italy v albania group b uefa euro 2024

Euro 2024 – 5 standout performers

International tournaments always give football fans the opportunity to watch players they may have heard of but not necessarily got the chance to watch before, James Rodriguez’s individual performance in leading Colombia to the quarter-final at the World Cup in 2014 always comes to mind. Not only for fans, but it also gives the players the chance to impress clubs, a shop window if you like.

This tournament has been no different, there have been multiple standout performances from players that are largely unknown in European club football. We take a look at 5 players that have caught the eye so far this summer.


Christoph Baumgartner (Austria)

Results may suggest otherwise, but Austria have been one of the most impressive and well-drilled teams so far in this year’s European Championship. In a midfield packed with experience that includes Marcel Sabitzer & Konrad Laimer, it has been the performances of all-action Christoph Baumgartner that have really stood out.

Despite a 1-0 loss to France in their opening match of the group, Austria bounced back with a 3-1 victory against Poland in their 2nd match with Baumgartner playing a key role and getting on the scoresheet. A 3-2 victory over the Netherlands in their final group match to top the group was a real indication of how dangerous this Austrian team can be and being able to spring Baumgartner from the bench with 30 minutes to play to turn the screw was a huge boost.

Despite being unable to nail down a starting spot for RB Leipzig, he has gained valuable experience in his first full season with the club following his big-money move from Hoffenheim. Baumgartner, playing a more advanced role for the national side, is a huge threat and chipped in with 3 goals during qualifying for this years tournament. Ralph Ragnick has put together a side that is more than capable of implementing his gegenpress strategy and will be a dangerous opponent for anyone going forward in the competition.

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Riccardo Calafiori (Italy)

In his first International tournament, Riccardo Calafiori has been a leading light in what has been a far from straightforward group stage for the Italian national side. The young centre-back has a lot to live up to when you consider Italian defenders of recent times. Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini, Leonardo Bonucci, and Giorgio Chiellini are a few names that come to mind.

In a relatively inexperienced backline when it comes to International football, Calafiori has shown leadership, composure & maturity to lead the Azzurri to qualification from a very tough group that included Spain, Croatia & Albania. The leadership shown in assisting Mattia Zaccagni for a last-gasp equaliser against Croatia is an example of how he can be relied on in the biggest of moments.

Calafiori was an ever-present in Bologna’s defence this season, as they finished in 5th place in Serie A and qualified for next year’s Champions League for the first time since 1964. It’s no surprise Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham are battling to sign the young Italian this summer.

Having picked up his second yellow card of the tournament against Croatia, Calafiori will be suspended for Italy’s last 16 tie with Switzerland on Saturday, a big blow for the Azzurri.

Stanislav Lobotka (Slovakia)

Lobotka has played a key role at the heart of midfield as the Slovak’s have picked up 3 points from their opening 2 group matches. Focusing more on the defensive side of midfield, the 29-year-old was tasked with shutting down Kevin De Bruyne in Slovakia’s 1-0 victory over Belgium in their opening match of group E. The Napoli midfielder can be seen orchestrating the play alongside Verona’s Ondrej Duda.

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Having moved from Celta Vigo to Napoli at the beginning of 2020, Lobotka has nailed down a starting spot in front of the back four and was a key component in their Scudetto-winning side in 2023, creating a solid partnership with Cameroon international Frank Anguissa. His impressive form has carried on this season and we are seeing exactly why European heavyweights such as Barcelona are keen on recruiting him this summer. If Slovakia are to progress any further in the competition, the form of their midfield maestro will be crucial.

Fabián Ruiz (Spain)

Playing in Paris with PSG, you would think it would be common knowledge that Spain had one of the best ball-playing centre midfielders in their ranks coming into the tournament, but numerous previews leading up to the tournament left out the fact that the influence of Fabián Ruiz would be huge to Spain’s chances of lifting silverware this summer.

Playing alongside Rolls Royce midfielder Rodri and hugely talented Pedri so far, Ruiz has perfectly struck the balance of supporting the attack as much as possible while also helping out his defence. Spain continued their impressive Euro 2024 form with a 1-0 victory over Albania to finish the group unbeaten and 3 wins from 3. Ruiz has played twice so far and has chipped in with a goal and an assist; his effect on this Spanish team cannot be underestimated.

Without setting the world alight, he has settled into the PSG team well after moving from Napoli in 2022 and is one of the first names on the teamsheet for the French Champions under Luiyear’s Enrique, striking up a partnership with another impressive performer at this year’s Euro.

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Zan Karnicnik (Slovenia)

Slovenia’s three draws have come as no surprise to anyone who follows the national team; they have drawn four of their last five European Championship matches. The performances of their right-back Zan Karnicnik have caught the eye, as the energetic defender has excelled at getting on the end of moves and even chipped in with a goal in their draw against Serbia. The 29-year-old has the insurance that he is playing in front of one of the best goalkeepers in Europe, Jan Oblak, but continues to cause defence’s problems with his late, intelligent runs.

Not only has he performed well going forward, his defensive solidity has been a big factor in Slovenia earning 3 draws so far and shutting out Denmark’s Rasmus Hojlund, Serbia’s Alexander Mitrovic & England’s Harry Kane has played a big role in that.

Playing his club football in Slovenia for Celje, Karnicnik was crucial this season in the clubs title winning campaign, playing 34 times on the way to his 3rd Slovenian Premier Division Title (PRVA Liga).

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