Euro 2012 Predictions: Young Players Who Will Emerge as Stars
With Euro 2012 less than two weeks away, the buzz surrounding the tournament and its players continues to increase.
Spain must again be considered heavy favorites to retain their title and lift the cup come July 1 in Kiev. However, hopefuls England, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, and France also have strong squads that can surely challenge any team on their day.
The Euro is famous for bringing together the elite in world football and providing emerging stars the grounds to announce their arrival on the international scene. In previous years the likes of Luka Modric (2008) and Cristiano Ronaldo (2004) have used the tournament to spark their budding careers, and now it is time for a new crop of youngsters to do the same.
What truly defines the legacy of a footballer is how well they play at these tournaments.
Here are the players who have the quality to thrive and become national heroes at Euro 2012.
In a season of under achievement by Manchester United's high standards, Danny Welbeck proved to be one of the shining lights, scoring 12 goals in his first full campaign with the Lancashire club.
The 21-year-old product of United's youth system gained praise for a successful loan spell with Sunderland AFC during the 2010-2011 season and continued his good form this year to make his selection for England's Euro squad a formality.
With Welbeck's striking partner, Wayne Rooney, sidelined for the first two group stage matches due to a lack of discipline in a Euro qualifier with Montenegro and out-of-form poachers Andy Carroll and Jermaine Defoe being the only other options, the Three Lions will most certainly look to Welbeck to come up with the goods on the big stage.
That's a lot of pressure to put on such a young man, but we will see in the coming month if he can carry his team to the promise land or if England will cave under the spotlight and settle for mediocrity as in so many tournaments prior.
At the age of 19, Mario Götze has already achieved more than most can hope to achieve in their entire career. Capped 12 times by Germany and plying his trade with current Bundesliga champion Borussia Dortmund, this guy seems to be the real deal.
The man given the nickname, Götzinho, because of his flair and creativity is yet another promising indication of the success of Germany's youth system.
Despite his obvious talent, Götze may find it difficult to break into a German midfield occupied by superstars Mesut Özil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Lukas Podolski and Sami Khedira to name a few.
In order to solidify his importance to the side, Götze must do what he does best: run at defenders with pace and delicately slip passes through to the on-rushing strikers whenever the opportunity presents itself.
Trouble has followed Italian bad boy Mario Balotelli throughout his short career as a professional footballer.
From his time as a teenager with Inter Milan, where coach José Mourinho deemed him to be "unmanageable," to his recent disciplinary problems with Manchester City that include throwing darts at youth team players and setting fireworks off in his bathroom the night before a Manchester derby, the mind of Balotelli is one that confuses even his most loyal fans.
While his antics are questionable, his skill is undeniable.
In the 2011/2012 campaign, Balotelli netted 13 times in a total of 23 appearances for Manchester City. His club resume may be impressive, but his international career has yet to take flight, capped only seven times by Italy with one goal in return. Euro 2012 will provide the perfect platform for Mario to make headlines for the right reasons.
Can we really expect a drama-free tournament from this man? I'd love him to prove his critics wrong, but we will have to wait and see.
Another German on the list is the versatile attacking midfielder Toni Kroos. This is not his first time on the international scene. He was part of the 2010 World Cup squad that reached the semifinals in South Africa, but at that tournament was unestablished in the lineup and was only given the short cameos by manager Joachim Loew.
This year, at the ripe age of 22, the stage is set for Kroos to flourish as he has more international experience than most players his age and now has the benefit of playing regular first team football with Bayern.
With the likes of Özil and Schweinsteiger to assist Kroos in the midfield, it seems as though Germany have formulated the perfect group of players to help them go far in this year's tournament.
Let's hope Kroos can get it done when it matters most.
Yann M'Vila is a robust central defensive midfielder, a position the French national side was lacking during its poor display at the World Cup in South Africa.
The man who plies his trade at Rennes in Ligue 1 isn't afraid to get into the attacking third of the field either. He has developed a powerful strike and can thread through balls to teammates with seeming ease.
The 22-year-old is relatively inexperienced with the national side, making his first cap in August 2010 against Norway. This is his first senior international tournament, but he is equipped to make a big impact if he chooses to show his best.