Euro 2012: 7 Players Who Could Propel Their Teams Forward
And then there were eight.
Euro 2012's group stage concluded yesterday, leaving only eight teams vying for European football's top honor. Each team scratched and clawed its way through three challenging fixtures and now finds themselves only three more away from eternal glory.
In the knockout round, one play could send you packing or see you moving on, which puts a little less emphasis on control and a little more emphasis on star power. You need you best players to show up and make that one play that puts you through; the one play that no one else on your team is capable of making.
Here are the eight players who could propel their teams forward in Euro 2012.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
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The entire stadium holds its collective breath every time the ball is on Ronaldo's foot, and with good reason, after his 60-goal campaign with Real Madrid this season.
The smooth Portuguese winger, however, has historically struggled with his national colors on, which owes greatly to Portugal's lack of large-scale of international success.
He seemed to have broken the seal with two goals against Netherlands, but he will have to continue the scoring pace all the way through the tournament. Portugal runs their attack through him, and they will only go as far as Cristiano takes them.
Theodor Gebre Selassie, Czech Republic
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Gebre Selasseie—the first black player in Czech international history—has been a pleasant surprise in this tournament.
His speed, control and aggressiveness attacking from the back line have given the Czech's their best scoring opportunities, and he's managed to defend well also. His good play did not go unnoticed, as he was named to the group stage best XI team by SI.com's Grant Wahl.
Against Portugal, the Czechs will need him to keep attacking should they want to score in free time. But they also need him to get back on the wing against Ronaldo and Nani. He'll have no gas left at the end of the game, but if he can do both those things, Czech has a puncher's chance of pulling the upset.
Mario Gomez, Germany
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The frequently-maligned Bayern forward has been Euro 2012's best finisher, finding himself on the scoring end of most of the German's' goals.
Germany was the only squad to tally nine points in the group stage, and Gomez's tactical finishing was the main reason why. The defense has been stout, the midfield has been precise, but none of that matters if you can't put the ball in the back of the net.
Gomez is equally threatening in the air and on foot, making him particularly quizzical for defenders who are trying to guard him.
If he starts missing the net a la Robin van Persie, the Germans can't win this tournament. But if he keeps up his hot streak, it's hard to imagine the Germans being beaten.
David Silva, Spain
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Spain is the consummate team, with every member of its lineup playing their particular role to perfection. Iniesta finds creative seams in the defense to run through; Xavi finds creative ways to put the ball through the defense; Torres finds creative ways to miss wide open nets, etc.
But it's Silva, the diminutive midfielder from Manchester City, more than anybody else, who makes the Spanish engine run.
Silva's job is a thankless one; the Spanish attack is basically the same a FC Barcelona's, only Silva has been subbed in for the world's best player, Lionel Messi. Silva is not the player Messi is, but he's the closest approximation the world has for the brilliant Argentinian.
If Silva continues to play phenomenal ball, as he has thus far, Spain will continue to dominate possession and continue frustrating teams into losing discipline and breaking down defensively. And when they do, Silva should be there to finish, as well.
Franck Ribery, France
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The French looked putrid against Sweden, costing them an opportunity to play Italy in a 2006 World Cup Final rematch, and instead, relegating them to the near-impossible task of upsetting Spain.
If they plan on doing the unthinkable, everyone on their squad will need to play up to their caliber. And none moreso than Franck Ribery.
The French can almost match the Spanish in overall talent, but only with Ribery can they match them in star power. Spain loves to control possession and break you down the the final third, but Ribery can attack in waves in a way that Spain isn't capable of.
France has done well with possession as well, but Spain is likely to dominate against them, as they do against most everyone. But even so, all it takes is one big play from their star to put France through to the semis.
Danny Welbeck, England
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Welbeck filled in prodigiously for the suspended Wayne Rooney, and now that his Manchester United teammate has joined him back in the lineup, Wekbeck's spot becomes even more vital.
With defenses now focused on the threat of Rooney, Welbeck can reap the rewards by finishing the chances he creates, just like he does in Manchester.
Welbeck is tall, fast and creative inside the 18-yard box––everything you want from a center forward. If he can continue scoring golazos like this one, England could finally turn the corner and make a deep run.
Mario Balotelli, Itally
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Italy's capricious striker may be their key to making a run in the knockout stage, which is sure to have their fans on edge.
But even if its hard to count on Balotelli, it isn't hard to recognize his talent. His bicycle kick goal against Ireland, while ultimately irrelevant, was maybe the nicest finish we have seen all tournament.
England showed some defensive lapses against Sweden, and Balotelli needs to be ready to capitalize on them should they repeat against Italy. For all the beauty of his bicycle kick goal, his slow down on a breakaway against Spain might have been the tournaments ugliest moment.
If Balotelli gives Italy a scoring threat in the box for the next three matches, they could be the sleeper of Euro 2012.