Euro 2020 kicks off this Friday with Italy vs. Turkey in Rome — stream LIVE, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN/ESPN+ (U.S. only) — but who are the players on every team that you need to know before the real fun begins over the weekend? ESPN senior writer Gab Marcotti runs through all 24 teams and picks out the STAR MAN (player likely to make the biggest impact) and GAB’S GUY (the lesser-known, under-the-radar player who could break out on the big stage).
- Euro 2020 on ESPN: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)
- European Soccer Pick ‘Em: Compete to win $10,000
- Euro 2020 bracket and fixture schedule
AUSTRIA (Group C)
STAR MAN: David Alaba (DF, 28 years old, Bayern Munich/will join Real Madrid)
Even before you get to what he does on the pitch, you realize David Alaba is a poster boy for globalization. His mother is Filipino (and a former beauty pageant contestant). His dad is a Nigerian prince (and a DJ). His sister is a pop star. He’s Vienna born-and-bred, spent most of his career in Munich and is moving to Real Madrid as a free agent. He made his name as a left-back and played center-back much of last season, but will likely play in attacking midfield for Austria at the Euros.
Alaba is a defensive star at the club level, but he’ll get to show more of his attacking skills for Austria at the Euros. Joerg Mitter - UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images
Total player. Total football. Total versatility. In fact, if Alaba wasn’t so good at so many things — and if he was a touch less humble and a dollop more egomaniacal — he might be appreciated even more. At Bayern, he leaves the spotlight to others; with Austria, he leads the way.
GAB’S GUY: Christoph Baumgartner (MF, 21, TSG Hoffenheim)
Not to be confused with the near-eponymous Baumgartlinger (that would be Julian, also a midfielder and Austria’s captain) or indeed Bumgarner (that would be Madison, a pitcher for the Arizona Diamondbacks), Baumgartner is an attacking midfielder and a goal threat from distance.
BELGIUM (Group B)
STAR MAN: Romelu Lukaku (FW, 28, Inter Milan)
The big man is already the leading scorer in the history of the Belgium national team — in fact, his 60 goals are almost as many as the next two combined — and while he’s always been prolific, the past two years have seen him evolve from a strong, direct striker to a more subtle offensive leader, capable of assisting and providing service for teammates.
It’s likely the quality was always there, but it’s almost too easy for managers to typecast the guys who are bigger, stronger and faster than everybody else as just target men. Lukaku also speaks six languages, is probably one of the more intelligent footballers you’ll meet, and, as his own story in his own words suggests, definitely one of the more perceptive and self-aware.
GAB’S GUY: Youri Tielemans (MF, 24, Leicester City)
On a team with so much attacking talent (Kevin De Bruyne, Dries Mertens, Lukaku, Eden Hazard, Jeremy Doku) somebody has to man the fort in midfield, and it’s going to be him. Though given his quality, eye for goal and ballistic prowess (witness the game winning goal he scored in the FA Cup final), he probably could do a fine job further forward as well.