The Euro 2012 striker problem

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The top nations at Euro 2012 all have one thing in common - a difficult decision to make over who should start as their main striker.

Typically, the European heavyweights enter an international competition with their team largely settled, and possess an established goalscorer invested with the trust to fire his team to glory.

But this summer, Germany, Spain, England, Holland and Italy all travel to Ukraine and Poland with uncertainty hovering uncomfortably over their forward positions. For some - Germany and Holland - the problem is a welcome one, as fierce competition gives their coaches the luxury of picking from several high-quality options.

But for others - namely England, Spain and Italy - the question is less to do with too much quality, and more to do with a lack of it. For England, Wayne Rooney's suspension opens the door for Danny Welbeck, Jermaine Defoe and Andy Carroll.

Although Welbeck did his chances no harm with a smartly taken goal against Belgium, England boss Roy Hodgson may still opt for the battering ram approach handily advanced by Andy Carroll.

For Spain, David Villa's injury and Fernando Torres' critical loss of form has stripped the reigning European and World champions of their past heroes. Torres keeps his place, of course, but is joined by the relatively inexperienced duo of Fernando Llorente and Alvaro Negredo.

Spain are loathe to resort to a more rudimentary style of play, and both options fit a profile closer to that of target-man than Villa or Torres have previously. Spanish journalist Guillem Balague has even suggested that Vicente Del Bosque should plump for David Silva in a false nine position, reminiscent of the role fulfilled by Lionel Messi at Barcelona.

In support of Silva's inclusion is the fact that he comfortably out-scored Spain's other strikers - Villa excepted - during the qualifiers, and is in sparkling form.

Italy face the more pressing problem that comes with a genuine lack of international experience and quality. Their strikers have 20 international goals between them, half of which are contributed by the 34-year-old Antonio Di Natale.

Top scorer during qualifying was Antonio Cassano, but the Milan forward recently underwent minor heart surgery and hardly featured during the second half of the season. Even with Cassano the Azzurri struggled for goals during qualifying, but coach Cesare Prandelli has taken the unusual step of leaving his established goalscorers at home.

Giampaolo Pazzini, Alberto Gilardino and Fabio Quagliarella have all been overlooked, in favour of the untested Mario Balotelli, Fabio Borini, and Sebastian Giovinco.

But Prandelli's gamble is a calculated one. Italy have flopped at past tournaments with an ageing squad packed with experience but lacking the vibrancy of youth. This time, 17 of the 23 man squad have 29 caps or less, and Prandelli clearly has one eye on the 2014 World Cup.

While Italy, England and Spain struggle without a standout central striker, Germany and Holland have the welcome problem of choosing between two.

The Dutch could chose Robin van Persie over Klaas-Jan Huntelaar or vice versa and not be any weaker. They could greedily choose both, and Bert van Marwijk opted for Huntelaar up top with Van Persie on the flanks against Bulgaria.


But that experiment demonstrated that sometimes less is more, as Holland slumped to a shock 2-1 defeat. As a result, it's more likely that the Dutch coach will stick with Van Persie over Huntelaar. Still, the choice between two strikers, each with over 28 league goals this season, is an excellent problem to be faced with.

For Germany, the question is less about which striker is in greater form and more about past performance versus current contribution. If Joachim Low believes in the old adage 'form is temporary but class is permanent', the German coach may chose 33-year-old Miroslav Klose over the in-form Mario Gomez.

Klose is just five goals off Gerd Muller's all-time Germany goalscoring record of 68, and just one shy of Ronaldo's World Cup record of 14. He remains a big-game player, works well with Ozil and Muller, and Low could turn to him to lead an otherwise youthful-looking German attack.

Of course, his other option is the 41-goal Mario Gomez. Second only to Huntelaar in the Bundesliga scoring charts, Gomez has demonstrated his knack of being in the right place at the right time.

If it's a direct comparison over the last two seasons, Gomez should get the nod, but Low could still favour the familiarity offered by Klose.

It's a difficult decision for the German boss, but it demonstrates the talent level at the disposal of the two tournament favourites. Perhaps only France travel to Ukraine and Poland confident in the knowledge of their main striker. Karim Benzema has been in good form as France have gone 21 internationals unbeaten, but Montepellier star Olivier Giroud is breathing down his neck.

Each of the continent's top nations - for one reason or another - face tough choices before their opening group games. An educated guess would suggest Gomez and Van Persie will start for Germany and Holland respectively, but it's by no means certain, and the question is even less clear for England, Spain and Italy.

The uncertainty is visible in the odds for top scorer. Germany, Holland and Spain each have two strikers in the top nine listed favourites, even though each country is only likely to opt for one up-front. Whoever gets the striker role will have to hit the ground running, because their coaches have the options to make swift changes if need be.

It's shaping up to be an interesting tournament.

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Robin Van Persie
Fabio Borini
David Silva
Fernando Torres
Danny Welbeck
Mario Balotelli
Wayne Rooney

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