Euro 2012: Picking a Euro 2012 Team of the Group Stages
With the group stage over, it's time to pick the best 11 players so far at Euro 2012.
Doing so was not easy. With only 11 slots available, competition was fierce throughout the squad.
That was especially true in the midfield, where perhaps a dozen players have played well enough to warrant inclusion.
But that's not how this works. Read on for my picks and leave your own in the comments.
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Mike's pick: Iker Casillas, Spain
Say what you will about the officials helping Spain get past Croatia. Saint Iker also did his job.
Casillas made a stunning second-half stop on Ivan Rakitic's powerful header, and that kept La Roja on level terms.
Without Casillas' contributions that day—and also against Italy—Spain might be out of Euro 2012.
Honorable mention: Stipe Pletikosa, Croatia; Joe Hart, England; Gianluigi Buffon, Italy; Manuel Neuer, Germany
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Mike's picks: Theodor Gebre Selassie, Czech Republic; Fabio Coentrão, Portugal
Selassie (pictured) and Coentrão both know how to get forward down the flanks (with apologies to the equally dangerous Philipp Lahm of Germany).
Selassie, in fact, provided the assist on the goal that sent the Czechs to the quarterfinals. In less pleasant news, Selassie has also overcome racist abuse (per Sky Sports). Expect him to move on from the Czech league this summer.
Coentrão, meanwhile, showed just how dangerous he can be, marauding up and down the left side in Portugal's 3-2 victory over Denmark.
Honorable mention: Philipp Lahm, Germany
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Mike's picks: Mats Hummels, Germany; Daniele De Rossi, Italy
Hummels has been the best defender at Euro 2012 so far and is a major reason Germany tore through the "Group of Death" with a perfect record. His towering performances have totally justified manager Joachim Löw's decision to leave out Per Mertesacker.
De Rossi, on the other hand, has been the tournament's most versatile player. After starting and starring as a central defender in Italy's first two matches, he moved to midfield against the Republic of Ireland.
Such versatility and unselfishness are immensely valuable to any team.
Honorable mention: Pepe, Portugal; Daniel Agger, Denmark; Holger Badstuber, Germany
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Mike's picks: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany; Andrea Pirlo, Italy; Steven Gerrard, England; Andres Iniesta, Spain
These were the most difficult positions to select. Euro 2012 has already seen numerous impressive midfield performances.
Schweinsteiger (pictured) has filled multiple roles for Germany. In the 2-1 win over Holland, he had a hand in the build-up to both goals, and the rest of the time he has shielded Germany's defense and controlled the tempo of matches. Schweinsteiger has been one of the tournament's best all-around performers so far.
Pirlo, meanwhile, has been at the heart of everything for Italy. The Azzurri have scored four goals, and Pirlo's handiwork has been all over every single one.
The same can be said for Gerrard, England's captain and inspirational leader. The 32-year-old Liverpool legend has displayed an almost unmatched level of commitment in the middle of England's midfield.
Finally, Iniesta has been Spain's best player so far. In a team full of superstars, that's quite an accomplishment.
Honorable mention: Luka Modric, Croatia; Xavi Hernandez, Spain; David Silva, Spain; Andrei Arshavin, Russia; Scott Parker, England; Jakub Blaszczykowski, Poland; Petr Jiracek, Czech Republic; Michael Krohn-Dehli, Denmark
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Mike's picks: Mario Gomez, Germany; Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Sweden
After finally getting a chance to start ahead of Miroslav Klose, Gomez (pictured) has repaid manager Joachim Löw's faith with three classy goals. His form dropped slightly in Germany's group finale against Denmark, but he should be back in the quarterfinals.
As for Ibrahimovic, it's a shame we only had three chances to watch the mercurial genius in action this summer. His acrobatic volleyed goal against France was something special.
It's also a shame that Ibrahimovic is about 10 times better than all of his teammates. He deserved better.
Honorable mention: Mario Mandzukic, Croatia; Nicklas Bendtner, Denmark; Alan Dzagoev, Russia; Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine; Fernando Torres, Spain
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Here's my best XI from the group stages of Euro 2012. The formation is 4-4-2.
Iker Casillas (Spain); Theodor Gebre Selassie (Czech Republic), Mats Hummels (Germany), Daniele De Rossi (Italy), Fabio Coentrão (Portugal); Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Steven Gerrard (England), Andres Iniesta (Spain); Mario Gomez (Germany), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden).
Who would make your team? Let me know in the comments or via Twitter.