dragovic (Austria)

Dragovic may just be the worst flop of the tournament. The Austrian defender was sent off in the first game which Austria promptly lost to Hungary and then had to sit out the stalemate with Portugal. He returned to the starting lineup in the Austria’s final Euro 2016 match, but he once again played a huge part in his team’s demise, missing a crucial penalty against Iceland.

Center-back: Lorik Cana (Albania)

Similar to Dragovic, Lorik Cana will want to forget this tournament as soon as possible. The Albanian captain started eagerly, perhaps too eagerly, since he was sent off after he picked up two yellow cards in the opening 30 minutes. He had to sit out the second match and was left out of the starting XI in the third-round game against Romania that his team dully won 1-0.

Center-back: Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal)

Considering the fact that Ricardo Carvalho turned 38 recently, it is hardly surprising to see him included in the worst XI. Portugal may have had the luck to avoid tougher opponents in the group stage and their defence was rarely tested, but once the knockout stage starts, they may be in serious trouble. If Hungary found a way to exploit Carvalho’s shortcomings, you can bet others will do the same.

Left-back: Viacheslav Shevchuk (Ukraine)

The Shakhtar left-back embodies Ukraine’s failure to adapt amidst a generational switch in the national team. His reluctance to go forward and inability to deal with opposing attackers left the Ukraine unable to compete on either front on the left side of the pitch. A tournament to forget not only for Shevchuk, but the entire Ukraine.

Right midfielder: Arda Turan (Turkey)

Arda Turan came into the tournament as the biggest name in the Turkey squad, but delivered very little.  His performance against Croatia was particularly troubling – not only did he struggle to create chances for his teammates, but he was also unable to get himself into dangerous spaces. In the end, he simply passed the ball around until the agony was over. Although his next performances were somewhat better, he was still far from his usual best.

Central midfielder: Roman Neustadter (Russia)

Roman Neustadter famously received his Russian passport merely months before the tournament as Russia tried to prepare itself for the UEFA Euro 2016. However, Neustadter was virtually invisible on the pitch, much like the rest of the Russian midfield. We could perhaps forgive his inability to create chances for his teammates – he is a defensive midfielder after all – but the fact that he even failed to provide any sort of cover for his center-backs is simply unforgivable.

Left midfielder: Raheem Sterling (England)

Once again, Sterling produced a few dazzling performances, but failed to deliver. Frustratingly, his quick footwork regularly put him in good positions, but his final balls left a lot to be desired. Considering the wealth of talent available to Roy Hodgson, this tournament may already be over for the 21-year-old winger.

Right forward: Robert Lewandowski (Poland)

Lewandowski came into Euro 2016 as the focal point of the Polish attack, but he has so far failed his country. He was subdued throughout the tournament, but he even managed to miss the few good chances he was given. Unless he rediscovers his goalscoring form soon, Poland are as good as gone.

Center forward: Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)

Similar to Lewandowski, Ibrahimovic came into the tournament as his team’s star player, but he failed to produce virtually anything. He has decided to retire from international duty after Euro 2016, but considering his performances, one may as well assume he had given up even before the tournament started.

Left forward: Mario Gotze (Germany)

Despite rumors that he was unwanted in Bayern Munich, Gotze retained his starting spot in Die Mannschaft. However, the lack of playing time in Bayern appears to have left a devastating impact on Gotze, who practically acted as a passer-by in all three games so far.

About the author – Dusan Lucic

Dusan has been writing sports related articles for 5 years and has a keen interest in the Premier League, Bundesliga and Serbian SuperLiga. He has previously written for Bleacher Report, Arena Sport, Sportal and The News Hub. He is currently studying Serbian language and literature at the university of Belgrade.


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Atletico Madrid’s La Liga title triumph in 2013/14 was one of the greatest achievements in modern football history.

Diego Simeone’s outfit, the third team in Spain, came out on top in what was widely considered to be a two-horse race between Barcelona and Real Madrid. While there are plenty of examples of upsets of a similar nature in knockout competitions, Atletico’s title win was undoubtedly more impressive given that it came over the course of a regular 38-game domestic campaign.

Although he had less gifted players to call upon than Carlo Ancelotti at Real Madrid and Tata Martino at Barcelona, Simeone created a side of fierce competitors who were extremely difficult to play against. There was plenty of quality in the squad too, with Koke, Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtois and Arda Turan all truly excellent players, but Simeone’s greatest success was producing a side whose whole was significantly stronger than the sum of its individual parts.

Rather remarkably, Atletico won the league with an average possession of just 49 percent (the figures recorded by other champions that year were 55 by Manchester City, 57 by Bayern Munich, 60 by Paris Saint-Germain and 54 by Juventus). Their approach was based on being extremely well-organised, solid and compact – both from back to front and side to side – in the defensive phase of play before springing forward quickly on the counter-attack when the ball was turned over. There were also plenty of set-piece goals, with Atletico finding the back of the net on an astonishing 24 occasions from dead-ball situations.

Countless players enjoyed terrific seasons, including the aforementioned quartet, but it was no-nonsense centre-back Diego Godin and central midfielder Gabi who best epitomised Atleti’s style: there are far more gifted technicians around than the duo, but their strength, commitment, attitude and endeavour symbolised what Simeone’s charges were all about.

Fast forward two years and, in a sense, little has changed. Atletico are still intense and aggressive, regularly smothering opponents into submission. They have retained that knack of seeming to winning every second ball and 50-50 challenge, and continue to be a horrible team to face.

There are, however, some notable differences between the 2013/14 Atletico and the one currently sitting fourth in the La Liga table, just four points behind Madrid and Barcelona at the summit.

There is greater invention and individual flair in the current group, with Antoine Griezmann, Yannick Ferreria Carrasco, Oliver Torres, Angel Correa all capable of assuming the creative mantle.

While such players are not absolved from their defensive duties and off-the-ball obligations, they have brought more skill and pace to the ranks at the Vicente Calderon; Atletico’s core identity is unchanged, but a dash of extra guile has been added to the solid foundations that were already in place.

Carrasco’s fine goal in the recent 2-1 victory over Valencia perfectly showcased the mix between the old and the new: the Belgian winger won possession back after some aggressive pressing, before dribbling past two players and firing a low drive into the bottom corner.

Barcelona and Madrid remain heavy favourites to finish top of the pile at the end of the campaign. After their astonishing achievements of two seasons ago, though, it would be foolish in the extreme to write Atletico off just yet.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.

Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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Occasionally a players comes along in Europe whose talent is paradoxically matched by their worldwide under-appreciation. A player who mesmerizes opposition fans and leaves them wondering what would be possible if he played for their team. These players are rare; they’re the stars we know all about but often overlook when picking our favourite players from around the globe.

One such player is Barcelona’s new boy Arda Turan – a man who looks like he’d be more suited to a Spartan battlefield than the Camp Nou. The Turkish international had been a revelation for Atlético Madrid since moving from Galatasaray for the bargain fee of £10 million and is widely regarded as one of La Liga’s most influential, gifted and effective players.

It wasn’t always this rosy, however. Joining Galatasaray at the age of 13 in July 2000, the diminutive youngster struggled to cope with the rigours of daily football, not least the speed and strength required for the game. Arda was the shortest player in the ’87 age group and it showed in his early performances. Bigger, more experience players in the league were unaccommodating towards a player who had all the tricks but lacked effectiveness.

His academic record was far from exemplary too. In his early teens he struggled in school and was often found on the wrong end of visits to the school headmaster. It was these disciplinary issues that almost cost the Istanbul-born midfielder his place in the Aslan’s academy.

Change was needed and his religious faith – a factor which he now attributes to his success in Spain – was born.

Fast-forward to 2005 and Gheorghe Hagi, the man many would subsequently believe Arda could emulate in Turkey, was to give a slight 17-year-old his debut against Bursaspor in a Turkish Cup game. Turkish football fans, notably Galatasaray, have always paid particular attention to the next generation of national stars. Turan was talked about in the stands of the Ali Sami Yen stadium for almost a year prior to his debut.

It wasn’t long before the boyhood Gala fan soon broke into the first team. A loan spell at Manisaspor confirmed that he was ready for Turkish Süper Lig. By now, the coaching staff at the Gündüz K?l?ç youth facilities in Florya had worked tirelessly with Arda to improve his balance and turning speed. It is these modern training regimes that are so abundantly evident in his refined game today.

The sharper, quicker Turan established himself as a first team regular in the 2006-07 season, going on to win his first Turkey cap and helping the club qualify for the Champions League.

Prior to the star of the 2009 season, just three years after establishing himself as chief creator, Turan was appointed captain of the side. Now 22, he was also handed the number 10 shirt; previously worn by Gala’s greatest goalscorer, Metin Oktay, and perhaps the clubs most gifted footballer, Hagi – ironically the man who handed Turan his debut.

Injuries were to disrupt the final year of the attacking midfielder’s stay at his hometown club. After registering an impressive 14 assists – many of which were audacious, delicate passes – 2011 saw the playmaker decide that his future lay elsewhere.

Linked with just about every major club in Europe since his debut in Turkey’s top flight, many thought his next destination would be Liverpool. Turan stoked the fires when he remarked:

“I want to play in major leagues and my dream team is Liverpool. As I always mention, Liverpool attracts me because of their tradition. In Europe, I am a Liverpool supporter, so if I go to play in Europe, I would like to play for them.”

The precarious financial trouble at the Anfield club all but ensured any move to the Premier League would have to wait. Fiorentina, Lyon, Ajax and Bayern Munich all came close to signing the Turk before he finally opted for the forthcoming revolution at Atlético Madrid.

He was to become the poster boy for change at the Spanish club and would forge one of the most efficient and underrated partnerships in La Liga with Falcao and later Diego Costa. Barcelona aside, no combination of players made more interchanges than Costa and Turan in Atleti’s title-winning campaign. Costa himself reserved special praise for his former teammate, telling Marca:

“He’s the best player technically to play behind me. He has vision and speed of thought and the skill to make the pass.”

The early troubles of Arda have contributed heavily to the man he is today. Deeply religious and largely professional, his intimate relationship between football and religion has elevated his game to new levels. The 83-time Turkey international claims that Islam has helped him find peace on a football pitch and that it offers him the freedom to play his game without fear:

“When you realise that some things are bigger than football, bigger than even your family, then you know your life is dedicated to that. Football is something I enjoy, but God is love.”

Perhaps this liberated and expressive freedom is what makes Arda so graceful and effortless on the pitch. His ability to glide past defenders gave him the second highest dribble success rate in La Liga two seasons ago, just beaten to the post by Lionel Messi. Nothing to baulk at when Arda himself claims Messi is the world’s best player.

Aside from his technical grace, intelligence is another factor that separates Turan from his peers. He frequently drifts around the pitch, always attempting to provide the best option for his teammates. The speed of turn and sharp accelerations – a homage to his early training rigours – allowed him to initiate attacks at pace and set the likes of Antoine Griezmann, and previously Falcao and Costa into goal.

Diego Simeone is indeed an admirer. It would take an article in itself to cover all the superlatives the Argentine has proclaimed when it comes to Turan – therefore his departure will be a bitter pill to swallow, despite the recent high-profile arrivals at Vicente Calderón.

Some argue that his stats don’t even reflect his true value, and it’s hard not to agree. Turan is often the middle man, linking play before setting a teammate through on goal, or spreading play to allow maximum time and space for those around him. He’s just a player you have to watch weekly to legitimately appreciate. And appreciate you will.

It’s been a long road for the Turkish international, an arduous one too. Arda’s story of discipline and faith is a timely reminder for all young players that obstacles will arise in the game, no matter what your level. The key is finding solutions to overcome them.

Even without the extra strength and agility training that he conducted at Galatasaray, it’s likely Turan would’ve turned pro anyway. He was still a supremely gifted technically and a wonderful exponent of the final pass with his vision and speed of thought. But would he have become captain aged 22? Would he have become the most expensive Turkish footballer ever? Perhaps not.

After his recent move to Barcelona, it appears that one more challenge awaits in Spain before he will inevitably head back to Turkey. A century of national caps are inevitable for a player who can mix it with the very best but remains largely confined to the second band of Europe’s best footballers.

About the author – Omar Saleen

Based in London, Omar is the editor-in-chief at These Football Times. A professional coach by day having worked at clubs including Fulham, QPR and Red Bull New York, he also writes freelance for a number of outlets.

twitter: @omar_saleem


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