Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Степиньш Ольга
Euro 2012 — the best soccer tournament other than World Cup — begins on June 8th, with 16 European teams competing in stadiums spread across Poland and Ukraine.The 16 teams are split into four groups of four, with each group then following a single round-robin schedule.
Here are the 20 players to watch throughout the tournament, separated by group.
Robert Lewandowski might just be the best striker that nobody's heard of.
He just 22 goals in the Bundesliga this season for champions Borussia Dortmund, and comes to Euro 2012 playing the best soccer of his career.
In a tough group with Russia, Greece and the Czech Republic, Poland's only chance to make it to the knockout round is if Lewandowski lights up the scoreboard.
Greece shocked the world to win Euro 2004 behind a stout defence and well-timed counter attacks.
If the Greeks are to make any noise in 2012, Papadopoulos will have to lead his team in defence and keep the ball out of the net.
Arshavin crashed out of the Premier League this year after a terrible season with Arsenal, but he's since revived himself playing in Russia for Zenit St. Petersburg.
For the almost-31-year-old, this is likely his last big international tournament, and he'll be wanting to go out with a bang.
Russia's chances in the tournament will likely come down to the play of its goalkeeper, Igor Akinfeev.
Akinfeev has long been regarded as one of the best goalies in Europe, but has never played outside of Russia in highly-publicized leagues.
He'll have to overcome worries about his fitness, though, after suffering a string of injuries. There is a chance Akinfeev may make way to Vyacheslav Malafeev until he's fully healthy.
Petr Cech enters Euro 2012 in form, having just won the Champions League with Chelsea (and turning in one of the best goalkeeping performances in the tournament's history in the final).
If Cech can keep playing at the same level, the Czechs won't have to score many goals in order to win.
Germany has so many talented players that it's almost impossible to pick only one or two, but few can argue with Mesut Ozil's resume since his emergence in 2009.
Ozil led all players with seven assists in Euro 2012 qualification games, and will be at the centre of the potent German attack.
Mueller saves his best play for the national team, and was completely unstoppable at the 2010 World Cup.
In South Africa, Mueller was named the World Cup's best young player, scored five goals and won the Golden Boot.
Robin Van Persie is coming off of the best year of his career for Arsenal, where he led the Premier League with 30 goals.
Arjen Robben enters Euro 2012 hopeful to prove doubters wrong.
In the span of two years, Robben has missed crucial chances to score goals that would have won his country the World Cup and his club team the Champions League.
A European championship would help him start to forget all that.
Everyone knows Portugal is Cristiano Ronaldo's team, but Manchester United winger Nani can be just as dangerous a player offensively.
If opposing teams pay too much attention to Ronaldo, Nani could make them pay.
Balotelli makes headlines wherever he goes, but he proved this year at Manchester City that he can be just as tough to handle on the field as off it.
Balotelli has never made much of an impact with the Italian national team, but Euro 2012 could be his breakout tournament.
Modric doesn't score many goals for Croatia -- he has a grand total of just eight -- but his influence on the field is unmistakable.
Croatia made it to the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, and if Modric plays like he did at Tottenham this season, Croatia could sneak past troubled Italy and into the knockout stages.
A few years ago, Shay Given was considered one the best goalkeeper in the Premier League, but the arrival of Joe Hart at Manchester City saw him fall out of the starting 11.
He's still got the skill, though, and he'll have to be brilliant in goal if Ireland are to make it out of Group C.
Spain comes to Euro 2012 as defending champion of the tournament and holder of the World Cup, and the incessant Spanish attack all starts with Xavi.
He won't be able to pass the ball to David Villa -- who was ruled out of the tournament still recovering from a broken leg -- but Xavi will certainly be at the centre of many a Spanish goal at Euro 2012.
Andy Carroll has a huge amount of pressure on him in the opening games of Euro 2012, as he will have to replace suspended striker Wayne Rooney for two games.
England captain Steven Gerrard has said England are capable of winning the whole tournament, but first the team will have to get out of the group stages. Which means Carroll will have to score.
Lucky for Carroll, he'll have Theo Walcott zipping past defenders and crossing the ball into the penalty area.
Walcott might be the fastest player in Europe at the moment, and he is electrifying with the ball at his feet.
France is a long way from the team that nearly won the 2006 World Cup, and will be looking to atone for their embarrassing performance in South Africa.
Nasri has had a rocky relationship with the national team, but seems to have found a starting spot under new manager Laurent Blanc and will be key in creating from the midfield if France is to advance.
When it comes to Sweden, the discussion begins and ends with Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
He's one of the best players in the world at any position, but Ibrahimovic have to compensate for Sweden's other shortcomings.
Euro 2012 is likely Shevchenko's last stand, but after an injury scare he has announced he will serve as the captain for Ukraine.
Shevchenko is simply one of the best ever. He has scored over 370 goals in his professional career, and won the Ballon d'Or in 2004.
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