Thirty Euro 2008 matches are in the books, and with only Sunday’s final between Spain and Germany yet to play I figured it was a good time to unveil my Best XI for the entire tournament. Keep in mind, I almost always go with a 3-5-2 in these circumstances since there tends to be an excess of attacking candidates and not as many exemplary centerbacks (especially in a goal-heavy tournament like this one).
There’s not much else to explain. You have to stand out, of course, but preferably have more than just one good game. Performance in important games is also weighted more heavily. Let’s dive in:
MY EURO 2008 BEST XI
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain).
Right Back: Hamit Altintop (Turkey).
Centerback: Carles Puyol (Spain).
Left Back: Yuri Zhirkov (Russia).
Defensive Midfielder: Marcos Senna (Spain).
Right Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany).
Central Midfielder: Michael Ballack (Germany).
Central Midfielder: Andrei Arshavin (Russia).
Left Midfielder: Lukas Podolski (Germany).
Forward: David Villa (Spain).
Forward: Semih Sentürk (Turkey).
Goalkeeper: It was awfully close between Iker Casillas and Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, whose penalty-kick save on Romania’s Adrian Mutu saved the Azzurri from group-stage elimination. But Casillas didn’t give up three goals in a game (as Buffon did against Holland), and he saved one more spot-kick than Buffon did when their teams went head-to-head.
Runner-up: Gianluigi Buffon (Italy).
Honorable Mention (in order): Artur Boruc (Poland), Edwin van der Sar (Netherlands).
Right Back: Very tight race here between Hamit Altintop and Spain’s Sergio Ramos, but in the end I thought Altintop had fewer defensive lapses and a bit more success going forward in the attack.
Runner-up: Sergio Ramos (Spain).
Honorable Mention: Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy).
Centerback: Except for leaving the game with an injury against Sweden, the shaggy Carles Puyol was a rock all tournament long for La Furia, helping shut down Italy’s Luca Toni and Russia’s Andrei Arshavin in the knockout rounds.
Runner-up: Christoph Metzelder (Germany).
Honorable Mention: Pepe (Portugal), Robert Kovac (Croatia), Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal), Carlos Marchena (Spain), Per Mertesacker (Germany).
Left Back: Yuri Zhirkov was a constant menace venturing up the left flank, and the converted midfielder could actually play a little defense too. He narrowly beats out Germany’s Philipp Lahm, who played on the left and right sides and scored a huge goal to beat Turkey—but also had a few defensive miscues.
Runner-up: Philipp Lahm (Germany).
Honorable Mention: Giovanni van Bronckhorst (Netherlands), Danijel Pranjic (Croatia), Fabio Grosso (Italy).
Defensive Midfielder: Marcos Senna handcuffed Andrei Arshavin in the semis, the latest of several masterful performances anchoring the Spanish midfield.
Runner-up: Mehmet Aurélio (Turkey).
Honorable Mention: Orlando Engelaar (Netherlands), Törsten Frings (Germany).
Right Midfielder: Amazingly, Bastian Schweinsteiger picked up a red card in Game 2 and didn’t make his first start until the quarterfinals, but no player has had a bigger impact on the tournament in the knockout rounds. Non-stop energy.
Runner-up: Andrés Iniesta (Spain).
Honorable Mention: Darijo Srna (Croatia), Robin van Persie (Netherlands).
Central Midfielders (2): Michael Ballack had some down games (Croatia, Turkey), but in others (Portugal, Austria, Poland) he was brilliant. Andrei Arshavin, meanwhile, was a creative revelation in Russia’s upsets of Sweden and the Netherlands.
Runners-up: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands) and Luka Modric (Croatia).
Honorable Mention: Tuncay Sanli (Turkey), Cesc Fabregas (Spain), Rafael van der Vaart (Netherlands), Xavi (Spain), Deco (Portugal).
Left Midfielder: Lukas Podolski scored all three of his goals in the first two games, but he has been just as good since then as a passer setting up important strikes against Portugal and Turkey. Bonus points to German coach Joachim Löw for experimenting with Podolski at this spot.
Runner-up: David Silva (Spain).
Honorable Mention: Arda Turan (Turkey), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Arjen Robben (Netherlands), Ivan Rakitic (Croatia).
Forwards (2): David Villa (4 goals) may get the Golden Boot even though he can’t play in the final, but nobody can deny that he scored in volume (hat-trick against Russia) and when it mattered (last-minute game-winner against Sweden and the all-important first penalty against Italy). Semih Sentürk had an even bigger flair for the dramatic, scoring stunning late-game equalizers against Croatia and Germany.
Runners-up: Roman Pavlyuchenko (Russia), Nihat Kahveci (Turkey).
Honorable Mention: Ruud van Nistelrooy (Netherlands), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden), Fernando Torres (Spain), Miroslav Klose (Germany), Hakan Yakin (Switzerland).
What's your take on my Best XI? Post your comments below, and check back after Sunday's final for my reaction to Spain-German. Enjoy the game!