A Sneak Peek: Stars of UEFA Euro 2012 Group C

We continue our build-up to the Euro 2012 with the rising stars of Group C. Debopam Roy profiles them


Goalden Times has started the countdown to Euro 2012 with the reviews of Groups (A, B, C, D). In this feature we bring you some of the players who have the potential to become stars in Poland & Ukraine. Here we focus on Group C.


Name: Iker Muniain

Age: 19

Club: Athletic Bilbao

Position: Winger/Forward

National Caps: 1

Current Market value: €20m

Iker Muniain has been labelled a prodigy since he joined the cantera of Athletic Bilbao in 2005 as a 12-year-old. His diminutive stature alongwith his pace and dribbling skills had marked him out as a special talent. He has a host of youngest player ever awards – youngest player ever to wear Athletic’s shirt in an official game, at 16 years 7 months 11 days; youngest ever player to score a goal (16 years 7 months and 18 days) in an official match; youngest player to have donned the club’s shirt in La Liga and youngest player to score in a first division match for Bilbao. Having rushed through the Spanish age group squads in three years, Muniain finally got his senior debut in February this year. His goals and assists have propelled the club to their first ever European final in over 35 years. The virtuoso performance against the two finalists of last season’s Champions League viz. ManchesterUnited and Barcelona, has shown how he can fight with the big boys. He may not be a starter for Spain but on the back of his stupendous season, would definitely merit a call-up and play the role of an impact sub. Don’t count out some dazzling play from the “SpanishMessi”.


Name: Angelo Ogbonna

Age: 23

Club: Torino

Position:  Defender

National Caps: 2

Current Market value: €6m

The story of Angelo Ogbonna is not probably as colourful as other African origin players of Italy like Mario Balotelli, but it is a story played out of the prying eyes and in Torino’s youth academy, which he joined as a wide-eyed teenager in 2002. Apart from a loan spell at Crotone in 2007-08, his entire career has been with La Granata. In his first full season with il Toro in 2008-09, his club got relegated and has been in Serie B ever since. His progress has thus been not as documented as say some of the other defenders like Leo Bonucci of Juventus or Andrea Ranocchia of Inter Milan, but Ogbonna with his powerful displays and the technique and tactical acumen is probably the true heir to the generation of Alessandro Nesta and Fabio Cannavaro. Ogbonna is comfortable in the centre of the defence but can also play on the left.. Torino is on the verge of returning to Serie A. But Ogbonna who has already been part of the Azzurri senior side quite a number of times can actually set a unique distinction of representing the Azzurri in a major competition while playing in the second division. And it will be a much deserved distinction too.

Republic of Ireland

Name: James McClean

Age: 23

Club: Sunderland

Position: Winger

National Caps: 1

Current Market value: €1.5m

Imagine being born in a country which has a furious political divide with a neighbour and then choosing to play for that neighbouring country when you come of age. James McClean was born in Northern Ireland and rose through the ranks, and was ultimately called up by the Northern Ireland manager for the senior team. But he rejected that and waited for the call-up from Republic of Ireland manager. He faced abuses for this decision from several Northern Irish tweeters. Giovanni Trapattoni, the Republic of Ireland manager, did ultimately call him up but hasnotsinceplayedhimfrequently. If Ireland are to cause an upset or two in this group of death, then Trap would have to change his opinion about this 23-year-old winger because he has been explosive for his new club Sunderland. McClean made his Sunderland debut in a 1-0 win over Manchester City on January 1, 2012. And since then, he has not been dropped for a single match – playing 20 matches to score 4 goals and provide three assists. That puts him on fourth for the club in terms of goals scored and third in terms of assists, though those in front of him have been playing for the whole season. Already he has been put on a new contract for three years which is triple of what he initially signed for, when he joined Sunderland in the summer. But if Il Trap does give McClean a chance, expect a display which would attract the top clubs and test Sunderland’s resolve to hold onto their starlet.


Name: Ivan Perišić

Age: 23

Club: Borussia Dortmund

Position: Attacking Midfielder

National Caps: 7

Current Market value: €6m

Of all the other players profiled in this group, Perišić is the one with the best chances of being a regular protagonist for his country in the Euros. He comes in as the latest in line of Croatian midfield playmakers. While two of them play for Tottenham and are well established, Perišić has made rapid strides to be counted as equivalent to both Niko Kranjcar and Luka Modric. Coming from the famous academy of Hadjuk Split, Perišić was courted by some of the biggest talent spotters (including PSV Eindhoven and Ajax) but ultimately signed for French club Sochaux. After a couple of seasons, he was on a move to Club Brugge where he was voted Player of the Year in Belgium by his fellow footballers on the back of his 22 league goals. German champions Borussia Dortmund, who had lost Nuri Sahin to Real Madrid, came calling and signed him for €5.5m. In 38 matches for the club, he scored 8 times with four assists but spectacular goals like the one againstArsenal in Champions League brought him to worldwide notice. He has been a key player for Dortmund retaining the title they had won last year. Such progress was noted by the national team boss Slaven Bilić. So even though Perišić played for Croatia U21 team in 2011 European U21 championships, he was promptly called up to be part of the senior team and has been a regular feature ever since. If Croatia is to get out of this group of death, then Perišić will have his role to play alongside the other established tenors of Croatian midfield.

About Debopam Roy

Debopam Roy follows football in Italy and South America. You can reach him on Twitter @rossoneri