Euro 2012: Older Players to Watch
There is a youth movement happening in the world of football right now that has turned the eyes of the general public to the youngest players. Squads like Germany, with a revolutionary youth system, have paved the way with a game that is more pleasant to the eyes than the one played in the first half of the last decade.
The role of the older player has been left aside as the squads gain youth and flair instead of experience and intelligence.
This slideshow highlights players more than 30 years of age who will play pivotal roles on their national squads in Poland and the Ukraine.
Croatia: Darijo Srna
In my opinion, 30-year-old Darijo Srna is one of the most under-appreciated wingers of the last decade. One of the most experienced players on the Croatian squad, Srna plays a pivotal role in Shakhtar Donetsk's right flank, making them one of the more entertaining squads to come out of Eastern Europe in a while.
Srna has both defensive prowess and amazing moves in the offensive zone. He provides an effective outlet for Luka Modric and Niko Kranjicar when the middle is clogged. Srna can both score and lob the ball to the box, and is always counted on in a supporting role in the offense.
Look for Srna to start all of Croatia's matches, not only because he's one of the most experienced players on their roster but as a key player.
Czech Republic: Tomas Hubschman
The Czech Republic is sporting one of the older sides of this tournament. It has its fair share of impact players older than 30, but, in my opinion, none is more important than defensive linchpin Tomas Hubschman.
Another one of Shakhtar's hidden gems, Hubschman is responsible to keep the back side safe while Willian, Fernandinho, Alex Teixeira and Dentinho create chances up front. His role is similar on his national squad as well. Hubschman plays hard and is a true sheriff for the defense.
Also, he will be relied upon for experience. With 41 caps, Hubschman is the most experienced player in the Czech back end.
Look for him to start all games for the Czechs with the responsibility of playing against the most skilled opposition. If the Czechs go deep, he might miss a game due to card trouble.
Denmark: Dennis Rommedahl
Dennis Rommedahl is a curious case, in my opinion. He was the owner of the Danish right wing for the better part of last decade and by the end of it, he really looked his age. The winger seemed slow and outdated. In some games, Rommedahl seemed unable to shake the defense, very different than the key player for PSV in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Now, at 33, Rommedahl has re-invented himself. A much smarter player after not making it in Ajax and Olympiacos, Rommedahl has returned to Denmark to play for Brondby and has accepted a lesser role in the national squad.
One of the players that Morten Olsen relies upon for experience, look for Rommedahl to come off the bench in the second half of games and be an efficient player on the pitch. Look for him not be flamboyant on offense, but not overly compromising in defense.
England: Ashley Cole
Ashley Cole is not the first player one thinks about when taking a look at England's squad for this tournament. The responsibility usually falls on the shoulders of veterans like John Terry and Steven Gerrard. Cole's role is often overlooked.
My opinion about this player has changed. In my point of view, Ashley Cole was an overrated player who always seemed to blow a fuse on key matches. But he proved me wrong, playing premier defense both in the semis and the final of the Champions League.
This year, he might not be under the spotlight in the English Team, but he will playing a pivotal role on the left side of defense. Also, with his 93 caps, Cole is the most veteran player on the squad, but not the oldest.
Look for Cole to start and shut down England's left flank while providing some quality offense every once in a while.
France: Florent Malouda
Florent Malouda is the most-capped player in France's squad with 75. While known for his speed and flair which took him from ex-national juggernaut Olympique Lyonnais to Chelsea, Malouda has certain fallen out favor in his club. While he still has game-breaking skill, he plays a supporting role in the squad to Franck Ribery and Karim Benzema.
Malouda is one of the most intriguing characters in France's squad, having ushered the team from the cerebral era that was dominated by players such as Zidane, Vieira, Petit, Thuram and, now coach, Laurent Blanc into an era of more dynamic football with names like himself, Ribery, Govou and Benzema.
Look for the 31-year-old to come off the bench in most games.
Germany: Miroslav Klose
Only two players in the German squad, Miroslave Klose and Tim Wiese, break the 30-year-of-age barrier. It is fair to say that Wiese won't face any action in this tournament due to Manuel Neuer's extraterrestrial play of late. So, that leaves us with the elder statesman of the Nationaelf.
Klose, with his 115 caps, has seen his role dwindle as he gets older. He broke through with a four-goal performance against Saudi Arabia in the 2002 FIFA World Cup to be one of two men to break Gerd Muller's record of goals in World Cups (the other is Brazil's Ronaldo).
Klose has an opportunity to put his name on the board as the tournament goes along if Mario Gomez, the starter in my opinion, proves not to be the answer. Gomez has had a very good season at club level with Bayern, but he has had his fair share of rough patches in the past.
Look for Klose to come in key situations when the team needs to score. A player that Joachim Low will save for the latter 10 minutes in games, look for Klose to see the bulk of his action in the knockout stages.
*Author's note: Klose is a Polish turned German playing in Poland. If the teams meet, look for the boos.
Greece: Kostas Chalkias
Greece has played some of the oldest squads in the Euros. The bulk of the players who participated In their Cinderella win of 2004 are retired or close to it.
At 38, Chalkias is the oldest player in the squad and will be their starting goalkeeper come next weekend. Greece has been very underwhelming in international tournaments since their 2004 campaign, so Chalkias will have his work cut out for him, to say the least.
Truth be told, Greece has always played older goalies. Who doesn't remember Antonis Nikopolidis' mythical gray hair for the better part of the last decade, not only in the Greek net but, in both Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. Chalkias is just the most recent of older Greek goalies.
Italy: Antonio Di Natale
Italy's troubles aside, the Azzurri are sporting one of the oldest squads on the tournament. One would look first for Gianluigi Buffon's or Andrea Pirlo's role as the most pivotal for this squad, but none is more key than Di Natale.
No Italian striker has been more consistent scoring goals in the latter part of the past decade. He has taken Udinese to the next level with his goals and, at 34, still fights every season for the highest goal total in the Serie A.
One would look for Cesare Prandelli to start Balotelli and Cassano for the tournament, but both forwards are not to be trusted. Balotelli has skill galore, but seems to lack the psychological component to carry his team on his back. Cassano has been out for an extended period of time and lacks match rhythm.
For these reasons, look for Di Natale to the "12th man" in Italy's squad or even a starter for Prandelli.
Ireland: Robbie Keane
Players have come and gone, but Robbie Keane is almost eternal in the Irish national squad. Despite showing his age and being essentially null ever since he left London for Liverpool in 2008, he always finds himself playing a key role for Ireland.
At 31 years of age, Keane is second in caps only to Shay Given. While both had seasons where Father Time has caught up with them, they are key for Irish success. Keane is the driving force of the forward corps, not only with experience but goals, too.
Keane will be heavily relied upon as the mythical Giovanni Trappattoni aims to take the Irish into a new level in the European power balance. Look for him to be a starter, but not to play the 90 minutes in most matches.
Portugal: Bruno Alves
In my opinion, Bruno Alves is one of the most overrated defenders to play for Portugal. Tailor-made to be the next sheriff for Portugal after Fernando Couto's dominance in the 90s, Bruno Alves came up short of that degree. Very short indeed. Before you, reader, rush to the comments to flog me, let me explain.
Portugal doesn't have a great defensive system like other European powerhouses, but they make up for it in offense first with Luis Figo and now with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Now that we've established that defense isn't Portugal's forte, Bruno Alves has been an integral part of the system at least during the latter part of the last decade.
F.C. Porto never reached glory again in the Champions League because every time they had a deep run, their defense got exposed or Bruno Alves would blow a fuse.
It seems as if the move to Zenit has matured the Portuguese center-back. Look for him to team up with Pepe and play defense for the bulk of the tournament.
Poland: Marcin Wasilewski
Marcin Wasilewski isn't the same player after suffering a broken leg due to a criminal challenge by Axel Witsel in 2009. After missing almost that entire season, Wasilewski saw Anderlecht be dismantled, but he remained. Now, he's the oldest player in a Polish squad that has to deal with the pressure of being one of the home teams.
Wasilewski integrates the defensive system in a way that is a microcosm of the team. The Polish team is in a transition era. Names that were staples in the last three World Cups like Artur Boruc, Jerzy Dudek, Jacek Bak, Michal Zewlakow, Jacek Krzynowek, Eusebiusz Smolarek and Maciej Zurawski aren't there anymore, and the new generation is slowly filling up its shoes.
Wasilewski is an important part of this process. Look for him to be the starter in Poland's right-back,
Netherlands: Mark Van Bommel
Mark Van Bommel is player I hate liking. More often than not walking the line between rough and cheap, Van Bommel is one of the best defensive midfielders to play in the last decade.
With a powerful shot from outside the box and a penchant for leaving opponents on the ground and walking away with impunity, Van Bommel has carved a career in the best teams in Europe.
Playing for Barcelona, Bayern and Milan, Van Bommel became feared not only in a continental stage but worldwide. Commandeering the Dutch defensive system, Van Bommel will be tasked with stopping the best opposition to give a chance for the offensive juices of Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and company to flow freely and abundantly.
Russia: Andrey Arshavin
When Arshavin went to Arsenal, I thought he was going to bring the flair he displayed in the Euro 2008, when he and Roman Pavlyuchenko and company made the world take a deeper look and not count them out. Ironically, the next thing of note this squad did was the World Cup debacle.
They lost their spot to Slovenia on away goals after having a 2-0 advantage at home, but the Slovenians got a goal at the 87th minute. Russia lost 1-0 away and were knocked out.
Well, we are now in 2012 and I'm sure these players have matured from that incident. Arshavin, despite having failed to justify his transfer fee in England, still is the symbolic player of this squad.
Look for Arshavin to share the creative duties with the young Alan Dzagoev in an effort to lead the Russians to the knockout stage.
Spain: Xavi Hernandez
This generation of La Furia has grown up together but is starting to need some patchwork. The youthful football we see is now coordinated by 32-year-old maestro Xavi. The oldest player on the squad, Xavi's play throughout his career, especially since 2005, deserves the highest compliments from all those that admire this art that is football.
Xavi's cerebral style of play gives birth to every Barcelona offensive and this style has seamlessly translated itself into the Spain national squad. With a precise touch, Xavi scores from outside the box, puts the strikers mano-e-mano with the goalies and wrecks defensive schemes apart.
Xavi is the brain of the Spainish squad along with the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta. Look for him to start every game and rarely, if ever, get subbed as La Furia tires its opponents before submitting them.
Sweden: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
In my opinion, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is one of the most unlucky individuals in the history of soccer. He leaves teams and soon after they win the Champions League. He left Inter for Barcelona and Inter beats Bayern in a supreme presentation by Diego Milito, his replacement. He leaves Barcelona for Milan, and, lo and behold, Barcelona wins every title.
Well, after Henrik Larsson's retirement, all Swedish hopes have been deposited in this 30-year-old. He needs to carry this squad if they aim to go onto the knockout stages.
Look for him to be in the pitch except (knocks on wood) in the case of injury or the occasional red card.
Ukraine: Anatoliy Tymoschuk
When Tymoschuk left Zenit for Bayern, I was a harsh critic of that move. Tymoschuk hasn't been an utter disappointment. Rather, he has played decently in his role. He is not a world-class player and is a very limited defensive midfielder. But within his role, he gives his heart out.
Bayern found a new way of playing under Jupp Heynckes and he fell out of favor. He still subs regularly on the second half, but Tymoschuk has seen better days.
In the Ukrainian national squad, he's the main commander of the defensive system. While Shevchenko, Voronin and Yarmolenko will run the offense, Tymoschuk, Aliev and Mikhailik will join forces and try to hold off the constant assaults by the opposition.
Look for Tymoschuk only to leave the pitch if Ukraine desperately needs a goal. Otherwise, we should see him often.