Euro 2012: Five Young Midfielders Who Will Make a Difference for Their Country
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James McClean, Republic of Ireland — Steve Bruce claimed that the winger would be a future star for Sunderland after he purchased him in 2011 from Derry City for little money. McClean was then sent out to the outskirts of the team and left to find his way in the reserves.
But find his way he did.
The 2012 campaign was a breakout year for the 23-year-old. He was a revelation for Sunderland on the wings and even pushed himself into the Euro squad despite one previous cap with the strong showings.
Look for him to get some time late in games when Ireland is pushing for a goal. He is the perfect cover for veteran winger Damien Duff. McClean has pace and poise with the ball. It will be interesting to watch how he performs on the big stage of the Euros when he gets his chance.
Jakub Błaszczykowski, Poland — There is no doubting that Błaszczykowski will see plenty of time. He's the captain of Poland, one of the host nations, and a threat to score from his favored right wing. The Borussia Dortmond player won't have much time to celebrate his club's second straight Bundesliga title as he will be called on to create chances for his Dortmund teammate, forward Robert Lewandowski.
Błaszczykowsk is in his prime — he's 26 — and could be on top of the world if he helps Poland push through some tough rounds and into the later stages of the Euros. He has the ability to take over a game on the wing if given the opportunity. The bigger issue will be the parts and pieces around him.
Rasmus Elm, Sweden — Measuring how many goals a player scores in the Eredivise is tough. Many players score goals in the Netherlands' top leagues which don't translate well to other leagues. But Elm, a midfielder for AZ, scores and sets up beautiful goals.
The fleet-footed midfielder creates chances with unprecedented vision. For Sweden, he will need to continue to do that because Zlatan Ibrahimović can't score and set up goals all by himself in this competition.
The 24-year-old has stated he won't look into his future with any club until after the Euros. Look for his performance against Europe's best teams determine where he ends up next season (right now, Elm only has 12 months left on his contract with AZ, so he will either sign a new contract, or AZ will more than likely sell him to the highest bidder).
Javi Martinez, Spain — The Athletic Bilbao holding midfielder will probably be Carlos Puyol's replacement along Spain's backline after an impressive season where he played mostly as a center back for Bilbao. His work ethic and range on the field is typical of a hardworking midfielder who sits in front of a back-four, but he also has that rare ability to play any style needed against any opponent. Martinez can play the rough and tumble, up and down game. He can also play the more possession-oriented style Spain plays. He is a dynamic player who will surely stand out on a team looking to defend its 2008 Euro championship and 2010 World Cup.
His play in the midfield reminds me of a young, but more athletically gifted, Xabi Alonso.
Ivan Perišić, Croatia — Croatia isn't short on attacking midfielders. Niko Kranjčar and the little witch Luca Modric are ahead of Perišić in the pecking order, but the 23-year-old midfielder has a great boot and can score plenty of goals from the midfield if given the chance. His ability to play out wide and his strong performances for Bundesliga Champions Dortmund make him a perfect fit for a Croatia team that can put teams on their heels and should surprise plenty of people going into the Euros.
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