Euro 2012 Qualifying

Will stars shine at Euro 2012?

FoxSoccer.com ADAM DIGBY
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Every four years the World Cup seems to propel an unknown name to the forefront of the conscience of the international game; from Geoff Hurst in the 1960’s, the iconic Paolo Rossi in the 1980s to the stars of the nineties like the hip-shaking Roger Milla and the unforgettable bulging eyes of Toto Schillaci.

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In stark contrast, the leading scorer charts of the European Championship reads like an impromptu Hall of Fame inductee list. Gerd Müller, Michel Platini, Marco Van Basten, Alan Shearer, Patrick Kluivert and David Villa have all taken home the tournament's Golden Boot, an award which has merely reinforced the reputation each had already established before the competition began.

That trend may yet continue this summer as Robin van Persie and Miroslav Klose head to Poland and Ukraine in blistering form ahead of Euro 2012 which starts on June 8. Holland striker Van Persie is in the midst of what is comfortably the best spell of his career to date, his domestic scoring form for Arsenal only rivaled by the feats of La Liga stars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Dutch coach Bert van Marwijk will hope the 28-year-old forward can continue his hot streak internationally and the signs are positive, as his six goals in nine appearances in the Oranje shirt during 2011 prove.

German hit-man Klose has almost gone the other way, taking the form previously reserved for his country into his first season in Serie A with new club Lazio. The only player to have scored five or more goals in consecutive World Cups and the only man to have netted at least four in three different tournaments he now just sits just five goals behind the national record of the legendary Müller.

A return of 63 goals (not to mention 21 assists) during his 113 caps has always made him a stand-out performer but he has surprised many with just how quickly he has settled in Rome and has already struck 16 times for the Italian side in just 29 appearances.

Yet 2012 may prove to be the year that the European Championship follows the example of the World Cup and delivers a previously unheralded name towards mainstream attention. A number of major nations have key issues to address in attack which may see them turn towards players with very little, if any, experience at international level.

John Terry (centre) was stripped of the England captaincy. (Photo by Ian Kington/AFP Photos)

England are clearly one of those teams, the two-game suspension handed to Wayne Rooney presents perhaps an even greater challenge than the fallout from Fabio Capello’s exit and the continued furore surrounding the FA's decision to strip John Terry of the captaincy.

The last Three Lions squad, selected by Capello for the autumn friendlies against Spain and Sweden, contained four strikers and three of them (Danny Welbeck, Bobby Zamora and Daniel Sturridge) have just eight caps between them and have yet to register a single goal while Darren Bent (13 caps, 4 goals) must be the one Englishman who fears Harry Redknapp being appointed as Capello’s replacement given the history between them.

Other recent call-ups such as Andy Carroll (3 caps, 1 goal) and Gabriel Agbonlahor (3 caps, no goals) fare little better and indeed only Peter Crouch - last capped back in August - offers anything resembling a proven pedigree, yet the Stoke City striker's return of 22 goals in 42 appearances is often derided for the quality of the opponent in many of those games. Whether Stuart Pearce remains or Redknapp does indeed step in, finding a goal scorer for the key games against France and Sweden will be top priority.

Reigning champions Spain find themselves in a not too dissimilar position, with the return of all-time leading scorer David Villa far from certain after the Barcelona star suffered a broken tibia at the Club World Cup. While the continued debate over Fernando Torres’ continued selection - he was left out of their most recent match - will likely rage until their opening game against Italy, coach Vicente del Bosque has some quality options to turn to even without the misfiring Chelsea striker.

The sustained success of Spain has allowed them to give playing time to others and that is reflected in the records of recent call-ups such as Bilbao’s Fernando Llorente (7 goals in 20 games), Álvaro Negredo of Sevilla (7 caps, 5 goals) and of course Roberto Soldado, opening his account with a hat-trick against Venezuela and staking a real claim for a place.

Italy, their opponents in Group C’s opening game, have been hit even harder, the cruciate ligament injury of Giuseppe Rossi made worse by the loss of Antonio Cassano to a heart problem means both men have effectively been ruled out. The pair had become mainstays under Cesare Prandelli as they looked to recover from a nightmare showing in South Africa, featuring in 13 of the new coach’s 16 games in charge and starting alongside each other in four of the five competitive games before their injury problems.

Cassano was a surprising leading scorer for Italy in qualification with six goals (and four assists) while Rossi added one goal and two assists.

In their absence the Azzurri have a group of strikers every bit as unproven as England’s with Giampaolo Pazzini (24 caps, 4 goals) continuing to misfire at international level. The rest – Mario Balotelli (7 caps, 1 goal), Sebastian Giovinco (7 caps, 0 goals), Alessandro Matri (5 caps, 1 goal) and Pablo Osvaldo (2 caps, 0 goals) – are wholly untested, so Prandelli could be forced to call upon a long-time favourite of his, Alberto Gilardino whose 17 goals in 47 appearances for his country is hardly inspirational.

Bad break. Will David Villa recover in time from a broken leg? (Photo by Laurence Grifiths/Getty Images)

Italy may yet turn to Antonio Di Natale, a player Prandelli has promised to include in his next squad, or indeed Francesco Totti, a player who has never seemed comfortable with his international retirement. Udinese captain Di Natale is enjoying a remarkable Indian summer to his career, scoring 74 Serie A goals over the past three seasons despite being 34 and hardly able to train in between matches, while Roma icon Totti recently became the player with most goals for a single club in the history of Italian football.

Villa or Rossi have both recently stated their belief they will recover in time and could complete fairytale returns. Torres could suddenly remember where the goal is or Rooney, having spent the opening two games kicking his heels, could repeat his exploits of eight years ago where he first exploded onto the international scene.

More likely it will be a parade to the Golden Boot for either Klose or van Persie. But maybe, just maybe, history will prove to be no guide and a new name could yet write a memorable new chapter in the story of the Henri Delaunay trophy.

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