How will the Gulf contingent fare at Euro 2016?
Whilst the tournament is a purely European affair, the Gulf will also be represented
International football sometimes comes with a less than glowing reputation. Club managers bemoan the number of fixtures, with players often weary from playing meaningless friendlies which risk their fitness. But despite all this, major tournaments - like Euro 2016 - provide the sparkle that makes the sport glint.
Indeed, the European Championships are something to be savored, with the best of the continent’s international game coming together to compete against each other over a month of almost constant football. France will host 24 teams and 552 players, with a route to the final in Paris on July 10 already being plotted.
But whilst the tournament is a purely European affair, the Gulf will also be represented. Clubs from the region have sent players to the competition for the month, pulling up a seat at the sport’s top table in an illustration of how the stature of Gulf football is growing. So how will they fare?
Vladimir Weiss (Slovakia)
It’s not so long since the Slovakian was considered one of the brightest young talents in English football, breaking through as a teenager at Manchester City. His career never quite lived up to such a billing, now playing for Al-Gharafa in the Qatar Stars League, but he remains one of his national team’s key figures heading into this summer’s European Championships.
Slovakia find themselves in a challenging group, alongside England, Wales and Russia, but Weiss has always been a player for the big occasion and so a clash against the country of his professional breakthrough might give him the drive that is sometimes lacking from his play.
Krisztian Nemeth (Hungary)
At just 27 years old Nemeth has managed to pack rather a lot into a still relatively fledgling career. He currently finds himself at Al-Gharafa, playing alongside Weiss, after making the move to Qatar from Sporting KC in MLS. He counts no fewer than 11 clubs on his resume, struggling to take root at any of them.
His record at international level isn’t much better either, netting just three times in 23 appearances for Hungary. Although for Bernd Storck’s side he doesn’t play as a central striker, like he has for much of his career. Instead he is used on the right wing, dovetailing with Zoltan Gera through the center of the pitch.
Ordinarily Hungary would be considered major tournament minnows, but in the European Championships’ new expanded format they stand a good chance of making the last 16, drawn in one of the weaker groups alongside Portugal, Iceland and Austria. Nemeth could have an impact, even he has yet to make much of an impression in the Qatari game.
Dragos Grigore (Romania)
The signing of Grigore from Toulouse last year was quite the coup for Al-Sailiya, with the center-back arriving in Qatar an impressive pedigree and track record. At this summer’s European Championships the 29-year-old will likely start for Romania, forming a defensive partnership with former Spurs man Vlad Chiriches.
Romania might also benefit from the tournament’s new expanded format of 24 teams, drawn in Group A alongside hosts France, Albania and Switzerland. Angel Iordanescu came out of retirement to take the job as national team manager, leaving behind a career in politics, and now he could lead Romania to the last 16 with Grigore his defensive basis.
Lucian Sanmartean (Romania)
At 36 years old Sanmartean is a veteran of the Romanian national team, counting Steaua Bucharest and Panathinaikos among his former clubs. Now he finds himself at Al Ittihad in Qatar, impressing for the Gulf club since joining last year.
However, in France he will be little more than a squad figure. Sanmartean will be a key member of the squad in the dressing room, boasting an international career that spans 14 years, but his appearances on the pitch will likely be fleeting. Romania will be hoping that their appearance at the tournament isn’t so momentary.