Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Under the radar - Rising stars to look out for at Euro 2012

The UEFA European Football Championships is the main football competition of the men's national football teams governed by UEFA, and has been held every four years since 1960.
In all, 27 nations have appeared at least once in the final tournament. Of these, only twelve have made it to the final, and nine of them have won it at least once. With three titles, Germany is the most successful European Championship team. Both Spain and France have won the tournament twice, with Spain the current holders. No team has ever won consecutive titles.

The 2012 UEFA European Football Championship, commonly referred to as Euro 2012, will be the 14th European Championship of its kind. The finals will be hosted by Poland and the Ukraine between the 8th June and the 1st July 2012. It is the first time that either nation has hosted the tournament.

With the Euro 2012 tournament now only days away it would be easy to select a world-beating squad of stars appearing at Euro 2012. No doubt the likes of Casillas, Buffon, Lahm, Cole, Ramos, Sneijder, van der Vaart, Schweinsteiger, Pirlo, Xavi, Robben, Ozil, Benzema, Van Persie, Ibrahimovic and Ronaldo would be among some of the first names on any team sheet.

However, dig a little deeper and there's a whole host of new talent that could emerge at this summer's European Championships. Here's the Beer, Footy and Birds guide of 'rising stars' to watch out for at the Championships. These players will be hoping to make a significant impression on the big stage in Poland and the Ukraine.

Lukas Piszczek (Poland)
Current club: Borussia Dortmund / Position: Defender
Age: 27 / International debut: Feb 2007 v. Estonia

Originally a right-winger or striker, the Polish internationals career has really taken off since switching to right-back during the 2009-10 season whilst at Hertha Berlin. Since Borussia Dortmund signed the Pole on a three-year deal in May 2010 his career has continued to flourish. Piszczek (right) has missed just three league games in two seasons since moving to Borussia Dortmund, winning back-to-back Bundesliga titles, alongside fellow internationals Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski, who have all featured heavily for Dortmund. His attacking prowess saw him score four times and provide seven assists for Dortmund, and he will be pivotal to the co-hosts chances of progressing in what looks like a very open group featuring Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic.

Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
Current club: CSKA Moscow / Position: Goalkeeper
Age: 26 / International debut: April 2004 v. Norway

A regular starter for CSKA Moscow since he was 17, Akinfeev is one of the best goalkeepers in the world and the constant subject of big-money transfer rumours. Akinfeev is captain of CSKA and has helped his club win numerous trophies including the UEFA Cup, three Russian Premier League titles and the Russian Cup on five occasions. He was at his best at Euro 2008 when he posted two shutouts and helped Russia reach the semi-finals.

Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
Current club: Ajax / Position Midfield
Age: 20 / International debut: March 2010 v. Austria

The Danish star is one of the brightest prospects in Europe, making up for his slight build with his imaginative and creative play in the centre of midfield. A product of the revered Ajax academy, Christian Eriksen has been closely watched for a few years now. He has helped Ajax to back to back Dutch league titles and was named Dutch Football Talent of the Year and Danish Footballer of the Year in 2011. Linked with big money moves to a variety of Premier League sides, should he have a successful tournament it's almost inevitable he will be on the move this summer, despite being contracted to Ajax until 2014

Kevin Strootman (Netherlands)
Current club: PSV Eindhoven / Position: Midfield
Age: 22 / International debut: Feb 2011 v. Austria

PSV Eindhoven's 22-year-old captain Kevin Strootman (right) has become the lynchpin of PSV’s midfield since joining in June 2011 from FC Utrecht, in a joint deal with Dries Mertens for 13 million Euros. He started out playing just off the striker as at Sparta Rotterdam but has since flourished in a deeper role, He has been called 'the new Roy Keane' in some quarters, having quickly established himself as a key player for both club and country. Strootman is vying with Manchester City's Nigel de Jong for a starting role, having only made his debut in February 2011. The classy midfielder has been linked with a big money summer move, with both the Milan clubs and Manchester United just three of the sides hoping to secure the signature of the Dutchman.

Yann M’Vila (France)
Current club: Rennes / Position: Defensive Midfielder
Age: 21 / International debut: Aug 2010 v. Norway

The Rennes holding midfielder has played for France at every youth level before making an accomplished senior debut in Laurent Blanc's first game in charge, against Norway. He was a regular in France’s Euro 2012 qualifying group, which saw them lose only one of their ten group games. Known for his all-action style of play, he has been described as a player with excellent defensive abilities who is often instrumental in building-up attacks from the back. He boasts a fantastic work-rate, and is robust in the challenge with his impressive physical strength. M’Vila was awarded a place in the French Ligue 1 team of the year for the 2010-12 season.

Rasmus Elm (Sweden)
Current club: AZ Alkmaar / Position: Midfield
Age: 24 / International debut: March 2011 v. Moldova

Elm (right) has been dogged by injuries in recent years. However, in the past season he has been lauded by fans and press alike, and Euro 2012 might be the former Sweden U19 captain’s chance to shine on the international stage.
Plying his trade with Dutch Eredivise side AZ Alkmaar Elm made 36 appearances for AZ this season and netted 13 goals. Elm and AZ are thought to have agreed terms with Liverpool and it is likely the 24 year-old could join up with the Anfield outfit after the tournament for a fee reported to be in the region of £8 million.

Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine)
Current club: Dynamo Kiev / Position: Midfield or Forward
Age: 22 / International debut: Sept 2009 v. Andorra

Should Andriy Shevchenko's fitness problems prevent him from making an impact, his Dynamo Kiev team-mate Andriy Yarmolenko may be the best alternative. The talented 22-year-old is capable of playing up front but it is on the left of a front three where he truly thrives, as his blend of pace, power and exceptional close control prove to be a devastating mixture. Yarmolenko scored on his full international debut against Andorra in 2009, but still took part at this summer's European Under-21 Championships in order to gain tournament experience.

Robert Lewandowski (Poland)
Current club: Borrusia Dortmund / Position: Forward
Age: 23 / International debut: Sept 2008 v. San Marino

Poland's outstanding player and biggest goal threat, Robert Lewandowski arrives at Euro 2012 in the form of his life. He was voted the Bundesliga's Player of the Year for 2011-12 after firing Borussia Dortmund to the domestic double. His hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the German Cup final took his tally to 30 goals in all competitions (plus eight assists). His form and fitness are absolutely critical to Poland's chances - they have no other forward in his class. Lewandowski, who usually plays as a lone striker for club and country, was given his international debut in a World Cup qualifier in 2008, and took just nine minutes to get on the scoresheet.

Mario Götze (Germany)
Current club: Borussia Dortmund / Position: Attack Midfield
Age: 20 / International debut: Nov 2010 v. Sweden

Although Germany have midfield talent in abundance, Mario Gotze’s spellbinding performances for Borussia Dortmund, helping them to a second consecutive Bundesliga title, will further bolster Germany’s claim to be among the tournament favourites. Götze (right) a product of Dortmund's youth academy has quick feet, flawless technical skills and endlessly creativity. As a 17-year-old in his debut season with Borussia Dortmund, he contributed 5 goals and 15 assists as they won the Bundesliga title during the 2010-11 season and he’s retained the trophy with them again during 2011/12. Despite missing a sizable chunk of last season due to a hip injury, he was still able to score 5 times and set up 5 for his team-mates in a mere 15 league appearances. He also became the country’s joint youngest ever goalscorer when he netted against Brazil in August 2011, aged 19 years and 68 days old and you can be sure he will be eyeing equally as big scalps this summer. With the attacking midfield flair of Thomas Mueller, Mesut Ozil, and Lucas Podolski at his disposal, it will be interesting to see how German manager Joachim Loew will accommodate the youngster into an already star studded midfield.

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