Euro 2012′s group stages have come to an end. Which means the real football starts now! 8 of the best teams have made it out of the group stages, and all 8 of them are now playing for the Henri Delaunay Trophy.
While star performances have been far and few, some players have caught the eye by putting in some exhilarating performances, while the others have flopped in epic manner. Here is a list of players which have been standout players for their national teams in the group stages (with ratings):
Pretty unspectacular in the first two games, with a lot of people (your’s truly included) questioning van Marwijk’s decision to start him over the likes of Michel Vorm and Tim Krul, Stekelenberg made a couple of absolutely fantastic saves in Netherlands’ do-or-die game against Portugal. Alone, he tried his best to keep his team on level terms, saving a Fabio Coentrao shot from inside the box, and making a point-blank save from a Nani shot. A controversial inclusion perhaps, but a deserving one; Stekelenberg kept his team in the game and gave them a fighting chance.
A solid and dependable presence for his team at the back, Neuer has played as big a part in Germany’s success as anyone else in the team. His brilliance at the back has meant that Germany have been able to come out of the ‘Group of Death’ with 9 points – the only team to have 3 wins in the tournament – and it also means that Neuer has kept some of the most lethal strikers, such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Robin van Persie, at bay.
If Neuer has been partially responsible for Germany’s success, Spain can attribute a lot of their’s to their man at the back – Iker Casillas. Casillas, without a shadow of a doubt the best goalkeeper in the world right now, has made save after save, especially against Spain’s games against Italy and Croatia, where he made a brilliant save from a powerful Ivan Rakitic header from point-blank range that kept his team in the game, and quite possibly in the Euro’s!
Honourable mentions: Gigi Buffon (Italy), who as it turns out, is a better dribbler than Fernando Torres!
A pretty easy call to make. As predicted, Lahm has been, quite simply, outstanding. What probably sets him apart from any fullback out there right now is that while he is a naturally attacking fullback who loves going forward, he is almost never caught out of position. He has been extremely calm and confident on the ball, and his passing accuracy remains one of the highest in the tournament – successfully completing 158 of his 173 attempted passes with an accuracy of almost 92%!
Hummels single-handedly kept Germany in the game against Portugal, and shows no signs of stopping even after having come off a long and tiring season for the club. Solid, a towering presence and an absolute rock at the back, he has also formed a good partnership and understanding with Holger Badstuber. In Germany’s 3 group games, Hummels has made a total of 12 tackles, 13 interceptions, and 22 clearances. Surprisingly (or not), he has excelled offensively as well – 2 shots on goal (both on target), 10 accurate long balls out of a total 12 attempted and an extremely impressive 93% pass accuracy!
I’ll be honest, after the season Coentrao had with Real Madrid, I wasn’t expecting a lot. However once again, he has been excellent for his national team and has put in performances similar to those that made him one of Portugal’s MVPs in the 2012 World Cup! His marauding runs down Portugal’s flank have provided them with additional thrust, and he has continuously looked impressive whenever venturing upfield, linking well with Cristiano Ronaldo – as was witnessed in Portugal’s 3-2 victory over Denmark. He also has one assist to his name.
Danielle De Rossi
Italy played an unconventional 3-5-2 formation in their first two games, when Italy took on Spain and Croatia. What was particularly interesting was how their defense lined up – 2 central defenders and a sweeper, a role unfamiliar to de Rossi but one in which he has been outstanding! 8 interceptions, 12 clearances and 5 shots blocked, with 136/162 accurate passes and 33/42 accurate long balls showing his passing prowess. He frustrated the Spain attack for long periods of time, and kept them at bay, eventually helping his team draw the match 1-1. He then slotted back into his natural defensive midfield position against Italy’s last game at Ireland, and his technical prowess ensured that Italy progressed to the quarter finals comfortably. Manchester United have reportedly been linked with a summer move for De Rossi.
Debuchy, filling in for the injured Bacary Sagna, has done his chances of claiming the right-back slot for his national team permanently a world of good, particularly after two fantastic performances against England and Ukraine. However his performance in France’s game against Sweden was nothing to write home about, with Sweden’s left-winger Christian Wilhelmsson getting the better of him at almost every occasion. Nonetheless, he has been one of Les Bleus‘ star performers, and has seen his club fend off interest in him, most notably a £4m bid from Newcastle United.
Pilar has been Czech Republic’s MVP by a clear mile, his performances have been spectacular – even when his team got absolutely thrashed 4-1 by the Russians. He has scored half of his team’s goals (2 goals out of Czech Republic’s total 4), with his goal against Russia particularly standing out. He has 10 shots on goal – only behind Arjen Robben in terms of number of shots taken by wingers in the tournament, and has completed 6 successful dribbles – ranking third (behind Arshavin and Ribery) on the list of wingers with the most successful dribbles. He will ply his trade for German league side Wolfsburg next season, who will undoubtedly be extremely pleased with the 230year old’s performances, especially as they paid just £1m for his services. He won the Man of the Match award for his performance against Poland, and it’s safe to say that his performances on the left-wing have been one of the main reasons the Czech have made it to the quarter-finals. Now the game against Portugal will be a true test of Pilar’s abilities.
Another surprise package in the list, CSKA Moscow’s attacking-midfielder Dzagoev has been my pick for the MVP (ooh controversy!) as far as the group stages are concerned, despite the fact that Russia have crashed out of the tournament. The 21-year old’s performances all over the field have been brilliant to say the least: he has scored 3 goals (60% or 3/5 of Russia’s goals), has taken 11 shots, made 10 key passes, with a pass accuracy of 83% – not bad at all for a central attacking midfielder. His influence doesn’t quite end there, as he has made a total of 12 tackles for the Russian – the most in the team. His ability on the ball, ability to find space, pace, and his understanding with Andrei Arshavin made the Russians particularly threatening when going forward. Understandably then, he has attracted interest from a host of top clubs, most notably perhaps from Arsenal. Had Russia made it beyond the group stages, Dzagoev would’ve been a strong contender for the Euro 2012 young player of the tournament.
Steven Gerrard has surprisingly been involved in almost all of England’s goals, and understandably, has 3 assists to his name. He swung in a superb freekick in England’s game against France through which Lescott opened the scoring, kept his side together and eventually led them to victory against the Swedes – a game where he once again provided a splendid ball for Andy Carroll to head into the net, and crossed from the right to provide the assist fro Wayne Rooney’s goal in England’s 1-0 win over Ukraine in their last group game. Consequently, England – rather unexpectedly and against all odds – went on to top the group. And while Scott Parker has looked like a bit of a headless chicken at times (tiredness?), Gerrard has also been solid defensively – making 13 tackles and 5 interceptions. He would need to be much less anonymous than he has been, however, if England is to have a real shot at that Henri Delaunay trophy. His first two tournament assists – absolute beauties!
Very few midefielders in the world right now (try none!) can claim to best Xavi Hernandez at what he does, yet that is precisely what the evergreen Andrea Pirlo seems to be doing on the national and the international level. Having come off a hugely successful unbeaten season with Juventus, the midfielder is now making his mark on the international level. His vision, passing range, ability to dictate the pace of the game, technique and experience is second to none. Against Spain, he put the passing prowess of the likes of Xavi, Alonso and Busquets to shame. His sudden burst of acceleration and the perfectly-weighted through ball to Antonio di Natale was a sight to behold! So was his superbly-taken free kick against Croatia. The best central midfielder in the tournament?
What can I say about Iniesta that hasn’t already been said. Once again, putting world class defenders to shame, even on the international stage, Iniesta continues to wow everyone year after year. His close-control, pace and dribbling is just fascinating; Iniesta personifies the phrase ‘poetry in motion’ when he has the ball at his feet! Spain’s game versus Italy is a prime example of this; Iniesta was a constant threat with his direct runs at a stubborn Italian defense, and he always looked to make things happen, even when Spain looked impotent and unlikely to score. He has one assist to his name, with a passing accuracy of 90% – no surprise when you consider than the Spanish side have the highest average possession (70%) and the highest passing accuracy (89%) in the tournament. Iniesta has 9 successful dribbles, and 13 shots to his name, in total.
Ozil, along with Bastian Schweinsteiger has been the pick of the players for Germany. While ‘Schweini’ has the ability to dictate the tempo of the game from deep, Ozil links the midfield with attack, providing a constant threat to the opposition. A classic no.10, he has the ability to pick the perfect pass, as drift into pockets of space in order to receive passes and make inch-perfect passes to open up even the most stubborn defenses. He was tipped to be one of the stars of Euro 2012, and thus far, he has certainly lived up to the billing! Having come off a title-winning season with Real Madrid, should Ozil be able to continue delivering such match-winning performances, Germany would have a real shot at the Henri Delaunay.
Bastian ‘Shweini’ Schweinsteiger is a gifted individual. Having started playing football as a winger, he is now one of the best central playmakers in the world. While his domestic season with Bayern Munich was a disappointment on all fronts, Schweinsteiger has been absolutely outstanding in his 3 Euro 2012 games for Germany. Calm and composed on the ball, playing incisive forward passes into the attacking half, he has 2 assists to his name, and an incredible 204 successfully completed passes out of a total of 223 attempted – a 93% pass accuracy! While he was excellent against the Portuguese, he was quite simply, miles ahead of any player in Germany’s games against the Dutch and the Danish, controlling the midfield and pulling the strings for his side.
Highest number of assists in Euro 2012 with 3 (well, join-highest), as well as a goal to his name, Silva has perhaps been Spain’s most potent attacking threat. What’s truly amazing is the level of understanding the Manchester City has with the rest of the squad – such as the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Xavi and Andres Iniesta – considering the fact that while all of these players play for a single club, Silva has never played with any of them at club level! This, along with his incisiveness and vision in the final third has made him an integral part of Spain’s fluid front 3. His goal against the Irish was a thing of beauty! He has been involved in all of Spain’s goals – in the buildup if not directly. He has 9 key passes and an 87% pass accuracy for the 164 passes he’s attempted. Key player for the Spaniards, without a shadow of a doubt.
Honourable mentions: Luka Modric (Croatia), Michael Krohn-Dehli (Denmark), Andrei Arshavin (Russia), Yohann Cabaye (France).
Laregely anaonymous in Portugal’s first two games (pretty much as expected), Ronaldo announced his arrival in grand manner in Portugal’s game against the Netherlands, bagging two brilliant goals – when it mattered the most! Portugal needed a win to progress, and Ronaldo was uncharacteristically superb in attack for the Portuguese, hitting the opposition with lightning-quick counter-attacks and generally looking threatening every time with the ball. He gave Gregory van der Wiel – a promising young right-back of whom much was expected – an absolutely torrid time. If only Ronaldo had shown up in Portugal’s first two games! Comparisons by journalists with Lionel Messi (which evoked a strong reaction from Ronaldo) certainly seem to have done the trick! P.S. Ronaldo has a massive 7.3 shots on goal per game, more than any other player in Euro 2012!
After his rather unspectacular performance in Germany’s opener against Portugal, many called upon Low to drop Gomez in favour of Miroslav Klose (your’s truly included). However Gomez repaid Low’s faith in him by netting 3 out of Germany’s 5 goals – 3 fantastic goals in fact! He also has 1 assist and 9 shots on goal in total. However I still do believe that Klose should have been given a shot – Gomez is a true target-man, a classic striker, which means he remains static and fails to bring the wingers into play (something Klose does quite brilliantly), which explains why Lukas Podolski and 2010 World Cup Golden Boot winner Thomas Muller have been relatively quiet.
Another one of the Mario’s in this year’s Euro 2012., Mandzukic has bagged 3 goals, out of Croatia’s total of 4. And he’s taken only 5 shots on goal, a pretty good conversion rate! He has therefore been the surprise star player of the tournament, putting finishing to some of Croatia’s brilliant attacks. He uses his size and strength very well, is a good passer of the ball (something that seems to be common with all Croatian players!), and can also hold the ball up in order to bring the midfielders and other players into play. Above all, he provides his team with an aerial threat, as he is equally able with his head as he is with his feet; he scored 12 goals for German side Wolfsburg this season, with 7 of those being headers.
Forget the fact that Zlatan Ibrahimovic has probably scored the goal of the Euro 2012 tournament – a mind-blowing volley, and a truly special goal! Forget the fact that he has been Sweden’s best player by miles, and is light-years better than all of his national team-mates combined. Forget the fact the he remained largely anonymous for his team in their first two games. Forget even that the big Swede, the self-proclaimed ‘Best Striker in the World’ was lazy with his passing yet looked threatening going forward every time. Zlatan Ibrahimovic gets to be on this list (and scores extra cookie points) for replying when asked who he thinks will win the Euro’s now when Sweden are out, with this gem: “I don’t give a s***, I’m going on holiday!”
Honourable mentions: Danny Welbeck (England), Andriy Shevchenko (Ukraine), Karim Benzema (France).
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