As Europe’s elite football nations prepare for the 2012 edition of the European Championship, all eyes will be on the big name players to star in the tournament. However, there are a number of younger players eager to make their mark too, and here Footy Matters looks at 10 of the players who could make this tournament one they are remembered for.
1 – Luuk De Jong (Holland)
De Jong scored 25 goals in the Eredivisie this season which has put him on the radar of Premier League and La Liga clubs. The big forward looks to shoot on sight while he is also capable of using his strength to create space for teammates. He will have his work cut out to earn a starting pace with Robin Van Persie and Klass-Jan Huntelaar to contend with, but the FC Twente striker has the belief in his own ability to take chances that come his way.
2 – Alex Dzagoev (Russia)
Alex Dzagoev was Russia’s top scorer in the qualifying for Euro 2012, but it is his dribbling, vision and all round spark which have caught the eye in the build up to the competition. Dzagoev is an attacking midfielder who plays between the lines of midfield and the forwards. While he is well versed in keeping the ball, he has a keen eye for a killer pass and, when on his game, the Russian strikers will be licking their lips at the prospect of playing with the CSKA Moscow man.
3 – Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
An attacking midfielder with an abundance of flair, Eriksen is much sought after following another productive season for Ajax. Technically able, astute user of the ball and keen dribbler, the Danish talent will be central to his side’s attacking moves. Despite his age, he will be the player coach Morten Olsen looks to to open up the opposition and help his side progress.
4 – Mario Gotze (Germany)
The Dortmund playmaker was the centre of speculation linking him with moves to Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and Arsenal for much of the last 12 months, but the 20-year-old signed a new deal with his current club to ensure potential suitors will be kept waiting. He can play in wide and central areas and likes to run at players with the ball, creating opportunities for himself and others. Competition from Thomas Muller, Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski means Götze will mainly be starting from the bench but he is one who can make an impact as a substitute and change games.
5 – Yann M’Vila (France)
A defensive midfielder who plays in Ligue 1 for Rennes, M’Vila has recovered from injury to take his place in the France midfield where he will perform a key defensive function to enable those around him to create opportunities. Big and strong, he is rumoured to be close to a move to Arsenal though he has recently said he will not decide on his future until after Euro 2012. A player very much in the Patrick Viera mould, M’Vila will be pivotal to the French side’s progress.
6 – Javi Martinez (Spain)
The Athletic Bilbao player has long been linked with moves to some of Europe’s biggest clubs, and Martinez has re-invented himself as a player over the last 18 months. From being a midfielder with an eye for a pass, he became more defensive in his mindset and is now being used as a centre back for his club. Given the competition in Spain’s midfield plus their style of play, it is from the back that Martinez could be starting his side’s moves. Injury to Carles Puyol may open the door for him to stake a claim for a starting berth, given his height and composure on the ball.
7 – Sotiris Ninis (Greece)
A diminutive midfielder, Ninis can operate in both the centre of midfield and the right. He has had an injury-plagued season for Panathinaikos, missing six months. Despite this, Ninis has sealed a summer move to Parma and made the Greek squad where he is seen as vital to their hopes of causing an upset in attempting to repeat the nation’s 2004 victory. He is noted for his acceleration and ambitious shooting and he could test a few goalkeepers over the next few weeks. They key, though, will be whether his colleagues can get the ball to him to enable him to create opportunities.
8 – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England)
About a year after playing in League One and with just six Premier League starts, the former Southampton midfielder made the cut in Roy Hodgson’s squad. He has featured in both warm up games under the new manager and the Arsenal man could be set for a growing role in the tournament given the fearless ease with which he has taken to international football. Able to operate in wide and central areas, as well as just off the front man, his versatility provides an important option for England as a potential game changer.
9 – Rafal Wolski (Poland)
Uncapped at the time of his call up for Euro 2012, Wolski has featured in the warm-up games and the midfielder is regarded as one of the best players to emerge for Poland in recent years. A skillful dribbler whose game centres around carving opportunities for others, he has been linked with a move to Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund. It is uncertain whether he will start the first game, but he is the player most likely to give the host nation a spark as they look to qualify for the quarter-finals.
10 – Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine)
The brightest young star in Ukrainian football, in Yarmolenko Ukraine may have just found the man that Andriy Shevchenko can finally pass the torch on to. The strong forward, who has scored 12 goals in 20 league games this season, can play through the middle but it is on the left of a front three where he excels. Powerful and tricky, he is known to show off on the ball so will certainly be one to keep an eye on. Currently playing for Dynamo Kiev, he could be set to follow the footsteps of Shevchenko and move to one of Europe’s big clubs after the Euros.
Tags: Alex Dzagoev, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Andriy Yarmolenko, Christian Eriksen, Euro 2012, Javi Martinez, Luuk De Jong, Mario Gotze, Rafal Wolski, Sotiris Ninis, Yann M'Vila