A sprinkling of internationals who’ll be on show at Euro 2012 lined up in last week’s Champions League final between Bayern Munich and Chelsea. And three, in particular, had a major say on a dramatic night in Munich. Chelsea, the team of destiny, prevailed on penalties to lift the European Cup for the first time.
Here’s this week’s look at who’s hot and who’s not with kickoff in Poland and Ukraine a mere two weeks away.
Petr Cech, Czech Republic
In soccer terms, the Czech Republic has seen better days. The golden generation of the mid-‘90s featured Pavel Nedved, Patrik Berger and Karel Poborsky, with Milan Baros and Jan Koller arriving later.
If Cech, however, can maintain his stunning form, he could single-handedly steer his nation into the knockout stages. After all, the Czechs are pitted against Russia, Poland and Greece in Group A, arguably the weakest group of the competition.
Cech should have been named as the Champions League MVP in Munich on Saturday, stopping Arjen Robben in the first half and then denying the Dutchman from the spot. In the shootout, he kept out Ivica Olic and palmed Bastian Schweinsteiger’s effort onto the post.
Gary Cahill, England
Of the two Chelsea central defenders returning from a hamstring injury for the final, Cahill acquitted himself better than David Luiz. To be fair to Luiz, though, his injury was thought to be more serious.
Cahill anticipated well, was more often than not in the right place, and was never afraid to throw his body in front of shots.
Three of England’s starting back four against France on June 11 will probably come courtesy of Chelsea: Cahill and John Terry in the center with Ashley Cole at left back.
Morgan de Sanctis, Italy
With Gianluigi Buffon in the Italy squad, there’s not much hope for other keepers to get a game. Buffon was stellar last season for Juventus as the “Old Lady” went unbeaten in Serie A.
But de Sanctis, named in Cesare Prandelli’s provisional squad, boosted his chances of being included on the final roster by impressing for Napoli in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Juventus in the Italian Cup final. De Sanctis, in a faultless outing, was at his best in keeping out Claudio Marchisio and Arturo Vidal.
Cup keeper Marco Storari started ahead of Buffon and made a costly error, hauling down Ezequiel Lavezzi to give Napoli a penalty, which was converted.
Robbie Keane, Ireland
In a group with Spain, Italy and Croatia, Ireland already has it tough. But if talisman Robbie Keane isn’t around, making the quarterfinals becomes much harder, almost impossible. Even at the age of 31, Keane remains Ireland’s most potent threat offensively.
So there was relief for manager Giovanni Trapattoni when Keane’s scan for a hamstring injury showed no major damage.
“Robbie for us is important,” Trapattoni said. “I think we have enough time for him to recover.”
Per Mertesacker, Germany
Mertesacker, ever present in the heart of the German defense, has recovered from the serious ankle injury he sustained in February with Arsenal. Now it’s about getting match fit.
Germany manager Joachim Low has options in central defense, but it’s likely that two of Mertesacker, Bayern’s Holger Badstuber and Borussia Dortmund’s Mats Hummels will get the nod in Germany’s Euro 2012 opener against Portugal on June 9.
Arjen Robben, Netherlands
Robben already has a reputation for diving. Now some will also be calling him a choker.
It’s harsh but might be appropriate after Robben’s display for Bayern against Chelsea. Robben, who failed to convert on a breakaway in the most recent World Cup final, saw his shaky penalty saved in extra time.
There was much more. Of his 15 shots (a staggering number), only five were on target. Just after Thomas Muller’s opener in the 83rd minute, he spurned an opportunity to put the game away.
Robben will be thankful the Euros are on the horizon. It’s a chance for redemption.
Mario Gomez, Germany
Gomez appeared to freeze for Bayern, too, though not as badly as Robben.
No fewer than three times in the first half, he couldn’t take advantage when in promising positions inside the box, taking a touch when it wasn’t required or ballooning shots over the bar.
Not what you’d expect from a striker who scored 12 goals in the Champions League, trailing only Lionel Messi, and found the back of the net 26 times in the Bundesliga.
David Villa and Fernando Torres, Spain
If the stars aligned for Chelsea, they’re not doing so for defending champion Spain.
Inspirational defender Carles Puyol won’t feature due to a knee injury, and Barcelona teammate David Villa -- Spain’s all-time leading scorer -- hasn’t recuperated in time from the broken left leg he suffered in December.
“After not showing sufficient progress in his recovery in the last few training sessions, David Villa told [Spain manager Vicente] del Bosque that despite wanting to be part of Spain’s team in Poland and Ukraine, that he is not in optimal physical condition to play in a competition like the EURO,” Barcelona wrote on its website.
Torres was added to Spain’s provisional squad, so part one of the job is done. Making the final cut is the issue for the striker who barely started for Chelsea last season, although Villa’s omission helps <i>El Nino</i>.
But instead of fully basking in the glory of Chelsea’s Champions League title, he was quick to point out how frustrated he was at being left out of the starting 11 against Bayern.
“Right now I do feel it’s all worth it, but the truth is I’ve gone through some very bad moments,” Torres said. “The worst moments of my career have come during this season, and I am not willing to relive those moments.”
Didier Drogba’s departure from Chelsea should improve Torres’ mood.
Vasili Berezutski, Russia
Berezutski, one of Russia’s most experienced players and a regular in defense in qualifying, ruled himself out of Euro 2012 after he was unable to recover from a thigh injury.
“It’s a pity, but the situation is much worse than we thought,” he was quoted as saying by UEFA.com. “I tried to run and immediately felt pain and discomfort.”
His twin brother, Aleksei, though, is still in.
Wayne Rooney, England
England manager Roy Hodgson revealed that Rooney is suffering from a slight toe injury and will miss Saturday’s friendly against Norway. His omission isn’t a massive deal, since Rooney is suspended for the opening two games of the tournament, but the Manchester United striker needs to be fit if the Three Lions hope to advance past the quarterfinals.
When there’s a major tournament, Rooney always seems to be struggling physically.
How is he recharging ahead of the Euros? By going to Las Vegas. Nice and quiet, eh?
London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.