Euro 2012: 30 Players to Watch (Part 2)

The second half of Kevin Coleman’s Euro 2012 feature includes a handful of Germans, an eccentric Italian a French goal machine.

Part One >>

Olivier Giroud | France | 25

Although I’m pushing it slightly by including the 25-year-old, Giroud is still very much in the early stages of his international career. Similarly to Marvin Martin, whom we profiled in part one, Laurent Blanc is gifting the opportunity to players outside of the big powerhouses of French football in preference to others who are under-performing.

When you mention the big sides of French football, however, only Giroud will be showing off his league title medal on the team bus this summer rather than his PSG, Marseille and Lyon teammates. Giroud netted 25 goals last season, 21 of which helped Montpellier to their first league title in its 38-year history.

Giroud is a lumbering 6″3′ striker with a healthy appetite in front of goal. France are in quite a favourable group, but if Karim Benzema fails to fire Blanc won’t be shy in throwing on Giroud. And with the likes of Samir Nasri and Franck Ribery for company, expect him to explode.

Javi Martinez | Spain | 23

This season Athletic Bilbao caught the attentions of hundreds of football fans from this neck of the woods with their pretty passing and clinical finishing. Marcelo Bielsa brought the hype machine he built while coaching the Chilean national team with him to Bilbao, where they played beautiful effective football all the way until the final of the Europa League before losing to league rivals Atletico Madrid.

One player who boosted his profile throughout the season was yet another exciting young Spanish midfielder, but one who is more comfortable in a defensive role than marauding forward and contributing to the playmaking. Javi Martinez is a technically adept defensive midfielder, comfortable while on the ball but with the positional awareness to thwart any offensive opponents, which has made him an equally as impressive centre back when needed.

Martinez has already stamped his foot on Spanish international football, with a European U-19 championship medal and most recently an U-21 medal to his name.

Ivan Perisic | Croatia | 23

Another Borussia Dortmund player?! We’ve seen two in part one, here’s the first of two in today’s feature. The Croatian midfielder may only have spent a year in the Bundesliga, but his impact was immediate with nine goals in 38 games after signing from Club Brugge – along with a stunner against Arsenal in the Champions League.

He played six times in qualifying which pretty much ensures him a start against Ireland, Italy and Spain in Group C. With plenty of attacking flair, an eye for a pass and superb control on the ball, Perisic is vital to a successful Croatian campaign.

Kevin Strootman | Netherlands | 22

Strootman has had a gradual rise through Dutch football, starting out at Sparta Rotterdam before a brief spell at Utrecht where he was snapped up by PSV Eindhoven.

Bert van Marwijk is known to be a great admirer of the 22-year-old and it’s difficult not to be dazzled by his midfield ability; superb vision, pin-point passing and a hard-working determination that is synonymous with Dutch players. With Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel for company in the centre, time on the field will be limited for Strootman but expect him to make an impact from the bench or perhaps even from the start later on in the tournament.

Mario Balotelli | Italy | 21

It feels as if the eccentric striker has been around for years. He kind of has, making his debut in 2007 as a 17-year-old who looked set for a very bright future. On the international front however Balotelli has astonishingly only made eight appearances for the Italians, very much playing second fiddle to the more experienced striking options at Italy’s disposal.

If Balotelli overcomes his injury problems in time, expect him to make a massive impact over the summer. Italy are expected to qualify for the knock-out stage and Super Mario has appeared to be very determined not to let his country down – assuring his coach that Italy will not be playing with ten men at any point throughout the tournament.

Ioannis Fetfatzidis | Greece | 21

The diminutive Greek winger is similar to Sotiris Ninis in the fact that he’s unlikely to make much of an impact in such a pro-defensive unit. As things stand, experience and defensive reliability will be preferred over youth and attacking capability in this Greek side.

The tricky attacker is a hard worker however, and his three goals in ten games may earn him a starting spot at some stage throughout the group stage. At just 21-year-of-age though, his time is sure to come.

Andre Schurrle | Germany | 21

One of the lesser known members of the new wave of German stars in Andre Schurrle, a forward player who plays for Bayer Leverkusen. Schurrle started off his career at FSV Mainz where, after an excellent second season which included 15 Bundesliga goals, he signed for Leverkusen in a £6.5million deal. In his debut season at the BayArena, the 21-year-old played 39 times and scored eight times.

As with all German players at the moment, Schurrle is a comfortable ball player – he has excellent technical ability, can dribble and beat defenders. Schurrle also possesses impressive determination and a doggedness that few players similar to him have when without the ball. He has an impressive seven in 14 games for Germany, so expect some minutes for him at the Euros.

Ilkay Gundogan | Germany | 21

Another Borussia Dortmund player, another 21-year-old German with excellent ball playing skills. Technically, he’s quite similar to Mesut Ozil with a forward pressing and quick passing style. He was courted by the Turkish FA but, as with Ozil, opted for to play internationally for Germany and who could blame him?

Mats Hummels | Germany | 23

Another German, another Borussia Dortmund player. Hummels is a bit different though, being a centre back, but still has the same sort of technical footballing ability and calmness on the ball as the previously mentioned Germans.

Having started off his career at Bayern, Dortmund picked him up on a bargain deal after he spent a season long loan there. He’s been excellent in Jurgen Klopp’s back-to-back league winning side which has earned him a starting berth at the heart of the Germany defence. Very much a ball playing centre back, Hummels is a joy to watch coming out from the back with the ball at his feet.

Holger Badstuber | Germany | 23

This is just unfair. Badstuber burst onto the scene first at the 2012 World Cup, where he started the opening group game at left back after only lining out for the national side two times prior to that.

After two decent seasons with Bayern’s second side, Badstuber made his way up to the big time with Munich where he made an instant impact in defence, be it a left back or in the heart of their defence. Louis van Gaal regards Badstuber as the best left footed player in Germany. High praise indeed.

As part of a young but sometimes leaky defence (Germany have conceded 10 in their last five) Badstuber will have to be at his best this summer.

Marco Reus | Germany | 23

Last German, promise. 23-year-old Reus is yet another technically adept player with plenty of guile and dribbling ability, a comfortable passer and with an eye for goal.

To rub it in, Borussia Dortmund signed him for €17.5million last January and he’ll join the squad for next season after spending three seasons at Borussia Monchengladbach where he played 97 times, scoring 36 goals.

As you can see, the depth in this Germany side is pretty astounding so Reus will be doing well to add to the six caps he already has in the national side. But if Joachim Low needs a player to come off the bench and unlock a defence, Reus will be high in the pecking order.

Rasmus Elm | Sweden | 24

As with Christian Eriksen yesterday, Elm is an exciting young Scandinavian playing his football in the Dutch league – and bound to get a move to a bigger club very soon. Scouts from Manchester Utd, Liverpool, Juventus, Arsenal and AC Milan have all tracked the AZ midfielder, who has been one of the best performers in the Eredivisie over the past few seasons.

The 24-year-old has 23 caps for Sweden. He’s only scored one goal, but that’s not his game. Elm plays a more conservative midfield role, pressing forward when he can but equally as comfortable playing from deep with the ball at his feet. Where Zlatan Ibrahimovic will inevitably take the headlines, shy Elm is more than happy to see the attention all over the big striker as he goes about his job in impressive fashion.

Danny Welbeck | England | 21

The other day against Belgium Danny Welbeck staked his claim for a starting berth against France in England’s Euro 2012 opener with a well taken chipped goal. For others, Welbeck was deserving of the position long before his first goal for England. In his first full season at Manchester Utd, Welbeck played 40 times and truly ousted Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov of the striking position alongside Wayne Rooney. Considering he’s just 21, it’s a very impressive feat to establish yourself up front at a Sir Alex Ferguson-managed club.

It’d be quite a surprise not to see Welbeck start against France. There’s an argument for Andy Carroll, but that may have vanished after Welbeck’s decent display at Wembley. He’s already doing it week-in-week-out for United and will have to fill the void left by his club teammate Wayne Rooney for the first two group games.

Andriy Yarmolenko | Ukraine | 22

This name might be familiar to some Manchester City fans. Last March in the Europa League, Dynamo Kiev knocked out the eventual Premier League champions 2-1 on aggregate. Although he didn’t find the net, the lightning quick 22-year-old caught the eye and was perhaps the best player over the two ties.

The left sided attacker, who is equally as adept up front, is considered by many to be Ukraine’s only great hope in getting out of a group that includes France, England and Sweden. A daunting task for sure, but one that Yarmolenko – who has seven in 20 games for Ukraine – will be relishing.

Kyriakos Papadopoulos | Greece | 20

At only 20-years-of-age, Papadopoulos is a well established centre back in the Bundesliga with Schalke having joined from Olimpiacos in 2010. Impressive throughout qualifying, Papadopoulos is now a hugely vital component to Greece’s defend-first mindset. As with their 2004 success, defending hard and diligently will be key and Papadopoulos is ready-made for the cause.

While the likes Welbeck and Yarmolenko will be important to their sides’ progression from an offensive standpoint, if Papadopoulos fails to perform Greece will be taking an early trip home.

Euro coverage: Group A | Group B | Group C | Part 1

The Author

Kevin Coleman

Founder and co-editor of Back Page Football and current host of our 'Three At The Back' weekly podcast.

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