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Euro 2012: 4 Less Familiar Names Set to Star in Group A

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IJune 6, 2012

Euro 2012: 4 Less Familiar Names Set to Star in Group A

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    Euro 2012 is now agonisingly close, and with an absence of competitive football for almost three weeks, football fans are chomping at the bit for the tournament to get underway.

    The condensed format of the competition magnifies the quality and demands a high standard of play throughout. Players know that a couple of eye-catching performances on this stage can quickly propel one's reputation skywards. 

    Group A pits hosts Poland with Euro 2004 winners Greece, alongside Czech Republic and Russia, who have both enjoyed successful tournaments in the not-so-distant past.

    None of these sides currently sit in the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings, and for that reason it is possibly the most open group, where each side will genuinely fancy their chances.

    Experts have spent weeks endlessly listing standout performers destined to forever forge their reputations and dazzle this summer.

    Big names aside, here is a look at some slightly less obvious choices that could well end up turning heads over the next few weeks.

Poland: Maciej Rybus

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    When looking for a star to emerge from the Polish camp, those familiar with German football would instantly plump for Borussia Dortmund's trio of Lukasz Piszczek, Jakub Blaszczykowski and Robert Lewandowski.

    Those three certainly carry the bulk of their nation's hopes, with Piszczek and Blaszczykowski ideally combining in unison on the right, before feeding Lewandowski up front.

    With much public attention sure to be on them, one surprise performer could perhaps be Maciej Rybus, a 22-year-old attacking winger who may well have done enough in recent friendlies to warrant a starting berth on the left flank.

    A swift, direct runner, he is deceptively powerful on the field despite his slender frame. He also brings with him an array of tricks to outmanoeuvre his opponent and has the vision to pick some lavish passes.  

    Adrian Mierzejewski, or even Ludovic Obraniak pushed wide, could still wrestle the starting jersey from the youngster, yet even if his impact initially arrives from the bench, Rybus should become much more of a familiar name to football fans this summer.

Greece: Kyriakos Papadopoulos

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    The Greek team are unlikely to inject too much flair and excitement into Euro 2012, instead likely to adopt a compact, cohesive strategy that served them so well eight years ago.

    If the Greeks do sparkle in the final third, the likes of Giannis Fetfatzidis and Sotiris Ninis may well be two who can provide the magic off the bench. However, given their probable defensive outlook, it would be more likely that a defender emerges as one of the nation's top performers.

    Enter Kyriakos Papadopoulos of Schalke. Just 20, he's not guaranteed to start, although injuries should see him at least feature in the opening game. From there he could easily catch the eye enough to keep his place throughout the competition.

    He is an imposing presence, positionally very accomplished and he also possesses a sound touch and passing game that has seen him look comfortable anchoring midfield. Despite the presence of Christoph Metzelder and Benedikt Howedes in front of him at club level, he was in the top five in the Bundesliga for tackles and interceptions last season.

    Having already earned some impressive reviews in the Champions League over the past few years this baby-faced defender seems destined to be a major factor for Greece over the next decade.

    Could this tournament be when he truly emerges?

Czech Republic: Vaclav Pilar

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    One of the encouraging ingredients in an unusually uninspiring Czech team is the pace they possess on both flanks, with Vaclav Pilar poised to be one of their stronger performers this summer.

    Despite not yet earning 10 caps, he seems certain to start, especially after registering his first goal for his country in the crucial playoff win over Montenegro.

    Just 23, he will arrive at Euro 2012 as one of the smallest players in the entire tournament, but he will also be one of the fastest. 

    Equally potent on either foot, and armed with a strong shot, expect him to initially line up on the left opposite Jan Rezek. He will be keen to cut in and shoot, and his speed will constantly provide his side with an attacking outlet. 

    Due to move to Wolfsburg after the summer's festivities, Pilar's signing may well prove to be an astute bit of business, especially if he can be prominent in steering his side out of Group A.

Russia: Roman Shirokov

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    Russia arrive with four players who made the Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament, and indeed they bring a familiar-looking squad, with just two players under 25.

    For that reason, it his hard to pluck such a surprise name from an already experienced crop of players. Four of the squad have already plied their trade in the Premier League, and the world is already prepped and eager to see Alan Dzagoev fully announce himself.  

    Therefore, for a slightly more obscure name to those perhaps more familiar with English, Spanish or Italian football, watch out for Zenit St. Petersburg's midfielder, Roman Shirokov.

    Having initially experienced a fairly nomadic career, he arrived at Zenit in 2008 and broke into the national team at a similar time, although he only featured in one game at Euro 2008.

    Scouting him is quite peculiar. He possesses strong defensive attributes, and he's spent time playing in defence for Russia in the past. In midfield, he is often seen harrying after a ball-carrier, yet at the same time, he continually bombs forward and has gradually become far more of a goal threat with age.

    Shirokov has already scored six goals in 22 games for his nation, and only five players managed more than the five strikes he registered in last season's Champions League. He could well benefit from the craft and industry of Andrei Arshavin and Dzagoev and pop up on the score sheet a few times this summer.

     

    Thanks for reading! Which lesser-known players do you think will shine in Group A?

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