Having made his senior international debut as a teenager, hit double figures in goals in a league campaign at 18 and completed two transfers to Bundesliga clubs by age 22, Breel Embolo has been around the block a fair amount, a headline-making transfer target for several big clubs as one of the most promising forwards around for a number of years.
Yet it still hasn’t quite happened for the Swiss international, and despite having over seven full seasons under his belt at club level, he’s still only 24 years of age - far from past it and maybe, now, finally showing how he can fulfil the expectations placed on him years ago.
Against Wales, in his nation’s opening Euro 2020 group game, he scored the goal which looked as though it would yield three points, before the clash eventually finished 1-1. A disappointment within the promising display, then, which largely sums up his career so far - though this time the mild let-down was not of his own making.
Since leaving Basel for Germany in 2016, he has not yet managed the 10-goal milestone in a season. Since joining Borussia Monchengladbach from Schalke two years ago, he has not quite yet nailed down a regular, guaranteed starting role in his preferred centre-forward position.
Instead it has been a curve of patience, learning and progression, for himself and for ‘Gladbach - as evidenced by the fact that this past season, despite 41 appearances all told, he tallied only around 1,800 minutes on the pitch. Should he put in more consistent, more reliable displays such as this one, Embolo and his club should look forward to far more success and plenty more goals.
Almost from kick-off, he - and fellow impressive Bundesliga-based Switzerland starter Kevin Mbabu - troubled Wales relentlessly.
The pair linked well in the right channel several times, most notably on the stroke of half-time as Embolo’s strength and touch laid off a great chance for Haris Seferovic, which he spurned. There had been other instances of that link play, and one or two opportunities where he might have taken on a shot himself, but after the break it was very much all about the Swiss No7.
Within minutes of the restart, he took the ball on the turn and drove forward, beating two defenders with ease and powering in a shot, saved by Danny Ward.
He would not be denied moments later, though, as from the corner he headed in a fine goal for his sixth strike on the international scene and his first at a major finals. Considering he was in the Swiss squads for Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018, that milestone feels a notable one - again, if he can bring consistency to his impact.
Those few minutes encapsulated why teams have often admired and watched him: power, pace, dribbling ability, a ferocious shot. Defenders struggle to handle him in that mood, in those moments - but they have been only moments, all too often.
The remainder of the half is what offers most hope for the future.
Embolo tracked back with regularity, won tackles on the edge of his own box and suffered a couple of collisions. Injuries have thwarted him at times as much as a perceived lack of application, but both were shrugged off here. A late chance - another header off a set-piece - almost doubled his tally and trebled Switzerland’s points haul for the game.
Once more Ward denied him, the ongoing battle between the two the lingering theme of the match, but it’s an overwhelmingly positive start to the tournament for Embolo - and, if he can maintain the type of impact here even if not the strike rate, for Switzerland.
They have desperately needed a goalscorer, for years now, and the hopes of Embolo being that player have been there since his teen years.
Some players need time to grow into their potential, more than others, more than some clubs are willing to offer. Perhaps, if he is now ready to harness his ability to its fullest extent, ‘Gladbach will be richly rewarded for the patience they have shown with him - and the clubs from the Premier League and beyond who showed early interest may well revisit, and significantly update, their reports on a forward of clear talent and promise.
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