Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Future stars of the tournament?

With the eyes of the world watching during a huge competition like the European Championships, a host of young talent will look to use the opportunity to showcase their skills.


Benzema: Will lead the line for France.

Here's a selection, in no particular order, of some fresh faces to look out for when the competition kicks off.

Karim Benzema: Striker, France
A French football star of Algerian descent is always going to be compared to the legendary Zidane. However, Benzema is hewn from different stock. A tall and agile striker, the Lyon youngster has burst onto the international scene over the past year with a series of impressive performances for club and country.

The top scorer in Ligue 1 this season, Benzema has been attracting attention from across Europe, although has repeatedly pledged his future to Les Gones. Fast, and with a great eye for goal, he can also play on the wings, which is a versatility that Thierry Henry, Nicolas Anelka and Djibril Cisse also possess.

The new generation of French striker, Benzema will surely get his chance to impress alongside the likes of Henry after his goal-filled season with Lyon. If he can learn from the experience, then he will have the world at his feet after the tournament is over.

Joao Moutinho: Midfielder, Portugal
The youngest Sporting captain in history has a lot to live up to in the shape of Portugal legend Rui Costa, who he has constantly been compared with throughout his career with the national side. An attacking midfielder, who plays best in the gap behind a front two, Moutinho has shown promise from an early age and has hardly missed a game for Sporting since breaking into the first-team aged 17.

An excellent passer of the ball, Moutinho has a great engine as well and gets from box-to-box with enthusiasm that has seen him become a fans' favourite in Portugal. He faces stiff competition for a midfield berth from Deco, Maniche, Tiago and Hugo Viana, but has more than enough to compete on the international stage.

Along with Nani and fellow Sporting team-mate Miguel Veloso, Moutinho ranks as one of the most promising prospects to come out of Selecção for some time and it may not be long before he is plying his trade with one of Europe's elite.

Mario Gomez: Striker, Germany
Surely one of the most talented German strikers around, Gomez has hit the heights for his club Stuttgart this season bagging 19 goals in 25 starts in the Bundesliga. Tall, powerful and strong in the air, Europe's elite are already on his trail with Chelsea and Barcelona showing interest.

The Catalans may be heading the queue as Gomez's father is of Spanish origin, but would have to pay upwards of £20million if he has a good tournament. German coach Joachim Low has already shown faith in the youngster ahead of Kevin Kuranyi and could be persuaded to play Lucas Podolski in a midfield role in order to partner him with Klose.

Luka Modric: Midfielder, Croatia
A part of the Croatian side that sent England crashing out of qualifying, the 22-year-old Modric has been a key player for Slaven Bilic. Playing in central midfield, and sometimes on the left, Modric's performances for Dinamo Zagreb attracted the attention of Tottenham who splashed out £16.5million for his services over the summer.

Despite being slight of frame, Modric is able to use his body well and contributes defensively as well (something that many offensive players neglect to do). His ability to use both feet sets his apart from some of his team-mates and his range of passing and dribbling skills are a key component to the Croatian attack.

Ciprian Marica: Striker, Romania
A record transfer for VfB Stuttgart in the summer of 2007, Marica has justified his ¬8million price tag with a series of assured displays for one so young. Scoring four goals in eleven of Romania's qualifying games, the striker has helped Romania to become a force to reckoned with and is sure to get his chance again alongside Adrian Mutu.

Boasting excellent dribbling skills, Marica can also rely on a good turn of pace to get him away from defenders. A relative unknown before his move to Germany, the 22-year-old has become an important player for club and country, although he'll find it tough going against the solid defences of the other sides in Group C.

Eren Derdiyok, Striker, Switzerland
A powerful and quick striker, Derdiyok holds the hope of a nation in his young hands alongside the established Alexander Frei up front. While the youngster may not get many chances to shine at Euro 2008, he has already shown himself more than capable of impressing when called into action.

A great goal against England in February alerted the world to his potential, but his club form for FC Basle has also sent European scouts' pulses racing. Arsenal and Newcastle have reportedly been monitoring the 19-year-old and, after proving himself above the level of the Swiss U19 and U21 sides, Derdiyok will be looking to show the world what he has to offer.


Akinfeev: A safe pair of hands for Hiddink's Russia.
Igor Akinfeyev: Goalkeeper, Russia
Breaking into the CSKA first-team aged only 17, Akinfeyev soon made an impression between the sticks and was called up to the Russian Euro 2004 squad, where he gained valuable experience.

Under new coach Guus Hiddink, Akinfeyev has established himself firmly as the favourite for the #1 jersey, despite missing six months of the season with a knee injury. Viewed as one of the most promising 'keepers in the world, let alone Europe, the youngster has been linked with every European giant, but is keen to continue his development in Moscow.

His command of the penalty area, shot stopping ability and agility are without question, but it remains to be seen if Akinfeyev can overcome his injury troubles and succeed at a major tournament. Euro 2008 will certainly offer him the opportunity.

Arda Turan: Midfielder, Turkey
One of the best players in the Turkish league, Turan has already notched up a number of international appearances at the tender age of 21. With nine in qualifying, the youngster showed that he can cut it with the big boys and has been attracting the attention of big-spending Newcastle.

A box of tricks, Turan fits in well on either wing or playing the hole behind the strikers and has bags of creativity. Great vision and an excellent passing ability make this youngster one of the hottest prospects in Europe and a good Euro 2008 could see his stock rise even higher.

Others to keep an eye on: Ibrahim Afellay (Netherlands), Raul Albiol (Spain), Jakub Blaszczykowski (Poland), Daniele De Rossi (Italy), Vasilis Torosidis (Greece), Sebastian Prödl (Austria), Sebastian Larsson (Sweden), Tomás Sivok (Czech Rep).

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