When you ask people the best thing about an international tournament they will normally say the same thing. Falling in love with a team or player that you hadn’t really watched before.
Whilst there are some people who may not like the expanded format of the European Championships and the World Cup, there’s no doubt that it gives more opportunities to find that love.
Ahead of Euro 2020 we have taken a look at nine players who you will want to keep an eye on. There are some you may have heard of and some you may not have. Some are old, some are young. The key is that they are set to play an important role for a team who are not one of the favourites.
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Burak Yilmaz – Turkey

We start with a Golden Oldie.
Burak Yilmaz has had a fantastic season in France, his goals propelling Lille to a stunning Ligue 1 title victory and he looks set to play a similar role for Turkey.

Burak Yilmaz célèbre son but lors de la rencontre OL - LOSC (2-3), lors de la 34e journée de Ligue 1

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Despite being 35 years of age he still is a talisman for the Turkish team and he will captain the side. As we will talk about later on Turkey has a fabulous crop of young players coming in but Yilmaz is still there to keep things under control.
At the Euros expect him to play in a front two. He’ll normally be partnered by one of Yusuf Yazici or Kenan Karaman. They will bring the pace, he brings the nous and finishing ability.

Illya Zabarnyi – Ukraine

There’s an old school of thought that says the hardest position to come into as a teenager is central defence. You are often up against the opposition’s best player and there is a level of mental knowledge that often only comes with experience.
That’s why when an 18-year-old kid starts in the Stade de France against the world champions and helps his team earn a 1-1 draw you sit up and take notice.

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 24: Kylian Mbappe of France reacts as he is challenged by Illya Zabarnyi of Ukraine during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between France and Ukraine on March 24, 2021 in Paris, France.

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It’s just the latest step in a journey that seems destined to the top for Illya Zabarnyi, a truly special individual. Nothing seems to faze this kid, he reads the game brilliantly and of course, for any young defender, he’s good on the ball. He will play probably on the right side of Andriy Shevchenko’s three central defenders and they have a real chance of getting out of their group as runners-up or even winners.

Ethan Ampadu – Wales

You may be surprised to see Ampadu’s name here, given he didn’t exactly pull up trees for Sheffield United this season but there is no doubting his importance for Wales.
His club future may be split between centre-back and central midfield but he is an out and out midfielder for Wales, and a vital player in that area of the pitch. Ampadu is a complete player, he can win the ball back, bring it forward and then find the key pass to get someone like Aaron Ramsey or Gareth Bale in behind.

LAGOS, PORTUGAL - MAY 29: Ethan Ampadu of Wales during a Training Session on May 29, 2021 in Lagos, Portugal.

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If Rob Page sticks with the 3-4-3 system that has served Wales well, and we expect him to, then Ampadu will be one of the two central players. A big responsibility perhaps, but he has shown so far that he can absolutely handle it. A good Euros might be able to give his club career a real shot in the arm.

Enis Bardhi – North Macedonia

Bardhi’s story is a fascinating one. He was born in Skopje to an Albanian father and a Kosovan mother. He shone for local team Skupi FC and earned a contract in the youth system of Danish giants Brondby. Things didn’t work out and he had to rebuild in the Swedish Second Division before eventually moving to Hungary and then being plucked out of obscurity by La Liga side Levante.
Bardhi is a true technician, he takes all set-pieces (no player in Spain has scored more free-kicks than him since his arrival except Lionel Messi) and he has a fierce shot from distance. There is a sense that we are yet to see the best of Bardhi and this could be his coming out party.

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MARCH 19: Carlos Clerc of Levante and Enis Bardhi of Levante prepare to take a free kick during the La Liga Santander match between Real Betis and Levante UD at Estadio Benito Villamarin on March 19, 2021 in Seville, Spain.

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One thing to note is that Bardhi has tested positive for Covid-19. Thankfully he is asymptomatic and North Macedonia are hopeful that he will be fully fit for the tournament, after missing the warm-up friendlies. If you’re playing fantasy football then get him in your team.

Aleksandr Golovin – Russia

Speaking of getting someone in your fantasy football team. Since his surprise move to Monaco Golovin has disappeared out of the public discourse somewhat. Let’s remember that Golovin lit up the 2018 World Cup, but then chose to move to Monaco when it was reported that Chelsea were also interested.
Golovin has struggled at times in France, particularly with injury, but we are slowly starting to see his very best stuff, he finished the Ligue 1 season with 14 goal contributions (5G 9A).

WROCLAW, POLAND - JUNE 01: Aleksandr Golovin of Russia reacts during the international friendly match between Poland and Russia at the Municipal Stadium on June 01, 2021 in Wroclaw, Poland

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Russia are likely to use either a 3-5-2 or a 4-2-3-1 (shout-out Yuri Zhirkov still holding things down at left wing-back) so Golovin will either play as the 10 or the most advanced of three central midfielders. All of Russia’s goodness goes through him and if teams want to stop them, then they have to stop him.

Jonas Wind – Denmark

This one is a bit of a wildcard. By and large most of the players on this list are expected to be starters for their team. Wind is a bit of a roll of the dice mostly because we really don’t know who will be starting up front for Denmark.
Theoretically it should be one of Yussuf Poulsen or Martin Braithwaite, two more experienced players who play in two of the biggest leagues in the world. But they are both struggling for form and manager Kasper Hjulmand has begun to experiment with shifting one of them wider, giving Wind a chance in front of Christian Eriksen.

RANDERS, DENMARK - MAY 24: Jonas Wind of FC Kobenhavn controls the ball during the Danish 3F Superliga match between Randers FC and FC Copenhagen at Cepheus Park on May 24, 2021 in Randers, Denmark

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Wind is a sizeable target but he is also very deft with his feet. Think Peter Crouch or Edin Dzeko. He is a really interesting prospect who is still just 22 and being linked to West Ham. It’s a bit of a risk given he’s coming into the tournament off a knee injury but he did play in Copenhagen’s final four matches of the season. He could be the ace up Hjulmand’s sleeve.

Ozan Tufan – Turkey

Our second Turkish player and there is a good reason for that. There is a real golden generation happening in Turkey right now and if Yilmaz is the guiding hand than Tufan is the engine.
This Turkey team has just two players over 30 (Yilmaz and goalkeeper Mert Gunok) so at 26 Tufan is one of the more experienced players in the squad. For reference, Turkey are the youngest squad in the tournament with an average age of just 24 years and 11 months, just ahead of England (25 years and three months).

ANTALYA, TURKEY - MAY 28: Ozan Tufan of Turkey National Football Team attends a training session within Turkey's National Football Team's preparations for Euro 2020 in Antalya, Turkey on May 28, 2021.

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Only six players in Turkey had more assists than Tufan’s eight this season and he even chipped in with six goals and he’s no slouch defensively, he is a really complete midfielder. He’ll have more attacking license for Turkey as he plays next to West Brom midfielder Okay Yokuslu.

Kacper Kozlowski – Poland

In five years Kozlowski is going to be included in one of two types of article. He will either be in a “best players to watch at the 2026 World Cup” article or a “Remember these Football Manager Wonderkids? This is where they’re at now.”
In all seriousness, Kozlowski is a lot more than just a video game wonderkid, he is a seriously talented footballer. Primarily a No 10 Kozlowski has wonderful close control, great dribbling and an eye for a pass.

WARSAW, POLAND - 2021/03/28: Kacper Kozlowski of Poland in action during the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qatar qualifying match between Poland and Andorra at Marshal Jozef Pilsudski Legia Warsaw Municipal Stadium. (Final score; Poland 3:0 Andorra)

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He is the youngest player in the tournament and only made his international debut in March. He actually made his debut in Poland two years ago at the age of 15, the third youngest player in the league’s history.
He might have been even further along in his career had it not been for a horrendous car crash he was involved in last year. He couldn’t train for six months and had to rebuild himself to get back to where he was. He has done that and was on the bench when Poland played England at Wembley in the spring.
Poland have a strong core of attacking options and can often end up using either Krzysztof Piatek or Arkadiusz Milik as a 10 with the other partnered next to Robert Lewandowski. That can mean no place for Kozlowski but if they need a goal or to mix things up you can be sure Paulo Sousa won’t be afraid to go to him.

Goran Pandev – North Macedonia

We end with the fourth-oldest player at the tournament. It may surprise some to see that Pandev is even playing at the ripe old age of 37 but he is not only playing he provides a key role for North Macedonia as the captain.
Of course if you were on social media during the last international break you will have seen the incredible scenes as Pandev helped North Macedonia shock Germany, a real sign of their talent.
Pandev’s pace may be long gone but he works extremely hard, and of course his left foot is still a very dangerous weapon. He is usually one of a front two in a 3-1-4-2/5-3-2 that gives midfielders Bardhi and Napoli’s Eljif Elmas the opportunities to roam. Underestimate this team and Pandev at your profile.

North Macedonia's forward Goran Pandev celebrates scoring the opening goal during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 qualification football match Germany v North Macedonia in Duisburg, western Germany on March 31, 2021

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