As Wes Messi conducted proceedings on Monday, many pundits jumped on the bandwagon claiming that they had recommended the young Dubliner to an assortment of Premier League clubs. By this morning, the anecdote that Wes Hoolahan was deemed “too small to make it” was well known.
The sight of Luka Modric similarly pulling the strings against Turkey on Sunday and with both Hoolohan and Emmanuele Giaccherini making telling contributions on Monday, gives further credence to the mantra first adopted by Spain as they began their continental dominance in 2008: size doesn’t matter. Indeed, the Spaniards once again appear at a tournament with the shortest squad – 7 players under 1.76m. But while Modric is a diminutive maestro, he is the far from the smallest in the competition.
Yann Sommer (Switzerland) 1.82m
Height is generally be considered a crucial attribute for a goalkeeper, but it’s not essential. At 1.82m tall, Yann Sommer does not tower over many of those who complete this side below. A keeper of some repute, Sommer is the first-choice stopper for both Borussia Mönchengladbach and Switzerland. With great feet, a better leap and impressive goalkeeping intelligence, Sommer compensates for his lack of physical dominance in the penalty area. Incidentally, Shay Given is not far off at 1.83m.
Nathaniel Clyne (England) 1.75m
Naturally, most of the smaller players are developed further up the field where their vulnerability in the air can’t be so easily exploited. However, despite being rejected by Arsenal as a young boy for being too short, Clyne has gone on to carve out a fine career as an athletic right-back for Crystal Palace, Southampton and Liverpool.
Jordi Alba (Spain) 1.7m
The first of several compatriots to find their way into this team, Alba has been a regular feature at left-back for Spain since his debut in 2011. Initially an attacking player, Alba assumed a more defensive role whilst at Valencia. His performances in that position ultimately led to his move to FC Barcelona who needed to balance their backline with Daniel Alves (1.72m) on the right side.
Paddy McNair (Northern Ireland) 1.82m
Given the increasing physical dimension employed by sides in the competition (Lukaku, Ibrahimovic, Walters), teams have tended to allay fears by turning to those who can deal with the rough and tumble of their forward play. Originally a midfielder, McNair first emerged on the domestic scene when introduced by Louis van Gaal as a centre-half at Manchester United. Despite a promising start, McNair disappeared from the scene following an error-strewn game against Southampton in December 2014. Nevertheless, McNair remains at Old Trafford waiting on his chance and while doing so, has established himself at the heart of a Northern Irish defence that leaked only 8 goals in qualification.
Ergys Kace (Albania) 1.61m
The smallest player at the tournament, Kace is at the heart of this pocket-sized XI. An energetic defensive midfielder, Kace brought an end to the Xhaka duel on Saturday upon his introduction on 61 minutes against Switzerland. Just two minutes into his tournament bow he pulled at the shorts of Valon Behrami before hacking him down. This side needs a bit of graft and Kace will fulfill that role.
Luka Modric (Croatia) 1.74m
As the biggest physical presence in this midfield, Modric will be expected to mix it up in addition to providing a creative spark. Faced by what he terms as ‘unreal expectations’ by his homeland support, Modric acknowledged that he was more relaxed as he faced into the Champions League Final for Real Madrid last month. Inspired by the likes of Zvonimir Boban, Robert Prosinecki and Davor Suker, the much vaunted Modric will hope to drive the latest leading lights of Croatian football to the heights of European football. In tandem with Ivan Rakitic, Mario Mandzukic and Ivan Perisic, Modric has every chance.
Andres Iniesta (Spain) 1.7m
Had Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi not bothered over the past decade, it is certain that Andres Iniesta would have been widely acclaimed as the player of his generation. Indeed, there is much fuel to add to that debate as it is. Although he does not possess the goal-scoring habits of the Ballon D’Or duo, Iniesta has made the best sides in the world tick for almost a decade, whilst he has also produced the most significant moments in the history of those teams, most notably the winning goal against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup.
Emanuele Giaccherini (Italy) 1.67m
A disappointment at Sunderland, Giaccherini joined the English club when sold by Antonio Conte at Juventus in 2013. Giaccherini subsequently missed out on selection for the 2014 World Cup and was promptly injured for the following season. Now on loan at Bologna, the attacking midfielder has rediscovered his form not least in Tuesday’s game against Belgium where he nabbed the opener in a crucial win for the Azzurri.
Pedro (Spain) 1.67m
Having carved out a fine reputation in an all-conquering Barcelona team, Pedro finally had enough of warming the bench when Neymar and Suarez arrived at the Nou Camp to assume striking duties alongside Lionel Messi. Following links with a Manchester United that could have used his creativity and energy, Pedro opted for Chelsea but failed to live up to the hype that surrounded his arrival. Rumours abound that he could be set for a shock return to his former club.
Wes Hoolahan (Republic of Ireland) 1.68m
When Wes Houlihan opened Ireland’s account in Euro 2016, nobody could begrudge the Norwich star his moment in the spotlight. Having churned out a career in the English lower leagues following a decision to uproot from Shelbourne in 2005, Hoolahan finally came to international prominence on Monday at the age of 34. I’m still drooling at his first touch out wide on the left in the second half. Wessi!
Lorenzo Insigne (Italy) 1.63m
Insigne was in fine form for Napoli last season, even drawing comparisons with Diego Maradona following a hot streak in front of goal. Although his relationship with the national side has been less than convincing, his playmaking ability adds a different dimension to an otherwise straightforward system. Indeed, due to his attributes, Goran Pandev, his captain at Napoli, has dubbed him the “Italian Messi”. How original.
Indeed competition for places was so short that even these guys missed out:
Jamie Ward (Northern Ireland) 1.63m
The third smallest in the competition this summer, Ward began his career at Aston Villa following a car crash that threatened his career in 2004. Ward navigated his way through the lower leagues before he became established at Derby County. Somewhat surprisingly, given his provocative role between the sides, Ward moved to Nottingham Forest last season.
Joe Allen (Wales) 1.68m
Between comparisons with Xavi, Andrea Pirlo and Lionel Messi, Joe Allen has done well to keep his feet on the ground over the years. Although his performances have often failed to match such heightened praise, his stature and appearance justify those remarks. Despite “Average Joe’s” consistent inconsistency since his move to Brendan Rodger’s Liverpool in 2012, he remains somewhat of a cult hero on Merseyside.
David Silva (Spain) 1.7m
One of the most gifted footballers to have emerged during the golden era for Spanish football, Silva made the brave decision to move to Manchester City in 2010. Many questioned whether he could cope with the physical demands of the English league, but Silva has regularly confounded his critics and will be an integral part of Pep Guardiola’s revolution at the Etihad Stadium. However, following an injury plagued campaign, Silva misses out on selection in this XI.
Joao Moutinho (Portugal) 1.71m
Once heralded as the player likely to lead Portugal to an ever-evasive title, Moutinho’s career has stalled somewhat following signs of significant promise at Sporting Lisbon and Porto, winning 12 major titles during his time in the Primeira Liga. His performances saw him move to AS Monaco in 2014 for €24m. Last season, Moutinho’s side finished third, trailing Paris St. Germain by 31 points.