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Euro 2012 files: The meanest defenders from Evra to Pepe

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<b>Patrice Evra (France)</b><br/>
After leading the French revolution at the World Cup in South Africa, Patrice Evra has been redeemed and looks certain to play a major role for France this summer. Due to the left-back's actions two years ago, the explosive former captain more than any other will be desperate to prove he has something positive to offer Le Bleus. The 30-year-old's position as Manchester United has never been under threat in a season, which while at times unspectacular, has been consistent. With France's first opponents of the tournament being England, Evra is likely to benefit from duelling with familiar foes.

<b>Patrice Evra (France)</b><br/> After leading the French revolution at the World Cup in South Africa, Patrice Evra has been redeemed and looks certain to play a major role for France this summer. Due to the left-back's actions two years ago, the explosive former captain more than any other will be desperate to prove he has something positive to offer Le Bleus. The 30-year-old's position as Manchester United has never been under threat in a season, which while at times unspectacular, has been consistent. With France's first opponents of the tournament being England, Evra is likely to benefit from duelling with familiar foes.

Alex Livesey

&lt;b&gt;Gerard Pique (Spain)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
With the likely absence of Barcelona captain Carles Puyol, Spain have been left with a gaping hole in their defence. The man entrusted with filling it will be his club team-mate Gerard Pique. The former Manchester United defender is regularly in the Spanish newspapers for reasons other than football, owing much to his high-profile relationship with singer Shakira, and that has impacted on his domestic season. While dropped by Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, with Puyol staying at home, that is not an option open to Spain coach Vincent del Bosque. Although it's unlikely he'd want to in any case, as Pique was pivotal in Spain's World Cup triumph and a nickname like Piquenbauer is not easily won.

<b>Gerard Pique (Spain)</b><br/> With the likely absence of Barcelona captain Carles Puyol, Spain have been left with a gaping hole in their defence. The man entrusted with filling it will be his club team-mate Gerard Pique. The former Manchester United defender is regularly in the Spanish newspapers for reasons other than football, owing much to his high-profile relationship with singer Shakira, and that has impacted on his domestic season. While dropped by Barcelona manager Pep Guardiola, with Puyol staying at home, that is not an option open to Spain coach Vincent del Bosque. Although it's unlikely he'd want to in any case, as Pique was pivotal in Spain's World Cup triumph and a nickname like Piquenbauer is not easily won.

&lt;b&gt;Ashley Cole (England)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Inarguably one of England's most consistent tournament players of the last decade, the Chelsea defender will be the one definite in an uncertain England back line. Despite now being the wrong side of 30, his club performances this season have been nothing short of superb, particularly in the Champions League semi-final victory over Barcelona. Despite his impressive club form, second choice left-back Leighton Baines is short in experience on the international stage and Roy Hodgson will be hoping Cole can stay injury free.

<b>Ashley Cole (England)</b><br/> Inarguably one of England's most consistent tournament players of the last decade, the Chelsea defender will be the one definite in an uncertain England back line. Despite now being the wrong side of 30, his club performances this season have been nothing short of superb, particularly in the Champions League semi-final victory over Barcelona. Despite his impressive club form, second choice left-back Leighton Baines is short in experience on the international stage and Roy Hodgson will be hoping Cole can stay injury free.

&lt;b&gt;Pepe (Portugal)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
The temperament of the Portuguese stopper will be a worry for national coach Paulo Bento, but whether it's for the right or wrong reasons Pepe is always a watch-able presence. Deployed in defensive midfield at the World Cup in South Africa, the Real Madrid man is expected to return to the more familiar surrounds of centre-back for his third European Championships and his partnership with Bruno Alves will be fundamental to the hopes of a Portugal team packed with attacking talent.

<b>Pepe (Portugal)</b><br/> The temperament of the Portuguese stopper will be a worry for national coach Paulo Bento, but whether it's for the right or wrong reasons Pepe is always a watch-able presence. Deployed in defensive midfield at the World Cup in South Africa, the Real Madrid man is expected to return to the more familiar surrounds of centre-back for his third European Championships and his partnership with Bruno Alves will be fundamental to the hopes of a Portugal team packed with attacking talent.

&lt;b&gt;Holger Badstuber (Germany)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
In a German squad overflowing with talented defenders Bayern Munich's young centre-back has managed to cement his place in Joachim Low's plans. With nine appearances in qualifying, a record bettered only by Captain Philipp Lahm, the 23-year-old was integral in securing Germany their 100 per cent record in Group A. He also played a crucial role in Bayern's run to the Champions League final this season and has flourished domestically under the guidance of Jupp Heynckes.

<b>Holger Badstuber (Germany)</b><br/> In a German squad overflowing with talented defenders Bayern Munich's young centre-back has managed to cement his place in Joachim Low's plans. With nine appearances in qualifying, a record bettered only by Captain Philipp Lahm, the 23-year-old was integral in securing Germany their 100 per cent record in Group A. He also played a crucial role in Bayern's run to the Champions League final this season and has flourished domestically under the guidance of Jupp Heynckes.

&lt;b&gt;John O'Shea (Rupublic of Ireland)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
The Republic of Ireland struggled to keep a consistent back four throughout the qualifying stages, but they will need to utilise Sunderland's John O'Shea if they have any hope of advancing from Group C. The former Manchester United defender's Champions League experience may prove invaluable in crunch games with Spain and Italy. If both O'Shea and Richard Dunne can stay fit Ireland may just be the dark horses of the tournament.

<b>John O'Shea (Rupublic of Ireland)</b><br/> The Republic of Ireland struggled to keep a consistent back four throughout the qualifying stages, but they will need to utilise Sunderland's John O'Shea if they have any hope of advancing from Group C. The former Manchester United defender's Champions League experience may prove invaluable in crunch games with Spain and Italy. If both O'Shea and Richard Dunne can stay fit Ireland may just be the dark horses of the tournament.

&lt;b&gt;Simon Kjaer (Denmark)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Pitted against Holland, Germany and Portugal, Denmark are the outside bets to advance from Group B, but in Simon Kjaer they possess a prodigious defensive talent. At the age of 21 Kjaer was one of the hottest properties in Europe, reportedly attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Juventus. But his career has gone sideways since and after two disappointing seasons, at Wolfsburg and Roma, he is a player looking to recover his reputation. Euro 2012 may just be the platform the young Dane needs to reignite his ailing career.

<b>Simon Kjaer (Denmark)</b><br/> Pitted against Holland, Germany and Portugal, Denmark are the outside bets to advance from Group B, but in Simon Kjaer they possess a prodigious defensive talent. At the age of 21 Kjaer was one of the hottest properties in Europe, reportedly attracting interest from the likes of Manchester United, Manchester City, Tottenham and Juventus. But his career has gone sideways since and after two disappointing seasons, at Wolfsburg and Roma, he is a player looking to recover his reputation. Euro 2012 may just be the platform the young Dane needs to reignite his ailing career.

&lt;b&gt;Lukasz Piszczek (Poland)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
Tournament co-hosts Poland are a side short of big name stars, but Lukasz Piszczek is on the verge of becoming one and he has the talent to back it up. The career of the 26-year-old right-back has prospered since his 2010 move to Borussia Dortmund, appearing in 30 of their 33 league games on the way to the Bundesliga title this season. If Piszczek and his Dortmund team mates Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski can transfer their domestic form onto the international stage, Poland will stand a good chance of progressing to the knockout rounds.

<b>Lukasz Piszczek (Poland)</b><br/> Tournament co-hosts Poland are a side short of big name stars, but Lukasz Piszczek is on the verge of becoming one and he has the talent to back it up. The career of the 26-year-old right-back has prospered since his 2010 move to Borussia Dortmund, appearing in 30 of their 33 league games on the way to the Bundesliga title this season. If Piszczek and his Dortmund team mates Robert Lewandowski and Jakub Blaszczykowski can transfer their domestic form onto the international stage, Poland will stand a good chance of progressing to the knockout rounds.

&lt;b&gt;Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
After Fabio Cannavaro's 2010 retirement some doubted Italy's defensive ability, but any concerns were emphatically dispelled in qualification for Euro 2012. Giorgio Chiellini played in all ten of the Azzurri's qualifying contests, conceding just two goals in the process. At 27-years-old the Juventus centre-back is one of the few defenders approaching the championships at the peak of his powers. His first test will come early on in the tournament as Italy open with a match against Spain; never has a game been more apt for the phrase irresistible force vs. immovable object.

<b>Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)</b><br/> After Fabio Cannavaro's 2010 retirement some doubted Italy's defensive ability, but any concerns were emphatically dispelled in qualification for Euro 2012. Giorgio Chiellini played in all ten of the Azzurri's qualifying contests, conceding just two goals in the process. At 27-years-old the Juventus centre-back is one of the few defenders approaching the championships at the peak of his powers. His first test will come early on in the tournament as Italy open with a match against Spain; never has a game been more apt for the phrase irresistible force vs. immovable object.

&lt;b&gt;Gregory van der Wiel (Netherlands)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
The 24-year-old played every minute of The Netherlands' qualifying campaign, helping them to the top of a difficult group. His searing pace and attacking qualities have attracted some of Europe's top clubs, with rumours of interest from Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City. As yet though the full-back has stayed loyal to home town club Ajax, featuring prominently in this seasons Eredivisie winning team. In a solid Dutch back line which includes John Heitinga and Joris Matijsen, Van der Wiel may just provide the spark to help them escape 'the group of death'.

<b>Gregory van der Wiel (Netherlands)</b><br/> The 24-year-old played every minute of The Netherlands' qualifying campaign, helping them to the top of a difficult group. His searing pace and attacking qualities have attracted some of Europe's top clubs, with rumours of interest from Chelsea, Real Madrid and Manchester City. As yet though the full-back has stayed loyal to home town club Ajax, featuring prominently in this seasons Eredivisie winning team. In a solid Dutch back line which includes John Heitinga and Joris Matijsen, Van der Wiel may just provide the spark to help them escape 'the group of death'.

&lt;b&gt;Patrice Evra (France)&lt;/b&gt;&lt;br/&gt;
After leading the French revolution at the World Cup in South Africa, Patrice Evra has been redeemed and looks certain to play a major role for France this summer. Due to the left-back's actions two years ago, the explosive former captain more than any other will be desperate to prove he has something positive to offer Le Bleus. The 30-year-old's position as Manchester United has never been under threat in a season, which while at times unspectacular, has been consistent. With France's first opponents of the tournament being England, Evra is likely to benefit from duelling with familiar foes.

<b>Patrice Evra (France)</b><br/> After leading the French revolution at the World Cup in South Africa, Patrice Evra has been redeemed and looks certain to play a major role for France this summer. Due to the left-back's actions two years ago, the explosive former captain more than any other will be desperate to prove he has something positive to offer Le Bleus. The 30-year-old's position as Manchester United has never been under threat in a season, which while at times unspectacular, has been consistent. With France's first opponents of the tournament being England, Evra is likely to benefit from duelling with familiar foes.

<b>Patrice Evra (France)</b><br/> After leading the French revolution at the World Cup in South Africa, Patrice Evra has been redeemed and looks certain to play a major role for France this summer. Due to the left-back's actions two years ago, the explosive former captain more than any other will be desperate to prove he has something positive to offer Le Bleus. The 30-year-old's position as Manchester United has never been under threat in a season, which while at times unspectacular, has been consistent. With France's first opponents of the tournament being England, Evra is likely to benefit from duelling with familiar foes.

From Cole and Pique to Piszczek - the hard men to keep an eye on during Euro 2012.

Belfast Telegraph