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Euro 2012 is almost upon us and talk is rife over which players will shine for their countries in Poland and Ukraine. Here, we count down 10 candidates who will be worth keeping an eye on this summer.
Giovinco would probably never have made it as a professional in England. But the tiny forward has shown that, despite being two inches shorter than the famously stunted Lionel Messi, his height isn't a problem. Playing as a second striker, Giovinco bagged 15 goals and 13 assists in 36 Serie A games for Parma this season. The 25-year-old has wonderful technical ability, dribbling skills and a creative instinct. After making his Italy debut at the start of 2011, Giovinco has added seven more caps and stands to be involved at the Euros. Ireland will have to be careful that he doesn't run rings round them on June 18.
If England are to get a result against Ukraine, they're going to have to get past Rakitsky. The tenacious 22-year-old can play either as a centre-back or in midfield, but is expected to start in the latter at the Euros. He was promoted to the Shakhtar Donetsk first team following the departure of Dmytro Chygrynskiy to Barcelona and moved into midfield following his teammate's return from the Catalan club a year later. Rakitsky will be very much at home when England face Ukraine in Donetsk on June 19 and along with winger Andriy Yarmolenko, he will cause problems for Roy Hodgson's team.
Spain manager Vicente del Bosque has Unai Emery to thank for ending his search for Joan Capdevila's replacement after the Valencia manager successfully transformed Alba from a winger into a left-back. The move hasn't curbed the 22-year-old's attacking tendencies mind, and with seven assists this season we can expect to see him haring down the flank to support the Spanish attack. It has been a successful breakthrough campaign for Alba, reaching the semi-final of the Europa League with Los Che and qualifying for next season's Champions League. He may not be there for much longer, though, with Barcelona and Manchester United tracking his development.
The combative PSV midfielder is battling for Nigel de Jong's role in the Holland team, having played in more qualifying matches than the Man City midfielder who infamously slammed his studs into Xabi Alonso's chest in the 2010 World Cup final. Strootman has been compared to Roy Keane for his box-to-box displays. The 22-year-old is strong in the tackle and composed in possession, capable of picking a pass to start a counter-attack. Manchester United scouts have reportedly watched Strootman on more than ten occasions and should he have an impressive tournament for the Oranje, a move could be on the cards.
Russia are expected to progress from a rather uninspiring Group A but if they are to get past a difficult Group B opponent in the quarter-finals they will need Dzagoev to be at the top of his game. The CSKA Moscow attacking midfielder is a delightfully tricky player who can weave passes through even the most resilient defences. The 21-year-old has established himself in the national side following Russia's failure to qualify for the 2010 World Cup and will be charged with being the team's principal creator, providing chances for Pavel Pogrebnyak, Roman Pavyluchenko or Aleksandr Kerzhakov in attack. Dzagoev was influential in CSKA reaching the second round of this season's Champions League, recording three assists and more key passes per game than Wesley Sneijder, Cristiano Ronaldo and Cesc Fabregas.
Giroud is unlikely to start for France ahead of Karim Benzema, but after he inspired the team's comeback in the warm-up match against Iceland he's certain to play a part at the Euros. Giroud's performance, which included two assists, displayed the striker's range of qualities. Not only is he a superb finisher, but his pace and awareness can also lead to chances for teammates. The 25-year-old travels to Poland and Ukraine on a high after leading Montpellier's unlikely title success in Ligue 1 with 21 goals and nine assists. There will be plenty of scouts there to watch him, with Arsenal at the front of the queue.
At 6'3" Hummels is an imposing presence in the German back line. The defender has been in commanding form for the past two seasons, playing a key role in Borussia Dortmund's back-to-back title triumphs while Bayern Munich kick themselves for letting him go on the cheap. Only 23, Hummels' composure and positional sense belie his years. The centre-back is powerful in the air and quick to read situations, which will be vital against Holland and Portugal in Group B. Germany's 5-3 defeat to Switzerland wasn't Hummels' finest performance, but the defender still grabbed his first international goal and is expected to make an impact when the tournament begins.
Lewandowski is already a household name in Germany after leading the Bundesliga scoring charts this season. The powerful striker's 22 goals for Borussia Dortmund were influential in Die Schwarzgelben claiming a second title in a row and his hat-trick in the German Cup final helped defeat Bayern Munich 5-2. At 23, Lewandowski is still developing his game, but he already has many attributes that could be key to the hosts getting out of Group A. An instinctive finisher with excellent technique and the ability to play with his back to goal, the forward is expected to increase his list of suitors this summer, which supposedly includes Manchester United.
Although he's only 20, Eriksen already has 22 caps for Denmark and appeared at the World Cup in 2010. The Ajax attacking midfielder is an essential creative talent for the Danes, and will be their biggest threat in the 'Group of Death' against Holland, Germany and Portugal. Eriksen has also starred in Europe for Ajax, with only Zenit's Danny and Mesut Ozil averaging more key passes per game in this season's Champions League. The playmaker's skillful dribbling and eye for a killer ball have caught the eye of many of Europe's leading clubs and after winning the Eredivisie in both of the last two years he may be ready for a move after the Euros.
The 'German Messi' isn't expected to start for Die Mannschaft in Poland and Ukraine, but he'll prove a brilliant option to have on the bench. The 19-year-old has already won two Bundesliga titles with Borussia Dortmund as well as the German Cup. This season he has been dogged by a hip injury but after recovering to full fitness Gotze will be ready to make an impact should Jogi Low call on him. In 17 league appearances, the attacking midfielder notched six goals and five assists, often cutting in from the wing to devastating effect. Germany will be hoping that if their plan A fails, Gotze and teammate Marco Reus can be sent on to cause havoc with their direct approach.
First appeared on www.football365.com, your alternative Euro 2012 destination
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