Belfast Telegraph

Monday 2 March 2015

Euro 2012: The tricksters and dribblers

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
During his early days at Old Trafford, Cristiano Ronaldo was written off by many as being nothing more than a show pony, all step-overs and tricks without any end product. There can be few people who think that today. While the Portuguese superstar's penchant for fancy footwork has not dwindled, his all-round game has developed by frightening proportions. A nightmare to defend against, Ronaldo's pacy dribbling and quick feet, as well as his eye for the spectacular mark him out as one of the most skilful players in world football. Arguably the best player in the tournament, Portugal will need every last trick from their captain if they are to progress from 'the group of death'.
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Well-known in England thanks to his successful spell at Chelsea, Arjen Robben is one of several very talented Dutch players who so narrowly missed out on World Cup glory in 2010. Playing in his second Champions League final this weekend, Robben's pace and trickery have been key components in Bayern Munich's success. An extremely proficient dribbler who often looks to cut back onto his favoured and lethal left foot, the Dutchman is also known for his theatrics and has a not totally unwarranted reputation for diving. While these are unwelcome characteristics, there can be no denying Robben's fantastic skills and along with Rafael van der Vaart, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie he forms part of a formidable Dutch attack.
Mario Balotelli (Italy)
Few players have generated so many headlines during the course of one season, but then there are not many players like Mario Balotelli. His habit of getting involved in bizarre off-field antics as well as a host of disciplinary problems both on and off the pitch have earned him something of a cult status in the game. While this side of Balotelli has often overshadowed his performances on the pitch, he remains a prodigiously talented footballer and, if on form, arguably Italy's greatest threat. Blessed with fantastic feet and capable of moments of extreme skill, such as his delightful rabona cross against Sporting Lisbon in this season's Europa League, Balotelli's style blends nonchalance with insouciance, at times reminiscent of Eric Cantona. One way or another he looks certain to make an impact this summer.
Aiden McGeady (Republic of Ireland)
Although born in Scotland, Aiden McGeady will be representing the Republic of Ireland this summer, and the Boys in Green are fortunate they are able to call on his services. The 26-year-old winger made a name for himself at Celtic, helping the club into the knockout stages of the Champions League for the first time in their history in the 2006-07 season. The following year he demonstrated the full range of his skills, including his signature 360° spin, collecting both the SPFA Player of the Year and Young Player of the Year in the process. McGeady took a somewhat unconventional career move to Spartak Moscow in 2010 with relative success. Faced with Spain, Italy and Croatia in the group stages, the Republic of Ireland will need all of McGeady's trickery and dribbling skill if they are to have any hope of progress.
Mesut Özil (Germany)
A star of Germany's exciting young side in the 2010 World Cup, Mezut Özil's performances earned him a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid, where he has flourished amongst a collection of some of the world's best players. The creative side to Özil's game has seen him consistently near the top of La Liga's assists table, although there is a lot more to his game than that. Arguably the strongest aspect of his game is his brilliant dribbling skills, aided by extremely quick feet and the ability to turn his way out of trouble with alarming ease. Özil was key in Germany's qualification for Euro 2012 contributing five goals and seven assists in ten games and if he can maintain the same level of performance his team must be among the favourites for the title.
Samir Nasri (France)
Although this season he has been somewhat overshadowed by the exploits of other members of Manchester City's dazzling attack, there can be no doubting the class of Samir Nasri. Hailed by some early in his career as the 'new Zidane', Nasri has not let the comparison phase him, and while he is yet to achieve the same level of performance as France's former great, he has established himself as an excellent player. Brilliant dribbling skills, quick feet and fantastic close control are key facets of his game as he showed on numerous occasions for Arsenal - in particular when scoring a memorable goal against Porto in 2010. Strangely left out of France's 2010 World Cup squad, Nasri has returned to the side under Blanc, even captaining Les Bleus in their recent win over Luxembourg.
Christian Eriksen (Denmark)
The youngest player at the 2010 World Cup, Christian Eriksen is reportedly a target for a host of Europe's biggest clubs and it is easy to see why. Eriksen played in all of Denmark's qualifying games and has been in fantastic form for Ajax this season, scoring seven goals and contributing 17 assists - his performance against Manchester United, in the Europa League, even drawing praise from Sir Alex Ferguson. Arguably one of the most technically gifted youngsters in Europe, with plenty of pace and the ability to effortlessly glide with the ball, Dutch icon Johan Cruyff has compared him to Danish legend Brian Laudrup. With Denmark facing the Netherlands, Germany and Portugal in the group stage, Eriksen will have to be at his dazzling best if they are going to reach the knockout stages.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden)
Despite his phenomenal record over the years, Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a player who still amazingly divides opinions. Critics point out a difficult side to his character, which saw him fall out with Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, as well as claiming he is not a big-match player. However there can be absolutely no debating the fact that Ibrahimovic is supremely gifted. His ability to combine strength with agility and his fantastically quick feet have seen him terrorise defences across Europe - until this year he had won an incredible eight consecutive league titles in three different countries. Set to face England in the group stage, stopping him must be a priority for Roy Hodgson's men.
Iker Muniain (Spain)
Although very unlikely to start given the extraordinary range of attacking talent that Spain possess, Iker Muniain can nevertheless be a hugely important impact player for them at Euro 2012. His brilliantly quick feet, which underpin his pacy dribbling skills, have seen him labelled a 'Spanish Messi' by some and while he is nowhere near as good a player as the Argentine, the comparison is not completely unfounded. He made his La Liga debut aged just 16, becoming the youngest player to score in the league a month later, and he has been instrumental in Athletic Bilbao's excellent season this year, helping the Basque club to two finals. Coming off the bench, the 19-year-old could pose a real danger to tired defenders and adds another dimension to Spain's already potent attacking arsenal.
Nani (Portugal)
Although he has spent much of his career in the shadow of the more illustrious Ronaldo, Nani is an extremely skilful player in his own right and will form a potentially deadly combination with his aforementioned compatriot this summer. While some have questioned the consistency of Nani's performance, when on form his bamboozling step-overs, quick feet and speedy dribbling are a defender's nightmare. His all-round game has also vastly improved and he can provide excellent delivery into the box from wide areas. While Portugal face a tough task getting out of their group, with the combined trickery of Nani and Ronaldo to call upon, they might just spring a few surprises.

Euro 2012 kicks-off in just a matter of weeks and in anticipation the Belfast Telegraph is running down the key factors and people to keep an eye on in Poland and Ukraine this summer.

From free-kick takers to hot-heads, blasts from the past to the youngsters, we'll have it all covered before things kick-off in Warsaw.

Here, we bring you the tricksters and dribblers bound for Euro 2012. These are the players who love a keepy-uppy and a step over, and will be hoping to dazzle defenders as they do the fans.

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