Euro 2012: Stars Who Must Step Up
With Euro 2012 heading into its latter stages, it is time for the stars to break out of their shells and string together some clutch performances.
Legends are born at tournaments like these, and men are separated from boys.
Come July 1 in Kiev, a champion will be crowned.
The team that raises the cup will likely have one of the following guys to thank.
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Manager Fernando Santos decided against including Dimitris Salpingidis from the start against Poland, preferring the youthful Sotiris Ninis.
After going behind 1-0 and down to ten men, things certainly looked bleak for the Greeks.
It took only six minutes for him to get off the mark at Euro 2012.
The super-sub brought a spark to the previously lifeless attack.
His runs in behind defenders were a constant threat, and left the Poles in disarray.
It is unlikely that Greece will progress past the quarterfinal, but if they are to repeat the heroics of 2004, Salpingidis will play a vital role.
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The Germans look like one of the top sides at Euro 2012, and were the only team to maintain a 100% record in the group stage.
Özil has had a relatively quiet tournament thus far; one assist is all he has to show for his efforts.
The Real Madrid man needs to get more involved in the attacking third if he wants to get back to doing what he does best: creating and scoring goals.
A favorable quarterfinal matchup with Greece should provide a platform for Özil to announce his arrival on the scene.
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With talismanic captain TomáŠ Rosický likely to miss out on the Czechs quarterfinal tie with Portugal, Pilař will need to produce something special.
The 23-year-old has been a revelation at Euro 2012 thus far. His two goals against Russia and Greece have alerted clubs across the continent to his immense talent.
At only 5'6", Pilař relies on his speed and low center of gravity to get in behind, a nightmare for any full back.
The winger will look to get isolated against Portugal's suspect defender João Pereira, and propel the Czech Republic into a dream semifinal.
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The giant has finally awoken from his slumber.
Ronaldo's two goal performance against the Netherlands was enough to send Portugal to their fifth straight quarterfinal appearance.
If he can continue his good form, the Portuguese will look like real contenders to win the whole thing.
He claimed that he is better than Messi, and now is his time to prove it.
Winning a European Championship would silence many of his critics, and give him the grounds to make it a legitimate debate.
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Balotelli is another player who announced his arrival late at Euro 2012.
His stunning overhead kick in the latter stages of Italy's 2-0 win over Ireland was only his second ever goal for the national side.
Italy will play either France, England or Ukraine in their quarterfinal matchup, and Balotelli will certainly be a thorn in any of those sides.
At the tender age of 21, Mario still has plenty of time to develop, but if he can show the talent that has gotten him to this point, Italy should go far.
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Spain's possession style football is all well and good, but they need someone who can put the ball in the back of the net.
Torres is that man.
"El Niño" showed some of his promise in Spain's 4-0 demolition of Ireland, but he will need to do it against much tougher opponents in the coming rounds.
If he can link up with the likes of Iniesta and Xavi without finding himself isolated up top, the Spanish will represent a formidable challenge for anyone they come up against.
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Since Group D has yet to conclude, I'm going to go ahead and make the assumption that France and England will be the teams to progress.
If that is the case, Ribéry's marauding runs up and down the wing will add width and menace to the French attack.
It is the 29-year-old's fourth major international tournament, and it's time he finally shows why people consider him to be one of the most feared players in Europe.
A meeting with Italy or Spain lies ahead. Let's see what the Frenchman can produce.
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At long last, Wayne Rooney will be unveiled at Euro 2012.
After missing the opening two group matches as a result of his unexplainable kick-out during a Euro qualifier, there is a point that needs to be proven.
First and foremost, Rooney and Co. need to take care of business in Donetsk against co-hosts Ukraine.
Then they can look forward to their quarterfinal tie with either powerhouse Spain or Italy.
He is a world-class footballer, and could prove the difference between a typical early English exit and European glory.