The official UEFA Team of the Tournament was revealed yesterday, including star performers such as Pepe, Antoine Griezmann, and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, while the above names are certainties to get in anybody’s team of the tournament, there were others who I thought were lucky to make the cut.
Above is a picture of the UEFA team of the tournament. In my opinion, there can be no arguing with the inclusion of Raphaël Guerreiro, Pepe, or Jérôme Boateng from the defence, while Toni Kroos, Antoine Griezmann, and Aaron Ramsey deserve their place in the midfield, and Cristiano Ronaldo is a shoe-in up front. However, that leaves four players who I believe deserve a place in the team who didn’t make the official eleven. My team of the tournament is pictured below, and here is why I selected these players:
Despite being 38 years old, Gianluigi Buffon has shown that he is still capable of shining on the biggest European stage. He was a key part of Italy’s campaign, as they looked to build solid defensive foundations, allowing them to hit teams on the counter attack. Antonio Conte’s defense was made up completely of Juventus players, with Buffon being protected by Leonardo Bonucci, Giorgio Chiellini, and Andrea Barzagli. This clearly worked for Italy, as they managed to progress to the quarter finals, beating the holders, Spain, along the way, and were only knocked out by Germany in a penalty shootout.
Considering how unfancied they were at the start of the competition, to beat both Spain and Belgium has to go down as a success for Italy. Buffon himself was fundamental to their success, as he popped up with important saves at key moments throughout the tournament. I think he deserves to be in the team of the tournament ahead of Rui Patrício because the defense and goalkeeper was the most important element of Italy’s campaign, whereas Portugal often relied on goalscoring to progress.
My defense consists of Pepe, Jérôme Boateng, Raphaël Guerreiro, and Leonardo Bonucci. The back three of Italy was the most important element in their success, as they conceded just two goals all tournament. Bonucci himself performed heroically, not just in defense but going forward too. The three Italian centre halves were very dangerous from set pieces, and Bonucci also came to the fore as a creative influence in the tournament. He regularly found himself playing 40 yard passes, and even scored an equaliser from the penalty spot in Italy’s quarter final match against Germany.
Pepe was one of the very best performers of the competition, picking up the man of the match award in the final, as well as several other games. When Pepe was ruled out of Portugal’s semi final tie with Wales, many feared that Portugal would find it difficult to secure the win, such was the centre half’s importance in earlier games. Although Pepe is not the most popular footballer in the world, and often disgraces himself with his on-field antics, there can be no denying that he is a world class defender, and is my pick for player of the tournament.
Raphaël Guerreiro is another Portugal defender who has earned his place in both mine and UEFA’s team of the tournament. He started the tournament playing as more of a wing back, as his rampaging forward runs caused problems in the early games. However, as Portugal changed their tactics later on in the tournament, they found themselves playing more defensively, so Guerreiro was confined to a more traditional role at left back. Guerreiro’s performances in the semi final and the final were particularly impressive, as he was able to stop both Gareth Bale, and a rampant Moussa Sissoko from scoring. I think that without Guerreiro’s contribution in both defense and attack, Portugal would have found it far more difficult to be so successful and would have been even more reliant on star players such as Cristiano Ronaldo.
Jérôme Boateng was one of the key performers for Germany, especially when Mats Hummels was suspended for their semi final against France. That meant that Boateng really had to lead the back four and, while Boateng could do nothing to stop France pushing through to the final, he was a key part in their progression that far. He was involved in several standout moments, most notably a dramatic goal line clearance against Ukraine, and a magnificent volleyed goal against Slovakia. Although Boateng could not help his team to add the European Championships trophy to their World Cup, he can be very proud of his personal performance.
My holding midfielders would be Toni Kroos and Aaron Ramsey, both of which were vital to their sides’ progression in the competition. Kroos completed the most passes of the entire tournament and was the driving force behind almost everything Germany did. His pinpoint passing allowed him to dictate the play in Germany’s games and helped Germany dominate possession more often than not. The way he was able to drop back to form a back three with the two centre halves meant that the two fullbacks, Kimmich and Hector, could push up, forcing the opposition deeper into their own half. This was a main part of Joachim Löw’s tactical plan, and the fact that the two central defenders are so comfortable on the ball meant that, along with Kroos, they were able to create chances throughout the team.
Aaron Ramsey played further forward for Wales than he would in my team, as he was one of Wales’ main attacking threats. Along with Gareth Bale and Hal Robson-Kanu, Ramsey was tasked with breaking down opposition defenses. Ramsey reacted brilliantly to being replaced as captain by Ashley Williams, and proved his worth to the Welsh team. Unfortunately for Wales, Ramsey and Ben Davies were suspended for the semi final against Portugal, which proved to be a big reason for them being knocked out. However, when Ramsey did play, he made a big impact, particularly with his goal against Russia.
The attacking midfield three in my team includes Antoine Griezmann, Gareth Bale, and Cristiano Ronaldo. Remarkably, despite the fact that Bale scored three goals in the tournament, he didn’t make the UEFA Team of the Tournament. He registered two goals from free kicks from improbable range and also proved to be a dangerous proposition for defenders of all the sides Wales came up against. When you consider the fact that Bale was the talisman for his country and found himself on press duty before and after every game, and still didn’t buckle under all the pressure, it is inconceivable to me that he didn’t make the official team of the tournament.
Griezmann was given the title of player of the tournament officially and, while I don’t think he fully deserved it, there is no question over whether he deserved to be in the team of the tournament. The golden boot winner was influential in France’s road to the final, notching six goals along the way. Although he started the tournament playing on the right wing, he later moved into the role behind the main striker, where he found his goalscoring form and really came into his own. He went missing in the final, otherwise I would have no problem with his winning the Player of the Tournament award, but like in the Champions League final, he was unable to perform to his usual high standards. However, his ability cannot be questioned, as was shown by the brace he scored in the semi final against Germany.
Cristiano Ronaldo eventually showed his class in the tournament, despite taking a couple of games to find his feet in the tournament. I felt that he played his best football when he came deeper to collect the ball, allowing him to run at defenders and make late runs into the penalty area, making him harder to mark. He started off playing as a main striker with Nani, but I felt he played better just behind Nani, as was seen in the match against Wales when he came deep to collect the ball and set up Nani’s goal. He also scored one of his trademark headers during that game, when he made a late run in behind James Chester.
Ronaldo came second in the race for the golden boot, and ended up captaining his side to victory. Like with Gareth Bale, he had to deal with lots of pressure, but ended up showing how good a player he really is. The only shame is that he got injured so early in the final and had to sit out the majority of the game. He endured a torrid first two games against Iceland and Austria, but the fact that he was able to endure that bad spell and still emerge as one of the tournament’s best players is a testament to the player that he is.
Olivier Giroud is, in my opinion, one of the most underrated players in world football. I find it remarkable that, despite his top class performances throughout the tournament, coming third in the race for the golden boot, people were still ridiculing him for his lack of pace. His aerial presence was second to none at the tournament, as was shown by his three headed goals, and his link up play was one of the main reasons for Antoine Griezmann’s rampant performances. The fact is; pace is not why Olivier Giroud is in the team. He is in the side to be a handful for defenders and to bring other attacking players into play.
I think his true ability was seen during Euro 2016, as having the intelligent movement of Griezmann running off him meant that Giroud was able to take the defenders away, leaving space for the quicker striker to run in behind. If Arsenal are able to recruit a player of Griezmann’s style and quality, I think we will really see the best of Giroud – something that has only been glimpsed during his time in the Premier League. In my view, when at his best, as he was in this tournament, Giroud is one of the top strikers in world football and easily deserves to be named in the team of the tournament.
Every top team needs a manager, and in my opinion, the best manager of Euro 2016 was Antonio Conte. Although he was unable to lead his team past the quarter finals and his style of play was not always the best to watch, Conte’s tactical nouse was such that his players performed at a level above the sum of their means. Despite the Italians supposedly fielding their worst team for 30 years, Conte was able to defeat both Belgium and Spain, and only lost to the world champions in a penalty shootout.
The passion shown by Conte on the touchline was also very striking, as he could constantly be heard screaming at his players, ensuring that everything they had worked on in training was being applied to perfection throughout their matches. I was lucky enough to see their dismantling of holders, Spain, and it was evident that Conte’s tactics were what really won the match for Italy, rather than the superiority of the players. It was also clear that Conte is a perfectionist, as his angry reaction to a simple mistake by Emanuele Giaccherini almost led to him being sent off. I think he is a certainty for manager of the tournament, and Chelsea fans can look forward to similar tactical masterclasses when he takes over at Stamford Bridge next season.