Euro 2012: Ranking the Top 20 Players at the Tournament so Far
Four teams remain at Euro 2012, and dozens of players have already turned in brilliant performances.
So who's played the best? That's the topic of the day here at "Set Piece."
Here are my choices for the 20 best players—or is it actually 21?—of Euro 2012 so far. Most of the names come from the final four teams, but a few have already gone home for the summer.
Like the list? Hate it? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
20. Petr Jiracek
Country: Czech Republic
When he was healthy, Tomas Rosicky was the Czech Republic's best and most creative player. In Rosicky's absence, Petr Jiracek took over as his country's best.
Jiracek finished with two goals for an offensively challenged Czech squad and provided much-needed width in the midfield.
Also, his unruly mop of hair made Nickleback's Chad Kroeger green with envy.
19. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Zlatan Ibrahimovic reinforced his reputation as a world-class striker with two goals at Euro 2012. Otherwise, Sweden disappointed.
One of Ibra's two goals came straight out of the top drawer. Against France in the Group D finale, Ibrahimovic swiveled a shot, an acrobatic side volley, past Hugo Lloris for the match-winner (though Sweden added another in the second half).
18. Fabio Coentrão
João Moutinho was excellent against the Czech Republic in the quarterfinals, but Fabio Coentrão has been a vital contributor for Portugal throughout Euro 2012.
Coentrão provides a threat going forward down the flank and has one assist to his name. As a converted midfielder, he has the speed to keep up with opposing attackers.
17. Philipp Lahm
Speaking of excellent full-backs, pint-sized German captain Philipp Lahm has set the standard so far at Euro 2012.
Lahm has put in his usual defensive contribution and also provided a beauty of a goal, Germany's opener against Greece.
Position: Central defense
Somewhat surprisingly, Pepe has conceded only one foul so far at Euro 2012. In fact, the Portuguese central defender has been shockingly well behaved.
Less surprising has been Pepe's solid defending, his work rate and being a strong physical presence.
He even has a goal and nearly scored another against Germany in the group stage with a beautifully curled shot.
15. Mario Gomez
Mario Gomez has scored three goals, tied for most at Euro 2012. But he hasn't scored since Germany's second group game.
Since then, Gomez has struggled to reproduce the form that made him a match-winner against Holland and Portugal. With Miroslav Klose pushing for a starting position, Gomez will have to be at his best in the semifinals.
14. Buffon and Casillas
Countries: Italy and Spain
How can one separate Italy's Gianluigi Buffon and Spain's Iker Casillas?
Casillas kept Spain in the competition with a great save against Croatia in the group stage. Buffon stonewalled England's Glen Johnson from point-blank range in the quarterfinals—before winning the penalty shootout with a save on Ashley Cole.
Both keepers are among the world's best, both are World Cup winners, both captain their national teams and both are still at the top of their game.
Again, how does one separate the two?
13. Steven Gerrard
Steven Gerrard captained England to the quarterfinals, providing dozens of dangerous crosses, superb set pieces and three assists along the way.
Gerrard led by example, demonstrated total commitment and fulfilled all the other cliches expected of a captain of England.
Not that any of it was a bad thing.
12. Luka Modric
Luka Modric played like a man possessed against Spain, and his heroics almost resulted in an upset.
Instead, Spain pulled out a tight win and Croatia went home. Now the Daily Mail reports Modric is looking to capitalize on his excellent showing at Euro 2012 with a move away from Tottenham Hotspur.
11. David Silva
That David Silva ranks this humbly in the countdown speaks to the quality of Spain's squad.
Deployed as an outside forward in Spain's experimental formations at Euro 2012, Silva has created constant danger with darting runs and pinpoint passes.
So far, Silva has scored once (a cheeky pass into the far post) and provided three assists. Don't expect either number to stay the same.
10. Mats Hummels
Position: Central defender
Readers of British broadsheet The Guardian named German defender Mats Hummels the best player of the group stage, and correctly so. Hummels served as a towering presence as Germany swept through Group B—supposedly the "Group of Death"—with three straight victories.
The German defense wasn't quite as good in the quarterfinals, when Greece scored twice. But Hummels has still been one of the best players for one of the best teams—if not the best—at the tournament.
9. Daniele De Rossi
Daniele De Rossi is a man of many talents.
In Italy's opener against Spain, the veteran midfielder moved into central defense in order to give the Azzurri more stability at the back.
He played there again in the Croatia game before moving into the midfield against Ireland and England.
No matter where he's played, De Rossi has been one of Italy's best players. Such versatility is valuable to any team.
8. Sami Khedira
Sami Khedira is Germany's unsung midfield hero. Make no mistake, though—he's never forgotten among Joachim Löw's team.
At Euro 2012, Khedira has reprised his role as a faultless holding midfielder that he performed so well all season for Real Madrid.
And his goal against Greece was stunning.
7. Xabi Alonso
That two-goal outburst in the quarterfinals was just gravy. Xabi Alonso had already played superb football for Spain throughout Euro 2012.
Always the pinpoint passer, Alonso was born to play in Spain's pass-happy possession offense.
6. Mesut Ozil
Before the quarterfinals, Euro 2012 had not seen the best of Mesut Ozil.
Four goals and a blistering German offensive performance later, everything had changed.
Ozil directed traffic as Germany stormed past Greece into the semifinals. If he can do the same against Italy, the Germans won't be denied a spot in the final.
5. Bastian Schweinsteiger
Before injury problems seemed to catch up with him in the quarterfinals, Bastian Schweinsteiger had been Germany's best midfield player.
In the group stage, Schweinsteiger filled multiple roles—shielding the defense, linking play, controlling the tempo of the game and providing multiple assists.
What else is there to say about Xavi. We all know his game: passing, passing, an occasional goal, passing, passing, assists and more passing.
Everyone knows it, in fact. But no one seems capable of stopping him.
3. Andres Iniesta
As great as Xavi has been, Andres Iniesta has been Spain's best player.
The stats say he's contributed only one assist, but Iniesta did not receive credit for the pass he played to Jordi Alba that resulted in Xabi Alonso's opening goal against France.
That seems par for the course with Iniesta, who always provides top-class work without always receiving the appropriate recognition.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo underperformed—at least by his standards—in Portugal's first two matches.
No matter. He has more than made up for it over his country's two most recent games.
Ronaldo has scored three goals—all in the last two matches—during Portugal's run to the semifinals. Along the way, he's reminded everyone why he's considered Europe's best player.
For all the recognition Ronaldo receives, critics often overlook the work he's been putting in as Portugal's captain this summer. Put simply, he's been nothing short of inspirational.
1. Andrea Pirlo
Cristiano Ronaldo is Europe's best player, but Andrea Pirlo has been Euro 2012's best performer.
One year after being dumped by AC Milan, Pirlo has shown again how great a player he remains. Working with 33-year-old legs, he toils tirelessly in the middle of Italy's midfield, and his hard work and precision passing put him at the heart of literally every attack the Azzurri generate.
Through four matches, Cesare Prandelli's team has scored four goals. Pirlo has been involved directly in all four.
But that's not mentioning the dozens and dozens of dangerous through-balls he plays to his fellow midfielders and forwards—or the cheeky penalty he put past Joe Hart in the penalty shootout against England.
If Italy figure out how to shoot against Germany, they have a chance to pull the upset. Pirlo has been that good.