It’s that time when we have to look at the performances of of all the players in Euro 2008 and select our team of the tournament. I know it’s subjective, but I’m going to pick mine and invite you to ‘have a go’ at my stupidity and tell me where I’ve gone wrong!
In goal there were several contenders. Edwin Van Der Saar, Artur Boruc, Buffon and others all performed well and staked a claim for a place in the side, but Iker Casillas was consistently good for Spain and despite having almost nothing to do in the quarter-final against Italy, produced one stunning save and then two penalty saves in the shoot-out. He has been a fine keeper for a long time and is a worthy recipient of the award.
For a man who is still only twenty-seven years old, he has a huge amount of experience. With over three hundred league games for Real Madrid and over eighty caps for Spain, he has few rivals. In the final he was rarely under pressure but when Germany could have been a threat from set pieces he came out and commanded his area giving a huge sense of safety to the rest of the team.
The right back for my team was going to be the excellent German right back Phillip Lahm. During this tournament he was occasionally caught out defensively, which is something I have never seen before. However, he always made up for it and still looked absolutely world class when he went forward. Then, in the final he got caught out again for the winning goal and had to be dropped from my team.
In his place, the right back position goes to Spain’s Sergio Ramos who hardly put a foot wrong and performed admirably throughout the tournament.
At left back I have a man who is not really a left back at all, but a far more attacking player. However, as we want to produce an exciting team that scores goals, the position goes to Russia’s quite exceptional Yuriy Zhirkov. He has a great engine and with pace and skill he is a daunting prospect for any right sided player to come up against. Like many of the Russian players he didn’t live up to expectations in the semi-final, but prior to that he was a revelation.
Holland’s Van Bronkhorst made a very real bid for the position displaying a completely new lease of life, but Zhirkov was excellent and held him off for the number three shirt.
The centre back positions are quite difficult to select. There was not a great deal of outstanding defending to admire in the tournament, it was more about the players going forward. The two I am going to pick are Pepe from Portugal and Chiellini of Italy.
Pepe, from Real Madrid, is a relatively inexperienced twenty-five year old defender who outshone his more heralded defensive partner Carvalho. He caught the eye with some decent last ditch defending as well as some surging forward runs.
There was a great deal of pressure on the twenty-three year old Chiellini when Cannavaro was ruled out of the tournament and he more than rose to the occasion. When all around him were underperforming, he did his job well. As the tournament went on he got better and better, hardly giving the dynamic strikeforce of Torres and Villa a kick in the quarter-final.
On the right of midfield I am going to select Sionko from the Czech Republic who was very good in their games and was one of the few who didn’t underperform. He was unlucky not to get further in the tournament.
Sionko has been capped more than thirty times by the Czech Republic national team, and has scored 7 goals. He had been only a substitute for a long time, because his position of right winger was occupied by Karel PoborskÃ½. He must surely now, at the age of thirty-one, have made the position his own after this tournament.
Playing out of position on the left of midfied I’m going to go with Spain’s Iniesta who was absolutely brilliant in all games. His work rate and eye for a pass is only surpassed by his wonderful first touch and exceptional vision. Yes, I quite like him!
Lucas Podolski, also playing out of position, ran him a close second. He’s got a sweet left foot, a great turn of pace, a lethal delivery from wide positions and an eye for goal.
Centre Midfield has too many candidates to make a categorical choice. The two I’ve picked have impressed me for different reasons. I am going with Marcos Senna of Spain and Wesley Sneijder of Holland.
Senna plays in a midfield where everybody talks about Iniesta, Xavi, Fabregas and Alonso, but he rarely merits a mention. In this tournament he has shown his ability and his value to the team by being the mainstay in such a talented group of players. It is his reliability and consistency that allows some of the other players to express themselves and try things that if they go wrong, they know he will be around to pick up the pieces.
Sneijder was superb for Holland. He was fairly anonymous in the quarter-final defeat to Russia but prior to that he had produced performances of true class.
Choosing the players up front is very difficult. I have narrowed my final short list down to Ruud Van Nistlerooy, David Villa, Andrei Arshavin and Nihat. Just looking at the performances in this tournament I am going to go for Russia’s bright young star Arshavin to play just off the best lone front man in the world, Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
David Villa would be very disappointed to be left out and he would have some justification for feeling like that. I am going with the two I have mentioned because they produced displays during this tournament that can only be described as an absolute masterclass.
Van Nistelrooy played the perfect lone striker role in Holland’s group game against Italy and Arshavin played the perfect ‘in the hole’ role in Russia’s quarter-final victory over Holland.
As a coach myself, I would love to show forward players videos of those two performances and say, ‘just do it like that!’
So there we are. That’s my eleven. I fully accept that there are many, many other contenders, but I’d be happy to back this team against most others!
Euro 2008 Best XI (4-4-2):
Ramos, Pepe, Chiellini, Zhirkov
Sionko, Senna, Sneijder, Iniesta
Over to you.