Serie A has, in recent times, become an increasingly multinational league. For the first time in the league’s history, the 2015-16 season saw a match without Italian players in the starting lineups when Inter Milan took on Udinese in April. It comes as no surprise then that, despite the growth of this summer’s European Championships to accommodate 24 teams, over half of the nations involved will feature a player based in Italy.
Here we take a look at six Serie A players who are set to break out on the international stage for the first time at Euro 2016.
Federico Bernardeschi (Italy)
For the first six months of last season, Fiorentina were not only one of the most aesthetically pleasing teams to watch in Serie A, but were considered contenders for the Scudetto. Under Paulo Sousa’s auspices the Viola played beautiful passing football based on strong combination play and, while their title hopes ultimately proved optimistic, hope for the future was ensured through the individual displays of Federico Bernardeschi.
The 22-year-old showcased extraordinary tactical intelligence and versatility, playing in attacking midfield, on the wing and at both left and right wing-back, all while dazzling with his flitting dribbling skills. A fluid runner on the ball with a refined left foot, Bernardeschi made his Italy debut earlier this year and, in an Azzurri side bereft of top class strike options, his cutting movement and creativity could prove crucial to unlocking opposition defences.
Oscar Hiljemark (Sweden)
After failing to make much of an impact in Dutch football with PSV Eindhoven, Oscar Hiljemark joined Sicilian side Palermo for the relatively small fee of £1.88 million last summer. He arrived having just captained Sweden to 2015 European Under-21 Championship victory and wasted no time establishing himself with the Rosanero.
The 23-year-old central midfielder showed a good engine and a willingness to drive forward and support attacks, scoring four goals and assisting five while appearing in every single one of Palermo’s 38 Serie A fixtures. That form prompted Sweden manager Erik Hamren to recall the player into the national team fold, where he has retained his place for Euro 2016. In a team that relies heavily on Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s link-up play, Hiljemark’s runs behind opposition lines could come in handy.
Elseid Hysaj (Albania)
It’s fair to say that most spectators expect Albania to be one of this summer’s primary whipping boys, with Gianni De Biasi’s side drawn in a tough group alongside hosts France, as well as Switzerland and Romania. However, the quality of the Albanian squad is not to be dismissed out of hand; they have some highly gifted players in their ranks, and Elseid Hysaj is arguably the best of the lot.
The 22-year-old arrived at Napoli last summer as he followed coach Maurizio Sarri from Empoli. And, early in the campaign, it became clear that he would be occupying the team’s right-back position ahead of the more experienced Cristian Maggio. A solid defensive full-back and a direct runner in the attacking phase, Hysaj has since emerged as one of the best young players in the league, and his performances this summer could go a long way to deciding whether Albania’s defence holds up to the rigorous scrutiny of a major international finals.
Ciprian Tatarusanu (Romania)
When Norberto Neto departed for Juventus last summer, Fiorentina already had a more than adequate goalkeeping replacement lined up in Ciprian Tatarusanu. The towering 6’6” Romanian had alternated with Neto the previous season and took no time adjusting to being a first team regular in 2015-16. With good reactions and strong shot-stopping combined with a composed presence on the ball, he was a perfect fit for Paulo Sousa’s style of play, building out from the back.
The 30-year-old has never been to an international tournament before, but he is integral to Romania’s chances of surprising at Euro 2016; he kept seven clean sheets in qualification and was named his country’s footballer of the year in 2015. Building on a good season at club level, Tatarusanu could use this summer as a stepping stone to bigger things late in his career.
Sime Vrsaljko (Croatia)
Sassuolo’s sixth-place Serie A finish and subsequent qualification for next season’s Europa League was one of the main storylines in a thrilling 2015-16 campaign, and Sime Vrsaljko was one of the main protagonists in its development. The Croatian right-back was in superb form for the Neroverdi, encompassing all that is expected of the modern full-back.
Wearing his team’s number 11 shirt, his attacking surges, overlapping and underlapping, dribbling and crossing were key components in Sassuolo’s attacking play, and as a result the likes of Napoli and Liverpool have been linked with the 24-year-old. With captain Darijo Srna set to start at right-back for Croatia this summer, Vrsaljko will have to bide his time or take up the left-back role, but either way it’s hard to imagine him not making a mark on this summer’s tournament.
Piotr Zielinski (Poland)
After breaking into Udinese’s first team as a teenager several years ago, Piotr Zielinski seemed to struggle under the weight of expectation that comes with being a highly rated, and sought after, prospect. That was until the 2015-16 season, where he shone at Empoli under the watchful eye of Swiss coach Marco Giampaolo.
Playing on the right of a diamond midfield, the 22-year-old’s energy, dynamism and creativity were vital to his team’s ability to build good possession and progress the ball into attacking areas. His form with the Tuscan club deservedly led to a recall into the Poland national team who, under Adam Nawalka, qualified for Euro 2016 from a tough group featuring Germany, the Republic of Ireland and Scotland. The Poles are seen as one of the dark horses for this summer’s tournament, and Zielinski could be their breakout star.
About the author – Blair Newman
Blair a freelance football writer with experience of working for some well-known publications, including FourFourTwo, Squawka and Bleacher Report. His main passions are Italian football and football tactics, and he also takes a keen interest in the major European leagues and international football in general.