Euro 2012: The group stage XI
An XI of the best from the group stages, because we feel like it. If there’s any player you think we’ve missed out, it’s because he’s on your list. Or, alternatively, you can tell us who in the comments section.
We're as surprised as you are.
Iker Casillas: He’s a goalkeeper, and he’s played quite well, which is arguably enough to warrant a place in the side. The standard of keeping during the groups, generally, was very poor — but Iker Casillas still managed to stick out like a handsome and very competent thumb.
Gebre Selassie: Football logic is inconsistent — but Selassie’s status as an unknown has probably helped him stand out; he might not be the best right-back in the competition, right now anyway, but he’s looked as good as the rest. And who doesn’t dearly love a full-back who can defend as well as he can attack (which is a compliment in this case)? Selassie was Czech Republic’s best player (followed, of course, by The Gliding Jesus™, Petr Jiracek).
Pepe: Portugal wore their red home kit twice in the group stages, but rumour has it that Pepe’s ones mysteriously disappeared before the tournament, and instead, when needed to, he’s been wearing his country’s white away strip, blood-stained and all. Thankfully, it seems those claims are unfounded; Pepe’s put his apparent misanthropy to one side and decided to focus on the football. He’s looked good so far.
Daniele De Rossi: The Italian, makeshift centre-half would perhaps struggle in a two-man defence (in this tournament, he’s been part of a three), especially if the person he’s paired with is one of the most erratic and volatile in world football. While De Rossi might be the weak link in the team for this reason, he’s looked very assured in an unfamiliar position — and so he deserves credit — and everything he’s learned as a midfielder has been, in some way, translated to a withdrawn position in Italy’s 3-5-2. The opener against Spain was his best performance of the three — which he really ought to be bragging about if he hasn’t yet.
Fabio Coentrão: In a world of Steven Warnocks and Wayne Bridges, you sometimes wonder why anybody would even want to be a left-back. Coentrão, however, does a good job of it; good against Germany, even better against Denmark and even, even better against Holland.
Samir Nasri: We’re also surprised.
Steven Gerrard: This isn’t a joke post, honest. It’s been widely acknowledged that Gerrard’s been pretty good for England so far and after his performance against France, Laurent Blanc was said to have praised him personally. Gerrard had a hand in key England goals; Lescott in the first game, Carroll against Sweden in the second and then Rooney against Ukraine in the decider, with the help of a few deflections and a miserable-looking goalkeeper. Even his Hollywood balls have been effective according to sometimes-reliable science; Football365 say 14/19 of his long balls have found a team-mate.
Andrea Pirlo: Italy have had a makeover; and Andrea Pirlo’s game has so far been as attractive as it’s ever been.
Andres Iniesta: The doubters would be looking at this team in disgust; this side would never be able to succeed in practise, they’d say. Well, you’re wrong. Iniesta has been consistently good even when Spain largely haven’t; he’s always stringing passes together, looking to create and just generally holding his team together — all this making him the front-runner for Player of the Tournament. Take that, probably-right doubters!
Alan Dzagoev: The Russians might have ‘crashed out’ according to the papers, though perhaps a better description is needed given the manner of their 1-0 defeat to Greece where a dour game, and an uninspiring performance from a team that had semi-finals as a realistic target, mixed with Robbie Savage’s analysis, made for a rather anticlimactic end to all the Dzagoev — and Arshavin — fun. Still, the attacking midfielder was busy and impactful; he didn’t quite manage to maintain the level of performance against the Greeks, but he manages to pip Zlatan Ibrahimovic for his immense football in the first two games. He tucks in behind Gomez.
Mario Gomez: He scored three goals out of three. Did anyone else scored three goals? Yes? Oh.
BENCH: Lloris, Debuchy, Hummels, Krohn-Dehli, Arshavin, Modric, Ibrahimovic.