Euro 2012: Five Youngsters to Look Out For
Poland, age 23
Co-hosts Poland are the lowest ranked team at this year’s championships: 62nd, behind countries like Armenia and El Salvador. But everyone knows that the FIFA rankings don’t really mean squat, and the Poles come into the tournament on the back of a good run of friendly results – drawing against Germany and Portugal in the last year and convincingly beating lowly ranked teams like Latvia and Andorra.
Poland’s big number nine, Robert Lewandowski, holds the key if they are to progress out of their group. “Lewy” comes into the Euros on the back of a sensational season for Borussia Dortmund, netting 30 goals in 46 games, including a hat-trick against Bayern Munich in the German Cup final. A physical presence and a clinical poacher, Lewandowski won’t be confronting major defensive strongholds against any of his Group A opponents, so expect goals – and plenty of ‘em.
Germany age 23
The young attacking midfielder has been a revelation for Borussia Möchengladbach this season, helping them to fourth place in the Bundesliga and reaching the Champions League after a 16-year hiatus from European competitions.
Along with Mario Goetze and André Schürrle, Reus is part of a new generation of German talent hoping to make the same sort of spry impact that Mesut Özil and Sami Khadira made during the World Cup two years ago. Reus probably won’t be starting many games but, given the chance coming off the bench, he can provide strength and creativity in the centre of the pitch, a vital part of Germany’s strategy in linking the midfield up with the lone striker (either Miroslav Klose or Mario Gomez, we don’t know who yet). Reus has also already signed to play for Borussia Dortmund next season, hinting at a potential shift in the German power politics that Bayern Munich have previously dominated.
England, age 18
As Alex Oxlade-Chamberlan began playing an ever-more prominent role in Arsenal’s season, the team spirit suddenly galvanized, the fans began to get excited again, and in the end the Gunners managed to pip third-place in the PREMIER League. His performances against Manchester United and AC Milan are regarded as his two best, so thriving on the big stage does not seem to be too much of an issue for the teenager.
England manager Roy Hodgson selected Oxlade-Chamberlain for the national squad despite the youngster having never even played a single game for England. An unusual choice but, frankly, a necessary one. “The Ox” has pace, skill and unrestrained confidence on the ball and fans hope he will bring some much needed pizzazz to an otherwise mundane and bland England squad.
Denmark, age 20
When you look at Denmark’s Group B opponents – Germany, Holland and Portugal – it would seem fair to assume that the Danes are pretty much totally screwed. They go into the tournament as total underdogs and as long as they show a degree of grit and determination, their fans should be happy.
But perhaps this is just the right environment in which a player like Christian Eriksen might thrive. And history tells us that when the Danes have nothing to lose, they tend to do pretty well (1992, for example). The Danish playmaker is hugely talented and demonstrates the right levels of intelligence that his role behind the frontman requires. He links up well with the strikers in front of him and effortlessly spans the ball out to the wings.
So are the Danes really that screwed? Well, supposedly the Germans are facing a psychological crisis after Bayern Muenich’s Champions League final defeat; we all know that the Dutch do not have a stable defense; and in Portugal lost to Denmark in their final qualifying match, leaving the Danes to top the group by three points. Hello!
Spain, age 23
The Valencia left-back only made his international debut last October. Fast-forward eight months and five international caps later, and Jordi Alba is already expected to make the current world champion’s starting line-up.
The Spaniards will be expecting a good defensive performance from the young man. Their backline has been significantly weakened with the withdrawal of Carlos Puyol to injury and Gerard Pique might struggle without his familiar partner alongside him. A good relationship between Pique and Alba is therefore imperative if Spain are going win a third consecutive tournament. It would also give the Barcelona scouts, who are reportedly pursuing the young left-back, a good idea of how well the two can play together. No pressure, then.
Photos courtesy of the Bleacher Report and the Sun
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