Six to watch: the fringe players
Often players who weren’t considered part of the starting XI at the beginning of a tournament emerge to play a leading role by the knockout stages. Here’s six who hope to do that:
Javier Pastore, Argentina
Who is he? A 20-year-old enganche who has impressed in his debut season for Sicilian club Palermo. A creator rather than a goalscorer himself, he plays just behind the forwards and has both passing ability and a love for running directly at defences. He only won his first cap two weeks ago against Canada.
Why should we watch him? Because Argentina don’t really have anyone in his mould. They have Carlos Tevez, Lionel Messi and Sergio Aguero, but these are deep forwards rather than attacking midfielders. Juan Veron plays in the role Pastore would look to fill, but doubts remain about his ability to compete for 90 minutes in the centre of midfield, and he has an unfortunate characteristic of looking like a luxury player when things are going badly. Pastore would play slightly higher up the pitch and look to play the killer pass.
Fabio Coentrao, Portugal
Who is he? A 22-year-old former left winger who has been pushed back to left-back at Benfica, where he has just won the league title. He is incredibly skilful for a full-back, loves to get forward and has the stamina to do so for a whole game. He does sometimes look like a winger playing out of position though, and gives away too many free-kicks.
Why should we watch him? Because he might provide the most penetration from any Portuguese player. If Carlos Queiroz persists with a Pepe-Meireles-Deco midfield, Portugal will need their full-backs to provide support and direct running. That’s unlikely to come too much from Paulo Ferreira on the right, and Coentrao will be playing behind either Cristiano Ronaldo or Simao Sabrosa, both of whom like to cut in onto their stronger right foot. An overlapping full-back is a must, and Coentrao will do that far more than the alternative, Duda.
Riccardo Montolivo, Italy
Who is he? A central midfielder with excellent passing skills. Neither an attacking or defensive midfielder, he took over the Fiorentina captaincy in January. At 25, can no longer be described as promising – now needs to step up and prove his quality.
Why should be watch him? Italy lack a trequartista and their most talented midfield playmaker, Andrea Pirlo, may miss the first two games through injury. Claudio Marchisio may be favourite in the centre of midfield for Marcello Lippi, but Montolivo offers a more intelligent option, and probably a closer resemblance to Pirlo.
Christian Eriksen, Denmark
Who is he? A small creative central midfielder for Ajax, at 18 he is the youngest player in the tournament. He only has 15 senior club appearances and three international caps, but there have been calls for Morten Olsen to give him a starting place.
Why should we watch him? Because he is exactly what Denmark are lacking. They are relying on a bunch of rather elderly players to create chances, and Nicklas Bendtner’s injury problems aren’t helping the situation. Eriksen offers a great turn of pace and direct running at goal, and could be a game-changer from the bench.
Michael Carrick, England
Who is he? A tall, deep-lying central midfielder who won three league titles and the Champions League in his first three seasons at Manchester United, but was still considered ‘rubbish’ by many. Has justified the billing of ‘rubbish’ by turning in a fairly dreadful half-season for United.
Why should we watch him? Because Gareth Barry’s return from injury is not guaranteed, and Carrick is the only other deep-lying midfielder in the squad. A Gerrard-Lampard midfield partnership may work in the opening games against weak sides, but later on Fabio Capello will look to move Gerrard back to the left, where he likes to drift in and allow Ashley Cole forward on the overlap. This is only possible if England retain possession, something they’ve struggled at in recent tournaments, and as an assured passer, Carrick might be vital, perhaps in a 4-5-1.
Danny Alves, Portugal
Who is he? A Venezuelan-born attacking midfielder, who has impressed in Russia with first Dynamo Moscow and then Zenit St Petersburg, who signed him for €30m two summer ago. Plays centrally and drives directly at goal.
Why should we watch him? Because Portugal’s midfield is far too functional and not creative enough, with Deco increasingly playing a static midfield role rather than looking to support the forwards. Nani’s injury has further damaged Portugal’s creativity, and Alves basically gives Portugal exactly what they’re crying out for.Six to watch: the fringe players