By Drew Farmer
The Euro 2016 tournament is off and running with the best national teams from Europe battling it out for supremacy on the continent. The best players from Europe are competing to see who will lead their team to the final on Sunday July 10.
While the players are from European nations, there are many countries that feature players whose families emigrated from African countries. Belgium, France, England and Germany all feature players of African descent, with many of them making an impact already at the Euro 2016 tournament.
France have ten players of African descent in their squad. Six players in France’s starting XI against Romania had families that moved to France from an African nation. Paul Pogba (Guinea) is the marquee name on the list of France’s players of African descent. However, the squad is full of quality players such as Steve Mandanda (Congo), Adil Rami (Morocco), N’golo Kante (Mali), Blaise Matuidi (Angola), Moussa Sissoko (Mali), Samuel Umtiti (Cameroon), Eliaquim Mangala (Congo), Bacary Sagna (Senegal) and Patrice Evra (born in Senegal to a Guinean father and Cape Verdean mother).
Names like Xherdan Shaqiri and Granit Xhaka maybe the names most people are familiar with on the Switzerland team, yet the team has several top players from African nations. Switzerland are typically littered with players whose families emigrated from other nations, and the players of African descent have all made a mark on the side. Johan Djourou (Cote d’Ivoire) is one of the team’s top defenders while Breel Embolo (Cameroon) is one of the top young strikers in European football. The Swiss also feature Francois Moubandje (Cameroon), Deni Zakaria (Congo) and Gelson Fernandes (Cape Verde).
England and Wales
England and Wales will do battle in group B at the Euro 2016 tournament, and both feature four players combined. England’s Dele Alli (Nigeria) is a key player for the Three Lions after a stellar club season with Tottenham Hotspur. Meanwhile, Ross Barkley (Nigeria) will see limited action with the team, but can be a valuable member off the bench. Marcus Rashford (Tanzania) had a break-out season at Manchester United and will be the joker off-the-bench for Roy Hodgson. Wales on the other hand, feature Hal Robson-Kanu, who tallied his first goal of the tournament in Wales’ opening fixture against Slovakia. Robson-Kanu’s goal gave Wales the win in a fantastic team performance.
Germany’s Jerome Boateng could have represented Ghana, which is what his brother Kevin-Prince Boateng did. However, the classy defender chose Germany thanks to his German mother’s heritage. Boateng is currently one of the best defenders in the world and has a chance to add to the trophies in his cabinet. Sami Khedira, one of Germany’s most important players, was born in Stuttgart to a Tunisian father and German mother. Meanwhile, Leroy Sane’s father Souleymane was a Senegalese great. He married a German woman and produced three sons, all playing for Germany’s Schalke. Souleymane had an extensive career playing in Germany. All three players will be key in Germany’s fight for the Euro 2016 championship. Also in the squad is defender Jonathan Tah whose mother is from Cote d’Ivoire. He should play a very limited role for Germany at the tournament.
At one time, Belgium colonised Congo, and due to that many Congolese people immigrated to the European nation. Due to this, Belgium’s national team is full of players with Congolese heritage. Jason Denayer (Congo), Jordan Lukaku (Congo), Romelu Lukaku (Congo), Mousa Dembele (Mali), Mitchy Batshuayi (Congo), Divock Origi (Kenya), Marouane Fellaini (Morocco) and Christian Benteke (Congo). All eight of the players have Belgium flying high and are part of the reason Belgium is many of the experts’ picks to win the Euro 2016 tournament.
Italy, Sweden, Czech Republic and Austria
The Italians have two players that have families from the African continent. Defender Angelo Ogbonna (Nigeria) will be an important centre-back to come off the bench to solidify the Azzurri. Meanwhile, Stephan El Sharaawy (Egypt) revitalised his career in the second half of the club season at Roma. He should be used as a big second half sub for the Italians through the competition.
Sweden’s lone African representative is Martin Olsson (Kenya) The full-back currently plays his football at Norwich City and will be a valuable piece to Sweden’s defence at the tournament.
A defender for Bayern Munich, but a midfielder for Austria, David Alaba is a vital member of the Austrian team. He and Rubin Okotie both come from Nigerian parents who settled in Austria. And both are reasons why Austria are a dark horse to win the Euro 2016 tournament.
Finally, Czech Republic’s Theodor Gabre Selassie (Ethiopia) was the first player of African descent to play for the Czech national team in 2011. Although the Czech Republic aren’t expected to go deep into the competition, Selassie will be important as the team’s right-back
Portugal round out our list of players of African descent playing in the Euro 2016 tournament. Renato Sanches’ father came from Sao Tome and Principe, while his mother is from Cape Verde. Having the opportunity to represent Cape Verde, Sanches chose Portugal, and is currently one of the hottest transfer targets on the market.
Former Manchester United winger Nani (Cape Verde) is also in the Portuguese team. He will be needed to support star player Cristiano Ronaldo if Portugal are going to make it to the semi-finals.
Eliseu who plays either as a left-back or left-winger was born in Portugal to a Portuguese father and a Cape Verdean mother. Danilo Pereira moved from Guinea-Bissau to Portugal at the age a five. He is a key member of the Portuguese team. Also in the squad is defensive midfielder William Carvalho (Angola). Finally, Eder who was born in Guinea-Bissau, but moved to Portugal as a child. In 26 games for the national team, Eder has scored three goals. He’ll need to improve that at this year’s tournament if Portugal are to be a success.