Euro 2012: Team of the Tournament
The following slides depict the players I thought shined the most in Euro 2012.
While many critics simply list half of the Spanish team, that fails to address a host of other players who deserve some recognition for their efforts.
This list represents a 4-2-3-1 formation, as I felt my player selections would best pan out in this structure.
Goalkeeper: Joe Hart
Though Euro 2012 didn't produce an exciting glut of goals from strikers, not many goalkeepers stood out either.
With the obvious exception of finalists Iker Casillas and Gianluigi Buffon, who stood out remarkably, Joe Hart gets the nod for me based on the fact that for large parts of the tournament, an entire nation had their confidence in their team’s keeper position restored.
Against Italy, who had a dominating 61 percent possession against England, Hart was up against a barrage of offense from the Italians. Italy had 20 shots on target but couldn't get past the Manchester City stopper.
Though his inexperience showed in the penalty shootout, as Andrea Pirlo brutally showed, Hart was undeniably the stand-out keeper at Euro 2012.
Right-Back: Gebre Selassie
The Czech Republic right-back had an outstanding tournament, even if his team overall did not. Bar the impressive performance of Petr Jiracek, Gebre Selassie was the most productive and exciting part of Michal Bilek’s team.
Martin Keown noticed this, too, and commented on Selassie’s tireless runs down the right flank, which lasted right up until the final whistle. He signed a four-year contract with Werder Bremen in January, but his strong performances won’t have gone unnoticed in European club football.
Centre-Back: Mats Hummels
The 23-year-old Germany defender was an imperious presence at the heart of their defence and proved crucial in one-on-one situations. It was thought that the Borussia Dortmund defender wouldn't make the first 11, as coach Joachim Loew preferred Per Mertesacker partnering Holger Badstuber.
However, the Arsenal defender lacked match fitness and sharpness, as he was exposed too many times in the warm-up friendlies, which gave Hummels his chance. A key component to Hummels' game is his long-passing to the wide men in order to kick-start an attack. This worked well in the group games, but failed to unlock a resolute Italy defence in the semifinal.
Centre-Back: John Terry
Much controversy surrounded Terry in the build-up to the tournament. Though mainly concerned with Rio Ferdinand’s omission rather than Terry’s inclusion, Roy Hodgson made it clear in his first few days as England boss that the Chelsea man would be his key defender.
A Hodgson team consists primarily of organization at the back and tactical discipline, and John Terry exuded these components with confidence. He kept a moody Zlatan Ibrahimovic at bay, a forlorn Karim Benzema quiet and ensured Mario Balotelli wouldn’t be making any special deliveries.
Left-Back: Federico Balzaretti
Honourable mentions go to Barcelona-bound Jordi Alba and Real Madrid’s Fabio Coentrao, but Italy left-back Balzaretti had a fine tournament.
Cesare Prandelli restored pride to Italian football, at least for the time being, as they were no longer uninspiring and one-dimensional. Balzaretti’s runs to assist Balotelli and Antonio Cassano caused problems for many defences, and his strong, decisive tackles in and around the box were crucial.
Centre Defensive Midfield: Andrea Pirlo
This was a truly remarkable tournament for the 33-year-old midfielder, who was unflappable in possession, composed in his spot-kick and the heartbeat of his entire team. Pirlo bears the significance of scoring the only free kick in the tournament, and Sunday’s final was the first time he was part of a team that lost since December 2010.
His prowess as a deep-lying midfielder was already widely known across the world, but the Italian has somehow managed to exemplify his talents much further. His move from AC Milan to Juventus has no doubt invigorated Pirlo to where he is today. It remains to be seen if there is another tournament in him yet.
Centre Defensive Midfield: Sami Khedira
It was unknown before the tournament just how Loew would set up his team. Whilst inclusions like Mario Gomez and Lukas Podolski were a certainty, Germany’s deep-lying midfield roles were slightly more problematic.
The question was, with Toni Kroos’ rise to prominence, who would partner with Bastian Schweinsteiger: Khedira or Kroos? Khedira got the nod, and his importance shined.
His stern tackling, quick passing and timing of his runs in the box were essential to Germany. Defenders found it difficult to mark him, as his astute tactical awareness meant he knew exactly when to burst into the box for a chance or when to sit back.
Right Attacking Midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ultimately, he couldn’t help his team progress to the final but, nonetheless, Ronaldo still performed exceptionally at Euro 2012. His two goals in the game against Holland was a tournament highlight for him as Portugal progressed from the group of death.
Whilst his free kicks failed to live up to his illustrious reputation, his exciting attacking displays were a joy to watch. He may never be considered a truly great player until he has succeeded at the international level, but he has time on his side for now to amend that.
Centre Attacking Midfield: Cesc Fabregas
When thinking of a playmaker for the team of the tournament, I had to cave in and pick a Spanish player. I picked Fabregas, because for the majority of Spain’s matches, Vicente del Bosque picked six midfielders in front of their back four, with Fabregas being the most forward.
He scored 15 goals and created 20 more in 49 appearances in his first season at Barcelona, and he produced many scintillating performances at Euro 2012. His goal against Ireland seemed to defy the laws of geometry, as it was hit from such an acute angle to the goal, and his assist for David Silva’s goal in the final was telepathic passing at its finest.
Left Attacking Midfield: Andrei Arshavin
The only player on this list whose team didn’t make it past the group stages, Arshavin can hold his head up high on a bitterly disappointing tournament for Russia. They were labeled the "dark horses" of Euro 2012 by the bookies with so much attacking threat, that with their destruction of Czech Republic, it was easy to see why.
Central to Russia’s hopes was a rejuvenated Arshavin, having spent the tail end of 2011-'12 at home-town club Zenit St. Petersburg on loan. He found energy most thought was gone forever; he crafted superb goals through equally superb passes, and his movement showed a player keen to impress, just as he did in Euro 2008.
Had Russia made it past the group stage, who knows what else we would have seen from him?
Striker: Mario Balotelli
There isn't a player like him.
Ultimately, Balotelli's Euro 2012 dream turned into a nightmare as Italy were brushed aside 4-0 in the final, but his goals got them there in the first place. Prandelli remained faithful to the Manchester City menace and was duly rewarded.
Not only were Balotelli's goals taken excellently, his press interviews remained a highlight, too. He exclaimed that the referee booked him based on jealousy over his physique when he took his shirt off after scoring his second against Germany.
But by far his best quote yet is his reasoning behind why he doesn't celebrate a goal:
When I score, I don't celebrate because I'm doing my job... When the postman delivers your letter, does he celebrate?