De Gea, Varane, Pogba, Hazard and Kane make Euro 2016 Dream Team
Next summer, Europe's finest footballers will be on show at Euro 2016 in a tournament expanded to 24 teams. We may see some new additions to the party when qualification ends in November, including Gareth Bale and Wales, as well as Iceland. Meanwhile, Northern Ireland have more than a fighting chance to qualify, while one of Scotland or the Republic of Ireland are also likely to be present in France.
But who will take the tournament by storm? ESPN FC rubs the crystal ball to make a series of predictions. As is vogue, a 4-3-3 formation is adopted.
Goalkeeper: David De Gea (Spain)
The body language was frosty between De Gea and Iker Casillas this week in Spanish training. The young man almost certain to take the gloves from "San Iker" at Real Madrid is likely to be Spain's first new tournament goalkeeper since Euro 2004. Premier League viewers will be well aware of his combination of agility, reflexes and -- latterly -- command of his area, though how might a season in the Santiago Bernabeu cauldron affect what looks unshakeable confidence?
Right-back: Matteo Darmian (Italy)
Italy's find of their 2014 World Cup disaster could be a Bayern Munich player by the beginning of next season. The Torino man had only made his Azzurri debut a month before going to Brazil. His brand of overlapping full-back play down England's exposed left-hand flank was key to a 2-1 opening victory in Manaus. He's a natural centre-back, too, which means he is a redoubtable defender, and comparisons to 1982 world champion Antonio Cabrini are freely made.
Centre-back: Raphael Varane (France)
Varane's combination of high pace, physical strength and positional poise for someone so young suggests that if Real Madrid were ever to cash in, they would receive well beyond the €50 million that Paris Saint-Germain paid for David Luiz when he was at Chelsea. Varane, 23 next year, shone at the last World Cup, and there will be huge expectations in his home country next year.
Centre-back: Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)
It was a dreadful pity the Champions League final was denied the gladiatorial contest that would no doubt have broken out between Juventus' rock and Barcelona's Luis Suarez. Working with Juventus mentor Antonio Conte should bring out the best from someone who operates only just the right side of what is allowed.
Left-back: Jordi Alba (Spain)
Spain's World Cup last summer was such a disaster that it is difficult to recall they are defending European champions -- and twice over. They have not lost a Euro finals match since Portugal defeated them in Lisbon at Euro 2004. Alba, a scorer in the 2012 final win over Italy, is a comparative late arrival to his garlanded colleagues, but in Barcelona's tightened defence, no left-back has looked as solid or enterprising.
Midfielder: David Alaba (Austria)
Such is Alaba's influence on his national team, Bayern Munich's left-back adopts the anchor midfield role that club colleague Philipp Lahm fulfilled as Germany won the World Cup. Alaba offers supreme athleticism wherever he plays and his arrival on the scene has certainly helped revive his country's fortunes. Bayern might have won more Champions League trophies had he been available for the 2012 final, or this season's semifinals.
Midfielder: Paul Pogba (France)
So much expectation rests on this man's shoulders. The most tattled transfer target of the summer will get his chance to shine on home soil, where he has never played a minute of domestic league football. The Champions League final showed off the strength of his running and tackling, but also some laxity in passing and tracking back. Pogba's talent looks limitless, but is he prepared to work hard enough to fulfill that? Euro 2016 will be the test.
Midfielder: Toni Kroos (Germany)
There is an admitted lack of Germans in this lineup, which is strange for recent world champions, but there has been something of a change of the guard. Bastian Schweinsteiger is captain now that Lahm has retired from international football but it is his midfield colleague who truly makes the national team tick. Kroos dictates the tempo and creates the angles for attackers quietly but effectively. Kroos was at the fulcrum when Real Madrid were embracing perfection in a 22-game winning streak last season.
Forward: Antoine Griezmann (France)
Having begun at Real Sociedad, Griezmann, like Pogba, has never played a minute of Ligue 1 football but is among the hosts' leading men. Now that Franck Ribery has retired from playing for his country, the small, lightweight and incisive Griezmann is the player who supplies flair and surprise for Didier Deschamps' team. Having starred for Atletico last season, he is a player in significant transfer demand this summer and can play as winger or support striker.
Forward: Eden Hazard (Belgium)
Last weekend saw Belgium announce their candidacy for next year's crown with a 4-3 defeat of France in Paris. The scorer of the fourth from the penalty spot and captain was Hazard. He was the best player in the Premier League this past season, leading Chelsea to the title, but Hazard has yet to truly excel in the same way for his country. He was disappointing in Brazil last year, outperformed by Kevin De Bruyne in particular, but Belgium will need the brightest of their many stars to show his best.
Forward: Harry Kane (England)
Why not? England need a new action hero at an international tournament. The last was Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004, and Kane -- while a rather different player -- can offer similar qualities of surprise on an unsuspecting continent. The sense that Kane often looks like he is not sure what comes next can work for England in France. That's if Roy Hodgson decides to play him. The approaching Euro U21 tournament may dictate that.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.