Euro 2012 Playoffs: Stevan Jovetic and the Top Young Players to Watch
Most of the field is set for Poland and Ukraine, but for eight teams, a spot at next summer’s Euro 2012 is still up for grabs.
The remaining eight countries fighting for a place are: Portugal, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Czech Republic, Ireland, Estonia, Croatia and Turkey.
It is an odd mix of minnows, up-and-comers and power nations, and the next two rounds of playoffs should be dramatic and entertaining.
Here’s a look at the top young players from each country vying for the Euros.
1. İsmail Köybaşı, Turkey
A wing-back by trade, the Besiktas youngster is a great prospect for his country and has established himself in the first team for his club.
He is an exciting player that can transition from defense to attack, and is known for his accurate crossing, set piece skills and discipline. His rise to prominence for his country has been nothing short of meteoric.
The 22-year-old has expressed his desire to play in La Liga one day, and there is no better opportunity to show off for suitors than at Euro 2012. I expect the young man to play with some conviction these next two playoff games.
2. Ivan Perisic, Croatia
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Arsenal fans should know this name very well.
Perisic is part of a young and an extremely talented Borussia Dortmund side that is looking to defend their Bundesliga title. The midfielder has been a regular for his country since his first call-up last January.
The former Brugge playmaker is looking to take a step in the right direction after steadying himself on the global stage. He has the abilities and versatility to do so, and he is a young player to definitely keep an eye on for Croatia these next two matches.
3. Sander Puri, Estonia
To be honest, Estonia doesn’t stand a chance to make Euro 2012, and I assume they are just happy to be scrapping in the playoffs.
But they are playing Ireland, who haven’t had the best of luck themselves when it comes to qualifying for major tournaments. With that in mind, Estonia can lean on the play of young Saner Puri, who at 23 years of age, has almost 40 caps to his name.
Once billed as the “Baltic Arjen Robben,” Puri is a technically gifted midfielder who is capable of leading an upset charge. Having been linked with Celtic before, he can increase his transfer stock if he is able to orchestrate an unlikely qualification for Estonia.
4. James McCarthy, Ireland
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The youngest on this list, 20-year-old James McCarthy is a newbie to the FAI setup but is a constant fixture for his club Wigan Athletic.
The rigors of the Premier League have not affected the midfielder, who just eclipsed a half century of appearances for Wigan. Roberto Martinez thinks highly of him and the club just tied him down to a new five-year contract.
McCarthy has been under public scrutiny because of his failure to fully commit to Ireland. But he is ready to play and help Giovanni Trapattoni’s side put the 2010 World Cup nightmare to bed.
5. Tomas Pekhart, Czech Republic
The Czech striker has bounced around during his fledgling career but has finally found a home at FC Nuremburg.
The Bundesliga club was well aware of Pekhart’s potential and quickly snatched him up on a four-year deal. He has spent little time finding success with the club, and even has EPL clubs keeping tabs on him.
Czech Republic has fallen off a bit since their run at the 2006 World Cup, and they are hoping to get back to competing. A new generation of stars is emerging and Pekhart appears to be the real deal.
6. Stevan Jovetic, Montenegro
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A recognizable name, Jovetic is one of the most sought after targets in world football and it is only a matter of time before a major club lures him away from Fiorentina.
Plenty of superlatives are thrown around when describing the 22-year-old, and comparisons with Leo Messi, Roberto Baggio and fellow countryman Mirko Vucinic dignify his class and elegance.
He has scored some huge goals for his club and his most notable performance was his double strike against Liverpool back in the 2009 Champions League.
Jovetic could cap off the hype that has been bestowed upon him by carrying his country to Euro 2012. He is a gifted footballer who will certainly demand attention during these playoffs.
7. Miralem Pjanic, Bosnia-Herzegovina
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New Roma boy Miralem Pjanic is just another one of the young stars who boasts experience well beyond his years.
The former Metz and Lyon midfielder has been consistent in his showings, and before signing for Roma he was courted by numerous clubs. He is an adept creator who prides himself on finding his teammates with a clinical pass.
Roma pulled off a transfer coup when they landed Pjanic, and he is settling in nicely despite the initial troubles of Luis Enrique’s side. These playoff matches will be all or nothing for the young Bosnian, and he will undoubtedly be influential in both legs.
8. Fabio Coentrao, Portugal
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The 2010 World Cup proved to be a platform for the wing back, and after impressing in South Africa, Real Madrid signed Fabio Coentrao to the dismay of other teams.
Versatility is the biggest perk to Coentrao’s game, as he can slide into either wing back position as well as either flank midfield spots. It took a while for Jose Mourinho to figure out exactly where he wanted him to play, but after some experimentation, he has opted to use him anywhere.
He is coming back from injury but looks to be ready for the next two legs of playoffs. Portugal will need him because as notorious qualifying flakes, they are up against the wall, and anything less than qualification would be disastrous.