Chelsea Target Oscar And Eight Other Olympic Stars Set To Shine
Olympic football is regularly shunned by many as a nothing event in the prestigious competition. With the likes of the 100m sprint, cycling and swimming taking priority ahead of the beautiful game, it regularly sweeps by under the radar. However, with the rules stating that every team must include 15 of the 18 members in the squad under the age of 23, it gives fans a taste of what is to come from the hottest prospects the game has to offer.
The likes of Carlos Tevez, Nwankwo Kanu, Kiko and Ronaldo have all showcased their capabilities to the watching world in the past, whilst Lionel Messi was involved in a fierce debate with Barcelona in 2008 to compete for Argentina in Beijing. Then recently appointed head coach Pep Guardiola allowed him permission to leave, with the 25-year-old describing the event as ‘incomparable’. This summer is no different, with a raft of upcoming youngsters set to grace Wembley, the Millennium Stadium and Old Trafford from the beginning of the competition on July 26th right up until the final on August 11th.
Iker Muniain (Athletic Bilbao and Spain
A Football Manager favourite for some, Iker Muniain is beginning to live up to his early career potential. The 19-year-old became the youngest player to have donned the Athletic Bilbao shirt in August 2009, at just 16-years-old before becoming the youngest player to score in a La Liga match just two months later.
A regular starter with Los Leones, often flanking Fernando Llorente with Oscar de Marcos in a front three, his direct style of play has often drawn comparisons to Barcelona’s Messi and has seen Arsenal show a strong interest in the youngster. Has the pace and dribbling capability to rile opposition defenders and will be pivotal if Spain are to land the gold medal this summer.
Oscar (Internacional and Brazil)
Pulling the strings in the midfield for Internacional, interest in Oscar is unsurprisingly high. Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal have been linked with a move for the 20-year-old, who already has six international caps to his name. Inter are, undoubtedly, keen to keep hold of one of their two prized assets, who only recently completed his official move to the Brazilian outfit.
Oscar has been involved in a highly publicised legal battle with former club Sao Paulo, of whom he walked out on in 2009 following a dispute over unpaid wages. Shot to prominence in 2011, after netting a hat-trick in the FIFA U-20 World Cup final, becoming only the second player to net three goals in the competition since Geoff Hurst’s performance in the 1966 World Cup. Expected to play a predominant role in an attack minded Brazil Olympic side.
Leandro Damiao (Internacional and Brazil)
Another Inter star and team-mate of Oscar, Leandro Damiao has already netted an impressive 70 goals in 115 career appearances. Another that has been linked with a move to England, his powerful physique and finishing capability means he is well suited to the rigours of European football. Tottenham are believed to be front-runners in any race for his signature, having seen four bids rejected by the Colorado over the past 12 months.
His record on the international stage may not live up to his career statistics (one goal in nine appearances), but at just 22 years of age, he qualifies as part of the U-23 quota set by the Olympic committee. However, he faces stiff competition for a starting role in Mano Menezes’ starting XI, with Hulk, Neymar and Alexandre Pato also included in the 18-man squad. An impressive showing will see his value rise further than the reported £20m Inter are asking, but the player himself insists he wants to remain in Brazil until after the 2014 World Cup.
Leandro Damiao has already netted an impressive 70 goals in 115 career appearances.
Jack Butland (Birmingham City and Team GB)
One of the surprise inclusion’s in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad, after a broken finger forced John Ruddy to pull out of the squad, Jack Butland is expected to hold down the number one spot at the Olympics. Having not played a minute during Euro 2012, his inclusion was expected, despite having yet to make an appearance for Birmingham City.
The 19-year-old has made just 24 senior appearances in his career, all of which came with League Two outfit Cheltenham Town. However, Butland is highly thought of by the Blues management staff, with recently appointed manager Lee Clark insisting it will take a big money bid to prise the shot-stopper away from St. Andrews, following interest from Spurs and Southampton. Like Leandro, an impressive tournament could drive up his asking price.
Pajtim Kasami (Fulham and Switzerland)
The Fulham ace has only made seven Premier League appearances for the Cottagers following his arrival last summer, but is highly thought of by manager Martin Jol. Born in Macedonia, Pajtim Kasami is one of many that are currently reaping the rewards of the revamp to Switzerland’s youth academies that Hodgson oversaw during his stint as national coach between 1992 and 1995.
The 20-year-old midfielder was part of the national side that won the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2009, with Ricardo Rodriguez and Oliver Buff just two that appeared alongside Kasami in the competition and are set to represent Switzerland this summer. Fulham will be keen to keep hold of him, but could be forced to fend off interest in the former Palermo ace should he enjoy a successful tournament.
Hotaru Yamaguchi (Cerezo Osaka and Japan)
Despite being just 20-years-old, Hotaru Yamaguchi is the most experienced member of Japan’s Olympic squad, boasting an impressive 20 caps for the U-23 side. Currently plying his trade with Cerezo Osaka, the same Japanese outfit that Manchester United signing Shinji Kagawa began his senior career with, much focus will be on Yamaguchi.
Providing the midfield shield for the defence under head coach Takashi Sekizuka, Yamaguchi will be heavily called upon to break up any brewing attacks, especially with second favourite Spain in the same group. However, the experience will be pivotal if they are to qualify for the knockout stages, with Honduras and Morocco the other two nations making up Group D.
Currently plying his trade with Cerezo Osaka, the same Japanese outfit that Manchester United signing Shinji Kagawa began his senior career with, much focus will be on Yamaguchi.
Abel Hernandez (Palermo and Uruguay)
Whilst Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani, of Liverpool and Napoli respectively, will be the main focus of the Uruguay attack, Abel Hernandez is one to keep a watchful eye on. The Palermo star will be a handful for opposition defenders, with his physical approach and blistering pace expected to see the 21-year-old remain a constant thorn in the side of any that he comes up against.
Hernandez has already made 77 appearances for the Serie A outfit following his arrival from Penarol in 2009, despite playing second fiddle to compatriot Cavani during his initial 18 months at the club. Now a regular in the first-team, despite competition from captain Fabrizio Miccoli, Igor Budan and Agon Mehmeti, the youngster is likely to play a pivotal role in Uruguay’s chances of securing a gold medal this summer.
Marco Fabian (Guadalajara and Mexico)
Despite his tender age of 22, Marco Fabian already boasts an impressive goalscoring record for the Mexico U-23 side. 12 goals in just 10 games for the national team boasted his chances of making the grade for the tournament, with head coach Luis Fernando Tena believing the midfielder had done enough to warrant his inclusion in the squad.
His club goal scoring exploits may not read as impressively as his national record, just 27 goals in 125 appearances for Guadalajara, but his creative tendencies will prove vital if Mexico are to qualify from group B. With Spurs front-man Giovani Dos Santos expected to lead the line this summer, Fabian will be required to provide the chances for his compatriot.
Magaye Gueye (Everton and Senegal)
With Senegal head coach Joseph Koto opting against calling up either Papiss Cisse or Demba Ba, both of Newcastle United; the pressure on Magaye Gueye is likely to increase this summer. The Everton youngster has been called upon a lot more this season under manager David Moyes following his 2010 switch from Strasbourg.
The France-born winger, who only last month switched national allegiances to Senegal, will be expected to get in behind defenders on either flank, with his pace and dribbling ability reminiscent to that of Muniain. Will be called upon heavily to secure qualification to the next round of the tournament, with Team GB and Uruguay also vying to make it to the knockout stages.
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