The much-anticipated Euro 2012 has been off to an explosive start. It has featured sparkling and entertaining football coinciding with some unexpected twists and shock results, making for a memorable first four days of the tournament.
The likes of Germany, Spain, France, and Russia produced impressive and vital wins over their respective opponents, whereas Poland, the Netherlands and Portugal amongst others were left to rue over their mistakes that cost them points in their respective opening games.
Similarly, many much-lauded players have set the Euros alight with their enlightening and enthralling performances whereas some, so far any way, simply didn’t play up to their potential.
In this article, I’ve selected the five best performers of the first round of games of Euro 2012. Note: Only one player from a single country has been chosen.
1) Alan Dzagoev, Russia
Before Russia’s opener against the Czech Republic, critics were divided over whether Alan Dzagoev would succumb under the pressure of being one of the hottest young talents to watch in the tournament and be unable to produce the goods for Dick Advocaat’s team, or go on and be one of the stars.
The 21-year-old proved his doubters wrong in an effervescent fashion by producing a blitzing display against the Czechs, showing exactly why he is so highly rated.
His pace, vision, one-touch passes and well-timed runs proved too much to handle for the Czech Republic defence and it was no shock to see him score two well-struck goals as well.
Dzagoev played with beauty and efficiency and if he continues his current form, the Russian fans could be in for another European Championships to remember.
2) Mats Hummels, Germany
Mats Hummels was clearly the best player on the pitch for the Germans in their win against Cristiano Ronaldo led Portugal.
The 23-year-old was rock solid at the back, making vital interceptions and clearances, winning his two aerial duels and venturing forward when needed.
Coming into the Euros, Hummels had a phenomenal club season but his displays for the national team were less impressive. Many saw the former Bayern Munich youngster as another of those several players unable to replicate their club form for their respective national sides and there were pleas to drop him from the German team.
However, Joachim Low showed faith in Hummels by naming him in the starting line-up against the Portuguese, ahead the likes of Howedes and Mertesacker and the Dortmund star clearly didn’t disappoint his coach by putting in a man of the match performance for Die Mannschaft.
3) Daniele De Rossi, Italy
Italian coach Cesare Prandelli deployed a three-man defence in his team’s match against Spain, with Daniele De Rossi as the sweeper, to counter La Roja’s highly successful tiki-taka style.
Without doubt, his tactics duly paid off as the AS Roma captain led the Azzuri to an impressive draw against the World Champions.
The influential 28-year-old was in full swing on Sunday, organizing his backline, keeping the ball tidy in possession, playing out impressive long balls to counter the Spaniards and breaking down many of the latter’s numerous attacks.
He might have been too robust with his tackles at times, but his performance was the fulcrum of Italy’s defensive play that didn’t give the likes of Iniesta, Silva and Fabregas even an inch of comfort on the ball.
4) Mario Mandzukic
Has the Euro 2012 unearthed its first hidden gem? A week ago, the casual football fan would have shaken his head when asked about a 26-year-old striker, Mario Mandzukic.
The Wolfsburg star put in a master-class performance, troubling the Ireland defence all throughout the night with his lively attacking prowess and netting in an impressive yet fortunate, headed-double to become an overnight sensation for his country.
Moreover, his magnificent partnership with Nikica Jelavic upfront could help Croatia challenge Spain and Italy at the very top of Group C, and if he does, his reputation will continue to grow.
5) Steven Gerrard
The monumental skipper was at his best as he helped the Three Lions earn a deserved draw against Les Blues. Inserted in an unnatural deep lying midfield role by Roy Hodgson, the 32- year-old showed no problems in playing out of position and was practically the hub of almost every England’s attack as well working hard defensively.
Added to that, it was his inch-perfect free-kick delivery, which led to Joleon Lescott’s opening goal.
Honourable mentions: Andriy Shevchenko and Andrey Arshavin
Who have been your best five players of the tournament to date?
image: © PolandMFA