Saturday, June 16, 2012

Alternative XI: Euro 2012 Overachievers

As is usual for a major tournament, Euro 2012 has allowed us to witness the full spectrum of players from World's Best to those who walk a matter of metres to the ground that's always been their home. This tournament, we've had the opportunity to see players previously anonymous make a stamp on the football world – in fact, many of the best performed players aren't paid by Real Madrid, Liverpool or Juventus, but by smaller clubs. The tournament is made brighter by those who rise from anonymity.

Here's a previously relatively-unheralded XI who've made their name at Euro 2012:

GK – Przemyslaw Tyton (Poland): Despite entering the year the fourth-choice Poland keeper, made himself a home-country hero by saving a penalty with his first touch of the tournament. Whether he is replaced by the shaky but better-credentialled Wojciech Szczesny is now a legitimate question, a prospect unthinkable before the tournament.

RB – Theodore Gebre Selassie (Czech Republic): Kills the grass on the right side of the pitch at Slovan Liberec, who will compete in the 2012-13 Champions League after winning the Czech Gambrinus Liga. The might do so without their right back, who will doubtless have admirers after his two performances so far at Euro 2012.

CB – Mats Hummels (Germany): How can the most desired young centre-back in world football, playing for the second-best attended club in Europe, be classified as an emerging player? Simple: Mats Hummels is elegant on the ball and resolute off it and gets his work done with the absolute minimum of fuss without courting attention at all. Releasing him will haunt Bayern Munich for years.

CB – Damien Perquis (Poland): Perquis came so close to snatching a win for Poland against Russia while keeping the tricksy combo of Dzagoev and Arshavin from wreaking havoc in the Poland defence. He'll should be acquired by larger French club from Sochaux on the back of his impressive Euros.

LB – Vaclav Pilar (Czech Republic): Pilar has scored twice so far at Euro 2012 and looks to be another smart piece of scouting by Bundesliga club Wolfsburg, who have already arranged for his transfer from Viktoria Plzen.

RM – Mathieu Debuchy (France): It's no wonder he's been linked with clubs as storied as Manchester United and Barcelona. Although typically a right-sided defender, he plays with such attacking zest he fits in well here in the midfield. He was probably the player of the match in France's first match against England despite flying under the radar until Lille's emergence last season.

CM – Roman Shirokov (Russia): Practised Russian football observers such as James Appell tipped the thirty-year old as Russia's breakout player. He lasted all of one match at Euro 2008 at centre-back, but links the beaters in defence (Berezeutsky and Ignashevich) with the seeker in attack (Arshavin and Dzagoev).

CM – Niki Zimling (Denmark): His injury in Denmark's second match allowed the Portuguese a much easier run in the midfield than Danish coach Morten Olson had hoped. Regaining him for their crucial encounter with Germany will be crucial Danish hopes of advancing

LM – Andriy Yarmolenko (Ukraine): The resounding flop of Andriy Shevchenko at Chelsea may have previously kept “the new Shevchenko” at Dynamo Kiev. After wrong-footing a redoubtable Sweden defence on many occasions in the Ukraine's first match, he's unlikely to be playing domestic ball for much longer.

AM – Michael Krohn-Dehli (Denmark): Fizzed the ball between Dutch 'keeper Maarten Stekelenburg's legs to win the Danes their first game of the tournament and leave the Oranje reeling. A constant worker so far this tournament and able to put together moments of brilliance despite middling club form at Brondby.

FC – Mario Mandzukic (Croatia): Took two quality goals in Croatia's first match against Ireland to put the Balkan nation in a great position in a tough group. Another discovery by the tireless Wolfsburg scouting system, he doesn't get much press despite scoring twenty times last season.  

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