The qualifying draw for Euro 2012 was made yesterday in Warsaw, and Goal.com’s experts get together to predict what the top nation’s starting XI’s could look like in Poland and Ukraine in two-and-a-half year’s time…
There will almost certainly be mass changes after this summer’s World Cup, and veterans such as Fabio Cannavaro, Gianluca Zambrotta, Fabio Grosso, Rino Gattuso, Mauro Camoranesi and Antonio Di Natale will no longer be around come Euro 2012.
The backline will be built around Juventus duo Gianluigi Buffon and Giorgio Chiellini, with a string of talented young defenders such as Roma’s Marco Motta, Inter’s Davide Santon, Bari-duo Andrea Ranocchia and Leonardo Bonucci, Genoa pair Domenico Criscito and Salvatore Bocchetti, and Napoli’s Fabiano Santacroce all staking claims.
The midfield generally picks itself, although the development of Alberto Aquilani, Riccardo Montolivo, Luca Cigarini, and Gaetano D’Agostino – should he join a big club – will be interesting. Andrea Pirlo will probably stick around to add experience along with Buffon.
In attack, Antonio Cassano will surely re-enter the frame if Marcello Lippi leaves after the World Cup. Mario Balotelli, assuming he sorts out his attitude, will be one of the continent’s most explosive attackers. Goalscorer Alberto Gilardino will still be around at the age of 30, while youngsters Giuseppe Rossi and Sebastian Giovinco will be hoping to be there or thereabouts. A number of other forwards such as Alessandro Matri, Giampaolo Pazzini and Marco Borriello could also be knocking on the door.
(4-3-1-2) G.Buffon (34); M.Motta (26) – A.Ranocchia (24) – G.Chiellini (27) – D.Santon (21); D.De Rossi (28) – A.Pirlo (33) - C.Marchisio (26); A.Candreva (25); M.Balotelli (21) – A.Cassano (30)
England will see a number of players bow out from the international scene in the coming years. David James (39), David Beckham (34), Gary Neville (34) and possibly Rio Ferdinand (31) and Frank Lampard (31) could all hang up their boots in the two years ahead of 2012, or lose their places to younger stars. Manchester City's young goalkeeper Joe Hart - is having a great season on loan to Birmingham and looks well placed to be England's next No.1. He was praised by Capello this week who noted his growing 'confidence'.
Glen Johnson, Ashley Cole and John Terry are all on the right side of 30 currently and are likely to be performing at the top level for a few years to come. Of the young defenders emerging in the Premier League, Bolton's Gary Cahill is well regarded by Fabio Capello - who called him up to the squad last year - and could move to a bigger club in the summer.
The England team could be completely revamped in midfield in the next two years and many young England stars have a chance of getting a place between now and June 2012. Wingers such as Manchester City's Shaun Wright Phillips, Arsenal's Theo Walcott and Aston Villa's Ashley Young will all be pushing for a place but I back Manchester City's £7 million signing Adam Johnson to break into the team as looks like the best young left-footed player around.
Aston Villa's James Milner can play on either flank but has been a revelation this season after moving into central midfield. Fabio Capello has called Milner 'the future of England' and should Frank Lampard quit or tire - before Euro 2012, he could fill that attacking midfield berth. Steven Gerrard will probably still be key to England and, as he will be 32, he may move back into central midfield, passing more and marauding less.
There are many younger strikers pushing for a place in the England side currently, including Aston Villa's Gabriel Agbonlahor, West Ham's Carlton Cole whilst promising Under 21 starlets such as Daniel Sturridge of Chelsea and Zavon Hines of West Ham could be in contention for senior caps in the coming years. But Wayne Rooney will only be 26 at Euro 2012 and has the potential to be England's greatest ever striker. Only injury could keep him away from that first team whilst Tottenham's Jermain Defoe is growing in maturity and confidence each season.
(4-4-2) J.Hart (25); G.Johnson (27) – G.Cahill (26) – J.Terry (31) – A.Cole (31); A.Lennon (24) – J.Milner (26) - S.Gerrard (32) - A.Johnson (24); W.Rooney (26) - J.Defoe (29)
Vicente del Bosque has signed on to remain as coach to guide Spain into Euro 2012 and with him at the helm of the Spanish Armada, the squad is unlikely to change much by the summer of 2012.
Barring a sensational dip in form, Iker Casillas will remain in goal and continue to lead the team as the captain. What will be interesting is who will become his understudies, especially with Victor Valdes continually proving that he is worth a call-up.
Carles Puyol will turn 33, but there's still every chance of him anchoring the Spanish defence. Even if he doesn't, there's still a healthy stream of defenders capable to take over, including current collaborator, Gerard Pique, and the constantly improving Raul Albiol. Left-back could be a problem as Joan Capdevila will also turn 33 and he is unlikely to be called upon if he shows a distinct decline in pace. But Nacho Monreal and Alvaro Arbeloa are both able replacements, although they lack experience.
La Furia Roja's midfield congestion will remain competitive as ever, although Marcos Senna is expected to hang up his boots by then. But Spain have shown over the past 12 months that they can cope without the midfield destroyer and with Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets ready to step in and a young Javi Martinez expected to break into the squad, del Bosque should still have plenty of options.
Xavi, who will be 32 by then, should still retain his spot in the heart of midfield, but if he doesn't, then a certain Cesc Fabregas will be more than ready to take over the role. David Silva and Andres Iniesta are likely to continue on either side of the flank, but the likes of Jesus Navas and Juan Mata should provide stern competition.
Upfront, David Villa should cement his status as the lead striker if he maintains his goalscoring ratio and consistency. But Fernando Torres' place could be in jeapardy if he doesn't rediscover his fitness and form of old. Although it is anticipated that Spain will retain the bulk of their current squad, expect some exciting new faces to come through, namely Pedro and Sergio Canales.
(4-4-1-1) Iker Casillas (31); S.Ramos (26) – R.Albiol (26) – G.Pique (26) – N.Monreal (26); D.Silva (26) - Xavi (32) - Xabi Alonso (30) – A.Iniesta (28); C.Fabregas (25); D.Villa (30)
Kooi S Leong
The end of the Raymond Domenech era will almost certainly mean the end of the road for France’s international veteran. Long serving aces Thierry Henry and Patrick Vieira, the last remnants of the World Cup ’98 winners, will likely depart as the new breed of Bleus floods in further.
Domenech certainly doesn’t have a squad that boasts overwhelming experience, as can be ascertained by the relative youthfulness of many of today’s starters even in two year’s time. Goalkeeper Hugo Lloris will not yet have hit his peak, while changes are needed in the heart of the central defence. Adil Rami is ever-improving with Lille, so expect to see him involved more frequently, while Philippe Mexes may well get a chance to atone for the wrongs he has committed under Domenech. Mamadou Sakho, who will be 22 by the start of the competition, is developing into another candidate.
In the midfield there will be few players afforded a definite spot in the side. Toulouse youngster Moussa Sissoko will develop into a dynamic central midfielder, adding an extra dimension to les Bleus’ play from anywhere across the centre, while Lassana Diarra and Jeremy Toulalan may well get embroiled in a battle royale for the anchoring role with Etienne Capoue an interested third party. Yoann Gourcuff is seen as the long-term No. 10 and there will be no massive challenge to Frank Ribery on the left. Samir Nasri’s position on the right will very much depend on his development.
Nicolas Anelka will be regarded as a gnarled veteran by Euro 2012 and will face stiff competition from Karim Benzema and Andre-Pierre Gignac for the solo striking role, with the Real Madrid forward potentially getting the nod.
(4-2-3-1) H.Lloris (25); B.Sagna (28) - A.Rami (26) - P.Mexes (30) - G.Clichy (26); L.Diarra (27) - Moussa Sissoko (22); S.Nasri (24) - Y.Gourcuff (25) - F.Ribery (29); K.Benzema (24)
Joachim Loew has done his best to usher out the old stagers in the Nationalmannschaft and this summer Michael Ballack will find himself surrounded by sprightly young team-mates.
Euro 2012 may be a bridge to far for the 33-year-old midfielder, who is tipped for international retirement following the World Cup in South Africa. Also likely to depart is the Hertha Berlin defender, Arne Freidrich, who will be 32 by the time Poland-Ukraine rolls around.
Aside from that, Loew has worked hard to get the average age of the Nationalelf right down and has left formidable foundations for future tournament assaults.
It is likely to be a much similar squad, in terms of personnel, for 2012 as appears in South Africa. Indeed, the likes of Thomas Mueller, Toni Kroos, Marko Marin and Mesut Oezil can only get better in order to give more options to an already strong panel. Maturity to this current crop will provide a genuine contender in 2012.
(4-2-3-1) R.Adler (27); J.Boateng (23) - P.Mertesacker (27) - H.Westermann (28) - P.Lahm (28); B.Schweinsteiger (27) - S.Rolfes (30); M.Oezil (23) - T.Kroos (22) - T.Mueller (22); L.Podolski (27)
There will certainly be some changes in Holland's back-line after this summer’s World Cup. Veterans such as Andre Ooijer and Giovanni van Bronckhorst will no longer be around come Euro 2012, while promising youngsters such as Chelsea's Jeffrey Bruma, and PSV's Erik Pieters and Dirk Marcellis will be eager to make it into Oranje's starting XI after South Africa. Additionally, Khalid Boulahrouz and John Heitinga will be keen to get playing time in Oranje again.
The holding midfield area will probably have to make do without influential midfielder Mark van Bommel at Euro 2012 and several players will be ready to replace him. Demy de Zeeuw (Ajax), Stijn Schaars (AZ) and Ibrahim Afellay (PSV) have all proved to be ready to step up, but Afellay appears to be lying in pole position for a starting berth if he continues to develop like this. The PSV star previously played as an attacking midfielder, but has been impressive in a more defensive position this term.
In attacking midfield, competition for a spot in the starting XI will be stiff. Eljero Elia and Arjen Robben appear to be certainties on the wing for the upcoming years, meaning that Dirk Kuyt could very well lose his starting berth after the World Cup. Rafael van der Vaart and Wesley Sneijder will have to fight it out for the no. 10 position. Both players have their pros and cons, but Sneijder's unprofessional behaviour both on and off the pitch could be in Van der Vaart's favour.
Robin van Persie appears to be the undisputed first choice for the striker position as long as Klaas Jan Huntelaar doesn't find a club where he's appreciated. Kuyt could also slot in as forward, but the Liverpool attacker is clearly not the world-class striker the Dutch need.
(4-2-3-1) M.Stekelenburg (29); G.van der Wiel (24) – R.Vlaar (27) – J.Mathijsen (32) – R.Drenthe (25); N.de Jong (27) - I.Afellay (26); A.Robben (28) - R.van der Vaart (29) E.Elia (25); R.van Persie (28)
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