Spain, Spain and Spain again. This is the story of the last three major international tournaments in which La Roja have competed and Euro 2012 merely served as confirmation that Spain are the best team in the world, with the 4-0 final win over Italy echoing around the planet.
Euro 2012 had highs and lows, superb performances and disasters, and was a rollercoaster ride all the way. Inside Futbol pick the team of the tournament, selecting eleven players, in a 4-3-3, who lit up Poland/Ukraine:
Goalkeeper – Iker Casillas – Spain
The Real Madrid goalkeeper conceded only one goal in the entire tournament, in Spain’s opener against Italy. Casillas always looked reliable and oozed confidence which flowed into the Spanish defence. The shot-stopper did not have much to do against Ireland and France, but performed well when called upon against Croatia, saving La Roja on no less than three occasions. This is Casillas’ third consecutive international success.
Right back – Lukasz Piszczek – Poland
Poland may have endured a bad tournament, being knocked out in the group stage, but Piszczek still looked classy for the co-hosts. The Borussia Dortmund man carried his fine form from a successful club season into Euro 2012 and further confirmed his quality. The 27-year-old is a man Poland will rely upon for years to come.
Centre back – Mats Hummels – Germany
Another Borussia Dortmund star who excelled at Euro 2012, Hummels brought pace and calmness to the Germany defence, especially in the country’s first two group games against Portugal and Holland. In the semi-final against Italy he was undone by Antonio Cassano, who provided a perfect cross for Mario Balotelli to head home. While the Azzurri clash showed Hummels a little off colour, it did not overshadow the fact that he proved to be one of the best defenders at Euro 2012.
Centre back – Andrea Barzagli – Italy
Italy coach Cesare Prandelli lost Barzagli to injury just days before the tournament, but chose to take him anyway, off the back of a wonderful season with Juventus in Serie A. Barzagli started his campaign in the Azzurri’s third group match against Ireland, but really proved his worth against England and then Germany. In the knockout round the defender always looked in control and led his team-mates by example. Against Spain in the final, Barzagli appeared tired and struggled to keep pace with the eventual winners. He will be a key man for Italy at the 2014 World Cup however.
Left back – Jordi Alba – Spain
Alba had a fine season at club level with Valencia, which persuaded Barcelona to pay €14M for his services. This superb form continued at Euro 2012 where, despite this being his first major tournament for La Roja, Alba looked as if he had been a fixture in the team for years. Devastating on the left flank, especially in the final where he grabbed an accomplished goal showing his speed and sense of the rhythm of “tiki-taka” football, Alba has a bright future.
Right midfielder – Xavi – Spain
The heartbeat of Spain’s “tiki-taka” and arguably La Roja’s most important player. Xavi is the man most appreciated by coaches, team-mates and fans alike, and at Euro 2012 he did not disappoint. The Spaniard’s positional sense, ability to read the game and vision are without equal in world football. It would be little surprise if Xavi picked up the 2012 Ballon d’Or, even if he rarely gets amongst the goals.
Central midfielder – Andrea Pirlo – Italy
Pirlo’s role as a “regista” has resulted in Xavi shifting out to the right hand side in this team. The 33-year-old is also capable of operating as a “trequartista”, which was his first job more than ten years ago. Pirlo took Euro 2012 by storm, rolling back the years on the pitch and continuing the form he showed last season as a key man in Juventus’ unbeaten title-winning Serie A season. The Italian performed superbly against both England and Germany in Italy’s quarter-final and semi-final, dictating play and carving open defences. In the final Pirlo was given little time and space, appeared tired, and was unable to control the game. However, he can still be proud of his Euro 2012 displays.
Left midfielder – Daniele De Rossi – Italy
De Rossi began his Euro 2012 campaign as a central defender in a surprising 3-5-2, which had never been used before by coach Cesare Prandelli. In that role, he put in top notch performances against Spain and Croatia, and then continued his fine form when relocated to a more familiar midfield position against Ireland. Rossi suffered an injury in the semi-final clash with England, but despite that still played well. As with Italy generally though, he came off worst against the Spanish in the final in Kyiv.
Right winger – Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
Ronaldo has the ability to play in any attacking position and still be devastatingly effective. While the Real Madrid star missed chances against Germany and Denmark in Portugal’s first two games, in the third and vital clash against Holland he was decisive. Ronaldo bagged a brace as the Oranje were dumped out and then followed this up with Portugal’s winner – a diving header – against the Czech Republic. Against Spain in the semi-final, Ronaldo played well, but missed what proved to be a crucial chance just minutes from the final whistle. In the resulting penalty shootout, Ronaldo was the fifth and unused taker.
Forward – Mario Balotelli – Italy
Just as Paolo Rossi in the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Balotelli started Euro 2012 slowly, missing a straightforward opportunity against Spain in the Azzurri’s opener. In the Ireland match, the striker sat on the bench for almost the entire clash, but when given a chance in the last ten minutes, netted an impressive volley. The Manchester City man played well against England, though he was really key in the semi-final versus Germany, scoring two classy goals, the first a header and the second a rasping shot that annihilated Manuel Neuer.
Left winger – Andres Iniesta – Spain
Another Spanish player who can operate right across the pitch, Iniesta scored the decisive goal against Holland in the World Cup final in 2010 and again at Euro 2012 he produced the goods. Part of the attacking line which lets Spain coach Vicente del Bosque operate without a recognised striker, Iniesta’s performances in Poland/Ukraine have made him a strong candidate to win the Ballon d’Or.
Coach – Vicente del Bosque – Spain
The moustachioed Spanish boss won two Champions Leagues with Real Madrid at the start of the 2000s and led La Roja to the World Cup two years ago. Now he has bagged Spain’s second successive European Championship. There may be no secret to what Del Bosque does – Josep Guardiola commented “he is a fantastic manager because he puts the right players on the pitch” – but silverware cannot be argued with.