Euro 2012 Predictions: Group Stage Superstars Sure to Stink in Next Round
As the European Championships progress, stars have begun to emerge from the best teams in the early going. Some of them we all saw coming; others have come out of nowhere to shine on the biggest stage of their career.
But getting off to a hot start in this tournament is not a guarantee that the success will continue during the long run of the championships; in fact, many of the tournament's biggest stars are likely headed towards a collapse in the quarterfinals and beyond.
But which of the tournament's brightest stars will struggle to maintain their form?
Mario Mandzukic, Croatia
The unheralded Croat striker has been a revelation thus far in the tournament, scoring three goals and propelling the Croats into a tie for first with Spain in Group C. He has been the perfect complement to the teams' plethora of playmaking midfielders, displaying an aerial prowess that was quite impressive against both Italy and Irealand.
But don't expect this strong start to last for too much longer, even if Croatia manage to advance. Mandzukic is a solid striker, but he has yet to display the kind of consistency in his career that would indicate this is anything more than a run of good luck for the striker. On top of that, the defenses figure to get more formidable as the Croats move further into the tournament, meaning he'll have less room to work with and more attention from defenders eager not to be beaten by one of the tournament's leading scorers.
On top of that, the Croat system is extremely balanced offensively; they seldom focus around a single player or rely on any one player to do their scoring. Because of that, there's a good chance the Croats get scoring from other sources as we move forward, allowing Mandzukic to slide back into a supporting role.
Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine
Sheva gave fans the feel-good story of the early stage of the tournament, as the 35-year-old striker delivered a brace in his first-ever European Championship match, leading Ukraine to a 2-1 win against Sweden.
But as impressive as the performance was by the aging superstar, I just don't see him maintaining a high level of play throughout the tournament. Sweden showed us all that their defense resembles Swiss cheese against the co-hosts, and Sheva was able to exploit those holes with smart runs and that still-blistering shot. Against the sturdier back lines and more reliable keepers of both France and England, those runs and shots might not be there as readily.
On top of that, Sheva's fitness has been an issue for a couple seasons now. No one's quite sure how much he has in the tank for a grueling marathon of a tournament like this, and it's likely that the longer the Ukrainians remain in the tournament, the less effective he'll become. In the end, Sheva's success is a nice story, but one that won't result in him being one of the elite scorers in the tournament.
Andrei Arshavin, Russia
The human dynamo that is Arshavin got off to a stellar start in this tournament, firing out three assists and plenty of fantastic runs and crosses in two matches. He's looked every bit the part of the player Arsenal paid a King's ransom to get from Zenit St. Petersburg in 2009, orchestrating the attack with aplomb and flair.
But as any Arsenal fan can tell you, the only consistent aspect to the Russian captain's game is that he's inconsistent. Arshavin can look like a true maestro of the midfield, wreaking havoc and causing chaos from the wing and the middle one match, then turn around and disappear the next. When he's at his best, as he was in the first two matches of the tournament, he's one of the best players in the world.
But given his tendency to vanish in crucial moments and as the pressure mounts, or when the wind changes, don't be surprised to see the 30-year-old Russian captain fade from the spotlight once again, as he has on a constant basis in recent years.
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