Five stars from Euro 2020 group stage
The group stage of Euro 2020 came to an end on Wednesday, and with the last 16 starting at the weekend, AFP Sport looks at five stars of the tournament ahead of the knockout rounds:
Manuel Locatelli (Italy):
Sassuolo midfielder Locatelli only started Italy's first two Group A matches due to the absence of the injured Marco Verratti, but he was one of the standout performers in the Azzurri's sumptuous displays against Turkey and Switzerland.
The 23-year-old's dynamism in the middle of the pitch was exemplified by how he started and finished the move which gave Italy the lead in the 3-0 demolition of Switzerland, securing a knockout spot for Roberto Mancini's exciting side. "He's a playmaker, he's physical, has technical qualities, he has everything," Mancini said of Locatelli.
Despite his brace against the Swiss, Locatelli was dropped for Italy's final group match with Wales for the returning Verratti, who will likely retain his place in the last 16 clash with Austria at Wembley.
However, Locatelli remains a potent weapon to bring off the bench and has firmly played his way into Mancini's selection decision-making.
Denzel Dumfries (Netherlands):
The last time the Netherlands played at a major tournament was the 2014 World Cup. Back then, a teenage Dumfries had just made his international debut for Aruba, the tiny Caribbean island off the coast of Venezuela.
Now 25 and a regular in the Dutch orange, the PSV Eindhoven captain and right-back -- named after the actor Denzel Washington -- has been one of the stars of their return to this level. In the 3-2 win over Ukraine he helped set up the first two goals before heading in the late winner.
Then, against Austria, Dumfries won a penalty that was converted by Memphis Depay before scoring the second in a 2-0 win, securing a place in the last 16 for Frank de Boer's side.
Born in Rotterdam, Dumfries is now inevitably being linked with a move to one of Europe's biggest leagues after the tournament and PSV will probably not be able to resist when the big money offers arrive at the Philips Stadion.
Patrik Schick (Czech Republic):
Schick said he wanted to look like MMA fighter Nate Diaz when he posed with his muscles flexed and nose bloodied after scoring his third goal of the tournament from the penalty spot against Croatia.
But it was his stunning strike from nearly 50 metres, leaving Scotland floored on their return to the international tournament stage, that announced the Bayer Leverkusen forward as a breakout star of Euro 2020.Schick had already opened the scoring at Hampden with a towering header before his combination of vision and accuracy caught David Marshall flailing in one of the greatest goals ever seen at a European Championship.
Now 25, Schick's nomadic club career promised much but has delivered little so far in spells at Sampdoria, Roma, RB Leipzig and Leverkusen.
But an impressive return of 14 goals in 29 games for his country shows why he is the key man if the Czechs are to progress beyond the last 16.
Robin Gosens (Germany):
Germany nearly suffered a repeat of their 2018 World Cup flop before scraping through to the last 16, but their qualification owed much to Robin Gosens' star turn against Portugal.
The left-back who plays for Italian club Atalanta took an unusual route to the national team, eschewing the typical academy pathway for a journey through amateur football before catching on with Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem at the age of 18. Once an aspiring police officer, Gosens earned his big break with a move to Serie A in 2017 and hasn't looked back, making his Germany debut last September despite the rarity of never having played in the Bundesliga.
Joachim Loew's switch to a 3-4-3 has brought out the best in the 26-year-old. He raided down Portugal's right flank and got involved in all four goals, scoring the fourth to round off arguably Germany's best display since winning the 2014 World Cup.
Emil Forsberg (Sweden):
The RB Leipzig attacking midfielder has been Sweden's driving force as Janne Andersson's side topped their group for the second straight major tournament.
The 29-year-old netted a penalty in the 1-0 win over Slovakia which eventually secured Sweden's last-16 place, before grabbing an excellent double in the 3-2 victory against Poland that wrapped up top spot in Group E ahead of Spain.
At the 2018 World Cup, the Scandinavians' run ended with a 2-0 quarter-final loss to England, who they could face again in the last eight.
Sweden will need Forsberg, who trails only Cristiano Ronaldo in the race for the Golden Boot, to continue his strong form if they are to get past Ukraine and set up either a rematch with England or a last-eight tie with Germany.
He has often been linked with a move away from Leipzig since he joined the then-second division side from Malmo in 2015, but has remained put and helped them reach the Champions League knockout stage in the last two seasons.