#31: Mario Gotze, GER

The young Borussia Dortmund playmaker has enjoyed a dizzying ascent through German football since joining his club’s academy at age 8 and making his first-team debut for the Bundesliga winners in 2009. Quick and equally comfortable with the ball on either foot, Gotze is a once-in-a-generation talent -- as German icon Franz Beckenbauer said of Gotze, “he is an instinctive footballer, just like Messi” -- whose best is clearly yet to come.

Winning league titles with Dortmund in back-to-back seasons, Gotze also won the 2011 Golden Boy award -- given to the top football player in Europe under 21 years old -- following in the footsteps of other Euro 2012 stars Wayne Rooney, Cesc Fabregas and Mario Balotelli in addition to being present for Germany’s successful UEFA U-17 side in 2009. But what sets him apart is his vision and awareness in the attacking third, as reflected in his haul of 12 goals and 16 assists in 49 league appearances the past two seasons.

With Die Mannschaft, Gotze has managed 12 outings since 2010 and, with striker Andre Schurrle, was the first German player born after the reunification and the fall of the Berlin Wall to represent the national team. Furthermore, Gotze’s goal in a 2-0 friendly win over Brazil earned him the honor of being the joint-youngest goal scorer for the German national team in the post-World War II era, all hinting at his preternatural abilities as an attacking midfielder or wing threat.

Slowed by a hip injury that caused him to miss more than three months of the 2011-12 season, Gotze will be hoping to make an impression as an impact substitute for a German side hotly tipped to topple Spain for the glory of being named European champion.

Expert's take: A young German footballer who seems to play with a smile on his face. In this regard, there are similarities to Lionel Messi. Gotze has received a thorough grounding at the Borussia Dortmund youth academy. A true entertainer, he has the ability to change a game with one kick of the ball or one swerve of his body. He’ll turn 20 the week before the Euros begin. Gotze's potential is almost frightening. -- Derek Rae

Stats That Matter:

• Created 33 scoring chances in just 17 games for Borussia Dortmund this season, which placed him in the top 10 percent of all players in the Bundesliga

• Scored six goals in 2010-11 title-winning season for Dortmund

• Made his national team debut against Sweden in November 2010 at age 18, becoming the second-youngest senior national team player ever for Germany

• Two goals in 12 appearances for Germany since his debut in 2010 (through May 18)

• Germany’s record with Gotze in the lineup is 7-1-4 (through May 18)

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