The Euro 2016 group stages concluded on Wednesday night, and with so many tight matches, it has often been up to wingers to produce a bit of magic and make the difference in the final third. They are the players that teams look to when they need to unlock defences and create vital breakthroughs.
Dimitri Payet’s brilliant goals have papered over the cracks of some average performances from the hosts, whilst Gareth Bale found the back of the net in all three of Wales’ group games.
However, there has been one simply outstanding winger at this year’s European Championships, and his name is Ivan Perisic.
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Who is Ivan Perisic?
The name Ivan Perisic might be unfamiliar to some people, but for fans of European football, he needs no introduction.
The Croatia wide-man made a name for himself during his two-year spell with Borussia Dortmund, where he memorably smashed home a magnificent long-range volley in the Champions League against Arsenal back in 2012.
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He then moved on to Wolfsburg, and impressed last year in his first season at Inter Milan, scoring seven goals and providing six assists. The 27-year-old celebrated his 50th international cap by scoring the winning goal as the Croats came from behind to beat Spain 2-1.
Perisic at Euro 2016
So far at Euro 2016, the talented wing merchant has registered two goals, one assist, and put in three hugely productive displays for his country as they topped Group D ahead of the defending champions. Perisic opened the scoring against the Czech Republic when he carried the ball nearly 30 yards before drilling a low, left-footed shot past Petr Cech.
His winner against Spain was pretty similar, although many people feel that David de Gea could have done better, despite the strike taking a slight deflection off Gerard Pique. Prior to that, Perisic assisted Nikola Kalinic’s equaliser with some inventive wing play and a fantastic delivery.
His excellent start to Euro 2016 means that only legendary striker Davor Suker has been involved in more goals for Croatia at major tournaments than Perisic.
What makes Perisic so good?
The Hajduk Split youth academy product is by no means as electric as a Kingsley Coman or an Eden Hazard, but he is more than quick enough to beat his man on pace alone.
Perisic is a powerful runner with the ball, energetic up and down the flanks and he’s so direct, always driving at and committing defenders. Technically, the Croatian is extremely skilful and he whips in extremely dangerous crosses whenever he’s presented with the opportunity.
What sets him apart from most wingers in the modern game is his power and his diligence with regards to defensive responsibilities. At 6 ft 2 inches tall, Perisic is strong in the air and, unlike most wide-men, he isn’t easily shrugged off the ball in physical battles.
He’s willing to receive the ball to feet as well as run in behind to stretch teams. Crucially, in contrast to someone like England’s Raheem Sterling, his end product is always top-class - which has been clear for the entire continent to see this month.
All of Croatia’s stars, from Perisic and ivan Rakitic pictured above to Luka Modric and captain Darijo Srna, work hard for the team in addition to supplying genuine technical quality. For that reason, along with Tuesday’s victory over Spain, they have to be considered one of the dark horses to win Euro 2016.
Which players do YOU think have been the stars of Euro 2016 so far? Share YOUR opinion in the comments box below!