Surprises abounded in the round robin portion of Euro 2016. Wales won Group B, ahead of England, Russia, and Slovakia. Tiny Iceland was able to draw with Portugal. And defending champion Spain were ousted from top-spot in Group D by Croatia.
The best performances of the tournament have also come from some unlikely sources. Well, not entirely; Gareth Bale has been a difference-maker, as expected, as has Andres Iniesta. But Cristiano Ronaldo has been a major disappointment.
Who’s going to take home the tournament’s “Best Player” award when all is said and done? Chances are the award is going to go to a player on the winning team: back in 2012, Iniesta got the nod after leading Spain to its second straight title; in 2008, it was his teammate Xavi. So the favorites for the individual hardware largely reside on the favorites for the tournament, as a whole. Let’s take a look and try to find some value.
Alvaro Morata has been the best striker in the tournament, scoring three times in three games. He has grown so much over the last two seasons, evolving from a young player with a ton of promise to a top-level playmaker who makes his mark on the biggest stages. He understands his role in the Spanish team and doesn’t try to do to much; he lets his talented teammates set up the play and then buries his chances in the box.
Dimitri Payet was a relative afterthought on the French team before his beautiful strike against Romania in the opening game of the tournament. No one else is really stepping up for the French team in the absence of Karim Benzema. If Payet, a talented midfielder, can lead his team to at least the finals, he has a huge chance to be named the tournament’s top player.
Perhaps no player is as important to his team as Andres Iniesta is for Spain. If the little magician is not having a great day, the Spanish offense does not work. He doesn’t score the goals so he doesn’t get a ton of the attention (like Morata), but Spain will only go as far as Iniesta takes them.
Did I just say “no player is as important to his team as Andres Iniesta is for Spain”? Scratch that. No player is as important to his team as Gareth Bale is for Wales. Bale is tied with Morata with three goals in three matches and led Wales to a first-place finish in Group B. If they gave out an MVP for the round robin portion, Bale would win it hands-down. But they’re still massive longshots to make a deep run and that hurts the Welshman’s chances at being named the top player of the tourney.
Ronaldo is not having a good Euro. He’s yet to score and his team has looked flat on offense. Yet, he’s still the second-best player in the world and has the ability to change a game … and the entire Euro outlook … in a flash. Don’t count him out yet.
Paul Pogba (France): 12/1
Thomas Muller (Germany): 13/1
Mesut Ozil (Germany): 17/1
Antoine Griezmann (France): 18/1
Harry Kane (England): 19/1
Payet looks like the best bet here. France is destined to go far in this tournament and he’s the best player on the team through the first two weeks of the tournament. Spain have a very tough road to the final now after finishing second in their group and, even if they do win a third straight Euro, it’s hard to say whether Morata or Iniesta will be the team’s MVP.
(Photo Credit: Jon Candy (Flickr) [CC BY-SA 2.0 [http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.)
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