The grass will be greener for Cheltenham Town next season, in more than one way!

It’s time to dust off your banana suits, cowboy hats and ponchos as it’s fancy dress time again with another football league season drawing to a close. The last few weeks have been beyond nerve racking but with our league status now secured, for the first time this season Robins fans can relax and enjoy a game with no pressure on our players shoulders.

The last match of a league campaign can be absolutely pivotal for some but for the third consecutive year, the result on match-day 46 will have nothing riding on it for Cheltenham Town.

We’ve had a relegation conga at AFC Wimbledon, a promotion party at Macclesfield and now a survival celebration at Portsmouth. But that is in no way indicative of what has been riding on the other 45 matches during the course of the last three seasons.

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The 2016/17 campaign has been eventful to say the least. Hopes were high at the start of the season and many even tipped Cheltenham for back to back promotions, but despite an encouraging start we began to struggle and soon ended up in a relegation battle.

Nonetheless, the players responded. After a busy January transfer window a combination of the old and the new helped the club get over the line to safety, even when circumstances were not in our favour.

Gary Johnson’s absence due to heart surgery since early March did not distract the players from their duty and now along with the team’s fortune, the gaffer is recovering well.

But the supporters have also played an important part. Attendances have steadily improved and that includes an increasing number of supporters travelling to away games, the 12th man initiative last weekend was a fantastic idea and fully paid off in getting the fans through the gates to see us to safety.

Another great success was the crowd funding campaign, and as a result we will now have a brand spanking new scoreboard for next season, hopefully that won’t be the only thing to look forward to in 2017/18 as the club looks to push for a higher league finish on a more adequate playing surface.

There have been complaints about our pitch all season, but in the end it almost worked to our advantage in grinding out vital home wins over Carlisle United, Grimsby Town, Morecambe and Hartlepool.

With tenants Gloucester City moving to Evesham next year, the grass will certainly be greener for Cheltenham Town.

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So from a supporters perspective, who and what have been the stand out achievements and players in this dramatic campaign? Here are a few of my thoughts.

Game of the season- Crewe 1-4 Cheltenham

In terms of importance, many of the last few matches would take this accolade but in terms of quality, few would have expected our best performance to come in an FA Cup first round replay away from home.

In the middle of a busy schedule of League Two fixtures, Cheltenham Town faced a trip up the M6 on a chilly Tuesday evening after holding on to draw 1-1 with Crewe Alexandra in the FA Cup first round.

What followed was nothing short of spectacular, after an uninspiring opening few months of the season, the Robins blew Crewe away as goals from Harry Pell, Jack Barthram, Billy Waters and a belter from Dan Holman helped us romp through to the second round.

In truth Gary Johnson’s side could have scored 10, it was a fantastic night for the travelling 150 or so away supporters and a rare treat in a season of very few away triumphs.

Player of the season- Billy Waters

Choosing Billy is a no brainer really. The 22 year-old excelled in stepping up to the Football League, incredible considering he was a substitute for the majority of the National League title winning campaign.

Waters was a worthy winner of the majority of individual awards on the final home game of the season, including players’ player and fans’ player of the season. He netted 16 goals as club top scorer but it’s not just his exploits in front of goal that have earned him praise.

The former Crewe youth product seems to have a tireless work rate and his stamina and commitment was second to none in helping keep Cheltenham in the EFL. I think I can speak for every Robins fan when I say he deserves to be awarded a new contract extension!

Moment of the season- Cheltenham Town 2-1 Grimsby Town

For some reason, there seems to be a rivalry between Cheltenham Town and Grimsby Town. The 2006 play-off final victory in Cardiff for Cheltenham was at the Mariners expense and ever since there has been a grudge between the two sides.

It all flared up last season when Grimsby were one of the teams challenging Cheltenham for the National League title, the club from Cleethorpes eventually joined the Robins in promotion to the Football League after two hotly contested televised matches.

Cheltenham did the league double over Grimsby last year and the outcome was repeated this season. After consecutive 1-0 victories at Blundell Park, Gary Johnson’s team needed another Easter Monday victory over the Mariners in their penultimate home game of this season.

The Robins delivered and in particular Harry Pell stood out against his former club, scoring a long range screamer and then celebrating in front of the travelling Grimsby fans who had been giving him some stick on social media. It was a wonderful sight for Cheltenham fans who not only enjoyed an important three points but also had the bragging rights.

It was sweet for Pell too, some would call that Karma.

Signing of the season- Scott Brown

This was really hard to call as many of the January signings made a big difference to our plight. But in terms of match winning displays, it’s hard to argue against the fact that cult hero Scott Brown was pivotal in keeping us up.

After keeping a clean sheet against us for Wycombe in December, Brown re-joined Cheltenham Town on loan in January for the first time since leaving in the summer of 2014.

The 32 year-old stopper made crucial penalty saves against Leyton Orient and Morecambe, as well as keeping Cheltenham in matches on numerous occasions with some brilliant stops.

Brown is a fan favourite and will no doubt be one of the first players Gary Johnson will be looking to re-sign next season, his experience, ability and knowledge of the club would no doubt increase our chances of a successful campaign in 2017/18.
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With a busy summer of player recruitment ahead, it’s time to say goodbye to some of our champions. Stalwarts Dan Parslow, Asa Hall and Amari Morgan-Smith departed for York City in January and it’s unlikely that they will return. More are set to inevitably follow, and regardless of some performances this term, all deserve and will receive a warm ovation from the large contingent of travelling CTFC fans this weekend.

I fully expect Gary Johnson and his coaching staff to box clever in the transfer market, and hopefully we can surprise a few with some knock out blows next season.

On top of those coming in, the likes of Billy Waters, Kyle Storer, Danny Wright and Aaron Downes are absolute musts for offering new contracts. With Will Boyle, Harry Pell, Carl Winchester and Dan Holman already signed on for another year, the spine of our team is already starting to take shape.

The benefits of survival couldn’t be put more into perspective as Saturday’s trip to Portsmouth will highlight. As a result of finishing above that dreaded dotted line, the players and supporters can enjoy trips to stadiums like Fratton Park in Portsmouth rather than the likes of Nethermoor Park in Guiseley.

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We all love non-league football and it’s where the roots of our club lie but Cheltenham Town FC have established themselves as a Football League club since the 21st century, and after a couple of rollercoaster seasons, it’s great to be back to where we belong!

Signing Elliott Frear would give Cheltenham Town the fear factor

Cheltenham Town have been linked with a move for Forest Green Rovers winger Elliott Frear, if the deal goes through it could be the signing of the summer by manager Gary Johnson.

The pacey 25 year-old is exactly the sort of player that Cheltenham currently lack and the move would certainly excite Robins’ fans for more than one reason.

 

 

Frear was one of the few players not wearing red and white to shine in the National League last season. As both Gloucestershire sides tussled for the title, the former Exeter City man was a prominent nuisance for defenders and impressed in both meetings between Forest Green and Cheltenham Town.

Frear has netted six goals in each of his last three seasons in the National League during spells with Salisbury FC and Forest Green. Having spent the last two years with latter, he has become a fan favourite due to his pace and creativity out wide.

If he switched the New Lawn for Whaddon Road, Frear would become the second ex-Rovers player to do so this summer. Former Forest Green captain James Jennings joined the club in late May and his old teammate may be persuaded considering there is a prospect of playing in the Football League at stake.

With injuries piling up at Cheltenham Town, manager Johnson looks to be on the hunt for reinforcements out on the flanks. James Dayton is the only out and out wide man at the club and if the Robins are going to deploy a 442 system they are going to need another winger.

 

Frear most certainly fits the bill and weakening one of our rivals, albeit not in the same division, in the process would be another bonus with his signature. However Cheltenham must pay a fee for his services which could be a minor stumbling block.

But if the rumours are true, this could be a cracking piece of business executed by Cheltenham Town.

Is Serge on the verge of an Arsenal return?

Back in 2012, Serge Gnabry was fast becoming Arsene Wenger’s hottest prospect when he was promoted to the Arsenal first team at the tender age of 17. The German winger made his debut against Coventry City in the League Cup and started to feature for the Gunners on a sporadic basis during the 2012/2013 and 2013/2014 seasons, he scored his first and only Arsenal goal to date against Swansea City in September 2013.

Unfortunately for the former Stuttgart youngster, his once promising career looked to be on the verge of collapse after suffering a knee injury in March 2014, shortly after making his most recent appearance for Arsenal at Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The 21 year-old has struggled to recover any sort of consistent form ever since, an unsuccessful loan spell at West Brom threatened the end of his Premier League career, until now.

Gnabry has excelled for Germany at the Olympic Games in Rio this summer, scoring six goals in just five matches. He is guaranteed a medal as Germany are set for a showdown with hosts Brazil in the final on Saturday. In a recent press conference, Arsene Wenger expressed his desire to keep hold of Gnabry, indicating that he could well be part of the Frenchman’s plans this season.

 

Despite his severe lack of first team action over the last couple of years, both Wenger and Germany under 21/ Olympic head coach Horst Hrubesch have shown faith and patience with Gnabry and that is clearly starting to pay off.

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The forgotten man has surged in Rio

 

As many potential stars come and go, particularly at clubs like Arsenal, players like Gnabry are rarely offered a second chance. Especially in a highly competitive squad full of exciting wingers such as Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Theo Walcott, Joel Campbell and Alex Iwobi. But the stocky, quick and prolific Gnabry could be ready to have a go at breaking into the Arsenal squad once again and that is hardly a risk considering he shone at an even younger age.

Despite attracting loan interest from abroad at clubs such as Hertha Berlin, now appears to be the best time to get Gnabry back into the Arsenal ranks, do that and we may start to see the potential he threatened to unleash two years ago.

 

Robbing Bolton is not enough as Wenger confirms Arsenal are holding out for another defender

Arsene Wenger will not be short of absentees on Premier League opening day when his side take on Liverpool at the Emirates, it’s a situation that is becoming all too familiar for Arsenal fans.

Defensively, the Gunners may be without their first choice centre back pairing with Laurent Koscielny recovering from Euro 2016 after reaching the final with France and Per Mertesacker facing up to five months out with a knee injury.

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Injuries as per usual for Arsenal

 

That leaves Arsenal with Gabriel Paulista, Callum Chambers and Rob Holding as potential options to fill in at centre back. However Wenger has admitted that he will look to sign another defender before the transfer window shuts and the Frenchman is under pressure to find top quality.

Rob Holding recently completed a £2.5 million move to the Emirates Stadium after an impressive breakthrough campaign at Bolton Wanderers, where he won player of the season. The 20 year-old has already started to showcase his ability and talent on Arsenal’s pre season tour in the USA, where he even managed to score in the clubs most recent friendly victory against Chivas Guadalajara.

Alongside Callum Chambers, Holding has huge potential and many fans would like to see the young Englishmen forge a partnership together but that could be a risk so early in the season. The future of Arsenal and England’s defence may look bright, but Wenger confirmed he will delve into his transfer kitty in order to find an experienced and proven player to fill in the gap left by Mertesacker, with all the fingers pointing at another German in the shape of Shkodran Mustafi.

Formerly on the books at Everton, Mustafi has kicked on since leaving Goodison Park in 2012 and has since enjoyed a spell at Sampdoria before joining Valencia in 2014. At just 24 years-old the German international has gradually made a name for himself at the Mestalla.

Although without a consistent centre back partner he and Valencia have endured a difficult season. However Mustafi did impress for Germany at Euro 2016 after coming into the side following a Jerome Boateng injury, also managing to score in Die Mannschaft’s group opener against Ukraine.

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Is signing Mustafi a must for Arsenal?

 

The Gunners are also in the market for a new striker with Lyon front man Alexandre Lacazette heavily linked with a move to North London, but Wenger must act quickly if either will line up against Liverpool in just over a week’s time.

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Could Lacazette be the answer to Arsenal’s lack of strikers?

 

At least one gap has been filled in the Arsenal squad, new signing Granit Xhaka is already showing his class in pre-season and looks to be the answer to Arsenal’s lack of steel in holding midfield. But with opening day looming Wenger and the Arsenal board must act quickly to add more, or they will risk falling behind their title rivals.

Euro 2016: Five players that impressed enough to earn transfers this summer

Euro 2016 has finished with Portugal crowned as Champions despite finishing their group in third place and only winning one match in 90 minutes throughout the entire competition. A testament must be made to their team spirit and stamina as well as individual performers such as Renato Sanches and Raphael Guerreiro who have both secured transfers to the Bundesliga this summer.

18 year-old Sanches was tipped to succeed in France as the midfield powerhouse had impressed enough to earn a £40 million move to Bayern Munich. Portugal underwhelmed in the group phase but started to improve in the knockout stages as Sanches came into the side to add some much needed energy and drive into midfield. His man of the match display against Croatia in the last 16 gave him the opportunity to start against Poland in the quarter finals and he did not disappoint. Sanches scored on his first start under coach Fernando Santos  and went on to be involved in both the semi final and final in Paris. The former Benfica man was named young player of the tournament ahead of teammate Guerreiro who made the team of the tournament after dazzling at left back. The 22 year-old will join Sanches in Germany next season as he has signed for Borussia Dortmund.

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Sanches played a pivotal part in Portugal’s success at Euro 2016

 

But other than the Portuguese stars, there were many other stand out performers at Euro 2016 such as Antoine Greizmann, Dimitri Payet, Ivan Perisic, Aaron Ramsey and Jerome Boateng. Here are five influential players who may have gone under the radar and could also be on the move to bigger clubs this summer after their impressive tournament antics.

1-Michael McGovern

Northern Ireland did their nation proud at the Euros, bowing out at the last 16 stage to British neighbours Wales after a 1-0 defeat in Paris. The Green and Whites managed just one victory out of four at the tournament but only conceded three goals, largely down to the heroics of goalkeeper Michael McGovern. The 32 year-old was especially sensational in stopping Germany, making a string of top draw saves during their final group game. McGovern left Scottish side Hamilton at the end of last season and is now available on a free transfer and there will be no shortage of interest in his quest to find a new club. Recently promoted Premier League side Burnley are reportedly interested in his signature.

 

2- Emanuele Giaccherini

Emanuele Giaccherini thrived in Antonio Conte’s 352 system for Italy at Euro 2016. The 31 year-old was a forgotten man just 12 months ago after failing to make an impression in the Premier League with Sunderland. A successful loan spell with Bologna last season reignited his career and he has continued to impress with the Azzurri in France this summer, scoring against Belgium and then featuring in all of their other games up until elimination at the hands of Germany in the quarter finals. Giaccherini is now subject to lots of interest across Europe and a permanent move back to Italy looks to be on the cards. The former Juventus man is available for a cut price £2 million fee and is thought to be closing in on a transfer to Napoli, with Torino also keen.

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Giaccherini is set to return to the Serie A this summer

 

 

3- Jakub Blaszczykowski

Poland were defensively solid at Euro 2016, conceding just two goals, both of which were in the knockout stages. They also provided a threat going forward, Jakub Blaszczykowski scored two and assisted one, arguably standing out as Poland’s best player ahead of Robert Lewandowski. Interestingly, Blaszczykowski also made more tackles than anyone else in France. Having spent last season out on loan at Fiorentina, the 30 year-old returns to Borussia Dortmund this summer looking to regain a place in their squad. However he has been linked with a permanent transfer away from the Westfalenstadion and former boss Jurgen Klopp is keen to bring Blaszczykowski to Liverpool.

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Reunion? Jurgen and Jakub could link up again at Liverpool

 

 

4- Moussa Sissoko

France fell at the final hurdle, losing to Portugal at the Stade de France in Paris. In a star studded squad of high pedigree European players, Moussa Sissoko more than held his own in Didier Deschamps midfield. The 26 year-old was a powerful influence adding pace and strength in driving runs from central and wide positions, attributes only sporadically shown at Newcastle United in recent years. Following the Magpies relegation from the Premier League, Sissoko has expressed a desire to leave St James Park, recently talking up a move to Arsenal. However Newcastle have demanded a £35 million fee for Sissoko but they may be forced to lower their valuation due to being a Championship club next season.

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Will Sissoko stay or go?

 

 

5-Hal Robson-Kanu

At the end of last season, Hal Robson-Kanu was released by Reading. The 27 year-old striker/ winger flew out to Euro 2016 without a club and the Welshman therefore had a lot to prove at the tournament. Wales sensationally made it to the semi finals and Robson-Kanu had stood out after scoring once in the first game and then again in the quarter finals against Belgium, with the second strike winning goal of the campaign. Hull City are keen to bring him to the Premier League but will face competition from other top clubs and a couple from China who are willing to offer big money.

England fans weren’t the only clowns at the Euro 2016 crowd circus

As Portugal were crowned European Champions after a surprising victory over host nation France, the curtains came down on a competition that has been captivating, but not necessarily for the right reasons. There have been close encounters both on and off the pitch with tight matches involving few goals and heavy hearted contests being replicated by fans in the stands, as crowd violence overshadowed the entirety of Euro 2016.

Altercations began in early June as thousands of England fans descended on Marseille for the Three Lions’ group B opener against Russia. Clashes in the streets started to kick off between English supporters, Russian hooligans and Marseille ultras before the match. Not even a heavy police presence could prevent further trouble during and after the game.

Trouble flares up inside the Stade Velodrome

Constant threat and violence followed England supporters afterwards as minority groups of Russian ‘supporters’ attempted to provoke more trouble ahead of their match with Slovakia in Lille, which was just under 40 kilometres away from where England were playing Wales in Lens. It’s worth noting that the behaviour of both English and Welsh fans was near enough impeccable before the Russians turned up, hardly encouraging considering Russia are set to host the World Cup in two years time.

Unfortunately most England supporters were negatively portrayed in the media, when only a small percentage were really at fault. Let’s remember that they weren’t the only set of supporters who were engaging in anti social antics. German, Ukrainian, Croatian, Hungarian, Albanian, Romanian, French and Portuguese fans were amongst others who caused trouble at the tournament.

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Hungary fans showed an appetite for violence ahead of their clash with Iceland

This is a real issue that UEFA must address properly and not just by handing out fines and suspensions to each nations football federation, especially with the prospect of more trouble on an even bigger stage at the World Cup in 2018.

Euro 2016: Five under 21 stars who will be looking to impress on the big stage

As England are set to begin the European Championships with the youngest squad at the tournament it will give our players the chance to showcase their talents and do the nation proud. Marcus Rashford is the youngest player of all the teams travelling to France and he alongside other Premier League wonder kids such as Dele Alli, Hector Bellerin, Divock Origi and Antony Martial will be looking to steal the limelight at Euro 2016. Well established youngsters playing in Europe such as Kingsley Coman, Breel Embolo and Tin Jedvaj are also featuring in the competition but there are many others yet to make a name for themselves.

At all international tournaments new faces emerge and impress, attracting interest from top clubs due to their performances. Here are some prospects under the age of 21 that are worth watching over the next month.

Jason Denayer- Belgium

With Belgium captain Vincent Kompany ruled out of the Euros due to injury, Jason Denayer is set to step in and take his place in defence. The 20 year-old is on the books at Manchester City and has spent two title winning seasons out on loan at Celtic and most recently Galatasaray. Denayer is making rapid progress and is known for his physicality and athleticism, two key attributes as a central defender. He has already made seven international caps and could be a solution to the void in defence for club and country.

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In good Kompany: Denayer shares similar attributes with his international and club captain

 

Emre Mor- Turkey

Turkish football has steadily improved over the years and the national team have a number of top young players in their ranks ready to feature at Euro 2016. The likes Hakan Calhanoglu, Ozan Tufan and Oguzhan Ozyakup are all under the age of 23 but regarded as Turkey’s best players. Now another potential star has been unearthed. Emre Mor is just 18 years-old but the Danish born winger has been selected for international duty at the Euros this summer. Having recently secured a move from FC Nordsjaelland to German giants Borussia Dortmund, Mor’s talents have clearly been spotted and he will bring pace, technical ability and flair to the Turkish flanks in France.

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Euro 2016 will provide mor opportunities for the youngster to impress

 

Viktor Kovalenko- Ukraine

Arguably Ukraine’s most promising talent, Viktor Kovalenko plays in his home country for Shakhtar Donetsk and at just 20 years- old has been touted as one of the world’s future midfield stars. He dazzled at the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2015 winning the golden boot with five goals from attacking midfield and now has the chance to impress at senior level in a major tournament. Despite only making two appearances for the Blue and Yellows, expect Kovalenko to feature regularly in France, alongside another young Ukrainian talent in Oleksandr Zinchenko.

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Could Kovalenko become Ukraine’s next Shevchenko?

 

Leroy Sane- Germany

Schalke winger Leroy Sane has enjoyed an impressive breakthrough season in the Bundesliga. The 20 year-old is admired for his blistering pace and flair that has helped contribute to nine goals for the Gelsenkirchen outfit this season. Sane has gained a place in the highly competitive Germany squad for Euro 2016 after appearing for his country at youth level and if he can replicate his club form for the World Champions, a big money move could be on the cards. With plenty of interest across Europe including from Premier League giants Chelsea and Manchester City, Schalke could face losing their prize asset after the Euros this summer.

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Sane him up: The Schalke wide man is in demand

 

Renato Sanches- Portugal

Bayern Munich have recently signed 18 year-old Renato Sanches from Benfica for £30 million fee that could rise to an astronomical £60m. He is the youngest Portuguese player to go to a major tournament since Cristiano Ronaldo and possesses a rare ability to run with the ball from holding midfield and start attacks. His size and strength are major attributes and confidence plays a key part in how Sanches plays, even at a young age he holds the ability to decide matches and that’s why Bayern moved to sign the Portuguese powerhouse.

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Game changer: Sanches has been likened to Paul Pogba

 

 

 

 

Euro 2016: Which underdog nations could be successful in France?

With the European Championships just a few days away, excitement is building up across the continent and this year the competition contains 24 teams for the first time and therefore promises more action, upsets and entertainment than ever before.

Of course there are many frontrunners and favourites in the tournament who are expected to go far and contend for the title of European Champions including current holders Spain, World Cup winners Germany, hosts France, Italy, Belgium and even a new look England.

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Three time Champions: Can Spain be stopped after winning the Euros in 2008 and 2012

 

Although there are many countries who may have gone unnoticed during the qualifying stages that possess enough quality to reach the later stages of the Euros, against all odds. With dark horses such as Denmark in 1992 and Greece in 2004 winning the competition, who could be the long shots this year?

Poland

The White Eagles stormed through their qualifying group, scoring the most goals and they even managed to overcome Germany in the process. Poland are in a much better position than four years ago when they joint hosted the Euros with Ukraine and failed to make it out of Group A.

The Poles also have one of world football’s most prolific goal scorers in their ranks, Robert Lewandowski. The Bayern Munich striker netted more goals than any other player in the qualifying campaign and is no stranger to success. He is likely to be partnered up front with promising Ajax target man Arkadiusz Milik and so Poland will certainly not be lacking in firepower.

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Reliant Rob: Lewandowski was top scorer in qualifying with 13 goals

 

Experienced defenders Kamil Glik and Lukasz Piszezek provide a strong spine alongside Sevilla holding midfielder Grzegorz Krychowiak, ensuring that Poland will be a side to look out for in France this summer. They make up Group C alongside Germany, geographical neighbours Ukraine and Northern Ireland.

Portugal

Usually regarded as one of European Football’s elite, the Portuguese have failed to make a lasting impact on the international stage in recent years despite usually going far in the Euros. However with a new generation of talent coming into the side through the Primeira Liga, Portugal can boast some promising home grown talent at Euro 2016.

Obviously the fitness and form of Real Madrid superstar Cristiano Ronaldo will largely depend on how far Portugal go but they possess a blend of experience and youth that could see them reach the latter stages in France. Alongside Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, Nani, Ricardo Carvalho, Pepe and Rui Patricio provide maturity in the side.

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Overhaul: Only eight of Portugal’s 23 man squad at Euro 2012 have been included this year

 

Added to that are young but powerful midfielders William Carvalho, Danilo and Renato Sanches who are all products of the Portuguese League’s top three clubs Benfica, Porto and Sporting Lisbon. At just 18 years-old, Sanches has recently completed a big money move from Benfica to Bayern Munich and has a point to prove at the Euros.

Portugal are widely anticipated to ease through Group F with minnows Iceland and Hungary but will face competition for top spot from another highly regarded underdog in Austria.

Croatia

Arguably the strongest side to go under the radar at Euro 2016 are Croatia. Ante Cacic’s side contain some huge names who earn their trade at some of Europe’s top clubs. But previous performances at international tournaments mean that they aren’t as touted for success as they  perhaps should be.

Having not progressed past the group stages of any tournament since Euro 2008, Croatian hopes may not be high but like Portugal they have a mix of proven quality and promising youth in the squad that should bring success this time around. The side boasts an impressive array of attacking talent with a star studded midfield including the likes of Real Madrid pair Luka Modric and Mateo Kovacic, Barcelona playmaker Ivan Rakitic and Inter Milan’s Ivan Perisic and Marcelo Brozovic. Up front Croatia will have well travelled Juventus striker Mario Mandzukic  to target and Nikola Kalinic, who enjoyed a goal filled season at Fiorentina.

With all those attacking options, the work of Croatia’s defence can go unnoticed. Central defensive pair Vedran Corluka and Domagoj Vida lead the back four and 34 year-old captain Darijo Srna will play at right back. 19 year-old Tin Jedvaj provides cover while Monaco keeper Danjel Subasic will be number one between the sticks.

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Defensive duo: Veterans Vedran and Vida helped Croatia concede just five goals in qualifying

 

Make no mistake, Croatia will be a force at Euro 2016 and could go all the way if managed effectively, although they are in one of the toughest groups alongside Spain, Turkey and the Czech Republic.

Should Arsenal fans party over the signing of Jamie Vardy?

Out of absolutely nowhere, Arsenal are on the brink of signing England striker Jamie Vardy from Leicester City after they triggered a £20 million release clause in his contract. A deal is expected to be completed imminently providing the 29 year-old opts to leave the Premier League champions.

Arsene Wenger is in the market for a new striker after Danny Welbeck suffered another huge injury lay off and there is intense pressure on the Frenchman to deliver a stellar signing. So far it has been an uncharacteristic start to summer business by Wenger, but his activity in the transfer market is surely pleasing most Arsenal supporters. With the capture of Granit Xhaka confirmed, the North London outfit could be on the verge of spending £50 million before Euro 2016 has even started.

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Gunner go or stay? Arsene Wenger is determined to get the deal done before Euro 2016

 

Olivier Giroud has lead from the front as Arsenal’s main striker since 2012, however he has become a regular scapegoat when the Gunners misfire. The 29 year-old France international has been labelled as a ‘nearly man’ averaging between 15 and 20 goals a season which is seen as not good enough. Although Giroud managed to notch 28 goals in all competitions this season, one more than Vardy, albeit in more appearances.

For many years Arsenal have been linked with strikers deemed as world class, but does Vardy really fit into that goal scoring elite? Last season he was on fire for the Foxes, netting 24 times including becoming the first player to score in 11 consecutive Premier League matches. He also contributed to more goals than any other player, 30 in total.

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Eleven heaven: Vardy celebrates setting a new record

Vardy has enjoyed a fairy tale rise to the top, he has ascended from playing non league football to becoming a Premier League winner in just five years. But with his age and lack of experience at European level, it is questionable whether the former Fleetwood Town man would be a sustainable buy for Arsenal.

Vardy is used to playing in a very different style to that of which Arsenal advocate, with far less possession. Nevertheless his versatility, high work rate and blistering pace are features that could compliment counter attacking football when Arsenal are on the back foot, as opposed to the slow build up play they usually adopt.

Despite coming off the back of an amazing season, Vardy could still be a risky signing for Arsenal. His quality is for all to see but he would almost certainly be a quick fix rather than a long term solution.

Taking Marcus to the Euros is no rash decision

England have announced their squad for the European Championships ahead of the competitions kick off in just under a week and one controversial inclusion in Roy Hodgson’s  23 man squad is teenage sensation Marcus Rashford.

The 18 year-old Manchester United strikers progression over the last three months has been astonishing. After making his United debut in late February, Rashford has scored eight goals in 18 appearances for the Red Devils and has broken many records along the way. He has netted on his Europa League, Premier League and international debuts as well as becoming the youngest ever scorer in a Manchester derby. This form has warranted a place in the England squad for Euro 2016 and Rashford has become the latest recruit of Roy Hodgson’s youthful revolution.

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Roy Hodgson has named England’s youngest ever European Championships squad

 

It’s safe to say that Rashford has become the most talked about prospect in British football and deserves to go to the Euros based on form. His incredible rise from the shadows and unpredictability provides a perfect fit and the Fletcher Moss product is set to be England’s wildcard in France. Rashford shares many similarities with Wayne Rooney and could follow in the footsteps of his international and club teammate if nurtured in the right way.

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Soccerood: Rashford and Rooney scored both goals for England against Australia

However media hype placed on young and inexperienced players like Rashford could damage their development and so the hopes of our nation must not be pinned entirely upon them. Past experiences with Theo Walcott and Raheem Sterling have proved fruitless and so we must be careful not to place too much pressure on young shoulders, as was the case with Reece Oxford at the start of the season.

 

Hodgson has taken a gamble to rush Rashford into the squad for Euro 2016, but its time England tried something different. His inclusion alongside Dele Alli, Eric Dier, John Stones, Jack Wilshere and Harry Kane may give the Three Lions that extra flair and energy to be successful in France. Even if it doesn’t, the future of English football looks bright.