Ranking the Best Defenders at Euro 2012

Sam Tighe@@stighefootballWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJuly 3, 2012

Ranking the Best Defenders at Euro 2012

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    Euro 2012 saw some masterful defensive displays—both collectively and individually—and this article will reflect on those.

    Each of the 16 teams in the competition had star defensive performers, but only 12 made it into these rankings.

    Which defenders caught your eye this summer?

    Enjoy the slideshow!

Honourable Mentions

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    Simon Kjaer

    Some colossal performances in the Danish defence from Kjaer, who may have rescued his career following a woeful season at AS Roma.

    Olof Mellberg

    The evergreen Viking managed a clean sheet against France and scored two headers against a stern English defence.

    Joleon Lescott

    A goal against France and two clean sheets against Ukraine and Italy. Not bad.

    Ivan Strinic

    Croatia were unfortunate not to qualify and turned in some great performances. Strinic was key to defensive shape and attacking movement.

    Joao Pereira

    Unlucky to miss out on the full rankings after a solid tournament and beautiful through ball for Cristiano Ronaldo's first goal against Netherlands.

    Kyriakos Papadopoulos

    Thrust onto the big stage in acrimonious circumstances, "The Terminator" from Schalke 04 impressed the entirety of Europe.

12. Philipp Lahm

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    By Philipp Lahm's standards, his tournament wasn't a strong one.

    He was still good enough to sneak into this list, but it's far from what we've come to expect from the German stalwart.

    Joachim Low gave Lahm license to run in Germany's fluid 4-2-3-1 system and he bagged a cracking goal against Greece, but he didn't turn too many heads.

    His poor marking of Mario Balotelli in the semifinal led to Italy's second and crucial goal.

11. Oleh Gusev

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    Ukraine manager Oleg Blokhin came up with an ambitious, adventurous formation considering his team was considered weak going into the tournament.

    The use of inverted wingers allowed the full-backs to reign supreme out wide and get some real chalk on their boots.

    Oleh Gusev was the most attacking right-back in the tournament, frequently finding himself one of the furthest men forward in yellow and blue.

    Against France, his lack of tracking allowed Franck Ribery the space he needed to bag France the win, but it could so easily have gone the other way on that flank.

    Against England, he continually caused Ashley Cole problems as he and Andriy Yarmolenko tormented Roy Hodgson's back line.

10. Gordon Schildenfeld

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    Now here's a name I knew little of coming into the tournament.

    Gordon Schildenfeld was extremely impressive at the heart of Croatia's defence, contributing heavily to the defensive side of Slaven Bilic's solid-looking team.

    His team were given a tough draw and his defensive line came up against some of the best players in the world, so to walk out having nearly qualified and only conceding three goals is pretty impressive

    Eintracht Frankfurt will have a tough time keeping the poachers away this summer.

9. Andrea Barzagli

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    Andrea Barzagli—the man commonly referred to as Serie A's best defender by B/R's Allan Jiang—is so influential that his injury during May forced the Italians to switch systems.

    Without him, Cesare Prandelli switched to three at the back for the opening game against Spain and continued that way until he regained his fitness.

    His positional sense is astounding, and he would have been ranked higher in this list if he hadn't let himself down a bit in the final.

    He was at fault for three of Spain's goals.

8. Giorgio Chiellini

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    Giorgio Chiellini's final ended in heartbreak as he lasted just 20 minutes before being subbed off, then watching his side get thrashed 4-0 from the bench.

    It has to be said, however, that Chiellini was impressive throughout the tournament not just because of his size, strength and colossal presence, but also because of his extreme versatility.

    He showed apt ability in a three-man central defence, a two-man defensive partnership and as a marauding full-back.

    The positions he was taking up during the final were not common in a converted centre-back. He's done well to adapt as Juventus have asked him to and he deserves credit for that.

7. Theodor Gebre Selassie

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    Czech Republic were unspectacular in this tournament, qualifying from their group due to its dearth in talent rather than their own excellent performances

    One shining light, however, was the revelation of right-back Theodor Gebre Selassie. The part-Ethiopian full-back was lightning quick, a willing runner and a committed individual

    He endured a testing time during the tournament having been racially abused and asked to man-mark Cristiano Ronaldo for 45 minutes, but acquitted himself excellently.

    Werder Bremen have picked up a steal.

6 Sergio Ramos

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    Since converting to a full-time central defender, Sergio Ramos has made great strides in his career on both international and domestic levels.

    There were doubts coming into this tournament about whether his partnership with Gerard Pique would be successful due to the Real Madrid-Barcelona rivalry component, and some suggested switching Ramos to right-back and playing Javi Martinez centrally to fix the "problem."

    Turns out there was nothing to worry about, as Spain kept five clean sheets in six games on their way to winning the trophy.

    Ramos outshone Pique by a mile in this tournament.

5. Fabio Coentrao

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    In the 2010 World Cup, Fabio Coentrao outshone Cristiano Ronaldo. After the first game of Euro 2012, it looked like that might be the case again.

    While Ronaldo eventually found blistering form, Coentrao has been a constant threat on the overlap down the left flank and leads full-backs with the most successful take-ons.

    He's shown his versatility at club level by filling in at defensive midfield, but he truly is one of the world's premier left-backs in the game today.

    His stamina levels are through the roof and he's shown both defensive and offensive nous during Portugal's five games in Poland and Ukraine.

4. Daniel Agger

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    Morten Olsen's Denmark were a surprise package this tournament. Despite failing to qualify from the group, they upset the Dutch, ran the Portuguese to the wire and made it tough for the Germans, too.

    Although they conceded five goals in three games, a major catalyst in them upsetting the applecart was the performances of Daniel Agger.

    He was colossal at the back for Denmarkparticularly in the first game in keeping a clean sheet against Netherlandsand formed a good partnership with Simon Kjaer.

    It's even been suggested by somemostly Liverpool fansthat Agger was the most impressive central defender in the tournament. I'm not far off agreeing with them here.

3. Pepe

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    It's unbelievable to think Pepe acquired just a single yellow card this tournament. No, that statistic is not offset for three red cards.

    He performed admirably at centre-back alongside Bruno Alves, managed a goal against Denmark and was desperately unlucky to rattle the bar against Germany.

    It's become common to view Pepe in a poor light, whether it's for stamping, shouting, screaming or fighting with players and officials, but this tournament went a long way toward him repairing his global reputation.

2. Jordi Alba

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    Barcelona new boy Jordi Alba has been a genuine threat in Spain's formation this summer.

    He solves the glaring hole revealed in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, where Joan Capdevila failed to impress, and effectively provides much-needed width to Spain's possession-hungry setup.

    He's been tidy on the ball and a far more trustworthy outlet than Alvaro Arbeloa has been on the right side of defence.

    Spain's packed midfield threatens to become unorganised and narrow at times, but Alba pushing on down the left allows the players in the middle of the park to retain their shape in relation to him.

    Such is his dangerous reputation that Laurent Blanc fielded two right-backs to double-cover him in France's quarterfinal with Vicente del Bosque's side.

    His goal in the final was sublime.

1. Mats Hummels

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    As if bagging all the trophies in the Bundesliga with Borussia Dortmund wasn't enough, Mats Hummels proceeded to outshine his Bayern counterparts at Euro 2012, too.

    Holger Badstuber had a shocking tournament, but Hummels doesn't just look better by comparison. He was positively dominant throughout Germany's tournament and boasts all the skills necessary to become a top-tier central defender.

    He won't stay at Dortmund forever, but he will command a massive fee thanks to his exploits seen by the world.

    He's got everything a centre-back needs and more, displaying fantastic reading of the game and the ability to adjust his body that belies his somatotype.