The Cinco: The Five Strikers That Matter In Euro 2012
By Eduardo Maisonet, III / @edthesportsfan
These may not be the best five, but these five could drive the biggest opportunity for their respective squads starting on June 8th.
1. Karim Benzema, France: Gone are the days of Thierry Henry and Nicolas Anelka to anchor the offense for Les Blues, and now the next phenom to try and step up for France will be Benzema. Acting (and excelling) in a supplemental capacity for Real Madrid’s championship run in La Liga, the striker from Lyon will now be asked to lead up front.
Benzema will have plenty of help, as veteran midfielders like Franck Ribery, Samri Nasri and Florent Malouda will help facilitate plenty of opportunities for Benzema. If Benzema can produce, then France could turn into darkhorse candidates to win it all.
2. Pavel Pogrebnyak, Russia: The Fulham striker was labeled by his Russian teammate Andrei Arshavin as “Velikiy Po” or “Po the Great.” Po, will need to be as great for Russia as he was for Fulham after transferring from Stuttgart. Pogrebnyak lit it up for Fulham, as he made league history by being the quickest player to ever score five goals in just three games.
If Pogrebnyak could find a way to score five goals for Russia in their first three games, then Russia could find themselves on the path to reaching the semifinals again like in 2008.
3. Mario Balotelli, Italy: Like it or not, Mario Balotelli is the face of the new Italian Football Team. In many faces, he isn’t all that different than any of his scoring predecessors. He’s physically a nightmare for any defender, is as speedy as any winger and is crafty like a veteran 10 years his senior. So what he’s kind of a hot head, at least you know he’s out there, not vanishing on the pitch for long stretches of time.
Balotelli’s activity could infuse a new sense of passion for the Azzuri. For as much success as the Italians have had internationally, they haven’t won the European Cup since 1968. Sometimes a new face can generate new outcomes, and in Balotelli’s case, they’ll need him to be more than just fiery. They’ll need him to fill it up, especially with a matchup with Spain looming in the opening round.
4. Fernando Torres, Spain: Speaking of Spain, has one man had more of an up and down last couple of months than Torres? After having a goal drought that lasted 24 games, Torres scored a tremendous clinching goal versus Barcelona than pushed Chelsea into the Champions League final. Of course, in that final Torres felt overlooked as a potential choice for penalty kicks, and now his club future is in doubt.
For now, Spain is his future, and his presence might be needed more now than ever. With David Villa down with a knee injury, Torres is the No. 1 option at striker and might be their only real option upfront. Of course, Spain’s true blessing is their midfield, and plenty of opportunities should come towards No. 9’s direction. There’s a saying the old men in my family tend to say, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Torres more drink plenty during this tournament, otherwise Spain will be left out to dry.
5. Danny Welbeck, England: Welbeck has garnered the utmost of respect from his peers and his legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson.
“He’s got a talent as good as anyone in the game for the forwards. I think he’s almost certain to get his chance now. He’s confident, intelligent and certainly got the technical skills. He has a great belief in himself.” - Sir Alex on Welbeck in 2011
So the resume reads well, but now we’ve got to see it in action. Since being called up to Manchester United’s top squad, he’s always been paired up with Wayne Rooney. The pairing have yielded favorable results, and Roy Hodgson is hoping that the pair can continue their familiar success for the Three Lions. Everyone knows Rooney, Welbeck’s still a man of mystery. If Welbeck can light it up along with Rooney, then England’s chances of getting out of their own fans doghouse could be imminent, and maybe a long run in the knockout stage could result as well.