EURO 2012

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Which Youngster Shined Brightest at EURO 2012

In addition to being perennial stomping grounds for Spain, major international tournaments like EURO 2012 can serve as proving grounds for young professionals to gain fame and secure transfers to major clubs.  With much of the world tuned in, those few games are often the most vital of any young player’s career.

Recently, players like Luis Suarez, Mesut Ozil, Andrey Arshavin, and Alexi Sanchez featured in major tournaments and earned big money moves to clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool, Barcelona, and Real Madrid.  EURO 2012 also enabled a new crop of young professionals to shine, and a few are likely to embark on a similar path as their successful predecessors.

One such player is Alan Dzagoev from Russia.  Already a key man at CSKA Moscow, the 22 year old burst onto the international scene scoring three goals in Russia’s first two EURO 2012 matches.  Unfortunately, a loss to Greece in the final match resulted in Russia’s elimination even though they had a better goal differential.  Thus the tournament was cut short for Dzagoev, but he clearly drew notice from a host of major clubs and has already been linked with Arsenal, Tottenham, and Manchester United.

Alan Dzagoev is an attacking midfielder and would improve any team with his smart passing and deft finishing.  At such a young age, he could develop into a world famous star if he seals a move to the right club.

Another exciting new player at EURO 2012 was Mathieu Debuchy of France.  The Lille right back had an outstanding performance against England in the country’s tournament opener which clearly drew interest from the English Premier League.  Earlier this year, Debuchy was heavily linked with Newcastle, but now it seems as if Chelsea or possibly even Inter Milan are set to swoop in and lure the player to a bigger club.

Chelsea would be a fantastic place for the Frenchmen where he could linkup with his former Lille team mate, Eden Hazard.  The tandem led Lille to a Ligue 1 championship in 2011 and would love the opportunity to help Chelsea improve upon their recent league troubles.  Debuchy’s attacking prowess makes him an intriguing talent.

Probably the most exciting player to emerge from EURO 2012 was Jordi Alba of Spain.  Alba was able to start each match at left back for the Spanish side after an injury to Carlos Puyol.  Those expecting a drop in quality were horribly mistaken.  Alba’s speed and technical skill helped Spain lift the trophy.  In addition to excellent defending, Alba also had an assist against France and a wonderful goal against Italy in the final.  He made a daring 60 yard run out from his own half and collected a brilliant Xavi pass and eased the ball into the net like a classy veteran.

Barcelona has already gobbled up this talent just last week, but we can expect lots of chatter about the destination of Dzagoev and Debuchy.  For these players, EURO 2012 was a tremendous success.  The soccer world will soon become quite accustomed to their names.

England March On

I have been very surprised by England’s EURO 2012 progress under the new leadership of Roy Hodgson.  I honestly expected a Steve McClaren type of reign; where the manager picks the same players, plays in the same style and makes all the same mistakes.

Hodgson has fielded mostly the same players that one would expect with a couple of new faces mixed in; no great surprises there, but the way England are playing is totally different.  It certainly isn’t pretty to watch, in fact to a neutral it is probably dead boring, but man is it organized!  And at the end of the day it gets results and results win tournaments.

England are looking like one of the most difficult teams to beat at EURO 2012.  As they showed against the Ukraine they are very difficult to break down, and have been giving away very few chances.  On the flip side they have not been creating many chances at the other end either.

All England fans would love for England to play expansive Brazilian or Spanish football, winning matches with 40 shots on target, 30 corners and 8-nill scorelines on the way to win major tournaments.  This, however, is just not reasonable with the personnel that we have available; Hodgson has embraced the reality of what England is capable of.

In my opinion playing this way is the only way England will have chance at winning the tournament, and we already owe Hodgson a great deal of gratitude for not only progressing from the group stage, but winning the group by a clear 3 points.

Germany Looks Mighty at EURO 2012

Through two games played, Germany alone has answered all the critics and won both of their matches.  Furthermore, the wins have come against serious opposition in the form of Portugal and the Netherlands.  With such an early statement being made, Germany could very well get over the hump and end up lifting the trophy in Kiev.

Although the entire side is looking quite ready to make a EURO 2012 run, Mario Gomez has been the shining beacon, scoring each of their three goals thus far in the tournament.  His goals have come from all methods.  His first against Portugal was a glorious header.  Against Holland he displayed touch on the first as he spun around and guided the ball into the corner.  His next goal was sheer power as he blasted the ball across the goal and into the top corner.  It seems as if there is no end to what the burly German can do with the ball.

Bastian Schweinsteiger has been a controlling force in the midfield and Philip Lahm looks like the world’s best full back as he withheld numerous Arjen Robben assaults and even made dangerous forays into the opponent’s half.  Another splendid player for the Germans is Mesut Ozil, who continues to shine and terrorize defenses.

The team totally dominated the Netherlands, a 2010 World Cup finalist.  After Robin van Persie scored a goal fifteen minutes from time to bring the match close at 2-1, Germany held on to the ball until the match’s end and didn’t give the Dutch any late game opportunities to scrape a draw.  Such a powerful performance showed that this team has the maturity to hold on late in a match which could prove vital in winning EURO 2012.

Another factor propelling Germany to success is that the nation is in such close proximity to Poland and the Ukraine, where the tournament is being held.  Their fans have only a short trip to support their country.  Even more helpful is that both Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose are Polish born, making EURO 2012 a homecoming of sorts for the offensive tandem who would love to score some goals on their home turf.

Germany does tend to start tournaments hot before collapsing at the pivotal moments.  In the 2010 World Cup, Germany had dominating performances against England and Argentina before succumbing to the Spanish talent in the semifinals.  Similarly, Germany had reached the EURO 2008 finals where they also lost to Spain.  Had they won those games, we could all be declaring Germany the greatest team of all time instead of Spain.  But, it was not to be.  So the question becomes, if Germany continues to play well deep into this tournament, will they finally be able to overcome Spain?  After watching the Spanish demolition of Ireland today, I’m not quite sure they will.

England’s Euro squad suffers another blow

News has just emerged that Jermain Defoe has left the England Euro 2012 camp and headed back home due to the death of his father. At the moment it appears that he is set to return to the tournament, but at this point it is still unclear when that return will be.

I have nothing against Defoe he gets his share of goals, and he is certainly not afraid to pull the trigger but I’d just prefer to see some fresh blood.  Defoe has been there for England time and time again, but each time England have not done much.  England need to shake it up, and the man to do that could be Norwich City’s Grant Holt, he was in fine form this season with 15 premier league goals.  He’s a force in the air, but unlike Andy Carrol, he can score skillful goals too; he’s more than just a battering ram.

Defoe seems like a bit of an emotional fellow; he was fairly distraught over the whole Fabrice Muamba heart attack incident; and I’m sure this loss is going to hit him hard too.  Let him sit this tournament out and give Holt his shot.

When the chips are down, with 10 minutes left to play, if it’s Jermain Defoe coming on I’m not going to be filled with that nervous feeling of “a miracle might just happen”.  With Grant Holt, an untested diamond in the rough, that fairy tail moment might just be on the cards.

There has to be more to the Rio snub

Since becoming England manager, Roy Hodgson has really only made one controversial decision; that was to leave Rio Ferdinand out of the Euro 2012 squad.

At the time it didn’t seem to be that big of a deal because when you look through the list of included central defenders: Terry, Cahill, Jagielka, Lescott, Jones and put each up against Ferdinand it is debatable who is better.  I simple put it down to Roy thinking that these included defenders are playing better than Ferdinand at this point in time.

However the whole situation has become a bit more sinister since the injury to Gary Cahill.  One would assume that Rio is obviously next in line for a call up…but shockingly Hodgson has gone with Martin Kelly instead…

When you stack up the stats of Kelly versus Ferdinand this decision seems to make absolutely no footballing sense.

Rio Ferdinand – made 30 league appearances for Manchester United this season and they finished 2nd.

Martin Kelly – made 10 league appearances for Liverpool this season and they finished 8th.

And that’s just this season’s most recent and basic stats, which debunks the theory that Ferdinand is over the hill.  If you look at the history of both players it is hands down no contest. Ferdinand with 81 senior England caps, 5 Premier League titles, 2 League Cups, a Champions League, and FA Cup; versus Martin Kelly with 1 League Cup.

In footballing terms it is the equivalent of saying “I would rather take 1 less player to the Euros than include Rio Ferdinand”.

The next argument is that Ferdinand is injury prone, but we are talking about the 5th in line center back spot.  Hodgson has already shown that he has no problem including  recently injured players, such as Terry, Gerrand, Welbeck, Parker, etc.. so I doubt this is Hodgson’s reasoning.

Some managers like to stamp their authority on the team by locking out a high profile player, Fabio Capello was certainly the type of manager to do that, but nothing about Roy makes me think he is of the same ilk in this regard.

My only conclusion is that there has to be some ulterior motive.  Maybe Sir Alex made a man to man phone call to Hodgson saying in no uncertain terms “call up Ferdinand at your own peril”; it is, after all, well known that managers have been led on by the possibility of becoming the next Manchester United manager after the great man retires.

Or maybe behind the scenes Ferdinand’s personality is detrimental to team moral.  When watching him in a losing situation he does seem to be one of those players who turns to his teammates and says “you guys suck”… as opposed to giving a rallying cry.

Whatever the reason for this decision it has to be something strange, because no one can tell me Martin Kelly is a better defender than Rio Ferdinand.

EURO 2012 Brings Together Europe’s Best

The EURO 2012 tournament is just around the corner and will feature the top 16 European soccer nations in an exciting group of matches located in Poland and the Ukraine throughout the month of June.  Although not as global a tournament as the World Cup, the EURO will include many of the best players in the world such as Robin van Persie and Cristiano Ronaldo.

EURO 2012 is also a proving ground for many emerging talents that will hope to catch the eyes of major clubs across the continent.  During the 2008 tournament, players like Lukas Modric, Andre Arshavin, and Roman Pavlyuchenko excelled and gained the recognition that led to successful moves to clubs like Arsenal and Tottenham.

Of further importance however is the opportunity to win a major trophy for one’s country.  Typically a world power such as Spain or Germany claim the prize, but the shortness of the EURO tournament has led to dramatic upset victories such as the EURO 2004 championship by Greece.

This year’s tournament favorites are Spain, France, Germany, and the Netherlands.  However, each team is dealing with issues and will have to answer questions.  Reigning 2010 World Cup Champions and EURO 2008 victors Spain look to continue their legacy, but will struggle without their defensive leader Carlos Puyol and main striker David Villa, who are both injured.

France is loaded with talent from players like Frank Ribery, Samir Nasri, and Hugo Lloris, but one has to question their focus after a 2010 World Cup that was marred by a mutiny over the exclusion of Nicolas Anelka.  Both Germany and the Netherlands are loaded with stars but have defensive deficiencies which could prove problematic during later round matches.

England is typically a strong side as well but their team has a host of problems.  Roy Hodgson took over the post only weeks ago, and many players have had to withdraw due to injuries like Frank Lampard, Gareth Barry and Gary Cahill.  Furthermore, striker Wayne Rooney is set to miss the first two matches due to suspension so they will be at a disadvantage from the get-go.  Such adversity could crumble their EURO 2012 hopes but could also offer a rallying point and bring the players together.  Two Englishmen who will be looking to make a statement are young forwards Danny Welbeck and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Mario Balotelli will look to inspire Italy to success though his wild antics could run their chances off the tracks if his immaturity results in a red card.  However, on his day his scoring ability cannot be denied and he could emerge as a national hero.  Another potential hero could be Cristiano Ronaldo who is probably the one player capable of winning it all by himself for Portugal.

Hosts Poland will be looking for success as well behind striker Robert Lewandowski and goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.  The Ukraine will have a tougher test as injuries have left them depleted in the goalie position.  Pressure will be on aging strikers Andriy Shevchenko and Andriy Voronin to keep them in matches with goals.

The EURO 2012 will be an exciting affair and my prediction is that France emerges as winners.  Their players look to be in the best of form and looked hungriest during warm-up friendly matches.  But, the games must be played and are a sure bet to provide some serious fun this summer.