Wonder boys step into the limelight
PRAGUE / WARSAW / MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Vaclav Pilar may only be 170 centimetres tall but he is fast building a reputation of being one of the most promising attacking midfielders in European football.Major championships provide a stage where promising players turn into superstars and Euro 2012 will
not be an exception. Poland, Greece, Czech Republic and Russia all have players with some potential.
Vaclav Pilar (CZECH REPUBLIC)
Vaclav Pilar may only be 170 centimetres tall but he is fast building a reputation of being one of the most promising attacking midfielders in European football.
The 23-year-old -- due after a unwholesome wrangle to play for Bundesliga side Vfl Wolfsburg next season -- has already earned high praise from former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola, which should be warning enough for the Czechs Group A rivals.
To the wider public he is probably best known for now for his goal in the Euro 2012 play-off with Montenegro.
The short, sturdy winger took the ball on the left of midfield, then slammed it across the box and into the net from 20 meters in what commentators described as the “Vaclav Pilar classic”.
This goal played a large role in sending the Czechs to their fifth straight Euro tournament, as Montenegro failed to score in the two games, losing 3-0 on aggregate.
“It was a beautiful goal. Really important, too,” Pilar beamed as his team clinched a place at the tournament.
The winger will swap Czech top-flight side Viktoria Plzen in the summer for Wolfsburg.
Pilar’s first and only goal in seven games for the national team rounded off a perfect autumn in which Plzen clashed with Barcelona and AC Milan in the Champions League.
“On the whole, Plzen really impressed me. I’d like to highlight Pilar and the way he played,” Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola said after the game.
“Of course it means a lot when the Barcelona coach says it. I just wanted to do my best for the team,” said Pilar, likened by some Czech media to Barcelona star Lionel Messi. “If I had a chance, I would work hard and I’d want to succeed... I’d be happy in a foreign team playing the Champions League.”
Rafal Wolski (Poland)
After saving his club Legia Warsaw’s honor following a season-end slide from the top of the table, 19-year-old Poland newcomer Rafal Wolski is bracing to enter the international spotlight at Euro 2012.
Uncapped Wolski was the only real surprise on manager Franciszek Smuda’s squad for the European championship.
“I opted for Rafal because I like his technique. He can play different combinations and turn the tide of a match. He’s an all-rounder and able to play as a midfielder or a striker,” said Smuda.
“Every tournament reveals new stars and maybe Wolski will be among those to emerge at Euro 2012,” he said.
His 2011-2012 season tally was six goals in 21 league matches and two in the cup, plus two assists in Legia’s Europa League matches. “Personally, I’ve made massive progress this season,” he said. “Playing in a packed stadium at Euro 2012 would be a dream come true but I have to work hard and show the boss I deserve my slot.”
Despite being a teenager, Wolski won’t suffer from a major age gap in the team. Smuda has selected a young squad as the Poles seek to emulate the exploits of their country’s 1970s and 1980s generation.
Igor Denisov (Russia)
The 27-year-old halfback, long notorious for his hot temper, has a once-in-a-lifetime chance to shine after he missed Euro 2008 because of a spat with Russia’s national coaching staff ahead of the event.
After the tournament, which saw Russia reach the semifinals, the conflict was resolved and Denisov made his international debut in the 2010 World Cup qualifier with Germany.
Since then, Denisov has won 23 caps but he is still seeking his first goal at international level.
At Russian champions Zenit, Denisov became an integral member of the team thanks to his natural talent and skills soon after making his debut in 2002.
Denisov said he has changed his approach due to the influence of Zenit’s former skipper Anatoliy Tymoshchuk, who showed him how a true professional should act both on and off the pitch.
“The years that I spent side by side with Tymoshchuk changed my approach to the game,” he said. “I became much more professional working next to him, watching his fantastic attitude to football day by day.”
Kostas Fortounis (Greece)
Despite being just 19 and having experienced the disappointment of relegation in his first season with Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern, Fortounis has reportedly attracted interest from Ajax and Juventus.
“It is a great honor for me to be called up for the national team,” said Fortounis. “I believe that we will do well in Poland and that we can advance beyond the first group stage. We have a good team which is well respected by all.”
He moved on to the Super League in the 2010-2011 season playing for Asteras Tripolis and Kaiserslautern came calling the next year. “Everything changed within one year. From Trikala I found myself in Germany and with the national team. I want to show that I am ready to play in the Euro. All of this can only come about with hard work,” Fortounis said.