Eleven stars to watch at Euro 2016

The 15th edition of the European Championship has kicked off with some memorable moments coupled with spectacular goals. The Straits Times picks out 11 players who will play a key role for their country during the month-long tournament in France.

Antoine Griezmann (France), 25, forward


PHOTO: AFP

Coming off the heartbreak of a Champions League final defeat to Real Madrid on penalties a few weeks back, the Atletico Madrid forward must still be feeling sore. But there is no time for sorrow with the Euros approaching, with France billed as strong favourites to win the competition on home soil. Griezmann, with 32 goals from 54 games this season, will be the focal point of Les Bleus' attack, especially in the absence of striker Karim Benzema.

Harry Kane (England), 22, striker


PHOTO: REUTERS

Likened to former Tottenham Hotspur and England striker Teddy Sheringham, Kane is adept at locating space, linking the play and, above all, finding the back of the net. He was last season's Premier League golden boot winner with 25 league goals and has netted five times in 11 international appearances. Strong on the ball, capable of scoring with either foot and powerful in the air, Kane will be raring to go in his first major international tournament.

Gareth Bale (Wales), 26, forward


PHOTO: REUTERS

The most expensive footballer in the world will hope to transfer his eye-catching club form over to Wales. He bagged 19 goals along with 12 assists for Real Madrid and starred in their Champions League-winning season. While Wales manager Chris Coleman has done wonders with a limited squad, there is no doubt that Bale is the talisman for the Welsh Dragons. He possess pace, power and a tremendous left foot and will want to leave his mark on the international stage.

Mesut Ozil (Germany), 27, playmaker


PHOTO: REUTERS

Beautifully balanced and capable of blink-and-miss-it killer passes, Ozil is the creative spark in the German side. The Arsenal man led the Premier League with 19 assists last term thanks to his vision and set-piece delivery. Despite the presence of Mario Gotze, Julian Draxler and Andre Schurrle in the world champions' team, Ozil is the main orchestra of Germany's attack. With 19 goals in 72 appearances for his country, Die Mannschaft's No. 8 is also a threat in the penalty box.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland), 27, striker


PHOTO: REUTERS

If there is one reason Poland are not to be underestimated in France, the Bayern Munich front-man is it. He rattled in 42 goals in 49 games for the German champions and looks as hungry as ever. Able to lead the line on his own, Lewandowski uses his 1.84m frame to out-muscle opposing defenders and is a wily operator up front. The Polish captain is a proven winner at the highest levels and his experience - and goals - will be crucial for one of the tournament's dark horses.

Alvaro Morata (Spain), 23, striker


PHOTO: EPA

Despite not being a regular for Italian giants Juventus, Morata's impact in Turin has been tremendous. His goals have come at crucial moments, including the extra-time winner in the Coppa Italia final, and has enhanced his chances of establishing himself as Spain's main striker. Besides an eye for goal, his pace, work rate and energy are prominent aspects of his game. La Roja may have won the last two Euros, most deploying a "fasle nine" formation without a traditional striker. But in Morata, manager Vicente del Bosque could finally have a legitimate goal-scoring threat up front.

Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium), 24, attacking midfielder


PHOTO: REUTERS

Leicester City's improbable Premier League victory might have had a different ending had title rivals Manchester City had their star fit during the start of this year. Able to play anywhere across the front-line, de Bruyne chipped in with 16 goals and nine assists last term. The all-action midfielder is part of Belgium's golden generation and guiding his country to victory at the Euros should help make up for a disappointing season in Manchester.

Gianluigi Buffon (Italy), 38, goalkeeper


PHOTO: REUTERS

A colossus in goal for club and country, this will be the final Euros for the veteran shot-stopper, who plans to retire after the 2018 World Cup. Italy's most capped player with 157 appearances for his country, Buffon may be in the twilight of his glittering career but remains a formidable presence in the penalty area. He led Juventus to a fifth straight Serie A title and was voted the Turin giant's Player of the Season. Buffon kept 21 clean sheets last season and set a new record of 927 minutes for the longest run without conceding a goal in Italy's top flight. A losing finalist at the 2012 Euros, Buffon will want to bow out with a gold medal this time.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), 34, striker


PHOTO: REUTERS

Age has not slowed down Sweden's record marksman with 62 goals. Ibrahimovic smashed in 50 goals in all competitions last season as he claimed his fourth straight Ligue 1 title with Paris Saint-Germain. An imposing figure at 1.95m and blessed with quick feet, Ibrahimovic is difficult to defend and is also powerful in the air. This might be the final international tournament for the Swedish captain and after failing to progress beyond the group stages at the last two Euros, entry into the knock-out rounds will be the minimum requirement for Ibrahimovic.

David Alaba (Austria), 23, defender/ midfielder


PHOTO: REUTERS

At the age of 17, he made his debut for the national team and remains the youngest player to earn an international cap for Austria. Able to operate in a variety of roles across the backline and further ahead, Alaba is normally deployed in midfield for Austria and is the team's sole world-class player. His pace allows him the box-to-box role and he is also a reliable source of goals. He was the team's second-highest goalscorer with four during the qualifying campaign, behind striker Marc Janko's tally of seven.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), 31, forward


PHOTO: AFP

The talismanic forward is coming off another prolific season with Real Madrid and notched 51 goals for the Champions League winners. Yet the Portuguese captain has rarely hit the heights at international level, aside from a runners-up finish at Euro 2004 on home soil. Ronaldo, with a record 125 caps, has scored more goals for Portugal (56) than any other player but has bore the brunt of criticisms for his under-performing country. Nothing would please CR7 more than to be photographed - preferably without a shirt - lifting The Henri Delaunay Trophy after the final in Paris next month.