Wednesday's international friendlies mark a further step on the road to UEFA EURO 2012 and several players are hoping impressive seasons could take them from the fringes into their nations' squads for next summer's tournament. UEFA.com profiles some of those to keep an eye on from the sides in strong qualifying positions as well as one each from the two countries assured of finals places – co-hosts Poland and Ukraine.
Thiago Alcántara (Spain)
Continuing to progress and impress on both domestic and international fronts, FC Barcelona playmaker Thiago has completed a memorable summer by receiving his first call-up to the senior set-up for the Italy friendly. Coach Vicente del Bosque has stated the 20-year-old is "with us on merit", and Xavi Hernández's withdrawal makes a debut all the more likely. A product of Barcelona's La Masia academy, the Italy-born player struck a spectacular second goal for Spain in June's UEFA European Under-21 Championship final against Switzerland (he had previously helped the Spanish win the 2008 U17 title). He also scored three times in Barcelona's pre-season tour of the United States, prompting Josep Guardiola to say: "Everything Thiago hits is going in at the moment but let's take it step by step with him."
Kyle Walker (England)
The Tottenham Hotspur FC right-back stood out at the U21 finals in Denmark where he was named in the all-star squad, and although he will be unable to make his senior bow following the postponement of Wednesday's friendly against the Netherlands, Walker could fill a position that has been a worry for England ever since Gary Neville stepped aside. The 21-year-old former Sheffield United FC trainee had a successful loan stint at Aston Villa FC last term but Tottenham are keeping hold of him this season after extending his contract until 2016. Manager Harry Redknapp said: "He is the most exciting attacking right-back you could wish to see."
Sebastian Giovinco (Italy)
"Quality" has been Cesare Prandelli's watchword since his appointment as Italy coach last summer. Prandelli has been clear that technical skills count for more than physique, and Giovinco, 24, is arguably the epitome. "Despite his small stature he can sometimes be a giant on the pitch," the coach said of the Parma FC attacking midfielder. A standout performer at the 2009 U21 Championship in Sweden, Giovinco failed to make an impact at Juventus and joined Parma last summer, initially on loan. He proceeded to score seven goals in 30 Serie A games, including two against his former employers in January, earning himself a senior Italy debut the following month. In March the 'Atomic Ant' provided a wonderful assist for Alessandro Matri when Italy beat Ukraine 2-0 in Kyiv.
Marvin Martin (France)
Another diminutive attacking midfielder, Martin has been called up for the second time by France for their friendly with Chile after standing out during his first two appearances in June, against Poland and Ukraine. Indeed, the 23-year-old FC Sochaux-Montbéliard academy product scored twice in Les Bleus' 4-1 win in Donetsk having already created another. He is also set for his continental club debut as Sochaux take on FC Metalist Kharkiv in the UEFA Europa League play-offs later this month, their qualification having been aided by Martin's 17 assists last season.
André Santos (Portugal)
Having made an international impact at youth level, Sporting Clube de Portugal midfielder André Santos, 22, seems to be ready for the next step after Portugal coach Paulo Bento included him in his plans for the senior friendly against Luxembourg. The right-footer had proved himself during a loan period at UD Leiria, before returning to the Sporting ranks last season and establishing himself in their midfield to add to Portugal's current bountiful crop of players in that position.
Sven Bender (Germany)
A UEFA European U19 Championship winner in 2008 alongside his twin brother, the Benders separated in 2009 when they left TSV 1860 München, with Lars joining Bayer 04 Leverkusen while Sven headed for Borussia Dortmund. While some said Lars was maybe the more talented, it was Sven who was the first to really break through, as a key player in Dortmund's magnificent 2010/11 Bundesliga-winning midfield. His Germany debut came in the 2-1 loss to Australia in March and he could feature again versus Brazil on Wednesday. A holding midfielder, calm beyond his years in possession, and with the vision to open up play, the 22-year-old was praised by Germany coach Joachim Löw: "He is hard but fair, and outstanding when it comes to winning the ball from the opposition."
Kevin Strootman (Netherlands)
Having earned his wings in the Eredivisie during spells at Sparta Rotterdam and FC Utrecht, Strootman collected his first international cap on 9 February, coming on in place of Dutch player of the year Theo Janssen during the Netherlands' friendly with Austria. The creative and versatile midfielder also caught the eye of PSV Eindhoven who snapped him up ahead of the new campaign. The 21-year-old was already a firm favourite with national coach Bert van Marwijk, who said a while back: "I think Kevin can go a long way. I like players who can think a few steps ahead of everyone else. He doesn't get confused, is strong in the challenge, and I see enough quality in him to become a top player."
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Greece)
Last summer, Olympiacos FC defender Papadopoulos – who had made his senior club debut aged 15 – left for FC Schalke 04 and he has not looked back. The 19-year-old centre-back, who can also play in defensive midfield, became a first-team fixture as Schalke reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals and in July he signed a four-year contract extension. A Greece U19 regular at 17 and a U21 player 12 months later, Papadopoulos was given his first full cap by Fernando Santos against Malta on 4 June, scoring in a 3-1 qualifying win. He could further impress in Bosnia and Herzegovina on Wednesday, ahead of next month's crucial trip to Group F rivals Israel.
Grzegorz Sandomierski (Poland)
Some fine goalkeepers have come out of Poland in recent times such as Artur Boruc, Łukasz Fabiański, Tomasz Kuszczak and Wojciech Szczęsny yet the country is ready to provide even more. Sandomierski was the hero of Jagiellonia Białystok's impressive fourth-place finish last term, having already set a club record the year before with a 564-minute unbeaten run in the Polish First Division. The 21-year-old, on the radar of several well-known clubs, could win his fourth cap for the UEFA EURO 2012 co-hosts against Georgia on Wednesday, though the modest Sandomierski told UEFA.com: "I am working hard but I would not put myself on the top list of Polish goalkeepers. Boruc, Fabiański, Szczęsny and Kuszczak still have an edge on me." Poland coach Franciszek Smuda's regular calls for Sandomierski suggest otherwise.
Yevhen Konoplyanka (Ukraine)
Quick, skilful and intelligent, 21-year-old FC Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk attacking midfielder Konoplyanka is considered one of the biggest talents in Ukrainian football. "Konoplyanka is worth €50m," Dnipro coach Juande Ramos once said, and he has not changed his opinion despite the free-kick specialist's under-par U21 performance in June. "At his age it is hard to be consistent," Ramos explained. "Yevhen is still very talented and will get better." Konoplyanka's senior debut came on 25 May 2010 against Lithuania, four days before his first goal in a 3-2 defeat of Romania, and he is now setting his sights on a EURO squad place.
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