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His goal-scoring exploits for Arsenal this season have made Van Persie one of the most sought players in world football. He has a wand of a left foot to rival even the great Messi and will lead the Netherlands as they look to shake off their “underachievers” tag.

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Karim Benzema

France finally has a striker to take over from Thierry Henry. The barrel-chested Benzema’s explosive pace and unforgiving finishing saw him emerge as Real Madrid’s No. 1 striker by the end of the season. He has been France’s leader up front in its sensational recent run of 21 unbeaten games.

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Gianluigi Buffon

Buffon comes into the tournament under a cloud of betting-scam allegations as part of the fallout of the Italian match-fixing scandal, but his reputation as the world’s premier goalkeeper remains intact. Tall and athletic, there are no weaknesses in the 34-year-old 2006 World Cup winner’s armor. A key member of an Italian backline that had the best defensive record in qualifying.

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Mario Balotelli

Whether it’s exploding fireworks in his bathroom or ripping off his jersey to display messages on T-shirts, the enigmatic Balotelli always provides a story. The striker has all the talent in the world and unbelievable coolness under pressure, but has too many off days and could easily implode for Italy this month.

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Wayne Rooney

For Balotelli, read Rooney. His crazy kick-out at a Montenegro defender leaves him suspended for England’s first two games at Euros, but there was never a doubt he’d be picked on the squad. The Manchester United striker can be the best player in the world when he’s on and is one of England’s few world-class stars.

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FAVORITES

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