Former Sweden international Freddie Ljungberg knows all about UEFA European Championship final tournaments having played at EURO 2004 and EURO 2008. So who better than the former Arsenal FC player to share his picks for McDonald's Fantasy Football? And if you fancy your chances of beating Freddie you can invite Freddie's XI into your own league.
Freddie outlines his 15-man squad and his reasons for picking them below.
I’ve had the chance to watch Wojciech play many times for Arsenal [FC] this season and he has been outstanding. I think he is the first true contestant to replace David Seaman as a long-term goalkeeper at Arsenal and I believe he will be No.1 there for many years to come. He will also be the first choice keeper for my fantasy team.
Lindegaard represents very good value for money as a back-up goalkeeper. He has impressed in the games he played for Manchester United [FC] last season and was unfortunate to pick up an injury that kept him out for the last few months. He’s fit again now though and it looks like he’ll be Denmark’s first choice goalkeeper at the EUROs after Sørensen had to withdraw because of injury.
Rami had a very good season at Valencia [CF] – his first in Spain – and helped his team qualify for next season’s UEFA Champions League. He has been in the national team in almost every one of France’s games since Laurent Blanc took over, and if he takes the same form he has shown for Valencia into the EUROs this summer, I’m sure he’ll have a great tournament.
What more can you say about Ashley? He’s world class. A former team-mate of mine, I think he is still one of the best left-backs in the world - and now that he has all this experience to add to his unquestionable talent, he is an even better player than when I knew him. He is also a great player to have in your fantasy team as he loves to get forward and could be involved in a goal or two!
I watched his performance for Ireland against France in the World Cup playoff match back in 2009 – that night I saw a passion and determination in him and his team-mates; I think if the Irish team repeat that attitude they can do better than expected at the EUROs - and every good team performance begins at the back!
I saw Abate play for [AC] Milan against Arsenal in the San Siro last season and I was very impressed. He is the right-back at AC Milan and being able to hold down a defensive spot in one of the world’s most famous back-fours speaks for itself. Milan (and Italy) have a history of great defenders and great defensive displays; so I felt I had to have at least one Italian in my lineup.
At major international tournaments there is a lot to be said for having the home crowd behind you. I remember watching South Korea make it to the semi-finals of the World Cup in 2002, and then two years later seeing Portugal go so close and reach the final of EURO 2004. At 4.0m I think Shevchuk represents good value for money and with the support of the host nation behind him I’m hoping he can step up.
Everyone is aware of Ribéry’s talent, he is a fantastic player. He had a great season with [FC] Bayern [München]; he looked sharp and I like the fact he is so direct and always wants to run at defenders. It was a great shame he had to go off injured in the [UEFA] Champions League final, but if he can continue his fantastic form with France at the EUROs I think he could be one of the players of the tournament. He can create and score goals, so an absolute must for my team.
What can you say about Xavi that hasn’t already been said? He is a special player that can dictate any game. Xavi was instrumental in both of Spain’s past two tournament successes and is bound to be at the heart of their play throughout the EUROs. He is likely to start every game so he’s a good player to have in your fantasy team - and nobody would be surprised if he helped Spain all the way to glory again.
Obraniak is a very good attacking midfielder and has been playing well for [FC Girondins de] Bordeaux all year. Like Shevchuk, he is also playing for one of the host nations and I think could help give him and his team-mates extra motivation and energy. Poland will fancy their chances of getting out of Group A, and Obraniak may have a key part to play. For 6.5m he is also very good value for money.
This guy is a bright exciting new winger and I think a lot of people, including myself, are very excited to see how he performs at EURO 2012. I have watched him several times for Arsenal this year and I’m just hoping he can repeat some of the explosive form he has shown in England at the finals. He is not afraid of having a shot, so I think with a bit of luck, he could get a couple of goals this summer.
Occupies a key defensive midfield role for [FC] Barcelona and his record over the past few years speaks for itself. His is often the unsung hero for both club and country, but I don’t think the Spain coach will ever underestimate his importance to the team. I expect him to make the starting XI, and although not known for his goal scoring, he is still capable of popping up with a goal on the big stage; as he proved in the Champions League semi-final this year.
Van Persie has had a sensational season. If it wasn’t for him, Arsenal wouldn’t have finished third and they wouldn't be in the UEFA Champions League next season, it's as simple as that. If he can find that form again at EURO 2012, then I believe the Netherlands have a very good chance of going all the way. He is quite rightly one of the favourites for the Golden Boot award, and for me, including him in my fantasy team was an absolute no-brainer.
Together with van Persie, this was the other player that I simply could not leave out. Ronaldo has been in unbelievable form for Real Madrid [CF], helping them win the title and for me he is on a par with Messi as best the player in the world – and certainly the best player at the EUROs this summer. As well as being a constant threat from just about anywhere, he will take all of Portugal’s free-kicks and penalties, and is another strong favourite to win the Golden Boot.
I played alongside him at Celtic [FC] - and also against him a few times on the training pitch! I know him well and he is a very awkward player to play against. He’s a big, powerful guy and he certainly lets the defenders know they’ve been in a game. For me, Group A is the most open in the tournament, and all four teams, including Greece, will fancy their chances of progressing. Samaras has a big role and to play and will be at the heart of their attack - I think he could get a few goals for Greece (and my fantasy team) at the EUROs!
The Tipster's tips
And don't forget the Tipster's own tips below.
After years of planning and months of meticulous preparation, UEFA EURO 2012 is finally upon us as some of the world's best footballers descend on Poland and Ukraine, each hoping to win a place in the competition's notable history.
With EURO Fantasy Football, you too have the chance to guide your team to glory. While the prowess of Cristiano Ronaldo, the guile of Xavi Hernández and the power of Mario Gomez are widely known, success in this game is not always about making the obvious choices and the EURO Tipster is here to help you unearth a few hidden gems.
Igor Akinfeev (PFC CSKA Moskva & Russia) - €5.5m
The goalkeeper was fast-tracked into CSKA's first team at the tender age of 17 and has not looked back since. In 2003 he ended his first full season by winning the Russian championship and has since lifted another four trophies, including the 2005 UEFA Cup.
A regular for Dick Advocaat's Russia, Akinfeev struggled with injuries in 2011/12 but returned in April and finished the campaign strongly with CSKA. At €5.5m he is one of the mid-range goalkeeper options, but with his team contesting Group A with Poland, Greece and Czech Republic, he has a good chance of progressing and therefore represents excellent value for money.
Ignazio Abate (AC Milan & Italy) - €5.0m
Italy defenders always offer good value for money and the 25-year-old right-back also is likely to start every game, another attractive quality in a Fantasy Football player.
Although you will be given a limited number of transfers for every round of the tournament, you should always try to pick players from teams likely to advance to the latter stages. With Italy joined by Spain, Republic of Ireland and Croatia in Group C, Abate looks to be a solid choice.
Ashley Young (Manchester United FC & England) - €8.5m
Slightly more expensive but as a midfielder who is likely to play the first two games up front due to Wayne Rooney's suspension – remember there are more points on offer if a midfielder scores – he could be worth it, as the 26-year-old winger has been in sensational form in recent weeks. He got the only goal in a 1-0 victory against Norway in Oslo in their penultimate warm-up, and with three was England's joint top scorer in qualifying.
Although expected to drop back to a more familiar left-wing berth for the game against Ukraine, when Rooney will be available again, the likelihood of him playing as a second striker against France and Sweden makes him a great pick for any manager.
Nikica Jelavić – (Everton FC & Croatia) - €5.0m
Given that Croatia join Italy and Spain in Group C, picking Jelavić does represent something of a risk. However, at just €5.0m for a striker who ended the season in remarkable scoring form, it could be a gamble that pays considerable dividends.
The 26-year-old swapped Rangers FC for Everton FC in January and proved an instant success – scoring nine goals in 13 Premier League appearances for the Toffees. Picking him is not without its drawbacks as Croatia could have their work cut out to qualify for the quarter-finals, and it is also worth noting that Jelavić failed to find the net in any of his nine qualifying appearances. However, all the great managers know you have to take a few risks along the road to success. Jelavić could be one of them.
The deadline for confirming your first squad choice is 8 June at 17.45CET. You can change your team often as you wish up until this time.
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