As Euro 2008 draws to a close, we all have our own thoughts about who have been the stars, and who have been the flops. On the eve of the final, here are my teams of the tournament:
Manager: Fatih Terim (Turkey) Ordinary players + injury problems + suspensions should equal early exit, but thanks to Terim's tactical nous and ability to bring the best from his whole squad, Turkey very nearly went all the way. Aragones or Low will get their hands on the trophy, but Terim was the star of the show.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy) With no Cannavaro, the Italy defence did not give him much protection, but Buffon showed why he is the best in the world. He made the brilliant penalty save against Romania, and was a calming influence throughout. Italy had a poor tournament, but it could have been so much worse without Buffon.
Right Back: Aleksandr Anyukov (Russia) The Zenit star raided to great effect for the free-flowing Russians. He was quiet in a poor team display against Spain, but still the most complete right-back in the tournament.
Left Back: Yuri Zhirkov (Russia) Played as virtually a left-winger, this Ricardo Carvalho lookalike proved a class act. Skillful and quick, a constant menace to any right side of a defence.
Centre Back: Carlos Marchena (Spain) Tough tackler had a difficult season with Valencia and many were questioning his inclusion alongside Puyol, but he has grown as the tournament has gone on, and question marks over the Spanish defence have fallen away.
Centre Back: Josip Simunic (Croatia) Once famously yellow carded three times by Graham Poll, this experienced defender was the rock on which Croatia were built. Quietly and confidently went about his business.
Right Wing: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) Left out in the first game, and sent off in the second, Schweinsteiger didn't have the best start to Euro 2008. By the knock-out stages though he has been a key player, scoring once and setting up two more against Portugal, and finding the net again against Turkey. Can play either side.
Left Wing: David Silva (Spain) This little box of tricks is dangerous on either flank and possesses a great left-foot. At just 22 years old, the kid will be a superstar.
Holding Midfield: Marcos Senna (Spain) Born in Brazil, and obviously a fan of Dunga and Mauro Silva. He keeps it simple and possesses outstanding positioning, tackling, and passing. Without him the Spanish defence would not be nearly as secure.
Attacking Midfield: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands) They may have bottled it as usual, but you have to have a Dutch player in your team of the tournament. Sneijder was sensational in the first two matches, including two brilliant goals.
Striker: Roman Pavlyuchenko (Russia) Three goals for the burly striker, and he could have scored 10 from the chances he had. That is not a criticism though, as much of those chances were created by his outstanding movement. He is tall but still has incredible mobility and skill and a ferocious shot. Likely to be in high demand around Europe.
Striker: Lukas Podolski (Germany) Without him Germany may well have gone home early, as he was their only spark in the group stage. Has played wide for much of the tournament, but such is his hard-running and shooting ability, he has still impressed.
David Villa (Spain) Top scorer thanks to his opening game hat-trick and dramatic late goal versus Sweden. He has been pretty quiet since and will miss the final with injury.
Luka Modric (Croatia) Great dribbler and passer who Spurs' fans will be looking forward to seeing up close.
Phillip Lahm (Germany) he struggled in an awful Germany defence, but still found time to show his class with a wonderful semi-final winner.
Iker Casillas (Spain) If Buffon is the number one, then this guy is not far behind. Superb shot-stopper.
Mehmet Topal (Turkey) After playing holding midfield against Croatia he switched to centre back against Germany and excelled at both. At just 22, he is likely to be the next big Turkish export.
And the worst...
Manager: Raymond Domenech (France) Who else? Managed to make a brilliant squad look terrible with strange choices, tactics, and general confusion.
Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Czech Republic) Used to be one of the best in the world, but he hasn't looked the same since returning from a head injury in 2006 and followed up Chelsea howlers with a disastrous one for his country.
Defence: Marco Materazzi (Italy), Eric Abidal (France), Marcell Jansen (Germany), Per Mertesacker (Germany) Materazzi was so bad against Holland that he didn't get picked again despite playing and scoring in the last World Cup Final, Abidal was awful at left back and even worse at centre back, while Jansen and Mertesacker have taken bad German defending to whole new levels. Efficient and reliable this lot are not.
Midfield: Gennaro Gattuso (Italy), Florent Malouda (France), Rene Aufhauser (Austria), Andreas Ivanschitz (Austria) Gattuso was dire in game one, average in game two, and although he perked up a bit in game three he also got himself stupidly booked with his usual big gob, meaning that he missed the quarter-finals after Pirlo was already ruled out as well. Great leadership that is.
Malouda carried on where his Chelsea season had left off, with a complete lack of confidence and general passing of the buck to anyone in his vicinity. Oh, and of course he dived a bit.
Austria had waited 18 years for a major tournament appearance, and good old Rene Aufhauser takes two minutes to give away a ludicrous penalty in game one. Nice one Rene.
Ivanschitz is called the Austrian David Beckham, I can only assume this was Beckham circa Euro 2004, when he was unfit, overweight, and blazing penalties high and wide like there was no tomorrow. Ivanschitz took a few mediocre free-kicks, and was generally completely abysmal. So much for being the great hope of Austrian football.
Strikers: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Mario Gomez (Germany) OK, so Ronaldo scored one decent goal, but this kid is supposed to be the best player in the world, a player who can win games on his own, and who would take the tournament by storm. He didn't even look like the best player in Portugal as he was upstaged by Deco. Even Simao gave him a run for his money in the best Portuguese attacker stakes.
Blame it on uncertainty about his future if you like, but Ronaldo failed to perform at another major tournament, when his reputation has him as a cross between Pele and Maradona. Can Clive Tyldesley take his head out of his anus now?
Gomez, on the other hand, was a relatively unknown player who came in with a growing reputation, and promptly had it ripped to shreds. Six goals in nine caps before the tournament began, I think he could have played 60 games this month and he wouldn't have scored six times. There is a barn door son, here is a banjo, now go and get some practice.
A dishonourable mention to Marco Streller (Switzerland), possibly the worst striker to play in a European Championship match ever. Honestly, watching League 2 football I have seen some donkeys in my time, but this guy was appalling on every level.
Also an honourable mention to Luca Toni (Italy), a player who clearly knows where the net is, but just misplaces his map when major football tournaments come around. He scored two in the World Cup, from 253 chances, and failed to score here, from only 162 attempts. By that reckoning, his 39 goals for Bayern last term must have come from 8264 chances!