Euro 2012: Superstars Who Must Come Up Big in Poland and Ukraine

Stephen FennellCorrespondent IJune 8, 2012

Euro 2012: Superstars Who Must Come Up Big in Poland and Ukraine

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    Cometh the hour, cometh the man. 

    Every two years players are presented with the opportunity to immortalise their names and showcase the skills they've spent their lives honing.

    The expectations of 16 nations rest upon the shoulders of the superstars of Europe and it remains to be seen who will write themselves into the annals of footballing legend.

    The stage is set and we can only speculate as to who will be named man of the tournament. Previous winners such as Marco van Basten and Michel Platini highlight its prestigious honour.

    It's not all solely focused on the individual as the ultimate goal is for one man's country to be crowned Euro 2012 champions come July 1st.

    There is no doubting, however, that the player who performs to the highest level will exponentially increase their nation's chances of glory. 

    Over the course of the next seven slides, we will look at the superstars who have the ability but need to step up to the challenge à la Zidane or Sammer.

    The glory awaits; the question is who wants it the most?

Croatia: Luka Modric

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    Under Slaven Bilić, Croatia have failed to win only six of the 59 games he's been in charge of. Two of those six losses came when finishing second to 2004 European champions Greece in Group F of Euro 2012 qualification.

    If they are to progress to the quarter-finals of this tournament, they will need Luka Modric to perform at his peak, having been drawn in a tough group containing Spain, Italy and Ireland. 

    A creative force is integral to success and the miniature Croat has blossomed into one of the world's leading exponents in attack in recent seasons.

    Though somewhat unsettled at Tottenham Hotspur at the beginning of the last Premier League season, his form toward the end was that of a player peaking at just the right time.

    Given that he may well leave Spurs this summer, he will be out to show potential suitors just what he's capable of.

    With Eduardo playing in front of him, Croatia know that so much hinges upon Modric's ability to play like the superstar he looks capable of becoming.

England: Steven Gerrard

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    England is entering into a new era under Roy Hodgson having had little time to prepare as a group for Euro 2012.

    Their qualification had been secured upon the appointment of the former West Brom manager. Under his tenure to this point they have beaten both Norway and Belgium by a single goal without conceding.

    If the 1966 World Cup winners are to progress to the latter stages in Poland and Ukraine, it will be Steven Gerrard's leadership that will play a crucial part.

    Long periods of absences last season through injury resulted in Liverpool's worst-ever Premier League finish. 

    Given that the England squad has been decimated through injury and lacking on paper, the creative onus will fall upon the shoulders of the England No. 4.

    Having scored 19 goals for his country in 91 games, he has never been on the losing team when on the scoresheet.

    With Wayne Rooney missing the first three matches of Euro 2012 and Scott Parker as his midfield partner, Gerrard will be required to act as the link-up man between midfield and the forwards.

    Whether his injuries will hinder his impact on the tournament, England know that if they are to claim one of the top two spots in a tough Group D, Gerrard will have to play like we know he's capable of.

France: Samir Nasri

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    Samir Nasri is a player whose potential is undoubted but internationally has never been fully evident.

    At Manchester City he has played second fiddle to David Silva, so Euro 2012 may be a coming of age for the young Frenchman.

    With the shambolic reign of Raymond Domenech and the embarrassment of the last World Cup behind them, current manager Laurent Blanc has a multitude of talent at his disposal.

    France’s unbeaten run stands at 21 games, the longest active streak of any international side after having won five of their 10 qualifying games to nil, with 11 clean sheets in their last 19 games.

    With England, Sweden and co-hosts Ukraine in their group, there will be no certainties or easy fixtures.

    Nasri boasts immaculate technique, and his vision and imagination make him a difficult opponent for any international side.

    His passing and movement is excellent and his versatility is a real asset, but the question over whether can take the reins and lead an international side to glory remains.

    He has the talent in abundance and if France wants to be crowned European champions for the third time, Nasri will need to be firing on all cylinders.

Germany: Mesut Özil

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    Germany's excellent chance of success in Euro 2012 is reflective of the abundance of young talent at their disposal.

    When the three-time World Cup winners fell short in their conquest to win the World Cup in 2010, the world took notice of the footballing potential they had to offer.

    Two years on from their semi-final loss to Spain, they are poised to go deep in Poland and Ukraine.

    At the centre of their efforts will be Real Madrid star Mesut Özil. A leading light in all things creative for Germany, his skill and vision is one of a number of dangerous weapons in the star-studded midfield.

    Özil helped Germany to qualify for Euro 2012 by scoring five times and providing seven assists. His assist count was more than any European international during Euro 2012 qualification as the Germans won 10 games from 10.

    On 29 February 2012, Özil was recognised as Germany's best international player of the year for 2011 prior to kick-off at a friendly against France in Bremen.

    Özil was on the short list of this year's FIFA Ballon d'Or award and finished atop the La Liga assists chart with 17.

    If he can bring his consistent levels of brilliance to Germany's Euro 2012 campaign, we may well seem them crowned European champions for a record fourth time.

Netherlands: Wesley Sneijder

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    Compared to 2010, it's been a hugely contrasting build-up to a major championship for Wesley Sneijder.

    The Dutch midfielder is coming into Euro 2012 on the back of an injury-plagued and disappointing season with Inter Milan.

    Sneijder spent much of the last campaign injured, playing only 28 games in all competitions and understandably struggled for form.

    His ability to dictate the pace and direction of the Dutch attack will be one of the main contributors to the success of the Dutch national team.

    The Netherlands' group is undoubtedly the toughest in the tournament, predictably being branded as the ''Group of Death.''

    This won't faze the Dutch, having had Italy, France and Romania in their group four years ago in which they finished top.

    The front line of Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and Ibrahim Affelay will require service throughout, and an on-form Wesley Sneijder is the ideal man to provide it.

    The question is whether he can discover the form of past tournaments in time for their first game against Denmark.

Portugal: Cristiano Ronaldo

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    Every Portuguese fan the world over must be salivating at the thought of seeing a fully fit and on-fire Ronaldo in Poland and Ukraine.

    While the Real Madrid star has been prolific in La Liga since his arrival, the same cannot be said of his time playing in the national shirt.

    His 32 goals in 90 games pales in comparison to the 112 he's accumulated for Los Blancos and it only aims to highlight the gulf in class between his respective teammates.

    While Ronaldo plays regularly for Madrid with superstars such as Karim Benzema and Xabi Alonso, the same cannot be said for Portugal.

    If the 2004 European Championship finalists are to go one better this time around, it rests squarely upon the broad shoulders of the former Manchester United man.

    Their Group B opponents are Germany, Netherlands and Denmark. If Portugal are to progress to the quarter-finals they will need to take the place of one of the heavily backed pre-tournament favourites.

    Ronaldo can provide the goals given the service; this is evident from his time with Real Madrid and Manchester United.

    It remains to be seen how much one man can do and if the likes of Nani and Raul Meireles can play their part.

Spain: Fernando Torres

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    It may seem strange that in a team as star-studded as Spain, Fernando Torres is chosen as the superstar who must come up big in Euro 2012.

    The recent FA Cup and Champions League winner's importance has never been more under scrutiny due to the absence of Barcelona's David Villa from Spain's 23-man squad.

    Villa was the top scorer in Euro 2008, so his loss will impact Spain greatly.

    Torres' transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea was heavily scrutinised after his struggle to adapt to the Blues' system and his loss of form.

    Toward the latter end of the recently finished Premier League season, the former Atletico Madrid striker started to show glimpses of his old self.

    This couldn't come at a better time for the reigning European and world champions as Torres will be the man to head the Spanish attack.

    While Spain also has Fernando Llorente and Álvaro Negredo as backup, the weight of expectation will fall on the shoulders of Torres.

    He scored the winning goal against Germany in the final of Euro 2008, so we know he can rise to big occasions.

    The world waits to see if he can find the form needed to fire Spain to victory.