[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lthough European domestic seasons are coming to a crescendo and longstanding objectives are either being achieved or realigned, the collective focus across the continent is starting to switch to Euro 2016.
The international tournament will see teams from 24 countries descend on France in June, with players desperate to participate in the prestigious competition.
As such, the fear of getting injured ahead of the action will lurk menacingly in the psyches of those set to compete.
There have already been a number of high-profile casualties in advance of the competition, with even a hamstring or calf injury now enough to threaten a player’s participation with Euro 2016 just over a month away.
Germany and Italy are arguably two of the most historic global forces when it comes to international tournaments, with both seemingly always in the thick of the action when the business end approaches.
However, before Euro 2016, both have lost arguably their most cultured central midfielder to injury and will have to change their plans accordingly.
For Germany, İlkay Gündoğan has dislocated a kneecap while training with club Borussia Dortmund and will not be at the showcase event in France.
The news is the latest blow in an injury ravaged career for the 25-year-old midfielder, who also missed out on his nation winning the World Cup in Brazil two years ago due to a lack of fitness.
Joachim Löw has admitted that Gündoğan’s injury is a setback for the world champions, with the Dortmund star ‘a central part’ of the nation’s planning before the dreaded news.
With Bastian Schweinsteiger also undergoing a race against time to be fit, Germany’s central midfield is starting to look less ominous than usual.
Toni Kroos is a key man for Die Mannschaft but it remains to be seen who will accompany the Real Madrid star in the boiler room.
Gündoğan’s injury will provide a chance for experienced head Sami Khedira to capitalise after a promising campaign with Juventus, while the under-rated Christoph Kramer could be an inspired choice to replace the Dortmund star.
In all reality however, Gündoğan’s enviable blend of energy, footballing intelligence and delightful range of passing will be severely missed by Germany this summer.
The Gelsenkirchen-born star has every reason to feel sorry for himself as his potential to be one of the best players in a glorious generation of German players is being hampered by a consistent lack of fitness.
Heading south to Germany’s European rivals Italy, the sidelining of Marco Verratti is arguably an even more damaging blow for the Azzurri than Gündoğan’s unavailability for the world champions.
The Paris Saint-Germain deep-lying playmaker has injured a groin and will undergo surgery in the near future to remedy the issue – meaning he will play no part in Euro 2016.
This is particularly evident in the centre of the park and in the final third, where Verratti’s presence was critical to the Azzurri’s chances.
The former Pescara midfielder has long been labelled as Andrea Pirlo’s successor in the Italy side – and so it has proved.
Verratti continues to get better and better in a star-studded PSG side, while his influence over proceedings in his national colours has also been painstakingly evident over the last 12 months.
A dynamo with a seemingly unlimited amount of energy, it is the 23-year-old’s ability on the ball and distribution of possession that confirms him as one of the best in Europe in his position.
Despite only having amassed 15 international caps, Verratti’s name was an absolute certainty on Conte’s teamsheet in France and filling the void is a major task for the Chelsea manager-in-waiting.
Veterans Thiago Motta and Ricardo Montolivo will be in the running to feature, while Claudio Marchisio is arguably Italy’s only other world-class player in midfield.
Brazilian-born Jorginho has defected to Italy and the Napoli star could well feature, while an argument to bring Pirlo back for one last swansong could well start following the news of Verratti’s unavailability.
Either way, Euro 2016 has been robbed of two excellent central midfielders in the form of Gündoğan and Verratti, with their distinct attributes unique among their respective national squads.
Overcoming their absences will be a major task for Löw and Conte, with both Germany and Italy depleted without being able to call upon these cultured playmakers.
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