Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Big Names To Miss Euro 2012

By Shane Thomas

While football fans can expect to see some of the European game's most coruscating talents at Euro 2012, every major tournament sadly comes around with certain stellar names being left at home. So with that in mind, here are ten players who - for reasons of injury or non-selection - will not be performing in Poland and The Ukraine this summer:

1) David Villa (Spain)

Villa has been Spanish football's forgotten man over the past 12 months. He began to struggle in his second season at Barcelona, often marooned on the left of the attack, stuck in Lionel Messi's shadow. There were rumours of Villa being unsettled at the Camp Nou, with some absurd stories even stating that he picked up a jinx from teammate Gabi Milito.

However, it looked as if there was some truth to such satirical videos, as Villa broke his leg playing for Barca in the Club World Cup in January, ruling him out for the rest of the season. His importance to the blaugrana was evident, as their quest for trophies fell by the wayside in matches against Real Madrid and Chelsea. With Villa absent, only Messi could be relied upon to score, and it cost the Catalans dearly.

And with Fernando Torres still short of the form that made him & Villa the most lethal partnership at Euro 2008, Villa was unable to recover his fitness to claim a place in this year's Spanish squad. It could prove costly, as coach, Vicente Del Bosque currently seems unsure about who to play as his centre-forward. Their friendly defeat to England showed how their fluid tiki-taka can lack a cutting edge. You can be sure that if Del Bosque had a fit & productive Villa to choose from, ruthlessness would not be an issue.

2) Frank Lampard (England)

Some England fans are indifferent to Lampard's absence from the tournament, but the thigh injury he suffered could prove problematic for Roy Hodgson. He is expected to have his midfield operating very deep, especially in the centre. Well, Lampard has shown that he can curb the attacking tendencies of his peak years and operate as a more industrious player - and not just for Chelsea, as he also performed this task for England when they qualified so impressively for the 2010 World Cup.

Not only does his injury rob England of top-level experience, but also their regular penalty taker and set-piece man. With the Three Lions looking short on craft, and heavy on graft, don't underestimate how important dead balls could be in the competition.

3) Cacau (Germany)

While not one of Germany's star names, many were surprised to see Cacau omitted from Joachim Loew's final squad of 23. Cacau was one of the beacons of the new cosmopolitan Germany side. Pacy, nimble, technically adept, and with a selfless streak. Added to the fact that like Miroslav Klose, Mario Gomez, Lukas Podolski, and Mesut Ozil, Cacau's family origins are not from Germany.

However, the Brazilian born striker has been a victim of Loew's policy to pack his squad with attacking midfielders. Germany have only taken three forwards to Poland and The Ukraine. It remains to be seen whether this is the right choice, but it's definitely a risky one. Gomez could be yet to get over the crushing disappointment of losing the Champions League final. Klose's fitness is an issue, and has been in and out of the Lazio team, while Podolski tends to be used in a wide position by Loew. Not having Cacau as an attacking option could come back to hurt Germany.

4) Yoann Gourcouff (France)

One of a litany of French midfielders who have struggled with the "new Zidane" tag, Gourcouff was part of France's preliminary 26 man squad, but failed to make the final cut. Head coach Laurent Blanc has opined this isn't a gamble, stating than a troublesome ankle made Gourcouff's place in the final squad untenable.

While there is a strong case to leave Gourcouff at home, with his injury problems and his mediocre displays since leaving Bordeaux for Lyon two seasons ago, Blanc's squad has plenty of midfielders who are skilled technicians, but many of them lack "devil"; that intangible magic that can be the decisive factor in tight games. A likely scenario has France playing either Spain or Italy in the quarter-finals. You wonder if they find themselves in such a match, 1-0 down with 20 minutes to go, Blanc will regret not having Gourcouff as an option from the bench.

5) Carlos Puyol (Spain)

We've focused on some of the most notable attacking absences so far, but we can't overlook the centre-half, Carlos Puyol. The Barcelona vice-captain is another no-show at Euro 2012 due to injury, and he will be sorely missed. Unlike some of the aforementioned names on this list, Puyol was a near-certain starter for his country this summer. Often one of the more unfashionable names in the Spain and Barcelona team, his worth has always been highly valued by teammates and coaches alike. And with Gerard Pique coming off the back of a rotten season, Puyol's steady consistency was set to be the rock upon which the reigning champions defence was built. Vicente Del Bosque has described his absence as a "fundamental miss" for the squad.

There are a number of reasons why Spain may fail to triumph this summer; no side has ever won three successive international tournaments, teams are beginning to find a way to keep the Iberians fluid football at bay, and there's no David Villa. But the lack of Carlos Puyol in defence may be the most pertinent reason of all.

6) Vasili Berezutski (Russia)

Another defensive lynch-pin whose loss will be keenly felt is Russia's Vasili Berezutski. The Russians were the surprise team at Euro 2008, and while most of the focus will be on their attacking talents of Andrey Arshavin, Alexsandr Kerzhakov and Alan Dzagoev, the central defensive partnership of Sergei Ignashevich and Berezutski was also key. They only conceded three goals in the qualifying stages, so it remains to be seen just how Russia's back-line with cope in Berezutski's absence.

A powerful presence at the back, Vasili is likely to replaced in the starting XI by his brother, Alexei. And while an accomplished defender in his own right, there's little doubt that it's the stronger of the two siblings who will be forced to watch the championships from afar.

7) Andoni Iraola (Spain)

Another fringe selection who sadly succumbed to the spectre of injury. Iraola has been one of the stars of Athletic Bilbao's season under Marcelo Bielsa, that brought some glorious football, two cup finals, but sadly no trophies.

The captain of his local side, Iraola was a storming presence at right-back, but a season in which he played 57 matches took its toll, and Iraola had to rule himself out of selection for Spain with pelvic and ankle problems respectively.

Iraola may not have been chosen by Del Bosque anyway, as he was competing with Atletico Madrid's Juanfran for the reserve right-back slot. Juanfran has also had a fine season, and will be a good addition to the Spanish 23, but I felt a strong tinge of disappointment that Iraola won't be at Euro 2012, especially after watching him nearly score the goal of the season against Manchester United back in March.

8) Bacary Sagna (France)

Arsenal fans will testify to how big a loss Bacary Sagna is to a team. In an era where full-backs often operate as auxiliary attackers, Sagna combines the buccaneering athleticism of a Dani Alves with the defensive solidity of a Denis Irwin (ask your parents, kids). Sagna is "Mr 7 out of 10", a player who is most noticeable when he's playing poorly, simply because it's such a glaring anomaly when it does occur.

Sagna's place at right-back is likely to be taken up by Anthony Reveillere, an accomplished defender in his own right, but with Laurent Blanc yet to decide on his first choice back-four, the security provided by Sagna would have proved to be a boon for France. You wonder if their right-hand side of the pitch may become exposed if France make it to the knockout stages.

9) Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Netherlands)

Now if there's one team in Poland and The Ukraine who aren't exactly short on firepower, it's the Netherlands. A look at their attacking talent; Robin Van Persie, Klaus-Jan Huntelaar, Arjen Robben, Rafael Van De Vaart. And yet, I was surprised to see Sporting Lisbon's Ricky Van Wolfswinkel fail to make the final 23.

Anyone who saw Sporting Lisbon's Europa League campaign this season, which included eliminating Manchester City, and getting involved in a titanic tussle with Athletic Bilbao in the semi-finals, could hardly fail to be impressed by Van Wolfswinkel. Possessing that footballing nous and tactical awareness that Dutch players seem to come out of the womb with, Van Woflswinkel started his career as a midfielder, before being converted to a lone frontman. And while Van Persie & Huntelaar will compete for one centre-forward position, it seems to defy reasoning why head coach, Bert Van Marwijk felt that Luuk De Jong and Luciano Narsingh were more suitable back-up options than Van Wolfswinkel.

10 Giuseppe Rossi (Italy)

The travails of Giuseppe Rossi over the past two seasons are enough to make the most devout Hindu question the concept of karma. As the 2010 World Cup approached, Rossi was left with a dilemma; to play for the United States, where he was raised, or play for Italy, which was the wish of his father. After leaning towards pulling on the Stars & Stripes, he changed tack and plumped for Italy, partly due to his father's ailing health and subsequent death. However, he failed to make the final Italy squad for South Africa, with then coach Marcelo Lippi opting for more experienced personnel.

With Cesare Prandelli taking the reins after Italy's woeful World Cup display, Rossi was set to be a key part of the new era of Italian football. However, Rossi suffered a cruciate ligament injury at the start of the season. And while his club side, Villareal paid the price for Rossi's absence, eventually being relegated, Rossi looked as if he would regain fitness in time for Euro 2012.

But Rossi suffered a relapse of his knee problem, ruling him out of the Euros. And for a player who not only has selfless work ethic, but superb mobility, and high technical skills, the Italian forward line will be poorer for his absence.

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