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Saturday, 30 June 2012

Euro 2012 - Team Of The Tournament


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With just the final to go it's time to decide which players made the most impact in Poland and Ukraine. In recent years FIFA and UEFA have picked a squad of the top performers at tournaments but where's the fun in that? Very few fans come up with the same eleven and that's when it gets interesting, so here's my choice and the reasons why they're in.

Nearly all come from the four semi-finalists because it's difficult to make an impact in just three games and the other four quarter-finalists threw up no real contenders. Manjukovic and Modric of Croatia could have threatened, as could a posse of Russians if they hadn't blown it so comprehensively.

Gianluigi Buffon - Italy

Yes, Iker Casillas has let in fewer goals but to be honest so few teams actually try to attack Spain that we don't always see the best of the Spanish skipper. Buffon and Casillas have vied for top rating for many years now but Buffon shades it for the amazing save that stopped Glenn Johnson early in the quarter-final.

Casillas offered up his own stunner to stop Rakitic against Croatia but the header was a nice height - Buffon's effort was pure reflex and talent and who knows what would have happened if Johnson's effort had gone in.

Philip Lahm - Germany

Right backs haven't pulled up any trees at Euro 2012. There is a case for Joao Periera and even Glenn Johnson but I've chosen to move Lahm from the left as he can play both positions and leaves room for the other outstanding left back. Another solid display from the German skipper capped with another blistering strike.

Fabio Contrao - Portugal

A constant menace down the left and one of the most aggressive attacking players in the competition. He wasn't exposed defensively thanks to his recovery pace and he linked play beautifully going forward. When he sees a byline he just wants to get to it and make a cross.

Pepe - Portugal

He can be ruthless at times but the Real Madrid defender is mobile, good on the ball and reads the game so well. He was instrumental in blunting Spain and generally marshalled the Portuguese back four with aplomb throughout the tournament

Sergio Ramos - Spain

Injury to Carles Puyol put Ramos at centre-back instead of his usual full-back slot and he mopped up just about everything. Has more edge about him than Gerard Pique and a willingness to do the basics. Has enough pace to handle most players and remains confident on the ball.

Bastien Schweinsteiger - Germany

There are others in the German side that get more praise and plaudits but the Bayern midfielder is the man who keeps them ticking along. Highly adaptable, he can play deep in front of the back four, higher up the pitch or wide if required.

Andrea Pirlo - Italy

A class act. Passed the ball with creativity and vision with his usual aura of studied calmness. All the talk was of how to mark him but as long as he has other talented midfielders with him, marking him is out of the question.

Most sublime moment was one turn in the centre circle to avoid Hummels of Germany who clearly thought he had Pirlo on toast only to see the genius float away. Pirlo rarely shouts or gesticlates but always accepts the ball and gives to a colleague in a better position.

Ricardo Montolivo - Italy

Not one of the most heralded players but vital to Azzuri success. His running and workrate created time for Pirlo and broke up opposition thrusts. Played box-to-box and supported the attack well. The type of performer every winning side needs.

Andres Iniesta - Spain

One of of only two Spaniards in the selection despite them reaching the final. So much of what Spain do is about collective excellence that one player rarely stands out. Xavi and David Silva have been slightly below par but Iniesta has been his usual probing self, roaming across the pitch testing defences.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic - Sweden

Every selection needs a wild card and the big Swede fits the bill. He's even further above the rest of his team than Ronaldo and he did everything he could to drag them into the quarters. Operating in a withdrawn position he finally demonstrated his talent on the big stage.

At times his languid approach bordered on lethargy but Sweden could have won all three of their games with more luck and Ibra was at the centre of all their good play. Scored in two games (one a stunner), set up chances in all three matches and always looked a threat on the ball. A revelation playing in this role.

Christiano Ronaldo - Portugal 

After a frustrating opening game Ronaldo showed everyone why he's rated so highly. On the ball he scared the hell out of defenders and he showed his power in the air too. He was only the width of several goalposts away from having a tourney to rank with Maradona in 1986 and Platini in 1984.

Several moments of breathtaking skill and a desire to make his mark shone through. He makes a decent Portuguese side a very good one and if he played in a strong side it would be game over - as it often is with Real Madrid.

Formation

There are so many ways to go with this as the players are very adaptable but let's try the Christmas Tree;

Buffon

Lahm, Pepe, Ramos, Contrao

Schwienstieger, Pirlo, Montolivo

Ibrahimovic, Iniesta

Ronaldo

Calling all football fans: Do you agree with Hugh's starting XI and formation? Would you have Italy scoring hero Mario Balotelli in there? What about Steven Gerrard? Whatever your view we'd love to hear from you.

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Hugh Larkin

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