Euro 2012 Redress: Who Is Your Best Eleven?

Alba, MVP worthy?

Zack Goldman’s Team of the Tournament

(piece written before Euro final)

GK: Gianluigi Buffon (ITA)

In anyone’s list, this will be a toss-up between Buffon and Iker Casillas of Spain—and rightfully so, as both have convincing cases for a Best XI bid.  These two keepers have been fantastic and absolutely central to their teams’ success as they march onto Kiev for the final.  While Casillas has not surrendered a goal in the last 419 minutes of play (dating back to Antonio Di Natale’s goal in the 61st minute of Spain and Italy’s first meeting), he has played with a rock solid backline that has remained intact throughout the tournament.  Yes, he made a brilliant point-blank save on Ivan Rakitić that likely rescued Spain from the jaws of elimination at the hands of Croatia, and his save against João Moutinho propelled the Spanish to the final.  It is undeniable that Casillas has come up big when called upon—but those moments have been few and far between for the most part.  Buffon, on the other hand, has, in many ways, had much more to do throughout Italy’s five matches in this tournament—and he’s done it with a defensive corps that has been constantly shuffled and played out of position.  They have filled in admirably, but they owe much of their success to Buffon’s confident play, organization, and leadership from the back.  That doesn’t mean, however, that he’s escaped owing Pirlo a beer for saving the ball off the line against Germany.  I’m picking Buffon, but I wouldn’t begrudge you to vote the other way around (wouldn’t it be nice if all elections were like that?)

Honorable mention: Iker Casillas (ESP)

LB: Jordi Alba (ESP)

As good as Spain’s center-back pairing of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos has been, Jordi Alba has been the most impressive member of the Spanish rearguard throughout the tournament.  FC Barcelona has taken notice, snapping up the young wing-back from cash-strapped Valencia for 14 million euros before the tournament has even concluded.  The 23-year-old Catalonian returns to the club where he played his youth football and should be a brilliant addition to the Blaugrana backline.  Tenacious in defense, skillful with the ball at his feet, and fleet-footed when getting into the attack, his bounding runs have given his opposite numbers fits in this tournament.   Between this attacking threat and his ability to limit the number of dangerous crosses Spain has conceded in the tournament, Alba looks to have cemented his spot in the Spanish side for the foreseeable future.

Honorable mention: Philipp Lahm (GER)

Only a scant few pitch citations…

CB: Pepe (POR)

I won’t beat around the bush here: Between his disgraceful aggression in nearly every Clasico, to his assault on Getafe captain Fernando Casquero, Pepe is undeniably one of the most unpopular footballing figures on the planet.  He has, in my opinion, earned every inch of that reputation.  In this tournament, however, Pepe has been nothing short of magnificent.  An absolute rock at the back and a terror on set-pieces (grabbing a goal against Denmark and having several other opportunities to score, including a shot against the woodwork against Germany), Pepe has captured his best form at both ends of the pitch this summer.  Even more remarkable, though, has been how different his defensive style has been in this tournament.  Never a stranger to controversy and hostility, Pepe’s usual game is predicated upon physicality, getting under the opponent’s skin, and outmuscling the nearest attacking threat.   While he has still defended with a great deal of power, his posture has been much more graceful this tournament.  He has been fluid in possession and precise in disposession.  He has been brilliant in the air and cautious in going to ground.  Portugal may have surrendered four goals in Group B, but they allowed zero goals in the knockout stage of the competition, where Pepe was at his best.  Many will be quick to point out that he has the second highest Castrol Rating in the tournament, but I don’t much care about that.  The statistic I’m most concerned with?  He committed 2 fouls in 480 minutes of play.  If there was ever a statistic that says everything to me about a player reforming his game, that’s it.

Honorable mention: Mats Hummels (GER)

CB: Gerard Pique (ESP)

Pique has been marvelous, along with the rest of the Spanish defense, all tournament long.  He had a bit of difficulty against Antonio Di Natale in the second half of Spain’s opening match, but that may have been for the best as he has since learned to compensate for his lack of pace with superior positioning.  Pique has always been a defender who knows his strengths and plays to them remarkably well—and that has showed in the way he has stifled strikers like Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo in the knockout stage.  Over the past week, he has emphasized in interviews his focus on remaining ‘goal-side’ of opposing strikers and not allowing them to turn, particularly when they possess deadly pace that he cannot match.  This is apt self-analysis and speaks volumes about how well Pique knows his own game and his own limitations as a center-back.  He has had four excellent matches in a row heading into the final—and made his penalty against Portugal to help get Spain to Kiev.  The next big assignment waiting in the wings is Mario Balotelli, who provides a whole new set of challenges.    You can bet that the analytical Pique will be well-prepared for what Super Mario brings to the table, though whether he can stop him is another story.

Honorable mention: Giorgio Chiellini (ITA)


RB: Álvaro Arbeloa (ESP)

He has been criticized a bit by the Spanish press throughout the tournament, but I cannot imagine why.  Incidentally, neither can his teammates.  Arbeloa has been an absolute stud for Spain at the position they have consistently faced tremendous threats.  He was extremely defensively responsible against Portugal, who threw Cristiano Ronaldo and Fabio Coentrão forward on his side—and he got stuck in better than any player on the park.  He does commit a lot of fouls, occasionally in dangerous territory, but it has been that grit and that steel that Spain has needed to survive.  Like Alba, he has gotten into some dangerous positions, having some decent efforts against both Ireland and Portugal.  For the most part, however, his role for Spain has been to stem the flow of attacks and keep wingers from cutting in or serving dangerous crosses into the box.  I think he has been tremendous in that regard throughout this tournament.

Honorable mention: Theodor Gebre-Selassie (CZE)

Pirloette, new verb?

MF: Andrea Pirlo (ITA)

There’s not much of a better endorsement for him being in this team than the fact that every casual soccer fan in America now knows the name ‘Andrea Pirlo’.  This makes sense, though.  Pirlo has had an absolutely tremendous career, but it is undeniable that he has flown under-the-radar in terms of coverage outside of Italy.  He was fantastic for Juventus this year, helping the bianconeri to a 30th scudetto (er… I mean, 28th) while going undefeated in the process.  He had 13 assists, which shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone who has watched him in Poland and Ukraine.  His vision and service over the past month have been absolutely impeccable.  He gave the Germans fits en route to the final and his impact in manager Cesare Prandelli’s system cannot be overstated.  Everything runs through him going forward and he is very rightfully a Golden Ball candidate, who may very well win it regardless of Italy’s performance in the final.

Honorable mention: Steven Gerrard (ENG)

MF: Mesut Özil (GER)

It was not supposed to end like this for Özil, who many (including myself) viewed as a potential Golden Ball candidate coming into the tournament.  On the back of a brilliant season for Real Madrid, Özil seemed destined for a breakout tournament and potentially a European Championship for Germany.  It was not to be for Detuschland, but that doesn’t mean Özil had anything other than a fabulous month in Poland and Ukraine.  Alongside Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira, he helped run the German midfield to perfection until Die Mannschaft crashed out in the semifinals against Italy.  I, along with most of the German population, blame that on manager Joachim Löw’s tactical changes, but that is a story for another time.  The bottom line is that Özil was the link between defense and attack consistently throughout this tournament, racked up three assists (and a late consolation goal), and earned two Man of the Match honors against Portugal and Greece.  He was stupendous—and he is only 23 years young.  This tournament may not have marked his ascendancy to the throne in Europe, but it definitely did something of the sort in Germany.  While Philipp Lahm will almost certainly be around in Brazil, Mesut will be the leader of this team in 2014.  Bank on it.

Honorable mention: Bastian Schweinsteiger (GER)

MF: João Moutinho (POR)

The headlines in Portugal were grabbed by Cristiano Ronaldo throughout this tournament—and rightfully so.  But, hanging in the background, silently pulling all the strings is Art Garfunkel… I mean, João Moutinho.  With everyone’s eyes trained on Ronaldo and Nani, it was Moutinho who, in many ways, made Portugal the attacking dynamo they became in this tournament.  His passing was something to behold—not just his balls in behind the backline, which resulted in several goals throughout the tournament including both against Holland—but also the way in which he was able to keep possession in tight spots in the middle of the field.  He built a sense of fluency and fluidity into the Portuguese attack that has been sorely missed in the past.  Though he missed a crucial penalty against Spain that sent Portugal packing, the national team owes its success in this tournament to him in many ways.  That counter-attacking threat and use of the wings that Portugal has so desired to have in the past finally came into its own in this tournament—and that’s because of Moutinho’s crisp and imaginative passing.  In my mind, his performances in every match were positive.  Don’t expect him to be at Porto for much longer.

Honorable mention: David Silva (ESP)

MF: Xabi Alonso (ESP)

This spot was the toughest to pick, not just because there are so many deserving candidates—but because they all play in the same midfield.  If you are looking for Spain’s most talented midfielder in this tournament, it might not be Xabi Alonso.  In fact, it probably isn’t (and it might even be that guy named Cesc who was relegated to the bench).  Andrés Iniesta has been brilliant as always, as has Xavi. David Silva has recaptured his sparkling form that made the mouths of English pundits drop with astonishment and water in a way that I don’t much like describing.  But, for my money, it has been Xabi Alonso, owner of 101 Spanish caps (but how I wish they were Dalmations), that has been the most integral midfielder when it comes to Spanish success on both sides of the ball.  He had a brilliant two-goal performance against France, but his contributions go much deeper than that.  Winning the ball quickly and efficiently in defense, strong in link-up play, and dangerous going forward, Xabi Alonso has been central to Spanish success in each third of the park.  He has the second most completed passes in the tournament behind Xavi, but has also undoubtedly been the hardman in the middle for Spain.  I see no better two-way midfielder in this tournament than Xabi Alonso—and that is why he is on my Best XI.

Honorable mentions: Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, and Cesc Fabregas (ESP)

FWD: Cristiano Ronaldo (POR)

We can forget about the opening match against Germany, which was a disaster.  He was wasteful against Denmark, but undoubtedly dangerous.  After those two matches, Cristiano Ronaldo has been the most lethal attacking threat in Euro 2012, Mario Balotelli included.  With two especially magnificent performances against the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, we saw the Cristiano we knew was capable of showing up.  He scored 3 goals in those two matches, but it was inches away from being 6 or 7—that’s how good he was.  He was the biggest threat Spain have seen in this tournament, and even though he was unable to tally for his team in the semifinals, he put in a good shift.  It will go down as a missed opportunity to make a bigger impact and do something truly historic for his country, but it was a decent tournament for a man who had a wonderful year—and should win the Ballon d’Or.  If only he had gotten to take a penalty…

Honorable mention: Dimitris Salpingidis (GRE)

We’re talking ’bout ‘practice?’

FWD: Mario Balotelli

Hate him or love him, Balotelli is doing something amazing at 21 that we have not seen in quite some time.  His goals against Germany in the semifinal are two of the best you will see anywhere, and aptly encompass the definition of ‘thumping’.  He possesses unmatched physical power, incredible technique around the area, and a penchant for making the impressive look extraordinarily easy.  His performance in this tournament has been nothing short of remarkable.  At his best, he’s looked as dominant as Messi and Ronaldo (as he’s claimed to be), and even at his most ineffectual he’s been a handful.  Balotelli may have silly haircuts and shoot fireworks off in his bathroom, but this tournament has done more for his reputation than for any other player.  He is now poised to join the class of elite strikers in Europe for good, rather than just being a kid with exceptional potential.  I’m hoping that will do his attitude a world of good, but who knows with this guy.  Mario may never mature enough to take full advantage of his talents, but he is a man on a mission right now—and is wholly deserving of the recent praise being thrown his way.  He is easily a member of the ‘Team of the Tournament’—and if he scores the winner against Spain, that won’t be the only honor coming his way.

Honorable mention: Mario Gómez (GER)

36 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Conor Bailey on 2012/07/02 at 8:50 AM

    Seriously, no Daniel Agger? I understand Denmark didn’t advance beyond the group stage, but his performances were superb.


  2. Posted by bmullis on 2012/07/02 at 8:53 AM

    Agree Buffon had a solid tournament (at least up until the semis when he looked a bit shaky against GER) but it seems like Casillas is he most unsung/underrated player on Spain. Not saying he’s the best player, just that he gets seems to get less praise and does a rock-solid job at the back.

    As for Schweinsteiger as honorable mention in midfield? No way. He was almost a liability in at least two games and his injury/fitness issues from this year really showed late in the tournament. I thought Khedira was much better overall for Germany (but both behind Oezil).


  3. Posted by matthewsf on 2012/07/02 at 9:48 AM

    Agger is a good shootout but I think there is more weight on the picks above.

    If any player was surprising to me this tournament, maybe not best eleven it was Montolivo of Italy. It’s hard to weigh his contribution because Cassano and Balotelli typically pulled people out of the middle for him, but he was a small known to me before the tourney, now I’ll watch him more.


  4. Posted by JW on 2012/07/02 at 10:11 AM

    I like this list, though I probably would have had Coentrao as the HM, if not above Alba for the start. He was class this tournament at LB, though he didn’t have the moment Alba did. Lahm had a good tournament on a personal level – but when the Captain is in the defense, and the defense looks in shambles, that’s a demerit in my book.


    • Posted by JW on 2012/07/02 at 10:16 AM

      I should say, looks in shambles after that Italy game, and they only managed one clean sheet this tournament.


    • Posted by Mike on 2012/07/02 at 10:52 AM

      Yes! Coentrao is a glaring omission. With that performance he should give Mourinho pause about keeping him on the bench.


      • Posted by Zack G. on 2012/07/02 at 1:09 PM

        Should have definitely put him on — thanks. Tons of great LB performances in this tournament. All along that flank for that matter.


  5. Posted by Zack G. on 2012/07/02 at 10:11 AM

    Agger was great, but it’s hard to give it to someone from three games’ work. Strange tournament in that so many standout performers only had the group stage to showcase their quality. A knockout stage from Dzagoev, Mandzukic, Krohn-Dehli, etc. would have ben fun.

    Below are my picks after the final:

    Casillas; Arbeloa, Pepe, Ramos, Alba; Xabi Alonso, Pirlo, Özil, Moutinho; Ronaldo, Balotelli

    Casillas/Buffon is a push and just boils down to the fact that Buffon was called upon a lot more, but obviously let more through. Does that vulnerability that he had no control over detract from his quality? Absolutely not… but hard to imagine someone giving up one goal all tournament long, winning the cup as captain, and not making the Best XI. His save on Rakitic also kept them in the tournament.

    Love the Montolivo shout. I think he was superb throughout. Amazing that English journos seem as though they HAVE to put at least one Englishman in their Team of the Tournament. Been reading a ton with Terry and Johnson in there. Are you kidding me? Terry over the other center backs in the competition? Johnson at right back over Arbeloa and Gebre-Selassie? Dear me, watch the games, folks.


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2012/07/02 at 5:03 PM

      While I do not think Terry would get in the XXIII let alone the tournament XI, I actually think he had a decent tournament. Obviously, it was in a last ditch defending sort of way, but that’s to be expected when England cannot keep he ball.

      Actually thought Cole and Hart were more deserving of praise, but neither get a sniff of the XXIII.


  6. Posted by Alex on 2012/07/02 at 10:32 AM

    I like your list but I have one small gripe. You have Bastian as your honorable mention pick under Ozil, but IMHO Sami Khedira was the man who was the engine for the German midfield. Schweinny had a pretty underwhelming tournament and looked off form but Khedira played like a man possessed.


    • Posted by Zack G. on 2012/07/02 at 4:10 PM

      Agree that Khedira was superb, but I don’t think Bastian was off-form. He was injured, which hurt his mobility and his desire to get forward — but, in a weird way, he sat back more and let Sami step further into the attack. I thought their communication throughout the tournament on when to step and when to drop was symphonic. Great stuff.

      See below about my Schweinsteiger defense.


  7. Posted by dude on 2012/07/02 at 12:38 PM

    IMO, Xabi Alonso was the most redundant player on the field the entire tournament. Hernandez had his job, and in the early games Spain struggled to gain real momentum because there weren’t enough attackers moving into dangerous positions, with Xavi and Alonso doing the same job. Can’t argue with results, but still think Spain would have been more dynamic with him on the bench.


    • Posted by Zack G. on 2012/07/02 at 1:07 PM

      Definitely don’t think Xavi and Xabi were playing the same role or doing the same job. Alonso has a far more defensive positioning and posture than Xavi — and the only reason Spain’s four most attacking players have the freedom they do is because of how deep Alonso and Busquets lie in the midfield. I think dynamism and attacking quality are two different things — and while Spain may flow more freely with someone else in his position, there’s no way they get into the dangerous spots they do, have as much possession, or defend as competently.

      The key to the Spanish attack in this tournament was not fluidity as much as it was balance. Having Xabi Alonso as a box-to-box midfielder is imperative to maintaining that balance. Xavi sits much further forward, has less defensive duty, and uses the ball differently. His stellar completion rate and numbers say, to me, less about his immense quality as a playmaker (obviously, he has that in spades though) than it does about his ability to always be meaningfully moving into positive, reliable positions as a passing option. He wouldn’t be able to do that job if he was saddled by Xabi’s defensive duties.


      • Posted by Alex on 2012/07/02 at 4:08 PM

        Don’t forget Xabi’s long range passes. That’s something that neither Busquests nor Xavi do with that much accuracy and regularity


        • Posted by Zack G. on 2012/07/02 at 4:14 PM

          Absolutely. Poetry in motion. Wish he and Sneijder had time together at Madrid. Would have been beautiful.


  8. Posted by DynamoBrooklyn on 2012/07/02 at 1:58 PM

    I think Ibra needs to get an HM on here. There are few players that make the game look as easy as he does, and despite one defensive miscue on that goal against Ukraine, he absolutley dominated his three games. I guess losing two of them, doesn’t help the England game could have gone either way. One of the goals of the tournament against France, also.


  9. Posted by mbw on 2012/07/02 at 2:30 PM



  10. Posted by VDub on 2012/07/02 at 2:49 PM

    Iniesta as an honorable mention! What tournament were you watching? Bastain S was total crap. Montelivo for Italy played much better than him.


    • Posted by Zack G. on 2012/07/02 at 4:09 PM

      Appreciate the input. This was written before the final (should be a few clues in there). Had it been written after, Iniesta would more than likely be in that team. He was spectacular in the final and throughout the tournament — but so was everyone in Spain’s midfield (Cesc + Xavi also have legitimate cases). Iniesta as an honorable mention before the final isn’t a slight in my mind as much as it may appear after he dominated Italy.

      And, for the record, I don’t think Bastian was bad at all this tournament. He was playing injured for the duration of the Euros and he was absolutely fantastic through the first four matches. He was pulled out of position against Italy (mostly thanks to the use of Kroos) and so he wasn’t even marking Montolivo or playing the same position. He drifted over to the right and filled in defensively for Boateng a whole lot. Hardly can judge him on one bad performance, especially when he was forced out of his natural position… right?

      Schweinsteiger’s efficiency going forward has been passed up in most analysis — and it was his most impressive feature in this tournament. I’d recommend re-watching the Netherlands game if you have any questions about what I mean. The dude has two incisive offensive passes to the striker in the first half — and both are assists to Gomez. The rest of the game he is absolutely brilliant in defense and helping the Germans spread the field… creating space for both Khedira and Özil to move forward.

      “Total crap?” Take another look at the games and I think you’ll find that you’re a bit harsh on the lad. His movement and passing were spectacular.


  11. I acknowledge midfield is absolutely stacked with talent, but no De Rossi mention? I think over the tournament, he definitely deserves a mention.

    I know it is only one game, but with Hummel’s SF performance, he has to have played himself out of the HM category, no? IMHO, it was the difference between Germany progressing to the final.

    Over all, I pretty much think you nailed it. Maybe Lahm to start, but that’s splitting hairs I guess.


  12. Posted by Trozio on 2012/07/02 at 6:02 PM

    1. You absolutely do not include moutinho for silva. 2. Xabi alonso was the worst of the spanish line up because he couldn’t stay up to speed with the tempo of the passing and If not xavi, iniesta is a must have on the line up along with fabregas. 3. Balotelli had a good performance against germany but is way too inconsistent and thats why one of the strikers should be ronaldo. 4. As for the other striker i would put klose. 5. Putting pepe in the line up will almost garranty a yellow if not red card for him, obvious choice, either ramos or chiellini.


  13. Matt, I guess I missed something in Theodor Gebre-Selassie. Don’t know how he got an honorable mention at RB. He must have done something pretty special in the first couple of games that I didn’t catch because all I remember from him (in any game he played) was how bad he was getting burned time after time after time against Portugal. I was stunned that I didn’t notice how awful he was in the previous 2 games.

    Would really like to know what you and everyone else thought of him?

    Hate sounding negative on here, especially since I love what you guys do here so much. I waste as much time as possible at work here and listen to March to the Match on the way home from work every Wednesday. Great show.


  14. Posted by Carlos on 2012/07/03 at 4:04 PM

    Well Matt, I think all your picks are about right except for the exclusion of Andres Iniesta. Hes so underrated. Theres a reason he was voted best player of the tournament. Iniesta>Ozil js ha


  15. Posted by mbw on 2012/07/03 at 7:24 PM

    O/T: Geoff Cameron looks to be wrapped in gauze — pushed into the midfield over the weekend, and tonight he’s out of the 18.


  16. Posted by kaya on 2012/07/03 at 11:10 PM

    Have to give an emphatic agree with the Coentrao nods. It’s so hard to put your money where you mouth is, though. Perfect example is Schweinsteiger. I think Netherlands made him look masterful because of the misguided DeJong/Van Bommel pairing. Italy exposed him.


    • Posted by Zack G. on 2012/07/04 at 11:40 PM

      Exposed him? Or exposed Jogi for playing him out of position?

      Lining up pretty far out of the usual spot and chugging along (not completely fit) for the full 90 I’d say Schweini did alright. No glaring errors for my money. You want to see overmatched, I can name six others on the night who played far worse for Germany.


  17. Posted by 4now on 2012/07/05 at 10:42 PM

    TSG risks its reputation a bit when it publishes a best XI without Iniesta. The author’s defense that it was written before the final is a bit absurd. Someone should refer him to Sid Lowe’s excellent article on AE that was published before the final. Good grief.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2012/07/05 at 10:43 PM

      Iniesta was tremendous, but everyone’s opinion counts. :>


      • Posted by 4now on 2012/07/09 at 9:40 AM

        Read: Plea for editorial control. & I Know that You know that some opinions count more than others… that’s what makes TSG special.

        Summary: Nip some things in the bud. This was pretty bad.


  18. Posted by Z-trip on 2012/07/06 at 1:28 AM

    Yikes. Arboloa has been just north of dreadful. Balotelli? His performance before Germany was embarrassing. And what did he do against Spain? After that the picks are either predictable or ludicrous. Pepe? Bruno Alves was so much better this tournament. Xavi Alonso over Iniesta? Khedira was a beast this tourney, where is he? Moutinho is a cute pick but hardly serious. Your credibility just dropped by 50%. Maybe try a different sport or start with the NAIA and work up.


    • Posted by sfshwebb on 2012/07/06 at 6:43 PM

      Z-trip. This is someone’s opinion. You may chose to disagree with it, and this is your choice, but we like to keep the comment section respectful. I would suggest that maybe you try a different site (a credible one) if you cannot refrain from being antagonistic. We welcome your opinion, just keep it polite.


  19. Posted by 4now on 2012/07/09 at 9:44 AM

    With all due respect to sfshwebb, I agree that TSG is distinctive for two things (1) its respectful commentary, and (2) its insight and sophistication. But sfshwebb must concede that for 2 to be maintained then there must be some critique when the editors let slip a post or two that simply doesn’t warrant posting on this site. Think of it as peer review. I actually agree completely with Z-trip. Posting this post on this site was a mistake. The author was bush league.


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