Euro 2012: One to Watch: 16 Stars to Keep Your Eye on (Video)

Willie GannonSenior Writer IJune 3, 2012

Euro 2012: One to Watch: 16 Stars to Keep Your Eye on (Video)

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    One of the great misunderstood truths of sport is that it builds character. It does not; the sport reveals character.

    In every major competition, star players go missing when they're needed most, and the unlikeliest of heroes stands tall to lead his team on to glory.

    They are often the guys who hide in corners during team talks, too afraid to say anything that would upset anyone, but once they're on the pitch you know, you know you're standing beside a lion.

    Here, we take a quick look at who the hidden gem for each country could be in Euro 2012.

Poland: Wojciech Szczesny

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    While all eyes will be on Robert Lewandowski, it is Arsenal's Wojciech Szczesny who will be Franciszek Smuda's most important player.

    If he can keep the ball out of the net Poland have a great chance to progress.

Russia: Alan Dzagoev

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    Alan Dzagoev is the most talked about young player in Russia in almost a decade.

    The 5'10", 21-year-old attacking midfielder made a huge impact on the Champions League this season and much rests on his young shoulders.

    He's blessed with the innate ability to ghost past players, has great vision and also has a great eye for goal.

    If he is on form, Russia will take some beating.

Greece: Giannis Fetfatzidis

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    He may only be finding his feet in the national team and may be no more than an impact sub, but Giannis Fetfatzidis has all the attributes to make a name for himself at Euro 2012.

    The attack-minded midfielder may be the difference between Greece going home and going through to the quarterfinals.

Czech Republic: Tomas Necid

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    Tomas Necid ply's his trade in Russia with CSKA Moscow, so he will be no surprise to Dick Advocaat, but he may be to everyone else.

    The 22-year-old is just back from almost a year out after knee surgery, and he will be keen to pick up where he left off. He was the top scorer in 2006 at UEFA's U-17 European Championships and again in 2008 at the U-19 Championships.

Holland: Kevin Strootman

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    Where do you start with this Dutch side? They just drip sheer class and magic throughout, and they have so many game-changers that your head literally spins. Each and every one of them is a world-class talent.

    However, I'm going to go for Kevin Strootman. The 22-year-old has gone from the Dutch second division to PSV and the European Championships in just six months. His intelligent runs, passing ability, box-to-box energy and vision mark his out as a real find—even for Holland.

    He may not feature much, but when he does, the Premier League scouting network will go into overdrive.

Germany: Toni Kroos

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    Being as stacked as Holland, it's almost impossible to find a player who could outshine the rest!

    Mario Goetze is an obvious start, but the highly talented Dortmund star may not even make it out onto the pitch such is the German's awesome strength in depth.

    Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos has all the tools needed to succeed at the highest level, as he has in club football, and now is his time to shine for his country.

    He will probably play a little deeper than normal and partner Schweinsteiger in place of Khedira but even slightly out of position he is class.

Portugal: Rui Patricio

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    Rui Patricio will be Portugal's most important player in the Euro's. If he plays well, they could progress.

    The same cannot be said about any other player in the squad—Ronaldo included. He was given his break at club level by Bento, and now, the same manager has parachuted the Sporting Lisbon 'keeper into the international side, and in 11 caps, he has yet to disappoint.

Denmark: Christian Eriksen

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    There's only one player to watch in Morten Olsen's team, and that's Christian Eriksen.

    The 20-year-old is creative, tenacious, quick in movement, quick of feet and quicker of the mind.

    Shine in the Euro's and the world is his oyster.

Croatia: Ivan Perišić

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    Slaven Bilic's most important player is easily Luka Modric. The little wizard from Zadar is the epicentre of all that is good about Croatia's play, but the player to watch most is Ivan Perasic.

    The 23-year-old attacking midfielder signed for Borussia Dortmund in 2011 after leaving his home country at just 17 to make it as a footballer.

    He's comfortable anywhere in the attacking midfield set-up of a 4-2-3-1 and can turn defence into attack with the drop of a shoulder.

Rep. of Ireland: James McClean

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    If there's any team at the Euro's who are more than the sum of their parts, it's Ireland. They have no real world beaters but do have great professionals with world class attitudes.

    Shay Given, Damien Duff, Richard Dunne and Robbie Keane just simply do not know when to roll over. Trappatoni likes to be conservative, but if he ever has to take the manacles off, then expect some blistering performances from Duff, Aiden McGeady and James McClean.

    The Sunderland winger has been a revelation since breaking into Martin O'Neill's team and his appearance could be crucial not only for what he does on the pitch but for whom he inspires from the bench.

    Both Duff and McGeady are under threat from the 22-year-old and have responded by putting in their best performances in years in recent friendlies.

Italy: Claudio Marchisio

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    The star defenders of the past are gone. Italy can no longer rely on the likes of Baresi, Maldini, Costacurta, Bergomi or even Cannavaro. This Italian side is heavily reliant upon Pirlo and de Rossi, and they are the real axis of this team.

    They do all the work and leave the likes of Juventus' Claudio Marchisio to orchestrate their attacks.

    He's a player who likes to come from deep and gets into the box as often as possible, and as a result, he's a real threat on goal.

Spain: David Silva

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    There's no doubt that Xavi Hernandez is the best midfielder the world has seen in decades. The little Barcelona maestro conducts proceedings for La Roja with ease and literally covers every inch of the pitch in his effortless style.

    However, the one to watch will be Manchester City's David Silva. A smooth operator in the front three of a 4-2-3-1 formation, the little midfielder is as creative a force as Xavi and Iniesta when on his game.

    His form for City has pushed him to the forefront after a few years on the sidelines, and Euro 2012 represents a real chance for the toughest player in the Spanish squad to shine.

Ukraine: Andriy Yarmolenko

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    Euro 2012 will be hugely important for the Ukraine, but it will be most important to Andriy Yarmolenko. The powerful left-sided forward has been electric for Dynamo Kiev this season, and Euro 2012 will really put him in the shop window for a big move to one of the main leagues.

    He's blessed with an incredible work rate and has a velvet touch when on the ball, so all eyes will be on the 22-year-old when Ukraine plays.

England: Theo Walcott

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    The Three Lions come into Euro 2012 under something of a cloud, and following the late withdrawals of key players, they actually go into the tournament with the second-youngest squad behind Germany.

    The one to watch will be Theo Walcott. The Arsenal winger has improved immensely since his last major tournament, and he will provide a constant out ball for a team who struggle to hold onto the ball under pressure.

    His pace and directness mark him out as a winger of some danger, and if he can get his shooting boots on, England could go far.

France: Karim Benzema

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    Having been left out of Raymond Domenech's World Cup squad, all eyes will be on Karim Benzema to repeat his club form for his country.

    The 45-times-capped striker has only found the net 13 times in blue, but he's more than capable of rising to any occasion.

    As a striker he's strong, direct, has a good touch and is very hard working, so he's always guaranteed to get chances.

Sweden: Rasmus Elm

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    Every team will be watching Zlatan Ibrahimovic, especially if he drops deep as expected, so that will leave gaps for the exciting Rasmus Elm to expose.

    As a player, he's typically Scandinavian in that he's a tireless runner, except that he's blessed with good vision both on and off the ball.

    He comes into the Euros after a good season with AZ Alkmaar in Holland, full in the knowledge that three more good performances could earn him a move to England or Germany.