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focus is on euro babies

By unknown | Jun 09, 2008 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

PARIS - It may have something to do with the world champions' love of cagey football, the "catenaccio" cat and mouse variant they patented, that Italy arrived at Euro 2008 with the oldest squad.

PARIS - It may have something to do with the world champions' love of cagey football, the "catenaccio" cat and mouse variant they patented, that Italy arrived at Euro 2008 with the oldest squad.

With an average age of 29-and-a-half the Azzurri have no shortage of experienced heads on their shoulders, though Roberto Donadoni has called up budding stars in the shape of 23-year-old Alberto Aquilani and 25-year-old striker Fabio Quagliarella.

In contrast, co-hosts Switzerland have the youngest squad with an average age of 26,4 years. Swiss coach Kobi Kuhn once appeared in a series of TV adverts that featured babies as an unsubtle way of suggesting youth should be given its head and his charges can boast the youngest player of the tournament in 19-year-old striker Eren Derdiyok.

Derdiyok scored a fine debut goal against England last February in Fabio Capello's first match in charge of a side sitting out the European Championships.

The Basel forward, who turns 20 on June 12, a day after the Swiss take on Turkey, will seek to show more of the same even if he is playing second fiddle to Alex Frei - all-time top Swiss goal scorer after his weekend double against Liechtenstein - and Johan Vonlanthen.

Vonlanthen himself is still only 22, having four years ago become the youngest scorer ever in the championship with a goal against France.

Among other countries pinning their youthful colours to the mast are Croatia and Portugal.

The Portuguese, runners-up four years ago on home soil, have probably the most in-form player on the planet in Cristiano Ronaldo, still only 23, while his countrymen can call on a more than competent deputy and tournament debutant in Manchester United clubmate Nani, just 21.

In goal, while Ricardo remains first choice, coach Luiz Felipe Scolari could call upon Rui Patricio, a 20-year-old talent with Sporting Lisbon who tasted Champions League action at Old Trafford. A striker as a child, Patricio received his first call-up for a friendly loss to Italy and is his country's only uncapped player to make the squad.

Croatia have a slew of up-and-coming talent led by 22-year-old midfield star Luka Modric, who will play in the English Premiership with Tottenham next season.

Then there is Hadjuk Split striker Nikola Kalinic, only 20.

"He's the future of Croatian football," enthuses Croatian coach Slaven Bilic of Kalinic, who has been a prolific scorer at all age levels so far.

While Bilic puts his faith in Kalinic, Czech counterpart Karel Bruckner will do likewise with Martin Fenin, a 21-year-old striker who chose Eintracht Frankfurt of Germany ahead of Juventus last year in the belief he would garner first-team experience the quicker, which has proved the case.

"Juventus wanted to loan me out to Udinese or Genoa, but I didn't want to play around with my career," said Fenin, who preferred the advice of former German-based Czech star Miroslav Kadlec to try the Bundesliga instead of Serie A.

Youth is also flowering in France and Spain to the detriment of established stars such as David Trezeguet and Raul, neither of whom made the cut.

France coach Raymond Domenech has preferred untried forward Bafetimbi Gomis alongside the barely more experienced Karim Benzema and Gomis promptly netted twice in a warmup win over Ecuador.

Spanish boss Luis Aragones has shown himself somewhat contemptuous of the merits of Raul, despite his record, preferring Sergio Garcia of relegated Real Zaragoza.

Mario Gomez's father might have dreamed of his progeny scoring the winner for the Spanish but instead 22-year-old Mario will wear the white of Germany, the country of his mother.

"I'm really looking forward to the Euro - it's my first big tournament so the butterflies are there," Gomez said on his website as he prepared for matches against Austria, Croatia and Poland.

Gomez and his fellow young blades will scarcely dare to hope to have the debut Euro tournament which Michel Platini, now UEFA president, had for France in 1984, when his nine goals were a huge help in landing his country's first major success. - Sapa-AFP


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