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Low's new Germany comes at a price


Ibrahimovic, Hamsik, Alaba and Bale's contrasting fortunes at Euro 2016

Zlatan Ibrahimovic has had an underwhelming Euro 2016 so far.

Some of Euro 2016's less-fancied nations possess bona fide stars -- but how have they fared so far? Here is our assessment of six players relied on by their countries to make something from nothing ...

Marek Hamsik, Slovakia: HIT

Could this be the tournament in which Hamsik, for so long an excellent operator for Slovakia and Napoli, becomes universally recognised for the world class talent he is? You could not take your eyes off the playmaker during the Slovakians' 2-1 win over Russia. Hamsik was everywhere, gliding around the pitch and coming up with the two moments of inspiration that decided the game.

If the laser-like pass for Vladimir Weiss' opener was impressive, the thunderbolt that doubled his team's lead will go down as one of the best goals of this tournament. Hamsik had not quite been as decisive in the defeat against Wales although a thrilling early slalom resulted in Ben Davies making an improbable goal-line clearance.

Slovakia are a team of several talents -- nobody can discount Weiss, Miroslav Stoch, Robert Mak, Ondrej Duda or Juraj Kucka -- but Hamsik conducts the orchestra and if he continues in this vein they will feel capable of defeating anyone.

David Alaba, Austria: MISS

If this looked the ideal stage for Alaba to prove he has the capabilities of a top-notch central midfielder, he has fluffed his lines so far. That is not all his fault; Austria flopped en masse in their opener against Hungary and Alaba, starting alongside Julian Baumgartlinger, was at times guilty of trying to overcompensate.

You do not always have to cover every blade of grass or attempt to exert influence. Alaba's energy might have been better used in steadying the ship and providing a more calming influence in the middle.

He was moved forward to the No. 10 position against Portugal but the experiment did not work. He only completed 12 passes and struggled for any meaningful possession, with William Carvalho smothering him effectively and Austria's deeper midfielders unable to feed him.

He was withdrawn shortly after the hour in a bold move by coach Marcel Koller that confirmed the impression he did not quite fit on the night. The big question now is how, exactly, Alaba can be best deployed when Austria look to salvage their tournament against Iceland.

Austria have endured a difficult tournament, with David Alaba unable to inspire them thus far.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden: MISS

Ibrahimovic's assist for the Ciaran Clark own goal that levelled matters against Republic of Ireland was hailed as a game-turning moment, but nonetheless it was rather thin gruel from a player who is yet to ignite.

There is sometimes an air of forbearance about Ibrahimovic when he operates alongside international teammates who are, without exception, less talented and it seems unlikely that anyone else in a team yet to land a shot on target will produce the brilliance needed to defeat Belgium on Wednesday.

There are occasions when that has not mattered, and Ibrahimovic has found the wherewithal to win a match by himself. But he was silent in the 1-0 loss against Italy, the only interest lying in his ongoing tussle with centre-back Giorgio Chiellini.

"If there was a real fight between us Chiellini would be in hospital," he said after the game -- but Ibrahimovic must now step up and revive Sweden's campaign.

Gylfi Sigurdsson, Iceland: HIT

Sigurdsson was moments away from being hero against Hungary, his penalty separating the sides until the 89th minute of the game. He had shown the cool head required and a fairytale moment even seemed possible deep into injury time when Iceland won a free-kick right on the 18-yard line. The Swansea playmaker drilled it into the wall and Iceland had to content themselves with a rather less satisfying point than the one they had earned against Portugal.

Early on in the Portugal game, Sigurdsson created a presentable chance to put Iceland ahead but was foiled by Rui Patricio. Opportunities to create have been limited during their two games but Sigurdsson, who admitted that he had almost lost his voice as the clock ticked down against Portugal, has been a galvanising force on and off the ball.

One of those free-kick flourishes could just be enough to make yet more history against a stuttering Austria.

Gylfi Sigurdsson has been the driving force behind Iceland's bid for a place in the round of 16.

Gareth Bale, Wales: HIT

It was a moment almost too good to be true when Bale, 10 minutes into Wales' first major tournament since 1958, arrowed a wonderful free-kick into the Slovakian net. The goal was a picture-book one, trademark Bale, and even if his repeat performance against England owed much to shaky goalkeeping from Joe Hart nobody could deny that where moments of inspiration are concerned he is doing his bit.

Bale was not quite as influential in general play as England pushed Wales back and eventually made their late pressure count and there is still a sense that he can get on the ball and drive at defenders more than has been the case so far.

A Russia side that has looked static looks ideal fodder and it would not be outlandish to bet on Bale to strike for a third game running and see Wales through to the round of 16.

Robert Lewandowski, Poland: ON THE FENCE

Poland look a strong proposition in Group C -- lively in the attack and as they showed against Germany, patient and compact when absorbing pressure.

There is just one thing missing so far: a critical intervention from Lewandowski. Arkadiusz Milik missed Poland's best opportunity against the Germans and scored the winner in their first game against Northern Ireland. Lewandowski, the top scorer in the qualifying competition with 13 goals, has yet to have a clear chance. That will come, and Lewandowski certainly has a more able supporting cast to carve out openings for him than the likes of Ibrahimovic and Bale.

Poland have the ability to make a run for the semifinals if the stars align for them -- but a matchwinning goal somewhere from Lewandowski would be among the conditions and perhaps a despondent Ukraine side will be the ideal opponents on Tuesday as he looks to get off the mark.

Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.


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