Seven to watch out for in 2012
This year is set to be big year for Irish football not to mention football in general, with the African cup of Nations, the European Championship at which our footballing heroes will appear and the bread and butter of everyday football, the Premier League.
We pick our seven players and teams who look set to enjoy success in 2012.
Any appearance in an International football tournament makes for a great year and Ireland’s qualification for Euro 2012 will ensure that June will be a good month for Irish football, pubs and travel agents alike.
Having been drawn with tournament favourites Spain as well as Italy and Croatia, Ireland will face a big ask to qualify for the knockout stages however if it would be folly to bet against the boys in green.
The former Derry City winger has come into his own since the arrival of Martin O’Neill.
The 22 year old was signed by previous manager Steve Bruce in August however he’s had to wait to make his first start, impressing in the 1-0 win over Manchester City in the first game of 2012 marking his second start with a goal in the 4-1 win over Wigan.
The Derry born star has opted to declare for the Republic of Ireland and while two games won’t be enough to see him board a plane to Poland, never mind earn a call up for a friendly, the signs are there that McClean come be one of the Irish stars of 2012.
Paul Cook’s side has been impressive the last few seasons earning a reputation as one of the best cup sides in the country with two FAI Ford Cup’s and an EA Sports cup while maintaining strong title challenges.
Last season’s Bridesmaid’s have strengthened considerably during the off season especially up front where talented strike pair Danny North and Mark Quigley have joined.
With last season’s champions Shamrock Rovers potentially heading for a period of transition under new manager Stephen Kenny, who left third place Derry City to take over in Tallaght, the stage could be set for the Westerners to claim a first title since 1977.
Ireland seems to be enjoying a renaissance on the wings and former Huddersfield star Pilkington is another who has caught the eye in the Premier League. SportsNewsIreland has longed touted the winger for a call up and 2012 could be the year.
Unlike McClean who was forced to bide his time at the Stadium of Light, Norwich star Pilkington didn’t have to wait to make an impression on the Canaries and Irish support, making his debut on the opening day of the season and scoring his first goal just four games later in the 2-1 win over Bolton, the club’s first back in the top flight.
The 23 year old English born player has scored 5 goals in 16 games so far this season and having earned caps at under-21 level for the Irish team this year looks set to be that Pilkington makes the step up to senior International football.
German football team
With the strength of Spain, it’s easy to forget that there are other teams going to travel to Poland and the Ukraine. However one side that could pose a threat to a third major International title for the Spanish is Germany.
Joachim Low’s side impressed in qualification and finished top of Group A ahead of Turkey, Belguim, and Austria with ten straight wins.
The German’s scored 34 goals and only conceded 7 goals and with goals throughout the team from the likes of the evergreen Miroslav Klose who got 9 in qualifying, Mario Gomez who contributed 6 and Real Madrid star Mesut Ozil with 5 goals, Germany pose a serious threat and its no surprise to learn that despite drawn with Holland, Denmark and Portugal in 2012’s version of a group of death
African Cup of Nations
With a qualifying campaign that knocked out a host of former winners, including Cameroon and Nigeria, the 2012 African Cup of Nations will begin his month in Gabon and Equatorial Guinea,with 14 teams vying for the title of the best side in Africa.
Ghana, who boasts the talents of Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, John Mensah as well as up and coming talents André Ayew and Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu will head to the tournament as favourites while the Ivory Coast with the sublime talents of Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and Gervinho will also fancy their chances.
Ghana are in Pool D with Ivory Coast in Pool B meaning that the scene is set for a Black Stars and Elephants showdown on the 12th February although with Mali Senegal, Tunisia and Morocco also involved neither side will have it their own way.
Expect one or two players to make their way to the Premiership on the back of a strong tournament, Arsenal target Moussa Sow of Senegal is one who should impress while Morocco’s Adel Taarabt and Ghana’s 22 year old midfielder Aynew are others who are sure to catch the eye.
As they headed into the New Year top of the table, a position they maintained with a 3-0 win over Liverpool in their first game of 2012, Manchester City and their vastly assembled squad remain on course for a first ever Premiership title.
Despite a recent blip on the road, if you can call it that, City have impressed all so far this season, especially at home where they have won all ten games.
A sublime mix of counter attacking football, intricate passing and in Sergio Aguero, Mario Balotelli, Edin Dzeko and David Silva a strike force that guarantee’s goals in them, 56 so far in 20 games it’s hard to look past Roberto Mancini side for the title.
Manchester United and the equally impressive Spurs look the most likely challengers to Roberto Mancini’s side.