Having a top forward doesn’t only ensure that a team will score a ton of goals; it also keeps the squad’s supporters happy. As important as a solid defense and a gifted midfield are, they simply don’t offer the excitement of a winger beating two defenders off the dribble and slotting the ball into the far post. With that, here are the ten most prolific forwards at this summer’s tournament:
NOTE: Wayne Rooney is not on this list because of his two-game suspension; it’s difficult to rate a forward who may only play in one game. If he wasn’t suspended, he would roughly fall between number 3 and 4 on this list.
Honorable Mentions: Ashley Young (England), Robert Lewandowski (Poland), Pedro Rodriguez and Fernando Llorente (Spain)
10. Mario Balotelli, Italy- The mercurial striker will need to be on his best behavior if Cesare Prandelli’s squad wishes to make a deep run in EURO 2012. A common joke is that Balotelli has a 1-to-1 goal-to-red card ratio, but the 21-year old is far more talented than that. The prototype of a modern striker, he also possesses great dribbling skills.
9. Nani, Portugal- When Nani first broke in to Manchester United, he looked to be nothing more than a pacey dribbler: nothing more than an occasional Youtube highlight. However, he has evolved tremendously as a winger. Not only is he extremely difficult to dispossess due to his quickness and ball control, but he has a hellacious long-distance shot. On the opposite flank from Cristiano Ronaldo, he may not get as much defensive attention this summer and can make opponents pay.
8. Arjen Robben, Netherlands- Robben would be a little higher on this list if he didn’t end his domestic season so poorly. After missing a penalty in the German cup final, Robben also missed an extra-time penalty in the Champions League final. Moreover, out of the 10 shots he took in the CL final, he had almost all of them blocked. All that aside, Robben is always an exciting player to watch because of the way he cuts into the middle of the field on his powerful left foot. If he can put his past behind him, he can be a great contributor to the Dutch.
7. Mario Gomez, Germany- Gomez is a prolific forward who is also known for fluffing occasional easy chances. After a poor showing in the Champions League final alongside Robben, he comes into EURO 2012 as Germany’s first-choice striker, a testament to his perseverance and finishing ability. If he can give himself the confidence to succeed on the big stage, he will benefit from his nation’s stacked midfield and latch on to some great passes and crosses.
6. Karim Benzema, France- Benzema has been a marvelous striker for Real Madrid since his arrival from Lyon but has yet to really break through on the international stage. After a much-maligned showing at the World Cup in South Africa, the French squad is heavily revamped under Laurent Blanc, and Benzema will be the focal point up front. Les Bleus’ chances of reaching the EURO semifinals heavily depend on whether or not the 24-year old can put the ball in the net regularly.
5. David Silva, Spain- It is almost unfair that Silva is placed this low on this list, but he will be most likely operating as Spain’s left wing instead of a central midfield position. Although he can play both, he exhibited better form on the flank for Manchester City minus a brief second-half slump. He is a brilliant playmaker no matter where he plays.
4. Franck Ribery, France- Ribery had a great season for Bayern Munich and is arguably France’s best player. An extremely dangerous dribbler, Ribery can cut in from the left wing or deliver crosses with his surprisingly-gifted left foot. How he and Benzema link up is integral to France’s success; as a bonus, he looks like a villain from a James Bond movie.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden- Zlatan is an extremely polarizing player; he doesn’t make it easy for the media to like him. Between not fitting in at Barcelona and a few training-ground fights at AC Milan, he’s a controversial character who is also the most talented big man in the world when he is in top form. For a giant aerial threat, he is immensely skilled on the ball and offers unbelievably powerful free kicks. As the captain (and number 10) for Sweden, he may have to work out some chemistry with striking partner Johan Elmander if the Swedes wish to advance out of their group.
2. Robin van Persie, Netherlands- RvP was undoubtedly the best striker in the Premier League this season, as he seemingly willed Arsenal to a third-place finish this season. Easily the most in-form striker on this list, the 28-year old captained his club, and while he does not wear the armband for the Dutch, he will certainly spearhead the Oranje attack. A threat for all defenders this summer.
1. Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal- At this point, what else is there to say about Cristiano? He is a pretty boy, a diver, an egomaniac… and the best left-winger in the world. His goals come in all different varieties: headers, backheels, penalties, long range shots, and clinical finishes. Also, he is one of the most dangerous free-kick specialists in Europe, with his signature run-up and knuckling of the ball. He may take too many shots for his country, but with skills like that, can you really blame him? If Portugal escape its group with Germany, Denmark, and the Dutch, Ronaldo will most likely be the reason.