You know the superstars. The Ada Hegerberg’s, the Vivianne Miedema’s, the Lucy Bronze’s, and the Alexia Putellas’s, but every tournament is so often lit up by a handful of players perhaps unknown to a wider audience, even if those within the game know of their qualities.
With more depth of talent both individually and by nation heading into this week’s European Championships, which kick off at Old Trafford on Wednesday night, OGM picks out one player from each of the 16 teams who could come out of the shadows and end July with a vastly greater reputation around the continent than at the start of the month.
Barbara Dunst, Austria
At 24 years old, Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder Barbara Dunst is heading toward the peak years of her career and very much in peak form. Dunst is one of the most dangerous players in the Bundesliga at popping up at the edge of the box, and her role in the midfield helped Eintracht Frankfurt into the Champions League last season. Dunst had nine goals for her country and has become a mainstay in the midfield under Irene Fuhrmann. Austria’s main source of goals may be Nicole Billa, but keep an eye on this lively midfielder.
Ella Toone, England
With Fran Kirby lacking match fitness, Manchester United’s Ella Toone may well find herself starting in the attacking midfield role at Old Trafford on Wednesday night — and beyond. Toone has burst onto the scene in the past year or two with the club she grew up at and her form for both club and country makes it a reality Toone could be ready to show her quality on the biggest stage. While there is still more consistency needed at international level, it should come if her good form and confidence continues.
Lauren Wade, Northern Ireland
It’s fair to say Northern Ireland may find themselves with their backs to the wall more often than not in Group A, and their attackers may well be feeding on scraps for the most part. There’s no doubt attacking midfielder Rachel Furness is the key outlet for Kenny Shiels’ side, but Glentoran’s Lauren Wade has seven goals for her country now, the latest a superb strike against Belgium last week. If the name is familiar, she scored another spectacular goal for Glasgow City against Wolfsburg in the Champions League two years ago and is capable of the unpredictable.
Tuva Hansen, Norway
It’s taken some time, but 24-year-old Tuva Hansen is now making herself at home for Norway at the heart of defense. She’s just reached 16 caps but has also arguably become the best center back in the Norway side and has earned the speculation that has linked her with some of Europe’s top clubs. With all the attacking talent in the world, the main question marks around Norway surround the defense, but Hansen’s emergence as a top defender can only help their chances.
Janni Thomsen, Denmark
Thomsen’s superb strike against Brazil last week only emphasized her growing reputation as a real breakout star for the 2017 finalists. The strike was her third goal in just 15 caps and she’s settling nicely into the team ahead of the Euros. With plenty of movement, flair and exciting attacking players in front of her able to make bursting runs from midfield toward the box, Thomsen may go under the radar among some of the star names, much to her opposition’s detriment.
Ria Öling, Finland
Finland may be another team up against it this month after being drawn in a group with 2017 finalists Denmark and two of the favorites in Germany and Spain, so they will be relying on their creative spark when chances do come their way. Öling has progressed nicely over the past few years, slotting nicely into life at FC Rosengård and taking on an ever-growing important role for her country. At 27, Öling is in her peak years and is approaching double figures in goals for Finland.
Tabea Waßmuth, Germany
Given Germany’s wealth of attacking talent, it feels like nobody has a guarantee of being in the starting XI right now, but with three tricky games, head coach Martina Voss-Tecklenburg will no doubt utilize the majority of her options and Waßmuth should have a great chance to shine. The Wolfsburg forward was superb in Europe last season, second only to Alexia Putellas in the Champions League scoring charts and has a solid record of five goals in just the 15 appearances for the senior national team side so far. If she’s given the chance, she has a natural eye for goal.
Mariona Caldentey, Spain
In a team so stacked with players from a Barcelona side that has won almost everything over the past two years, picking out someone from the likely starting XI who isn’t well known around the continent is a tricky one. Mariona, though, perhaps doesn’t have the reputation of her club and international teammates such as Alexia, Aitana, and Mapi León, but this could be her chance to take center stage for Spain with the injury-induced absence of Barca teammate Jenni Hermoso. Mariona has been a consistent source of goals for both her club and the national team and her form will go a long way to having a say in how far one of the favorites go this month.
Victoria Pelova, Netherlands
Victoria Pelova is far from guaranteed to start for the Netherlands. which even under new management, houses a very familiar midfield of Sherida Spitse, Jackie Groenen, and Daniëlle van de Donk, but it hasn’t really clicked under Mark Parsons so far. If they are looking for a creative spark, particularly with Van de Donk still working her way back to fitness, Pelova may be who Parsons turns to. The 23-year-old has been on the radar for a few years now and is regularly making an impact off the bench. Perhaps this tournament may just be where Pelova announces herself to the rest of Europe.
Vanessa Marques, Portugal
The fact Portugal didn’t even initially qualify for this tournament shows what they’re up against, and that’s before you take into account they’ll have to face the defending champions and the Olympic silver medalists over the next couple of weeks. But, Francisco Neto does have some exciting talent to call upon and they’re capable of causing teams issues if their attack clicks. Braga’s Marques has already surpassed 80 caps at just 26 years old and has 10 goals from midfield to show for it. The creative playmaker for the likes of Jéssica Silva and Kika Nazareth, Marques may be pulling the strings for Portugal.
Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, Sweden
Rytting Kaneryd is finding top form at just the right time, whether that be for her club or her country. Come the winter transfer window, the tricky midfielder is set to become one of the most in-demand players in Europe given her form for Swedish side BK Häcken, and she’s now taking that into the national team. One of the newer faces in what is a squad filled with experienced players who have been there for several tournaments now, JRK showed what she could do with a superb goal last week against Brazil, and it would be no shock if she turned out to be one of the players of the tournament for a team who could go all the way.
Coumba Sow, Switzerland
It’s fair to say Switzerland isn’t in red-hot form heading into Euro 2022, but Coumba Sow is making herself a really important part of the team ever since her breakthrough in 2018. Capable of getting forward, breaking into the box, and finding the net, Sow has six goals in eight World Cup qualifiers and at 27 is in the peak of her career. She also played a vital role last season for Paris FC as she helped her club side return to the Champions League and is heading into the tournament brimming with confidence.
Amber Tysiak, Belgium
Five goals in 16 senior caps would be impressive for any young 22-year-old breaking into a senior national team setup, but even more impressive when you consider Tysiak is a defender. Impressively, she bagged a hat trick in a World Cup qualifier at the end of last year and is a threat for her nation at both ends of the pitch. Belgium may be in for a tough tournament, but Tysiak is a shining light for the Red Flames.
Clara Matéo, France
If you ignore the all-star attack, it’s more intriguing to look elsewhere for someone who may burst onto the international stage this summer. That role may fall to 24-year-old Clara Matéo, one of Paris FC’s key players. Matéo only has 12 caps for her country, but she has started both of her nation’s warm-up games and for that reason looks set to be the main creative player with the honor of supplying one of the most exciting attacks in the tournament. If she gets it right, everyone may know Matéo’s name come the end of July.
Karólína Lea Vilhjálmsdóttir, Iceland
Iceland has it tough against the likes of France and Italy, but with good form and some exciting players at the top end of the pitch, there’s no reason they couldn’t spring a surprise or two this summer. Most eyes will be on their exciting young striker, but her domestic rival in Bayern Munich’s Vilhjálmsdóttir is already just as important and a year younger at just 20. With seven goals in 18 caps, Vilhjálmsdóttir is nowhere near her peak yet already performing for her national team and playing for one of the top clubs in Europe.
Valentina Bergamaschi, Italy
Could this be Italy’s year? They had a good World Cup and the game domestically is well on the up, and given they haven’t quite made it on the world stage in the past decade, you could argue many of their star players are potentially lesser known on the continent, including the likes of Cristiana Girelli and Barbara Bonansea. Valentina Bergamaschi; though; is playing well, adding goals from the midfield, including against Spain in their most recent warm-up game. In a team getting the “dark horse” label, you could pick a handful of Italy players for this role, but Bergamaschi is one on the up.