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Jun 1, 2012

Euro 2012 absentees

Some of the world’s finest players will be gracing Euro 2012 this summer - but some of the continent’s greatest stars will not be present. Here, adopting a slightly antiquated 4-4-2, we select our First XI absentees.

Goalkeeper: Oleksandr Shovkovskiy (Ukraine)

Co-hosts Ukraine are facing a goalkeeping crisis. Shakhtar Donetsk’s Oleksandr Rybka, who has been capped twice but was tipped to be first choice this summer, was the first to be ruled out when, in November, he received a two-year suspension for taking a banned substance.

At the end of March, 34-year-old Spartak Moscow goalkeeper Andriy Dykan suffered "broken multiple bones and concussion" when hit in the face by Zenit striker Alexander Kerzhakov's knee and felt his chances of recovering were slim.

A month later, Dynamo Kiev’s Shovkovskiy, the 92-cap veteran expected to be between the sticks for the tournament, was ruled out after sustaining a shoulder injury. Fingers will be crossed that Shakhtar’s Andriy Pyatov, who has 24 caps, can stay healthy before the tournament gets under way.

Right back: Bacary Sagna (France)

Sagna missed Euro 2008 because of injury, and now a broken fibula has robbed him of the chance to play in Euro 2012. His response to Bradley Johnson’s tackle in Arsenal’s recent draw with Norwich was robust, and echoed the kind of sentiments voiced by Arsene Wenger when Eduardo and Aaron Ramsey were on the receiving end of career-threatening tackles. "I think he did it on purpose," Sagna told L'Equipe. "He stepped on my leg.”

At 29, he still has time to recover and has vowed to come back “even stronger”. Laurent Blanc is likely to turn to Lille's Mathieu Debuchy, who recently impressed against Germany, in Euro 2012.

Centre back: Carles Puyol (Spain)

Although now 34, Puyol has remained the beating heart of defence for club and country. The news, in early May, that a knee injury was likely to rule him out of the tournament was described by Vincente Del Bosque as a “considerable loss, not only for what he gives on the pitch but for what he contributes to the team”.

After carrying out an operation, Dr Ramon Cugat confirmed the defender had no prospect of making the tournament but said Barcelona “will have Puyol for years”. Whether the same is true for Spain remains to be seen – in the wake of his injury, Puyol said no decision over his international future had been taken.

Centre back: Rio Ferdinand (England)

Ferdinand has enjoyed a return to form and fitness this season, and many felt he would almost certainly have played himself into the England squad but for a personal conflict.

Roy Hodgson said leaving Ferdinand out of the squad was “purely a footballing decision”, but the indications are that John Terry - who is accused of racially abusing Ferdinand's brother Anton - was selected in preference when the new manager decided the two could not coexist in the squad.

Whatever the reason, it is a continuation of the misfortune that has afflicted Ferdinand’s international career. He did not make an appearance at the 1998 World Cup and then did not make the cut at Euro 2000; he was banned for eight months after missing a drug test and consequently missed Euro 2004; England failed to qualify for Euro 2008, and he sustained a knee injury in training ahead of the 2010 World Cup. His omission from the Euro 2012 squad means he has appeared in only two of the eight international tournaments staged since he made his international debut.

Left back: Erik Pieters (Netherlands)

The preliminary Netherlands squad named by Bert van Marwijk included all but one of the starting XI from the 2010 World Cup final. The only man not included was left-back Giovanni van Bronkhorst, who retired following the defeat to Spain, and concerns had been voiced that the Oranje lacked an adequate successor.

Pieters filled the void. At times, the defender had struggled to convince with PSV Eindhoven before making his international debut in August 2010, but swiftly established himself as the country’s first-choice left back.

Pieters, though, had to withdraw from the squad ahead of what would have been his first tournament. “It’s a big blow,” Van Marwijk said. “He doesn’t realise how good he is.”

Central midfield: Jack Wilshere (England)

Wilshere announced himself as a player of real quality in the 2010-11 season, excelling against the eventual European champions Barcelona and winning the PFA Young Player of the Year award, but his burgeoning career has been put on hold for the last year.

An ankle injury suffered in pre-season resulted in surgery in September, and a relapse in January ultimately saw him ruled out of the rest of the campaign and Euro 2012.

His absence led to strong speculation that Paul Scholes would be asked to end an international exile dating back to 2004, but there was no sign of the Manchester United man in Hodgson’s squad and England would appear to have problems as they enter the tournament without a player in the mould of either Scholes or Wilshere.

Central midfield: Yoann Gourcuff (France)

When 'the new Zidane' arrived at Lyon for €22 million after the 2010 World Cup, many thought that he would finally live up to his billing. However, constant problems have dogged the playmaker: from injury, to off-field issues that suggest he is not willing to knuckle down and work hard.

Having spent three years at AC Milan without making an impression, the irreplaceable Paolo Maldini revealed: "Gourcuff in Milan was 100% wrong. His problem here was his behaviour. He was not intelligent in the manner of managing himself. When he played here, he did not want to make himself available to the group. He did not start to study Italian immediately."

Now France coach Laurent Blanc has taken the decision to keep him out of his final 23-man squad and he was omitted just days after he played 75 minutes in the 3-2 friendly win over Iceland. Notably, Gourcuff left the pitch with his side 2-1 behind.

Right wing: Eden Hazard (Belgium)

Hazard is one of the most exciting players in Europe, and someone whose future has been the subject of intense speculation. Zinedine Zidane is a huge fan, and has previously suggested that his former clubs Real Madrid and Juventus should sign the playmaker.

Hazard had the chance of a big move in every transfer window over the last three years but chose to stay at Lille, saying he wanted to reach his maximum potential there before moving.

Having just won Player of the Year for the second campaign in a row, his first-half hat-trick in the season closer against Nancy looks likely to be his last contribution to the Lille cause. His manager, Rudi Garcia, said in a ceremony after the game: "You were a jewel when I first saw you. You have become a diamond now, one of the brightest on planet football. Au revoir, mon petit."

Meanwhile, Hazard had made it clear that he fancied a move to the Premier League, with both Manchester clubs having led the chase. Sir Alex Ferguson went to Lille several times to watch Hazard, and was said to have been very impressed. However, his eventual destination turned out to be Champions League winners Chelsea.

Left wing: Gareth Bale (Wales)

Signed as a left back from Southampton in 2007, Bale’s move to Tottenham had once seemed destined to be unsuccessful when he went 24 league games without appearing on the winning side.

Harry Redknapp, though, helped him to become a stronger and more aggressive player when he told his physio to “leave him on the floor” when he sustained an injury in training. Whether that was the cause of his improvement is unclear - but he was certainly a man transformed in the 2009-10 season.

He showed glimpses of his quality in Wales’ qualification campaign, despite spending time in his unfavoured right wing role, as a team led by the late Gary Speed finished with three wins from their final four games. That Barcelona have shown an interest is testament to the 22-year-old’s growing status as a true European star.

Forward: David Villa (Spain)

Spain’s leading scorer during their Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 triumphs will miss out this summer after sustaining a broken leg during the Club World Cup in December. He has not played a first-team game since. Del Bosque had said he felt “obliged to wait until the last moment” for Villa to prove his fitness but, on 22 May, it was confirmed that the 30-year-old would not recover in time.

Villa had proved his worth with three goals at the 2006 World Cup and impressed sufficiently to oust Raul from the team. Although he has played out wide under Del Bosque, much of Spain’s recent success has depended on his firepower.

Forward: Giuseppe Rossi (Italy)

It is a year since Rossi’s agent, Federico Pastorello, announced that Barcelona were in negotiations with Villarreal to sign his client. The 12 months that have followed have been an annus horribilis: Rossi remained with Villarreal, who were relegated on the final day, but played little part in the campaign. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in October, and suffered a relapse in training in April.

His partnership with Antonio Cassano had been superb - it had, as Cesare Prandelli put it, given opposing defenders “no reference points” - but the AC Milan man also saw his chances of playing at the tournament thrown into doubt because of heart problems.

Cassano recovered in time – and, with the likes of Mario Balotelli, Antonio Di Natale and Sebastian Giovinco available there is no shortage of talent - but Prandelli goes into Euro 2012 robbed of his favoured attacking partnership.

 

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