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Four unsung heroes from the Euro 2016 group stage

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The group stage of Euro 2016 is now over, and the original 24 teams have been whittled down to marginally fewer teams for the knockout stages. With one or two exceptions, the tournament has yet to fully explode into life, but there have been some notable performances.

So far, the majority of headlines have been grabbed by the big names, but there have been plenty of excellent performers who have been quietly but effectively aiding their team’s progress.

Here are four players who have not been overloaded with plaudits, despite contributing massively to the opening games of Euro 2016.

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Fabian Schar (Switzerland)

Switzerland have developed a reputation over the years for having relatively defensive and unexciting teams. The current crop are actually quite attack minded, with no shortage of flair. However, their results so far will do nothing to help shed that undeserved image.

Despite emerging unbeaten from a group including favourites France, and a talented Romania side, Switzerland managed this despite only scoring twice. Their resolute defence, superbly marshalled by the excellent Fabian Schar, has been the catalyst for this progress.

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The 24-year-old Hoffenheim centre-half is still relatively young but has barely put a foot wrong so far. He has been strong in the air, superb positionally, and his distribution from the back has been outstanding. In addition to keeping it tight at the back, he even chipped in with a goal in their opening game against Albania.

Michal Pazdan (Poland)

Poland were not overly burdened with expectations coming into the tournament. They have gone on to produce three highly efficient performances to allow them to qualify unbeaten from the group stage.

Along with their group rivals Germany, they achieved the impressive feat of getting through their opening three games without conceding - an accolade which no other team in the tournament can boast.

Germany v Poland - Group C: UEFA Euro 2016

With just 37% of possession in each of their games against Germany and Ukraine, the Poles have relied to a large degree on their defence. So far, Michal Pazdan has been one of the key reasons that the defence has managed to avoid being breached.

The 28-year-old Legia Warsaw star put in a man of the match performance in the goalless draw against Germany and has been a commanding physical presence throughout Poland’s opening games. He may not have grabbed too many headlines, but his performances have not gone unnoticed, with a number of Premier League and Championship sides rumoured to be interested in bringing him to England after the Euros.

Milan Badelj (Croatia)

On paper, Group D was definitely one of the tougher groups in Euro 2016. The fact that Croatia managed to top the group ahead of Spain is largely down to the impressive performances from their midfield.

Croatia v Spain - Group D: UEFA Euro 2016

Luka Modric, along with the two Ivans, Perisic and Rakitic, have aided the team's cause considerably by contributing four of Croatia’s five goals so far. However, the platform for these impressive goal scoring exploits has been provided by the excellent performances of the deeper lying midfielder Milan Badelj.

Badelj has provided an excellent link between defence and attack, with much of Croatia’s play being channelled through the 27-year-old Fiorentina star. Indeed, no Croatian player completed more passes than Badelj in Croatia’s outstanding 2-1 victory over Spain.

The top half of the draw seems to have opened up, and some Croatia fans will already be daring to dream of eclipsing their previous best performances of reaching the quarter-finals in 1996 and 2008. If Badelj continues to perform at the level he has so far, then they have every chance of doing just that.

Zoltan Gera (Hungary)

It’s hard to argue that Hungary were anything other than extremely fortunate in their draw for the group stages. In saying that, Austria and Iceland are far stronger teams that a lot of people give them credit for, and a Portugal side containing Cristiano Ronaldo will always be a danger to any opposition.

Hungary v Portugal - Group F: UEFA Euro 2016

Regardless of the quality of their opponents, Hungary have won over some new admirers with the nature of their performances so far. The fact that Balazs Dzsudzsak and Cristiano Ronaldo scored two goals apiece in the 3-3 thriller against Portugal has ensured that Zoltan Gera’s spectacular opener hasn’t dominated the headlines as much as it might otherwise have done.

Aside from that eye-catching goal, Gera has also rolled back the years with his performances in the opening two matches against Austria and Iceland.

37-year-old Gera is no stranger to English football fans, having spent around ten years of his career in the English leagues with West Bromwich Albion and Fulham. Now at Ferencvaros, the veteran midfielder is aiming to finish his international career with a bang.

Hungary have already gone further than they probably expected, but Gera could yet extend the fairytale end to his career even further.

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Topics:
Wales
Euro 2016
England Football
Football
Zoltan Gera

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