Euro 2012: The 5 Standout Performers in Poland and Ukraine
After three weeks of exhilarating action in Poland and Ukraine, the curtain has fallen upon yet another European Championship.
While the two host nations may have failed to deliver on the pitch, they did not disappoint off it, as they succeeded in conducting a memorable tournament.
Spain may have worked their way to a third consecutive international title, but they were hardly the only ones who dazzled and thrilled. Other nations too played their part to ensure that Euro 2012 was a spectacle.
And of course, it is the individuals that make a team work. A number of players lit up the tournament, and did their best to ensure the competition was worth watching.
It got me thinking. If I had to present to you five players that defined Euro 2012, what would their identities be? With more than 300 players involved, I really had my work cut out.
Having thought this long and hard, here are the five standout performers of Euro 2012. In my opinion, of course.
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The 25-year-old shone on the big stage yet again. Not only was Khedira Germany's most reliable performer through the tournament, he also went on to outshine his more illustrious midfield partner, Bastian Schweinsteiger.
He adds that industry and bite to the centre of the park, and it is his hard work that allows Germany to dominate the opposition.
Renowned for the defensive aspect of his game, Khedira certainly didn't display a lack of attacking ambition through the tournament. Bombing forward to good effect, the Real Madrid man picked out his teammates in good positions time and again.
The highlight of his tournament was without doubt that spectacular volley against Greece that put his side-back in the ascendancy. What an accomplished finish that was.
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The second Real player to grace the list, Pepe was a rock at the back for Portugal. Following a fantastic season at club level, he has proven his pedigree on the international scene as well.
His physical presence, ground speed and aerial prowess make Pepe the ideal defender.
Strong in all aspects of defending, his only notable weakness is his temperament, but that too was kept in check for the entire duration of Portugal's involvement in the competition.
The standout performer for his nation, Pepe chipped in with a goal against Denmark, and crucially kept the mighty Spanish army at bay for the full 120 minutes in the first semifinal.
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The Spanish pass-master was at his scintillating best right from the beginning of the tournament.
From assisting Fabregas for Spain's first goal of the tournament to himself scoring the opener in the final, Silva had many moments that emphasized his class.
The stats read well for the diminutive playmaker. With two goals and four assists, no one is in a position to say that Silva isn't worth his place on the list. Euro 2012 has been perhaps his finest hour as a football player.
He'd have to be my pick for player of the tournament.
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Pirlo's legendary status was never in question. However, Adriano Galliani and AC Milan had the mind to offload him to Juventus just a year back, assuming he was past it. Pirlo was to go on to have a splendid year in Turin, playing a leading role as the Old Lady bagged the Serie A title.
At the Euros, Mario Balotelli had a couple of match-winning performances for Italy. But it was the consistent Pirlo who really made the Azzuri tick. His passing is a delight to behold even now, and his defensive contribution has always been understated.
Who would have thought this Italy side would make it even to the semis? Pirlo's calm in the middle of the pitch helped steer them to the title decider.
The 33-year-old may not have had the final he envisaged, but the man did provide us with two magical moments. The first, his free kick goal against Croatia, was trademark stuff.
The second, the Panenka penalty in the shootout versus England, is something sure to live long in the memory of football fans.
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This was one man who just had to make the list now, didn't he? Iniesta was in fact named the UEFA player of the tournament just two days back.
The Spaniard lit up the tournament with his performances. He may not have racked up the stats like David Silva did, but he had a crucial part to play in many goals scored by La Roja.
He set up the winner in the Croatia game, ensuring that Spain end the group up top. But his most decisive contribution has to be the pass that split open the Italian defense in the final, allowing clubmate Cesc Fabregas to cross for Silva to head home the first of four goals.
His incisive running and deft touch were on show throughout the competition.
Iniesta's overall contribution to the success of Spain was perhaps the reason he bagged the individual gong.
The Star Men Who Missed the Cut
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When one is looking to identify just five standout performers in a European Championship spread over a good three weeks, the final verdict comes down largely to personal opinion. You know you cannot possibly please everyone with your selection.
Cesc Fabregas sparkled as the false No. 9 whenever he featured, Iker Casillas let in just one goal in six games, whereas Mario Balotelli blew first Ireland, then Germany away. There are still more; Xavi, Mario Gomez, Cristiano Ronaldo, Joao Moutinho, John Terry, Jordi Alba, Daniel De Rossi, Xabi Alonso, Fabio Coentrao and Mesut Ozil all had their moments, and it can be argued separately for each one that he merited a place on list.
Others may yet throw in a few more names: Gianluigi Buffon, Steven Gerrard, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Gerard Pique, Michael Krohn-Dehli, Alan Dzagoev and Vasilis Torosidis.
For obvious reasons, I couldn’t have all the aforementioned names on the list. But I’d love to know who YOU thought were the five standout performers of Euro 2012.