We are less than a week away from the kick-off to Euro 2012, or the UEFA European Football Championship, which many consider to be the most unpredictable and difficult prize international football has to offer.
Sixteen of the world's 24 best footballing nations will battle it out in an uncompromising knock-out tournament, hoping to survive five matches to reach the final, and possibly write history in the process.
And, as always, new stars will be born, heroic team feats will be accomplished, favorites will be unseated and underdogs will surprise.
National sporting rivalries will flourish, victories will be celebrated wildly and last but not least—tears will flow in streams.
All in all, we hope for compelling entertainment, for displays of sophisticated and enticing football and of course, for sporting fairness.
As we stock up on food and beverages and ready our sofas and adjust our TV sets to prepare for the three-week event, let's have a look at the players who will be decisive to the outcome for their respective sides.
Though we are always enthralled to see the refreshing flamboyance of youth shine, and though we all debate who will be able to provide the goals necessary for ultimate triumph, Euro history suggests that each team must have a spirited veteran leader, an acclaimed and experienced master whose form and acumen will determine the success or defeat of great footballing nations.
As leaders, their job is to rhythm the tempo, to organize and control the game and to design the flow of attack.
As hardened veterans, they must motivate their sides—on and off the pitch.
They are the brain and the heartbeat of each nation's game.
If they succeed, their country's hopes will grow. If they fail, their team's outlook is dim.
For some, it will be the last grand hurrah—their last chance to crown long careers and step into football's eternal hall of fame. Though all have passed their 30th year, we will be excited to see who can become a legend, and thus remain "forever young."