Euro 2012: Best XI of the Tournament
With Spain's 4-0 victory over Italy, the 2012 European Championships have come to a close.
Unquestionably, the tournament provided the world with an absolutely smashing show—exquisitely accentuating a combination of preexisting global stars and rising starlets.
The quality of play was truly captivating at times, and the drama of extra time and superlative moments made this tournament cinematic at times.
Let's take a look at the best XI that the tournament had to offer...
What more can be said about the Spanish netminder—other than that he hasn't conceded a goal in a startling 509 minutes.
The concentration part of the game is perhaps not truly appreciated when it comes to Iker Casillas. With Spain dominating possession in every contest, Casillas needs to be constantly focused and engaged in the match.
He seemingly "relaxes" in the goal due to his relative lack of activity.
However, his penchant for providing timely stops was on full display in this tournament—most notably when his fantastic save against Croatia's Ivan Rakitic allowed for Spain to advance to the knockout stages.
There's no question that right now, Casillas is the top keeper in the world.
Often big tournaments allow for younger players to make their mark on the world stage.
For Jordi Alba, the 2012 European Championships was his coming out party.
The diminutive left-back delighted with his pace and energy. He looked to attack up the flank and was often a thorn in the side of the opposition.
Alba's pace was fully on display in the final against Italy, when he outran the Azzurri defense and calmly slotted home a goal against keeper Gianluigi Buffon.
Alba was recently bought by Barcelona for a meager €14 million. For the amount of money that some clubs are willing to shell out for mediocre talent (Andy Carroll's contract comes to mind), this was an absolute steal.
At only 23-years-old, Alba should feature for Spain as a prominent cog well into the future.
Pepe was outstanding in the tournament for Portugal.
Not only was he incredibly threatening on set pieces, but he was virtually never beaten in any aerial challenge for the ball.
As a technically sound player, he often linked up with the midfield via his deliveries, and looked to execute through balls that would spring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Nani.
The Brazilian-born centre-back also provided bone-crunching tackles from his position, and seemingly had impeccable timing on challenges.
He, along with Bruno Alves, makes up one of the more potent central defensive pairings in all of Europe.
At only 23-years-old, Mats Hummels has established himself as one of the top centre-backs in the world.
He presents a willingness to foray into the final third, and that exuberance helped to provided Germany with an attacking element from his defensive position.
In the tournament, he was extremely clean with the ball. His passing ability for a centre-back is quite good, and his overall technical ability really shone brightly throughout the past month.
Hummels' overall vision is shockingly superb for a defender—as he often demonstrated via probing long balls for his striking options up the pitch.
Defensively, he used his strength well and was able to position himself effectively. Although he did have some trouble marking Mario Balotelli, his comprehensive performance merits a spot on this list.
Versatile, skilled, poised and intelligent.
Those are four adjectives aptly describing the performance of Sergio Ramos during the tournament.
With the injury to Carles Puyol, Ramos was shifted over from his outside-back spot to a centre-back position.
Despite the switch, Ramos led an almost flawless Spanish defense. The team did not concede a goal for over 509 minutes, and only allowed one in 570 minutes of play. In addition, the squad had five clean sheets throughout the competition.
Ramos was undoubtedly instrumental in the excellence of the back-line. In fact, Ramos was statistically crowned as the Castrol EDGE index winner.
Sharing the midfield duties amidst the likes of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas and David Silva, Xabi Alonso might not garner the same amount of press clippings.
But against France in the quarterfinals, he was front and center.
The former Liverpool man delivered both goals in the 2-0 victory over Les Bleus. Throughout the competition, the quality of his passes was tremendous. Alonso picked out his intended target with regularity and more importantly, marvelous accuracy.
He also provided some bite to the midfield, and paired with Sergio Busquets to break up on-coming attacks from the opposition.
After a banner campaign with Real Madrid this past season, Sami Khedira continued with that same great play in the 2012 Euros.
As a holding midfielder, Khedira's responsibilities extended beyond just being a "bulldog" in the centre of the park. He constantly loved to get forward and pepper the goal with long-range shots and threatening runs into the box.
In addition, he proved in the tournament that he's a true box-to-box midfielder. His grit and determination helped to counter-balance the elegant and silky play of midfield compatriots Mesut Ozil and Lukas Podolski.
His volley goal against Greece in the quarterfinals was arguably the best goal scored in the entire competition.
Andres Iniesta is an absolute joy to watch perform.
His overall intelligence and understanding of the game might be second to none. The darting runs into the box have become a staple of Spanish football, and often Iniesta is the architect of the build-up to these chances.
He was masterful in exploiting small pockets and picking out teammates with sublime deliveries.
His brilliance on the pitch cannot be celebrated enough, and at this point, one would be hard-pressed to find a better magician on the pitch in the world.
Iniesta truly is the key that starts the Spanish ignition.
The 33-year-old Andrea Pirlo turned back the clock and put on a virtuoso performance.
He effectively manipulated the movements of the ball, and was the virtual hub of distribution from his deep-lying role in the midfield.
Never once was the Juve man troubled with any semblance of pressure thrown his way—whether it be literal or figurative.
Not only was he able to evade oncoming defenders via his cheeky, clever touches, but he also displayed perhaps the moment of the tournament—when he coolly chipped in a penalty kick right down the middle against England goalkeeper Joe Hart in the quarterfinals.
His performance throughout the competition should not be deemed anything less than special.
In terms of physical gifts, there might not be another player on the planet like Cristiano Ronaldo.
His combination of size and strength was on full display during the tournament, and it presented a mass amount of problems for any team having the "privilege" of playing against Portugal.
When making a run down the flank with the ball, it was not of the ordinary to see at minimum, three defenders converging on the winger.
He was constantly threatening from all over the final third, and used his myriad of step overs, fakes and jukes to perfection.
He scored three goals during the competition—with at least four shots hitting the woodwork. His constant barrage of chances at goal forced the opposition into the nerviest of situations.
Without a doubt, Ronaldo was the most dangerous player in Poland and Ukraine.
"Super Mario" definitely lived up to his nickname, and portrayed the calmness of Mr. Hyde rather than the hysteria of Dr. Jekyll.
Mario Balotelli is an enigmatic individual who is seemingly always in the spotlight—whether it be in a positive or negative manner. His personality does cater to the criticism that he's faced in the past, but he displayed a maturity in this tournament.
However, his lack of demonstrative behavior in a pressure-filled environment does speak volumes. There were no rash challenges, nor were there any major instances of vocal displeasure targeted at either the referees or opposing players.
And this was done in the midst of racial abuse from opposing team's fan bases during matches.
In essence, this act of "growing up" could be a spring board for Balotelli taking the next step in becoming a world class striker.
Talent has never been an issue, but his theatrics on and off the pitch have been detrimental to his game.
If this tournament is any indication, then the Italian talisman has turned the corner with the promise of becoming a consistent world class performer.
Here's a list of honorable mentions for the tournament...
Daniele De Rossi
Theodor Gebre Selassie
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