Euros 2024 - Five surprise wildcards to watch out for from game week one

Published on 18 June 2024 at 13:00

michel aebischer - 

Switzerland and Bologna

The defensive midfielder was integral to Switzerland's opening group game win against Hungary, becoming the first Swiss international ever to score a goal and get an assist at a European Championships.

A graduate at Young Boys he was part of the 17-18 team who lifted Young Boys first Swiss Super League title in 32 years and starred in the club's first Champions League journey since 1986-87.

The three time Swiss Super League champion unlocked the Hungary defense in 12th minute with a through-ball to striker Kwadwo Duah who opened the scoring with a composed finish into the bottom right corner. 

In a dominant display from Switzerland, Aebischer was ever-present in the heart of midfield alongside Bologna teammate Remo Freuler and Leverkusen captain Granit Xhaka. 

But he has had to wait for his opportunity in the national side, in Murat Yakin's 2022 World Cup squad he played just 16 minutes during their journey to the Round.16 where he was behind Djibril Sow in the pecking order.

But at the Euros his versatility and form has presented him with a starting opportunity. And the cusp of half-time he took his chance, the 27 year old claimed his first international goal for his country with a low driven 25 yard strike which beat Peter Gulacsi in goal and gave his team a commanding lead going into the break.

He has enjoyed a fairy-tale campaign under manager Thiago Motta at Bologna this season, as the Italians have qualified for the Champions League for the first time since 1964-65 finishing fourth in Serie A.

riccardo calafiori

Italy and Bologna

It is hard to believe that the centre-back had yet to make his international debut prior to Luciano Spalletti announcing his preliminary squad for Euro 2024 in May. His international debut in a friendly against Türkiye came just 11 days before the Azzuri's opening day victory over Albania in group B.

Yet, the 22 year old started his first ever competitive match for Italy in their 2-1 win against Albania which was only his third cap where he put in an assured solid performance.

Calafiori has been on a journey to get to this international tournament, in 2018 he suffered a knee injury which ruled him out for up to a year and after struggling to find first-team minutes at AS Roma he joined FC Basel permanently to revive his career, reaching the Europa Conference League semi-finals.

He has the appearance and aura of the traditional stalwart Italian defender from the early 2000's with his long hair and chiselled jawline. Similar to Paolo Maldini the former AS Roma academy graduate was a left-back until transitioning this season to centre-back.

After returning to Italy last summer, joining Bologna for £4m Thiago Motta decided to switch his position and reaped the benefits of having a ball-playing centre-back who is capable of driving forward and recording a pass accuracy of 89.8%.

In a rebuilt Italy side where only eight of the Euro 2020 winning side remain, Calafiori has seized his opportunity and looks destined to be a ever-present in his countries back-line for years to come.


Nicolae stanciu

Romania and Damac

The attacking midfielder is a cult hero in Romania, and is potentially one of their most successful players in the last decade becoming a serial winner across Europe.

He has had a nomadic career, venturing to five different nations during his fifteen year career so far. In 2016 he became the Belgian Pro League's most expensive transfer ever joining Anderlecht for £9.8m where he won a cup double before joining Czech side Sparta Prague.

 One of his countries most exciting prospects, the 31 year old has never managed to settle in Europe and is currently playing in his second stint in the Saudi Pro League with Damac.

After making his international debut in 2016 against Lithuania he made it into manager Anghel Iordanescu's Euro 2016 squad and starred in the tournament opener against hosts France winning a penalty for his nation.

He arrived at Euro 2024 as one of the senior leaders in this exciting Romania team and delivered a captain's performance in their group opener against Ukraine. After a goalkeeping mistake from Andriy Lunin he latched onto his teammates pass to hit a first time screamer into the top right corner and score his countries first of three goals in the 3-0 win.

He has the potential to lead this promising Romania team into the knock-outs for the first time since 2004 at the European Championships.


fabian ruiz:

Spain and PSG

The star of Spain's opening day 3-0 rout over Croatia, Fabian is not the archetypal Spaniard spending most of his career abroad in Italy and France. If not for Gavi's ACL injury ruling him out of Euro 2024, the 28 year old would have been on the bench in Luis De La Fuente's first competitive game in charge.

But, the PSG playmaker seized his opportunity against Croatia scoring an early contender for goal of the tournament. Collecting the ball from Pedri he slalomed his way through the Croatian defence with his deft footwork before accurately striking a low driven shot into the goal to make it 2-0.

He was integral to the opening goal too, slotting in Alvaro Morata who finished past Dominik Livakovic to become the third all-time top scorer at the European Championships.

After joining Napoli in 2018, he developed into one of Europe's most exciting midfielders and after four seasons in Naples he joined the French Champions in a cut-price £21m deal.

Compared to his international midfield teammates like Rodri, Pedri and Merino he has the capability of scoring and is a talented attacker who will make runs into the box and create goalscoring opportunities.

For most of his career he has gone under-the-radar, but this European Championships could be his major opportunity to showcase his quality on a global stage.

benjamin sesko:

Slovenia & RB Leipzig

In Slovenia's opening 1-1 draw against Denmark, Sesko showcased exactly why Europe's top club's are fighting for his signature next summer. The 21 year old failed to score, but made a nuisance of himself and hit the woodwork twice.

The RB Leipzig striker looked extremely sharp and demonstrated his instinctive goalscoring desire, where he rattled the right post with a powerful strike which he created from nothing.

He was well marshalled by the Danish defence, but it was his movement and persistence which was very impressive. He looked strong in holding the ball up, but also nimble in navigating his way out of tight areas.

After a flourishing debut season for Leipzig scoring 14 goals in 31 Bundesliga matches, he will be Slovenia's most influential player in their hopes of causing an upset in group C and reaching the knock-outs.

Against Serbia his pace and physicality could cause an ageing back-line real problems, and he can definitely give England a headache in the final group game.

 Unfortunatley in Slovenia's defensive system he is starved of quality service, but even if his team fail to impress at this Euros his performances will certainly increase his stock for potential suitors

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