With only one match remaining, I thought I would get in a little early and put forward my team of the tournament. This yearâ€™s tournament was fantastic with plenty high scoring games, not one for the defences. In fact, although I was very disappointed with them overall, I thought the Italians defended better than anyone else in the competition. Of course this was not until after their opening match where they lost 3-0 to the Netherlands and dropped the central defensive pairing of Marco Materazzi and Andrea Barzagli.
Leaving the defence aside for a second, it seems logical to start with the best number 1 of the competition. Originally I was going to give my top first XI but then I realised that at least three, possibly four, goalkeepers deserved a mention. So instead I am going to provide, what I believe to be, the best squad of the tournament and pick my first XI from that.
If Poland didnâ€™t have Artur Boruc in goal they would have been severely embarrassed and probably would have finished the worst team of the tournament instead of Greece. His heroics, including three one-on-one saves, in the first twenty minutes against Austria means he deserves at least a place on the bench. If Poland had been a better side and progressed further I have no doubt that he would have been the goalkeeper of the tournament. My other substitute goalkeeper has to be the Turk Volkan Demirel. The only reason he is missing out on the top spot is for his inexcusable push on Jan Koller, which earned him a red card and meant he missed out on the quarter and semi final matches. Despite losing a total of four goals against Portugal and the Czech Republic he made a string of outstanding saves in both matches. Gianluca Buffon was the other name who deserves a shout, not least for his penalty save against Romania to keep his side in the tournament, but I feel that he wasnâ€™t really tested as much as the others due to the defence in front of him.
My goalkeeper is going to be Edwin van der Saar, who recently announced his retirement from international football. He was excellent against both France and Italy but it was his quarter final performance against Russia that clinched it. He made save after save to keep the Dutch in the tie and was very unlucky to be on the losing side.
Now back to the central defence. Like I mentioned above, not taking into account their opening match, Italy defended better than anyone else in the tournament. In fact this is all Italy done well, they were incredibly disappointing. So I am going to include Christian Panucci, who started the competition at right back but was moved into the centre and was outstanding against France in the final group match and also against Spain in the quarter final. Further, he got the equaliser against Romania that kept Italy alive in the group stage.
The only team that came close to defending as well as Italy were Spain. I had never seen Carlos Marchena much before but I thought he was tremendous in each of Spainâ€™s matches (apart from the Greece match where the first team was rested). So my central defence consists of Panucci and Marchena. My two back up defenders are going to be Spainâ€™s Carles Puyol, who formed an excellent partnership with Marchena, and Christoph Metzelder. Metzelderâ€™s central defensive partner Per Mertesacker was shocking every time I watched him and if it wasnâ€™t for Metzelder, they wouldnâ€™t be in the final. He was better on the ball, more brave in tackling and to top it off he began the tournament not 100% fit due to struggling with injury most of last season.
Full backs now and I think it would be difficult to pick out any full back that isnâ€™t Russian. I like full back that get forward at every opportunity and both Aleksandr Anyukov and Yuri Zhirkov managed to trouble almost every defence they came up against. They werenâ€™t too bad at defending either. The only team that seemed to stop them playing were the Spanish, but then again they seemed to stop the entire Russian team from playing.
My back-up full backs have to include Bosingwa. He and Deco were the best thing about the Portuguese side. It was a toss up between him and Sergio Ramos but I think Bosingwa just edged it, even though he played fewer matches. My other left back to be included in my squad of Euro 2008 is Croatiaâ€™s Danijel Pranjic. Similar to Zhirkov in that he gets forward and troubles the opposition defence and unlucky not to be in the side that took to the field against Germany in the semi final.
On the right of midfield it has to be Bastian Schweinsteiger of Germany. Strangely he didnâ€™t start in the opening two matches and turned the game in Germanyâ€™s favour when he came on against Croatia, until he was sent off. This meant he was suspended for their final group match but when he returned he put in a man of the match performance against Portugal and was Germanyâ€™s best player against Turkey. He adds a bit of class to a mediocre German side and without his contribution they would have struggled to make the semi final, never mind the final. On the other flank I have gone with Wesley Sneijder. He was instrumental in their dismantling of the Italian and French defences and for these two performances alone, including two of the goals of the tournament; he deserves a place in the first XI.
In reserve for these positions I am going to go for Andres Iniesta of Spain, who looks dangerous no matter which part of midfield he plays in, and Lukas Podolski. Podolskiâ€™s natural position is striker but his pace and ability shone even on the left wing. He has scored three goals so far, two of them great strikes, and provided the assist for Schweinsteigerâ€™s goals in the last two matches. Just to note, Simao of Portugal and David Silva of Spain could have easily been included instead of these two.
Now to the most difficult part of this task, to decide who goes in the centre of midfield. My holding midfielder has to be Marcos Senna. In every match he has played this role to perfection, I donâ€™t remember one stray pass from him either. There was a lot of hype about Andrei Arshavin in the build up to the semi final but he was anonymous for the entire 90 minutes, this was partly due to how well Senna played. The other central midfield position is a real headache for me. Luka Modric and Deco of Croatia and Portugal respectively deserve a mention but unfortunately there is not enough room for them, despite how well they both performed. Instead it comes down to either Michael Ballack or Cesc Fabregas. I really canâ€™t decide which one to go for so I am going to let the amount of appearances choose for me. Since Fabregas has been used mostly as a substitute I will go for Ballack in the first XI instead. Fabregas has influenced every match he has came on in so it seems fitting he should be on the bench in this side. The holding midfielder I will put into the squad is Nigel de Jong. He is a similar type of player to Marcos Senna and was one of the best things about the Dutch side during the competition.
Perhaps controversially, I have decided not to include Andrei Arshavin. My reasons are that he only played in three matches. Yes two of them were outstanding performances but in the match against Spain I can only remember touching the ball three or four times. He was virtually invisible in the second half. It wasnâ€™t just that but also his attitude, he waited for the ball rather than coming deep to get it and seemed annoyed when the ball didnâ€™t come to him.
Finally the strikers and David Villa has to be included in the first XI. He scored a hat-trick in his teamâ€™s opening match and is still the top scorer in the competition. It is a shame that he limped off on the semi final. Up front with him I am going to go with Russiaâ€™s Roman Pavlyuchenko. If it wasnâ€™t for an injury for Pavel Pogrebnyak, prior to the tournament, then we wouldnâ€™t have seen as much of Pavlychenko as we did. But he took his chance and produced three vital goals.
On the bench it is a two from the following three: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Fernando Torres and Nihat Kahveci. Since Nihat was pretty poor against Portugal and Croatia I am going to go with the other two. Van Nistelrooy played the lone striker role for the Dutch and was excellent at it. Iâ€™ll admit I didnâ€™t think he could play up front on his own. Fernando Torres worked tirelessly for Spain in each match he played in and I canâ€™t understand why he keeps getting substituted. I realise that his replacement scored the vital second goal against Russia the other night bit I would keep someone of Torresâ€™ ability on the field for as long as possible.
So this is how my team looks:
Edwin Van der Saar (NED)
Alexsandr Anyukov (RUS), Carlos Marchena (SPA), Christian Panucci (ITA), Yuri Zhirkov (RUS)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (GER), Michael Ballack (GER), Marcos Senna (SPA), Wesley Sneijder (NED)
David Villa (SPA), Roman Pavlyuchenko (RUS)
Rest of the Squad:
Artur Boruc (POL)
Vlokan Demirel (TUR)
Carles Puyol (SPA),
Christoph Metzleder (GER),
Danijel Pranjic (HRV)
Andres Iniesta (SPA)
Cesc Fabregas (SPA)
Nigel de Jong (NED)
Lukas Podolski (GER)
Fernando Torres (SPA)
Ruud van Nistelrooy (NED)
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