Euro 2012 is over, and it was won by the team that played together the best. Spain's possession game perfectly utilized their tremendous talent to lead them to a record third-consecutive international title. Although the team that played together best won, that does not mean that individual players did not leave their mark on the tournament.
International tournaments bring together the best of the best, but history only remembers the players that can continue to stand out in this elite pack. Euro 2012 certainly provided us with memorable performances.
With brilliant moments and consistently high performances, these 23 men create the Dream Team of Euro 2012.
Buffon and Casillas
There is one very simple reason Iker Casillas is the starter on this squad. That reason is he won the tournament and Gianluigi Buffon did not.
Coming into the last game, a case could have been made for both men to be called the best goalkeeper of the tournament and likely even the best in the world.
Both men made amazing saves in key moments to save their teams. Both men led their teams to wins in penalty shootouts. It is undeniable that they were both instrumental to the success of their nations.
Buffon did not fail his team in the final, his defense failed him, but in the end Casillas retains his crown by leading Spain in retaining their crown.
A player has to perform at an exceptional level to justify being signed by Barcelona. According to ESPN, Jordi Alba did just that at Euro 2012 and will be playing for the powerhouse come next season.
For those who watched Alba's play throughout the competition, this signing comes as no surprise. He consistently shut down opposing forwards and brought an extra offensive dimension to the Spanish attack on the left flank.
This was never more apparent than during the final when he scored La Roja's second goal to completely change the nature of the game.
Alba was always present when he needed to be and was the very best at his position.
The German defense was not often under pressure, but when it was, Mats Hummels was always present.
Hummels allowed the Germans to play their offensive game by securing the last line of defense. He played brilliantly in shutting down opposing forwards and used his touches to push Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng forward.
Perhaps the most indicative moment of Hummels' play was his goal-saving tackle on Georgios Samaras in the quarterfinal match. Although beaten at first, Hummels came back to rob Samaras in a crucial moment of the game.
By combining key plays with consistency, Hummels has made himself an obvious pick for this squad.
France was criticized for having gaps in their defensive wall, but very little of that criticism was directed at Mathieu Debuchy.
Debuchy seemed to always appear in front of opposing forwards and always seemed to end up with the ball. He also provided such an offensive threat that Laurent Blanc decided to play him as a midfielder against Spain.
Rare is the player with enough skill to be both an offensive and defensive presence. Debuchy gave France both and established himself as a prominent player in Europe.
With Carles Puyol out for the tournament, Sergio Ramos was forced to shift over to central defender from his habitual role as a right-back.
He executed his new role to perfection and allowed Spain to have a certain security in the back. Spain's possession offense left their defense often stranded, but when called upon Ramos always made the right plays. He was also dangerous on corners and scored a crucial penalty against Portugal.
There is no doubt that the man who led the winning defense deserves a starting role on the Dream Team.
Italy was not expected to make a run, and without Andrea Pirlo they would not have.
Pirlo was simply the ideal maestro and used his elite distribution skills combined with his talents on set pieces to give a memorable performance at Euro 2012.
The Italian midfielder led counterattacks and controlled possession depending on what the situation called for. His direct free kick against Croatia and his gutsy chipped penalty against England will remain as two of the more memorable moments of the competition.
Pirlo was ultimately unable to bring the title back to Italy, but he confirmed himself as one of the best midfielders La Squadra Azzurra has ever had in their ranks.
Although Mesut Ozil fell short of his first international title once more, he did confirm himself as an elite midfielder at Euro 2012.
Germany played very well throughout the tournament, and that was thanks to the play of the Real Madrid midfielder. Ozil's magnificent touches allow him to take on any defender and execute any pass. Joachim Lowe used these skills to spearhead one of Europe's most potent attacks.
Ozil penetrated opposing defenses beautifully and found space for the various German weapons. His leadership pushed Germany to another semifinal and his starting role on this Dream Team is the result of his ever-improving performances.
Having been named Player of the Tournament, Andres Iniesta may be the most obvious choice to make this team.
Iniesta has been an essential component of Spain's success over the past six years, and Euro 2012 was no different. He controlled the ball and the tempo of the game perfectly, made dangerous runs and opened up space for his teammates.
He is always dangerous as both a passer and a scorer and adds another dimension to Spain's offense.
There really isn't much to criticize in Iniesta's game. He did everything Vincente Del Bosque could have asked of him and the result is another trophy for Spain.
If any player is deserving of making the squad without making the quarterfinals, it is Luka Modric.
Placed in the group with both finalists, Modric was unable to qualify Croatia, but nothing more could be asked of him. Modric created great looks for his teammates and himself throughout the three games he played. He also demonstrated superior control of the ball and understanding of the game.
Croatian legend Slaven Bilic may have stepped down as coach, but with Modric at the helm, the Croats still have a bright future.
How does one live up to the expectations of being the best European player in the world? According to Cristiano Ronaldo, one reacts by leading his nation to a semifinal berth at Euro 2012.
Ronaldo started the tournament by giving a truly horrific performance in missing several unmissable chances. At that point, it was difficult to see how he could get out of his international slump and help Portugal get out of the group of death.
However, things returned to normal, at least to Cristiano Ronaldo normal, as Ronaldo scored twice against Holland to qualify his team. He then scored a late header against the Czech Republic to give Portugal the win once more.
Ronaldo was simply a nightmare on the left flank and should have been the best scorer of the tournament. He has scored more than a goal per match at Real Madrid, and he finally showed that same level of performance on the international scale.
Given that the Golden Boot went to Fernando Torres with only three goals, it is obvious that Euro 2012 lacked a transcendent forward.
There are several forwards who could have taken the starting role, but Mario Balotelli gets it because he came up huge when he needed to. Balotelli scored three goals and all three were in the biggest moments.
His first came on an inspired touch of the ball against Croatia when he believed that Italy needed to win by two goals. The last two came against Germany and propelled Italy to a shocking win in the semifinal.
He was criticized early for missing several huge opportunities in the opening games, but great men answer their critics with their play.
Balotelli is a highly controversial figure, but in this tournament he showed that there is no controversy surrounding his immense talent.
GK—Gianluigi Buffon (ITA)
Buffon's credentials speak for themselves. An argument could certainly be made to give him the spot in goal, but what can you do when Casillas can't stop winning?
Defenders—Pepe (POR), Gereard Pique (SPA), John Terry (ENG)
All world-class defenders, these three players gave their respective teams the defensive solidity that is required to make the later stages of the tournament. Had it not been for the remarkable play of the starters, all could easily be considered the best at their job.
Midfielders—Alan Dzagoev (RUS), Xavi (SPA), Bastian Schweinsteiger (GER), David Silva (SPA), Steven Gerrard (ENG)
Gerrard had three assists, Silva and Xavi were instrumental in Spain's title defense, Dzagoev arrived on the international stage with three goals and Schweinsteiger was his normal brilliant self.
Not one of these players has anything to regret, but they fell victim to the ridiculous amount of skilled midfielders that showed up at Euro 2012.
Forwards—Mario Mandzukic (CRO), Mario Gomez (GER), Nicklas Bendtner (DEN)
Although all three men were superb in finishing for their respective teams; they came up just short of a starting spot. Gomez was even doubted by his own coach, and Mandzukic and Bendtner were unable to play in the second round despite outstanding scoring.