Inclusion in this team is based on quantity and quality of performance alone.
Manager: Chris Coleman
Bench: Buffon, Patricio; Chiellini, de Sciglio; Hummels, Koscielny, Sigurdsson, A. Williams; Srna, Kimmich; Allen, Kante; Modric, Pogba; Iniesta, Ramsey; C. Ronaldo, Payet; Gomez, Pelle; Nani, Perisic
Best Player of the Tournament: Antoine Griezmann
Best Team of the Tournament: Germany
Best Match of the Tournament: Germany – Italy
Manuel Neuer by Lukas Tank
Other keepers had more saves to make than Manuel Neuer, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they had a harder job to do. As Oliver Kahn does not get tired of pointing out, staying focused while hardly participating in the game for extended spells is one of the most complicated tasks for any goalkeeper. And Neuer did stay focussed as he showed us whenever he was called upon. But it would be unfair to say that he didn’t participate when he didn’t have saves to make. Neuer, famously, always participates in his team’s overall game. He enables his defense to maintain a high line by leaving his box, acting as a sweeper keeper. And when his team is in possession he is just another field player participating in his team’s build up game. Germany’s build up game was one of the highlights of an otherwise dull tournament and Neuer had a big part to play in that. His Euro ’16 maybe wasn’t as outstanding as his World Cup two years ago, but we have witnessed yet another excellent tournament by a keeper who will be increasingly thought of as a true great of the game over the next couple of years.
Raphael Guerreiro by Luca Gierl
It was the first big international tournament for the 22-year-old left-back and what a tournament it was. In a Portugal team that pulled off the unthinkable and won the entire thing, he arguably was the most consistent performer and was dearly missed in the games against Hungary and Poland, which he had to sit out with muscular problems. Full-backs like Guerreiro are rare these days. Rather than with his athleticism he impresses with excellent understanding of the game, great combination play and a cool head. Not even the pressure of playing in a final in and against a country he grew up in seemed to faze him. While his crosses and set-piece deliveries might have been his most eye-catching feature, it was even more impressive how he managed to calm down Portugal’s build-up play from an unusual position. He constantly found solutions in possession, even with defenders and the sideline “playing“ against him. In the final it almost seemed like he was the most dominant passer on the pitch from his left-back position.
The thought that I would write an elogy to, off all players, Pepe, would have seemed bewilderingly strange to most former versions of myself. But if there ever was a tournament in whose top XI Pepe should feature, it was this European Championship. Pepe embodied the combination of defensive stability and agility that got Portugal the
trophy, as well as their rather speculative and unambitious approach to build up play. But he also overcame his own demons in managing not to commit a single foul in the final (and only one in the three knock out games he featured in), while still using his impressive physique to become a dominant presence in the winners’ defensive unit. Of course, Pepe’s use of the ball stands in stark contrast to the other centre backs in this XI. Yet in Fernando Santos setup he was not asked to play Bonucciesk diagonals or Boateng-laser-passes(tm). Instead, delivering the ball to the dynamic central midfielders or launching the ball in the general direction of the right sided forward was enough to get the Iberians’ attacking play going (as far as it existed.) As such, Pepe’s mostly well-timed and always uncompromising front-foot defending warrants his selection.
Leonardo Bonucci by Lukas Tank
Being part of a well-drilled collective like the Italy/Juventus defensive block sometimes leads to being overlooked as an individual. Well, let’s not make that mistake, shall we? Over the last couple of seasons Bonucci has grown into being the foremost Italian defender of his generation. And when you look at the history of football, that basically guarantees that you’re among the best defenders of your generation on a global level, too. Bonucci is no exception to that rule. He is a complete central defender without any apparent weaknesses and played a tournament that proved his class. Among his standout moments were two long passes. The first led to Italy’s 1-0 against Belgium. The second was a long pass against Germany. It led to one of the very few Italian chances in that game. Bonucci’s long passing game was the best I have seen from a defender at Euro 2016. Slowly but surely, a conversation about Bonucci’s place among the historic greats of Italian defending does not sound that absurd anymore. His last few seasons and this Euro do make a case in his favour.
Jerome Boateng by Daniel Roßbach
Whether it was by iconic goal line clearances, man-of-the-match performances, goals, slapstick moments or leaving the pitch injured, Jerome Boateng was the axis around which games involving Germany turned. That he was one of the tournament’s outstanding centre backs while clearly being far from his best physical condition is a testament to how far he has come in being one of the best deepest-line playmakers in the world. There were lapses in Boateng’s performance (as when a mistimed jump created Olivier Giroud’s chance that was denied by Höwedes), but in this tournament there was no perfection. That Boateng was at times playing in the areas of the pitch that traditional playmakers used to occupy was not always optimal for the DFB team, but can hardly be blamed on the player. The same goes for Boateng mainly aiming his precise long range passes at the full/wing backs rather than central midfield. What can be attributed to the Bayern defender is that he is the most complete defensive player in the world at this time, combining athleticism to excel in one-on-one duels and stepping out to prevent them with precise and incisive passing. He has shown all of these qualities in France this summer.
Bacary Sagna by Lukas Tank
It was a tournament with half a dozen brilliant full-backs but Sagna surely was the most outstanding of them all! Well, not really. The only potentially outstanding full-back to take part in this Euro was David Alaba, but he played a shitty tournament. Joshua Kimmich featured as right-back in the official UEFA team of the tournament, but for me he simply had too many shaky moments to deserve that title. The veteran Dario Srna played yet another classy tournament, but it was awfully short. In the end, we opted for Bacary Sagna. Sagna is a very solid and modern allrounder. He made few mistakes and was neither overly defensive nor offensive. Will he give you anything that stands out or excites you? Probably not. But he gets the job done, which is just what he did at the Euros. In a time when greats like Philipp Lahm and Dani Alves are slowing down, there is no player on the horizon who can really fill their boots as an elite right-back.
William Carvalho by Lukas Tank
It was not a tournament for the ages for defensive midfielders. The one outstanding pivot of our age, Sergio Busquets, looked overplayed, made uncharacteristic mistakes and left the tournament early. (See, I am capable of compiling teams without Busquets in them after all!) Kante, the French player who rose to prominence with Leicester last season, had a promising start to the tournament but soon faded. Rooney and Dier actually started well as a defensive midfield pairing but then… well, let’s not talk about that. William Carvalho on the other hand had a solid tournament. He played pretty conservatively, but then again, it was a conservative Euro. His distribution was not particularly creative or brilliant, but neat and tidy. In a Portugal side that focussed on not conceding, he did his job well and is included in the team for a lack of truly outstanding options. (By the way, the defensive/central midfield pairing at Euro 2012 was Pirlo/Xavi. *sigh*)
Toni Kroos by Lukas Tank
As I said in the part on Manuel Neuer, the German build-up game was one of the footballing highlights of the tournament. While several players deserve credit for that, none of them were as important as Toni Kroos. The GDR-born Kroos has established himself as one of the finest central midfielders/deep-lying playmakers on the planet during the last couple of years and affirmed this status during this year’s Euro. While his defensive game wasn’t too great, he played dozens of fine passes from his deep position in front of the defense. Maybe they weren’t that eye-catching because they rarely reached the final third of the pitch, but you would be very wrong to think Kroos is someone who plays only safe but ineffective short passes. What he does very well is find his more attacking teammates between the lines. Time and time again he managed to squeeze passes between very narrow gaps in the opponent’s formation. These passes are key in the modern game. If they reach their target, the opponent has to break formation which will give you the chance to exploit the disorder. Kroos created these situations more often than any other player at Euro 2016.
Mesut Özil by Daniel Roßbach
Özil was the best offensive player in a German team that lacked outstanding individual quality in attacking midfield, ironically given its apparent embarrassment of riches in the position. With his outings at the Euros he followed up on a spectacular domestic season, albeit with less impressive numbers to show for it (1 goal, 1 assist). That was also the case in his best performance of the tournament, on the losing side of a semi-final against France. Most of Özil’s decisions in that game were right, some pieces of play executed with excellence. While Özil was for instance not able to solve the team’s structural issues with penetrating Italy’s formation, he was involved in most of the moments in which they did. At the same time, he contributed to Germany’s defensive solidity by consistently getting involved in the counter-press. That an attacking player is commended for his (obviously important) defensive contributions points to the lack of overwhelming options the tournament put on offer in terms of attacking football, with many teams relying on rudimentary approaches to that side of the game. Özil is included in this XI by default, to some extend.
Antoine Griezmann by Daniel Roßbach
Somewhat unfortunately for him, Antoine Griezmann’s Euros mirrored his season at large: a good start that hinted at his full potential followed by a stretch of playing at world top 3 players-level, only to be capped by an underwhelming – and lost – final. When Griezmann is at his best, he is one of the most multifaceted forwards in the game. His slender frame is able to generate both speed and considerable strength. Dribbling, passing, shooting and – most obvious in this tournament – heading are at equally good technical levels and go along with great speed of thought (<em>Handlungsschnelligkeit</em>). And while Griezmann’s pressing skills shine more brightly in the meticulously worked out collective of Atletico, the individual raw material to them was on show in followed-through pressing runs and well-timed challenges. While France thus were not able to get the best out of Griezmann, his individual performances were the best thing about the finalists. While his playing style seems to allow him to play on the attacking wings, the attempt to do so here failed (because France lacked presence in and linkage to the central attacking spaces). Playing off Giroud, the multicultured Basque became the focal point of France’s offensive efforts – and the tournament’s top scorer.
Gareth Bale by Lukas Tank
Let’s be honest, Euro 2016 wasn’t great, right? And was there any attacking player who really had a tournament to rival, say, Zidane’s 2000 or Iniesta’s 2012? I don’t think so. Maybe Griezmann comes close, but apart from him, no, not really. Which brings us to Gareth Bale. The Welshman had a good tournament. His tally of three goals looks a bit inflated. At least two of them were down to errors by the goalkeeper. (I’m looking at you, Joe Hart.) But still, good tournament from him. Not excellent, but… well, you know, good. He obviously was his team’s most important player and had a big part in their best ever run in an international tournament. With many opponent’s double- or triple-marking him, he often managed to dribble past one or two players before releasing the ball, which gave his teammates lots of space to work with.
Maybe a quick word on Cristiano Ronaldo is in place: He had about 4-5 good moments during Euro 2016. That can be enough to justify inclusion in a tournament all-star team, but in his case it doesn’t. He was just way too wasteful. Cristiano missed half a dozen good chances and, yet again, took loads of shots he shouldn’t have taken.