The Euro Cup 2016 has come to an end, and football tradition dictates to nominate the best eleven players of the tournament in order to reflect on the quality of the games. I think that the best team coming out of the tournament in France should reflect not only the quality shown by the top performing footballers, but the surprises gifted to us by the beautiful game.
I will use a 4-2-3-1 formation, as it has been the one most popularly used by the teams in the Euro Cup. And of course, I will work my way from the goalkeeper up to the center forward.
This is the hardest position to nominate a player. You can only pick one, and it is hard to do because the relatively low amount of goals was in great part due to high-quality goalkeeping.
Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, at 38 years old, still gave a very solid performance throughout the tournament and dragged Germany to a dramatic penalty shoot-out round in the quarter-finals. However, he bowed out of the tournament too early to be given the title of best goalie.
Another serious candidate for the title among the Best Eleven is Portugal’s Rui Patrício. In fact, I think he should have been named man-of-the-match instead of defender Pepe (the latter’s fame probably played a role there…) since it was his flawless performance that kept the world-class French attacking squad goal and cup-dry.
However, I think that the title needs to go to Germany’s Manuel Neuer when looking at his overall performance.
He kept a clean-sheet for almost an entire five games. He allowed only three goals to go into his net, two of which were penalty kicks and one horrible defensive error from Kimmich and Schweini in the second half of the semifinal against France. Hence, losing his record-setting clean-sheet was not his fault, and he earns the place, for me, as best goalkeeper of the Euro Cup.
From left-to-right, the four defenders in the Best Eleven are all center-backs, which again speaks to the scarcity of goals of the Euro Cup.
As left wing-back I would put Jérôme Boateng.
Although he made a penalty-conceding mistake in the match against Italy, Boateng delivered an impressive performance throughout the cup.
In the left center-back position, the title should go to Wale’s Ashley Williams.
He’s a big-guy with great positioning and that made him a headache for forwards of the opposing team (and even to defenders when he went up the field for corners and free-kicks).
As right center-back, Matt Hummels takes the spot.
He only played four games for Germany, but he was always flawless (he was critical to keep Neuer’s clean-sheet against Poland’s dangerous Lewangoalski). And when the team pushes forward, he doubles up as a very effective playmaker (Germany certainly missed him in the semifinal against France…).
The right wind-back position of the Best Eleven goes to France’s Laurent Koscielny, who was definitely the best player of the cup as far as winning tackles concerns.
As left defensive midfielder, the spot goes to Iceland’s captain Aron Gunnarson.
He played a solid cup, playing all over the place, contributing in defense, playmaking and attack. Also, his nomination to the Best Eleven honors Iceland’s amazing performance.
In the right defensive midfield position, I would nominate Portugal’s Pepe.
He normally plays as center-back, but has sometimes played in this position for his club Real Madrid, and was a solid defender throughout the cup (sorry Paul Pogba, you should have been more impressive in the final to win this place).
As left attacking midfielder, I would nominate Portugal’s Renato Sanches.
He was named man-of-the-match a couple of times, and did a fantastic job in distributing the ball.
The central position should definitely be manned by France’s Antoine Griezmann.
He was the tournament’s top goal-scorer, but also an avid playmaker.
On the right side, I would nominate France’s Moussa Sissoko.
He showed great skill with the ball, but also kept going up and down the field to contribute in defense and attack (players who work their butt off need to be recognized).
For this position of the Best Eleven, I would pick a controversial player. No, not super-narcissist Cristiano Ronaldo (he is a really good player, but he gets a bit too much credit, and wayyyy too much camera time…).
I would pick France’s Michel Platini.
No, he did not play for France this time around. He is UEFA’s president and author of the Euro Cup’s 2016 crazy24-team bracket format that allowed a team that qualified third in the group phase (behind Iceland and Hungary…) to win the tournament. More than punished, I think he deserves to be put in the spotlight for what he’s done – right in the middle of it.
I do not mean to discredit Portugal. They outperformed France last Sunday with a solid act and were deserving winners. However, Monsieur Platini’s idea of expanding the Euro Cup an extra eight places, and the bracket system that followed to solve the overcrowding problem, undoubtedly helped Portugal to cruise to the final, while heavyweights such as Spain, Italy, Germany, and France knocked each other out in earlier phases. Nonetheless, surprises are invariably part of the beautiful game and we should enjoy them too.