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With the action done and dusted in Euro 2016 Group A two teams are safely through to the last 16 – group winners France and second place Switzerland – while Albania’s 1-0 win over Romania means they face a nervy wait to find out if they qualify as one of the four best third-placed nations.
In what was dubbed by some as the weakest group of the lot, here are the top five players who stood out for their countries, counting from number five down to our number one pick…
Euro 2016 – Group A: Top five players
5) Ledian Memushaj, Albania
29-year-old Pescara midfielder Ledian Memushaj didn’t even start Albania’s opening game, with Taulant Xhaka, older brother of new Arsenal midfielder Granit, preferred in the centre of the park.
But changes were made following Albania’s 1-0 defeat to the Swiss, and Memushaj came in to the side to put in a noteworthy performance against France. He then followed that up with a man of the match display to help Albania register their first ever win at a European Championships, sparking wild scenes both among players and staff and supporters back home.
— Just Football (@JustFootball) June 19, 2016
Against France Memushaj was a busy, dependable presence. His four shots alone were more than half the seven attempts Albania mustered all game against Switzerland, and he added energy and thrust in midfield, beating his man five times, winning fouls and making tackles.
Memushaj was also the standout player in Albania’s historic 1-0 win over Romania. He broke through the lines regularly, created seven chances both in open play and through pinpoint set-piece delivery, and put in a perfect cross for Armando Sadiku to nod home the winner.
4) Yann Sommer, Switzerland
Named by us as Switzerland’s star player in game one, Yann Sommer is having a fine tournament so far and can be considered one of the best goalkeepers at Euro 2016 in the opening round of games.
Sommer made two vital saves in Switzerland‘s narrow 1-0 win against 10-man Albania in game one, and has continued to both safeguard his goal and marshal his defence very well. Indeed the only goal the 27-year-old has conceded at Euro 2016 so far was from the penalty spot against Romania.
The Borussia Monchengladbach stopper was reportedly watched several times by Manchester City last season, and told Bild he ‘will listen to offers from England’. First he has a last 16 game to prepare for.
3) Granit Xhaka, Switzerland
Faced with the testing task of playing against his own brother Taulant in Switzerland’s opening game, Granit Xhaka passed with flying colours, dominating midfield with an exceptional 102 passes completed, though there is of course the caveat that opponents Albania had ten men for over half the game.
To prove this was no one off, though, Xhaka followed that performance up with two more first-rate showings, against Romania and France. Against Romania, Switzerland completely controlled possession with 67% of the ball, and Arsenal’s new signing Xhaka completed another 95 passes in the centre of the park – amounting to 20.9% of all 455 passes the Swiss completed on the day.
Against France that figure went up: Xhaka’s 85 completed passes amounted to 30% of the Swiss total against the hosts. Xhaka was also very vigilant in keeping an eye on Antoine Griezmann, sticking close to his man any time France looked to provide Griezmann the ball in central areas.
UEFA have twice awarded Xhaka their man of the match award and Arsenal fans have cause for excitement based on what they’ve seen so far.
— UEFA EURO 2016 (@UEFAEURO) June 20, 2016
2) N’Golo Kante, France
When asked to assess France’s Euro 2016 chances on the BBC, Thierry Henry picked out one man for special praise: the indefatigable N’Golo Kante.
“For me he’s been the most consistent player,” the former Arsenal man enthused. “I think he’s the guy who has most surprised people in France. He’s the first player to stop the opposition’s attacks and the first to trigger the counter-attack.”
To Premier League aficionados and followers of Leicester City such words will come as no surprise. Nominated for PFA Player of the Year, Kante has picked up in France where he left off in Leicester. The little gem made more interceptions and passes and covered more distance than anyone on the field in France’s 2-1 win over Romania, before another assured display as France beat Albania 2-0.
Rested by Didier Deschamps for the third game, Kante has completely flipped the script when discussing France’s midfield. No longer is the discussion “Who joins Pogba in midfield?” but rather, “Which two midfielders should partner Kante?”
If it's true that N'Golo Kante has a release clause I don't see why every major club in Europe hasn't triggered it yet. Elite player. #FRA
— Jonathan Fadugba (@JFfutbol) June 10, 2016
1) Dimitri Payet, France
An early contender for player of the tournament, Dimitri Payet has embodied all the joy and fun of Euro 2016 so far with some magnificent showings.
Moved to tears by the emotion of his sensational late winner against Romania, Payet continued that form against Albania, helping to finally break the resilient underdogs down late on with six chances created and an emphatic second goal to kill the Albanians off.
Payetmania has since taken over France, a new star emerging on the big stage to eclipse players like Paul Pogba and Antoine Griezmann, who both received far more attention pre-tournament.
— UEFA EURO 2016 (@Euro16Updates) June 10, 2016
“Dimitri has come a long way and gave everything to be where he is today,” Deschamps said of his mercurial number eight after the Romania game.
Payet himself seems to be loving life, coming off the bench against Switzerland to strike the woodwork with a thunderous effort. Though there is of course a long way to go, if Payet keeps this up then Euro 2016 could be the crowning moment of his career.
Who were the standout performers in Group A in your opinion? Agree with our ratings? Let us know below or on Twitter @JustFootball or Facebook. And follow Just Football for more football news, views and analysis throughout Euro 2016 and beyond.
(main image credit: @UEFAEuro via Twitter.)