Karim Benzema, France
Benzema was a surprise omission from Raymond Domenech’s ill-fated 2010 World Cup squad, but he benefited from missing the South Africa fiasco as new coach Laurent Blanc immediately entrusted him as his first-choice centre-forward. Benzema responded well, with three goals in Euro 2012 qualifying, including the first in the crucial 2-0 away win over Bosnia & Herzegovina, as well as strikes in the wins over England and Brazil. This season has been the most prolific of his career at Real Madrid. Can he convert that form for France? “This is a new squad, a new team and I’m more experienced now,” he said.
Mario Gomez, Germany
The Gomez that missed a sitter in Germany’s opening Euro 2008 match against Poland has been consigned to history: despite a poor Champions League final, this is now a super-confident scoring machine. He averaged almost a goal per game over the last two seasons and with Germany boss Joachim Loew echoing Bayern’s 4-2-3-1 system — with Lukas Podolski and Thomas Muller either side of Mesut Ozil — Gomez is the old-fashioned poacher par excellence able to find space and seize on a half-chance. A superstitious man, Gomez, who wears the number 33, has claimed his form coincided with the Aug 2011 release of the 33 Chilean miners, one of whom was called Mario Gomez.
Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
Hard to ignore the claims of Europe’s top player, even if his Portugal form is not as prolific as it is for Real Madrid, where he scored a mind-boggling 59 goals in 55 games this season. Portugal has long had a problem at centre-forward and while Ronaldo does not play there any more (he did under Carlos Queiroz, but now Helder Postiga is first pick), he has the freedom to cut in from the left wing and trouble the goalkeeper. “This year, I feel more solid and things have gone well. It’s my best moment, I can say that it is the peak of my career,” he said.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Holland
He top-scored in Euro 2012 qualifying with 10 goals, his record for Schalke this season is more than a goal every game (48 in 47) and, aged 28, he’s only 10 goals short of Patrick Kluivert’s all-time scoring record for Holland, and yet Huntelaar still doesn’t get the love he deserves from his country. It’s because he is a pure goalscorer and does not have the technique of a Van Persie or the silky touch of a Bergkamp. Huntelaar will only start if Van Persie moves out to the right wing, but as he showed with his two-minute, one-goal cameo in the February win over England, when Huntelaar’s on form, goals follow.
Fernando Llorente, Spain
While opposition defenders may be relieved by David Villa’s injury and Fernando Torres’s loss of form, the threat of Llorente is hardly a silver lining. The Athletic Bilbao striker has changed his game under coach Marcelo Bielsa and become much more of an all-round player. “I now run with strategic intelligence and score different kinds of goals,” he said. He scored three goals in Euro 2012 qualifying and with their creative geniuses creating so many chances, will have opportunities to improve his goals tally.