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Juvenile Junkie
12-02-2011, 10:29 AM
ANALYSIS
By Peter Staunton

Spain have swept all before and behind them on the international front over the past few years. The groundwork for their glory was laid down in Austria and Switzerland in 2008, when the veteran trainer Luis Aragones masterminded their victory over Germany to claim a first senior trophy since 1964.

Xavi, Andres Iniesta, David Villa and Fernando Torres came of age on the international stage, paving the way for their World Cup win two years later. La Furia Roja were not the only story at the tournament, however, as an emerging Germany team capitalised on their 2006 World Cup semi-final place to finish runners-up.

Turkey's formidable and fearless stars captured the imagination with some eye-catching results and a memorable win over Croatia in the quarter-final, while Guus Hiddink's Russia swaggered their way through the tournament, beating a Netherlands team who had, arguably, been the best on show to that point.

The stars of the tournament, some rising, some falling, are profiled below.

HAMIT ALTINTOP - TURKEY

The architect of Fatih Terim's side progress to the semi-finals, Hamit was plying his trade for Bayern Munich during the 2008 competition.

Initially deployed as a right-back, his versatility shone as Terim moved him to a midfield role midway through the group stages.

He was the inspiration behind the Turks' wins over Czech Republic, providing all three assists, and Croatia, but could not find the formula to beat Germany in the last four.

Hamit has since left Bayern for Real Madrid but, under Jose Mourinho, has found playing time increasingly hard to come by.

The current captain of his nation, the 28-year-old won the 2010 Fifa Puskas Award for his goal against Kazakhstan in Euro 2012 qualification.



ANDREY ARSHAVIN - RUSSIA

Arshavin had his annus mirabilis in 2008, winning the Uefa Cup with Zenit St Petersburg and becoming a household name thanks to his performances at Euro 2008.

Suspended for the first two group stage matches, Arshavin was a controversial selection for Guus Hiddink, much like the predicament which now faces Fabio Capello regarding Wayne Rooney.

Nonetheless, Arshavin justified his coach's decision with standout displays against Sweden and the Netherlands in which he scored and earned a pair of man-of-the-match awards.

His career has stalled, however, since joining Arsenal in 2009, save the odd moment of impetuousness.

He captains the Russian national team, under former Zenit coach Dick Advocaat, but is more often than not bereft of inspiration.

PHILIPP LAHM - GERMANY

Lahm's last-gasp winner in the semi-final against Turkey secured the Germans' passage to the final and was the full-back's best moment in a bittersweet tournament on a personal level.

It was Lahm who was deceived by Xavi's through-ball in the final to allow Fernando Torres to score the title-clinching goal. His tournament was curtailed soon after as a gashed foot ruled him out of the second half.

Lahm has since established himself as one of the world's pre-eminent full-backs and skippers the hugely-promising Nationalmannschaft as well as Bayern Munich, his club side.

LUKA MODRIC - CROATIA

The diminutive Tottenham playmaker came into his own during Euro 2008 qualification, inspiring his side to the defeat of England at Wembley to edge the Three Lions out of contention for a place at the finals proper.

His tournament campaign began with a bang, scoring an early penalty against Austria, and conjuring the magic needed to defeat Germany in the final group game.

However, it was his penalty miss in the quarter-final shootout against Turkey which set Croatia on the way to elimination.

He remains an integral component for club and country and was the recent subject of a multi-million-pound bid from Chelsea.

LUKAS PODOLSKI - GERMANY

'Poldi' is a player who endures a certain footballing identity crisis. His club form has rarely matched his performance in the international arena and, despite his travails with Bayern Munich and Koln, he has always remained a favourite of Joachim Low.

He is still a vital piece of the German jigsaw, occupying a wide-left attacking berth which was bestowed upon him at Euro 2008.

He scored twice against the nation of his birth, Poland, in the group stages, as well as against Croatia. He also provided an assist in the quarter-final for then-club-mate Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Alas, Podolski could not find a goal in the final against the Spaniards. He was, however, headbutted by David Silva in an off-the-ball incident which went unnoticed by the referee.

MARCOS SENNA - SPAIN

Despite being named in the Spain panel for the 2006 World Cup, it was not until 2008 that Senna established his credentials as one of the world's foremost international midfielders.

The Brazil-born Villarreal man was the prompter in a hugely-talented Spain side and his eventual departure paved the way for Sergio Busquets to occupy his role in the team.

Senna joined the Yellow Submarine in 2002, earning citizenship in 2006, and helped his club side to the Champions League semi-final that year.

He remains on the books of the Primera Division side but his recent demise has been mirrored by his domestic team. At 35, he is most certainly in the twilight of his career.

WESLEY SNEIJDER - NETHERLANDS

The Oranje cut a swath through the group stages of Euro 2008 with resounding wins against Italy and France. Wesley Sneijder was the epicentre of those memorable successes before the ultimate disappointment that was elimination at the hands of the Russians.

The tournament came on the upward arc of Sneijder's ascent to the top of the world; two years later he would lead Inter to a historic treble of the Serie A title, the Coppa Italia and the Champions League. He also inspired the Dutch to the 2010 World Cup final.

Sneijder is in indifferent form presently, as Inter struggle to reassert themselves in Serie A, but he remains a player of rare pedigree and ability.

FERNANDO TORRES - SPAIN

Torres has been on a downward trend since Euro 2008; his winning goal in the final remains the highlight of his career.

Peripheral at the subsequent 2010 World Cup, the forward is without an international goal since September 2010, when he netted a brace against Liechtenstein.

His club form has been hugely disappointing, too. A move from Liverpool to Chelsea, worth £50 million (€58.2m), has been blighted from the start.

He has scored only five goals in 33 matches and is not a favourite of new coach Andre Villas-Boas.

'El Nino' has fallen out of favour with national coach Vicente del Bosque as well, and faces an unenviable task of forcing his way back into Spain's preferred XI.

DAVID VILLA - SPAIN

'El Guaje' stands alone as Spain's all-time top goalscorer since overtaking Raul's record in a Euro 2012 qualification match against Czech Republic.

Villa has netted 51 times in all for his country and is still among the best marksmen in the international game. His attacking instincts at club level have been blunted somewhat, however, since moving to Barcelona after the 2010 World Cup, in which he scored five goals.

Shunted to the left to accommodate Lionel Messi, Villa has lost a degree of sharpness in front of goal since leaving Valencia.

Hugely impressive at Euro 2008, he scored four times in four matches, including a hat-trick against Russia in the opening stages. He dovetailed wonderfully with Torres before an early injury in the semi-final against the Russians meant he was ruled out of the final.

XAVI - SPAIN

The best midfield player in the world, bar none, over the past five years. Xavi was voted player of the tournament at Euro 2008 and also picked up the Bronze Ball for his contributions at the World Cup two years later.

Quite simply, the success of Barcelona and Spain would be inconceivable without the presence of Xavi. Capable of dominating matches on his own, everything goes through the 31-year-old for club and country. Such was his influence at Austria and Switzerland.

A winner of six Primera Division titles and three Champions Leagues, Xavi is one of the most decorated players of our time. No one else has played more matches for Barcelona, either.

YURI ZHIRKOV - RUSSIA

One of the best performers in a Russia side that seemed destined to compete at the top level of international football for a considerable period of time.

However, like his national team, Zhirkov has since stagnated. A high-profile move to Chelsea from CSKA Moscow failed to augment his standing in the game and he retreated to the Russian Premier League with Anzhi Makhachkala in the summer transfer window.

Russia's most expensive-ever player, Zhirkov impressed in his left-sided role at the tournament en-route to the semi-finals.