“In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man, as modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears, then imitate the action of the tiger!”
A slew of Euro 2012 previews are out and about in the media, each pointing out the key players of each respective team. With the smell of glory in their nostrils, here are five players that have largely slipped under the radar but could pull up a few trees in Poland and Ukraine.
Konoplyanka is hot property in Ukraine. He’s able to play on either flank or as a striker, he possesses immense pace, holds a bag of tricks and is capable of the spectacular. Likely to start on the left wing for Ukraine, Konoplyanka will be crucial to their hopes of progressing in the tournament. As a disciple of Valeriy Lobanovskyi, Oleh Blokhin drills rapid counter-attacks into his side, of which Konoplyanka is excellent for. His blistering bursts forward are fluid, with him equally capable of cutting inside for a shot, or reaching the by-line for a cross. Despite only being 22, he has a wonderful understanding of his surroundings and his appreciation of space means he can be effective defensively without putting a tackle in, a very underrated skill.
Konoplyanka has an alluring way of moving about the pitch, the way he moves is sort of languid, except he plays with great vigour. He comes into the tournament in good form for both his club (Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk) and country but there has only been a few murmurings of his name outside of Ukraine. A good tournament will send the media into a rumour furore.
Shirokov has had a remarkable journey to the top. Having been dumped out of the CSKA Moscow youth set-up, he embarked on a career drifting around the lower-leagues of Russia. He drifted from place to place, predominantly as a centre-back and as time wore on he wondered if it was worth it anymore and considered quitting football altogether. Only 5 years ago, at the age of 25, he had dropped as low as the Russian fourth division. He got one last chance with FC Khimki in the top flight, where he performed well and won a move to Zenit St. Petersburg.
Shirokov is now a midfielder, a midfielder that goes from box-to-box with plenty of goals in his locker. In 2008, he was used as a defender by Guus Hiddink in the opening match, before being dropped from all future Russian squads under Hiddink. Four years later, Shirokov finds himself as the main attacking fulcrum in midfield. Shirokov has a brilliant ability of picking up space in the final third, especially in the box. He consistently turns up for the big games. There’s no real weakness to his game and that all-round ability means he’s invaluable to Russia. At 30 now, he’s unlikely to head for any big money moves but he’s all set to show the rest of Europe what they’ve been missing.
Aside from a brief spell in Russia with Rubin Kazan, Murawski has spent his career in his native Poland, thus outside of Poland we rarely hear of him. Delightfully cultured with the ball, he slips and slides around the pitch with great beauty, dictating play. He sees passes others don’t, he finds a yard of space in situations other don’t and heads into the Polish team full of confidence after a good end to the season with Lech Poznan. Murawski will likely start in central midfield for Poland, behind the front four and from there he can weave his magic, though he isn’t afraid of popping up in the opposition’s box either.
Amidst all the talk of Robert Lewandowski, Rafal Murawski has gone very much under the radar for Poland. His brain works a second ahead of the rest of the team and is constantly scanning the pitch, looking for ways in which the play can be shifted. Absolutely crucial for Poland going into the tournament, he could be the piece of the jigsaw that provides that calming touch much needed in high-pressured situations.
Despite a series of excellent performances for his club Legia Warszawa, Wolski was a surprise pick for the Polish squad. Recent news has it that Borussia Dortmund, having enquired for Wolski, have seen their deal dead in the water after Legia asked for more money that Dortmund were prepared to pay. At 19, Wolski has a lot of potential and looks set to become a fixture of the Polish national sides in forthcoming years.
Wolski is unlikely to start for Poland but he could be offered the chance to change a game off the bench. He has exceptional technique with the ball at his feet, his dribbling capable of beating men in an instant. Adept with both feet, Wolski is unpredictable in which way he will move with his light-footedness and the ease with which he moves his body. He’s capable of playing out wide or behind the forward, possessing a raft of attacking talents that could make him one of Europe’s most prized properties. Still quite lightweight and talent that is undoubtedly raw, Wolski plays without fear and could deliver a piece of magic to baffle a stubborn defence.
All the attention around Denmark appears to circulate around Christian Eriksen but his midfield colleague William Kvist may prove just as crucial for Denmark this tournament. Kvist comes into the tournament after his first season for Stuttgart, where he was integral for the teams rapid rise up the table in the second-half of the season. Kvist is a real thinker of the game, he considers all his actions in football away from the pitch. He meticulously considers the choices he makes on the pitch, why he makes those choices and shapes his game with it. As a result, he’s an intelligent user of the ball and is excellent positionally.
Kvist also possesses a rapid acceleration that allows him to get a yard of space in difficult situations, or surprise an opponent in the opposition’s half. He can carry the ball well as well as passing it, bursting out of defensive situations to create attacks rapidly. Denmark have been handed a tough group with Germany, Netherlands and Portugal all likely to put Denmark under great pressure, which means Eriksen’s creativity maybe stifled for long periods of the game. Kvist therefore could be the most crucial cog of the machine for Denmark, in shutting the opposition out and providing a trampoline for swift attacks down the other end.