Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Sweden's rising stars
With Germany crowned the Under-21 European Championships, we take a look back over some of the stars of the future who have made their names in Sweden.
Sweden: Marcus Berg
For the hosts (and probably the rest of the teams too), Berg has been the star of the tournament. He missed his penalty in the semi-final shoot-out defeat against England, but was the finest striker on show by quite some margin. Seven goals made him the Golden Boot award winner and he posed constant problems for opposition defences with his tireless work-rate and deadly finishing ability.
Ajax are rumoured to be making a bid for the Groningen man and it would be rich reward for such a good tournament. The 22-year-old has reportedly also attracted the interest of big teams such as Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Fiorentina, Villarreal and Stuttgart and now looks set to move on from his current side for a fee approaching 11m euros.
England: Fabrice Muamba
The former Arsenal player put in the greatest defensive midfield performance ever seen in an England shirt against Spain - at least according to Stuart Pearce - and made a real impression in the tournament. Breaking up opposition attacks with some terrific tackling, the Bolton player made his physical presence felt and his command of the centre of the pitch allowed the more creative players to exploit the space.
Also worth a mention is Manchester City's Nedum Onuoha. Often placed in the shadow of club teammate Micah Richards, Onuoha outshone his colleague in Sweden and managed to assert his dominance over most of the opposition strikers - except, perhaps, Berg. Helping his side push a high line, his strength and speed were a vital part of England's progress to the final against Germany; had injury not forced him to miss the second half would England have shipped three goals in 45 minutes?
Germany: Mesut Ozil
Unquestionably the heartbeat of the German side, Ozil's creative brilliance allowed his teammates the chance to shine. Unselfish in possession, he did not make a huge impact in the goalscoring department - though did net in the final - but made up for it with a number of impressive performances that that showed he can certainly be considered a genuine long-term successor to Diego at club-level with Werder Bremen.
Ozil played a large part in his club's run to the UEFA Cup final and his impact for the U-21s - alongside Marko Marin, who has just joined Bremen from Borussia Monchengladbach - mean it should not be long before he makes the step up to the full side.
Italy: Sebastian Giovinco
At just 5' 5'', the Italian is not the most imposing of strikers but, like Juventus teammate Alessandro Del Piero, he has the guile and technical skill to pose a dangerous attacking threat. He was sensational for Italy as his side's tournament drew to a close and vastly outshone the performances of the highly-rated - yet temperamental - Mario Balotelli. With the Italian senior side lacking creativity and Giovinco proving that he can mix it both physically and technically with larger opponents, he should make the step up soon.
With Marcelo Lippi looking to blood youngsters before the side return to South Africa next year, one the best bets looks to be Marco Motta. The right-back can capitalise on a poor Confederations Cup performance by the ageing Gianluca Zambrotta and force his way into contention; alongside Atalanta's Luca Cigarini who also caught the eye with his passing skills in the centre of the pitch.
Spain: Sergio Asenjo
In a tournament where they were expected to at least make the final, Spain suffered the disappointment of an early exit, but can take heart from the performances of their young goalkeeper. The Real Valladolid man kept two clean sheets and even managed to save a penalty in the defeat to England and will move on before next season.
Barcelona were rumoured to be interested, but Atletico Madrid and Fiorentina look more likely with the youngster seemingly favouring to stay in Spain. Asenjo is one of the most highly-rated young goalkeepers in the world and his impressive athleticism and shot-stopping ability will make him an eventual successor to Iker Casillas in the full side.
Another to have impressed defensively was Espanyol's Marc Torrejon, who made some crucial tackles and looked generally solid throughout the tournament. However Spain will rue the inability of their misfiring strikers to capitalise on the side's defensive stability.
Finland: Jukka Raitala
Another defender to have come out of the tournament with rave reviews, Raitala added to his defensive skills by forcing the opposition to take note of his bursts down the left flank. The 20-year-old from HJK Helsinki generally looked untroubled by the occasion and is now reported to be on the radar of West Ham.
Halmstad midfielder Tim Sparv also served notice of his potential in the centre of the park as he showed a good array of passing skills, combined with a high work-rate. Out of contract in the summer, the ex-Southampton youth player could be a bargain for a side looking to pick players up on the cheap.
Serbia: Zoran Tosic
Marked out as a player to watch before the tournament, the Manchester United winger did not have the impact he would have desired as the Serbs put in a poor performance in Sweden. However, Tosic showed great versatility and looked comfortable cutting in from both flanks, while also operating in a more central role against Belarus. His speed and close control make him stand out and Hertha Berlin's Gojko Kacar was the only other player on the side to make a similar impact.
Belarus: Sergei Kislyak
With only one point from the tournament, the Belarusians did not make too many waves. Sergei Krivets was tipped as a star before the games began as he starred in the Champions League for Belarus outfit FC Bate Borisov, but failed to shine and was instead outshone by his teammate Sergei Kislyak.
The Dinamo Minsk man got on the scoresheet twice from midfield and used his stamina and powerful left-foot to good effect as he tried to lift his side - without much success.
Any thoughts? E-mail Jon Carter