Euro 2012 Predictions: Who Will Emerge as the Top Player at Each Position?
As the 2012 European Championships approach their climax, the best players of the tournament start to pull away from their peers. Portugal, Spain, Italy and Germany have made it to the final four with the best squads in Europe—but who among those will emerge as the very top players of Euro 2012?
Here are predictions for the top player at each position, loosely using the 4-2-3-1 formation most dominantly favored in this tournament so far.
1. Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas, Spain
Going into the semifinal round, Italy's Gigi Buffon is the top-ranked goalkeeper in the Castrol EDGE Index, and few would doubt the imperious form of the veteran Juventus man.
Buffon's penalty "save" from Ashley Cole in the England vs. Italy shootout will have helped his ranking. Though, this is a good example of the greatest vulnerability of statistics: they omit such crucial subjective factors as the lameness of Cole's shot.
2. Right-Back: Alvaro Arbeloa, Spain
France right-back Mathieu Debuchy made a splash in the Euro 2012 group stages. His skills definitely mark out the 26-year-old Lille player as one to watch.
But when coach Laurent Blanc moved him up to the wing against Spain, his frailties showed as he was tormented by Jordi Alba. The Spanish left-back masterfully beat Debuchy to set up the first goal in Spain's 2-0 quarterfinal victory.
Ultimately, Spain's other fullback Alvaro Arbeloa has to take top spot at right-back.
The Real Madrid defender similarly terrorized France in the quarterfinal with his forward runs. And his contributions to Euro 2012's tightest defence position him as the highest-ranked right-back in the Castrol Index.
3. Left-Back: Fabio Coentrao, Portugal
Jordi Alba has a great claim for top left-back of Euro 2012, but the honors have to go to Portugal's Fabio Coentrao.
Not only does the Real Madrid man rank highest for the position in the Castrol index, his forward runs, crosses and superb vision have been instrumental to Portugal's success in the tournament.
4. Central Defence: Sergio Ramos, Spain
At least one of the top central defender spots has to go to Spain, whose parsimonious back line has conceded only a single goal going into the semifinals.
That's a fairly remarkable feat, considering that defence was considered the primary weakness of the European and World champions before the tournament started.
But it's especially remarkable considering Spain are missing their staunchest defender Carles Puyol through injury.
Versatile Real Madrid defender Sergio Ramos has stepped in from his usual Spain position at right-back to fill the void in central defence.
His partner Gerard Piqué has marginally better numbers according to Castrol, but given the unusual circumstances, Ramos has particularly impressed.
5. Central Defence: Mats Hummels, Germany
The obvious other choice for best central defender is Portugal's Pepe. His Castrol ranking not only places him as technically the best defender in the tournament, but as the second best player overall behind his captain Cristiano Ronaldo.
Even more impressive, the usually hot-headed Real Madrid man has so far played with a remarkable calm. Though, that is virtually guaranteed to change when he faces his hated rivals from Barcelona in the Portugal vs. Spain semifinal.
With that in mind, and to acknowledge that a player's influence cannot always be measured in stats, we're picking Germany's Mats Hummels as the second stand-out central defender at Euro 2012.
The 23-year-old from Borussia Dortmund has played an unexpectedly instrumental role in Germany's back line, and made some crucial interventions to spare German blushes in their less than convincing group stage performances.
6. Central Midfield: Xabi Alonso, Spain
In the center of midfield, it is hard to look past Xabi Alonso, whose two goals eased Spain past France in the quarterfinals and who ranks highest from his side in the Castrol Index.
Alonso's rock-steady tactical sense has arguably been the biggest factor in Real Madrid's recent success, and it is no less important to his national team.
The former Liverpool midfielder also provides a goal threat from distance—a potentially crucial addition to Spain's arsenal when they play without a striker and opposition teams mass players in the box.
7. Central Midfield: Andrea Pirlo, Italy
For sheer elegance and poise, Italy veteran Andrea Pirlo is simply unparalleled in world, let alone European, football.
Pirlo's playmaking capabilities have been the driver for this Italy side. And his coolness—in both senses of the word—was summed up in his delicately chipped penalty against England that turned the quarterfinal shootout in Italy's favor.
8. Left Attack: Cristiano Ronaldo, Portugal
In the Euro 2012 top player rankings by position, Spain's Andres Iniesta plays the role of Cristiano Ronaldo in La Liga: sublimely gifted and enormously influential, but maddeningly overshadowed—in Iniesta's case, by Ronaldo himself.
Long criticised for failing to reach his potential at the international level (not unlike his bete noire, Lionel Messi), Euro 2012 has thus far proven to be the tournament where Ronaldo has finally come through.
Despite a frustrating start in the opening match against Germany, Portugal's captain finally made his mark with two goals against the Netherlands to seal Portugal's progress to the quarterfinals.
There, Ronaldo turned in a man-of-the-match performance complete with providing the winning goal to knock out the Czech Republic and set up the semifinal against Spain.
9. Central Attack: Xavi Hernandez, Spain
The central attacking midfield position has been problematic at Euro 2012. The usual suspects to dominate this position—Spain's Xavi Hernandez and Germany's Mesut Özil—have not been at their sparkling best.
Nonetheless, Özil and Xavi's typically stratospheric standards mean that even their flatter performances outclass the competition. While Xavi is generally being outshone by Iniesta this tournament, Özil appears to be improving as Germany hit their stride by turning in two man-of-the-match performances and chipping in with three assists.
But ultimately, look for Xavi to orchestrate Spain to an unprecedented third consecutive championship.
10. Right Attack: David Silva, Spain
On the opposite flank from Iniesta, David Silva is proving crucial to Spain's attack.
Many thought the Manchester City dynamo looked jaded towards the end of the championship-winning English Premier League season.
But Silva has summoned the energy to terrorize Spain's opponents down the right, contributing one goal and three assists on the way to the semifinals.
11. Striker: Mario Gomez, Germany
Euro 2012 has been tournament singularly lacking impact by strikers. Defending champions Spain have opted not to field one at all most of the time; and the likes of Benzema, Van Persie and Rooney performed woefully. One man stands alone as top striker of Euro 2012: Germany's Mario Gomez.
In the group stages, 23 seconds of possession produced three goals for the Bayern Munich marksman. The very definition of an out-and-out striker.