Six to watch: the key players

June 11, 2010

Yoann Gourcuff

Everyone knows that Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney are the star men for their sides – here are six more relatively unsung heroes that could be crucial for their respective teams.

Yoann Gourcuff, France

Who is he? The new Zidane. Or, more realistically, a fantastically intelligent and skilful 23-year-old playmaker who has returned to form at Bordeaux after struggling to make an impact at Milan.

Why should we watch him? France’s new 4-1-4-1 formation means he is playing in a different role that he is slightly unaccustomed to, but the new shape also means he doesn’t have the sole burden of playmaking, as he did in France’s 4-2-3-1. Ribery is off-form and Malouda is complaining about his new position, so Gourcuff’s creativity might be vital.

Matias Fernandez, Chile

Who is he? A small 24-year-old attacking midfielder, a great dribbler and a dead ball specialist. Has struggled for playing time at Sporting Lisbon since his move last summer.

Why should we watch him? Chile’s exciting 3-3-1-3 formation means he plays a crucial playmaking role behind the front three, but the strange nature of the wing-backs means he often gets a surprising amount of space between the lines, and finds himself with plenty of options in the attacking third.

Giorgios Karagounis

Georgos Karagounis, Greece

Who is he? The veteran captain of Greece, who has just won the league title with Panathinaikos, their first since 2004. Plays as an attacking midfielder, looking to pick the ball up in spare wherever he can. Also an excellent set-piece taker, both when shooting directly at goal and crossing for teammates.

Why should we watch him? He can really get Greece playing, and visibly inspires others when he takes charge of a game. At 33 he plays a more reserved role than at his peak, but remains one of the most intelligent passers of a football in Europe.

Gerardo Torrado, Mexico

Who is he? 31-year-old Mexican captain. Is capable of getting stuck in in the central midfield area, but his main attribute is his passing range – if he was a decade younger, he’d be called “The Mexican Xavi”.

Why should we watch him? Mexico’s flexible system seems to give him a lot of time and space when on the ball, and with Mexico playing an attack-minded front three with very offensive wing-backs/full-backs (depending on the formation) Torrado hits both steady short-range passes and spectacular long-range ones.

Mesut Ozil

Mesut Ozil, Germany

Who is he? A third-generation Turk who has made a huge impact for Werder Bremen this season. Still only 21, he’s a busy left-footed playmaker who has added a goal threat to his game.

Why should we watch him? He’ll be given a vital role in the centre of the pitch in Germany’s 4-2-3-1, and playing ahead of two talented passers, should be receiving the ball in dangerous positions in and around the penalty area. He can pass, shoot and dribble and is very difficult to stop.

Marek Hamsik, Slovakia

Who is he? Napoli’s tough but creative attacking midfielder. The 22-year-old has been tremendous for the past three seasons, and is attracting interest from all the usual suspects.

Why should we watch him? Because he’s Slovakia’s most talented player by far. Even when not having a great game, he always comes looking for the ball, and is a real goalscoring threat from midfield. The pace of Stock and Weiss on the wings should stretch the play, and give Hamsik room to work his magic.

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