Once again, Spain. Some people thought Italy’s improvement during Euro 2012 meant that they would peak in the final, but it wasn’t to be. Many thought Germany, after a perfect group stage and four goals against Greece in the quarterfinals. Italy were in the way. Spain, ”boring” Spain, with the most dominating performance ever in a Euro final, because they simply have the best players, by far.
MVP – Andres Iniesta, Spain
Andres Iniesta of Barcelona didn’t score in six matches this tournament. He had only one assist to his name. But it wasn’t about statistics this time, leaving the goals and the final touches to other players. In a group of six talented midfielders, all among the top 10 in the world according the most, Iniesta managed to shine with consistency and his ability to be dangerous almost every time he touched the ball. He even filled in for Xavi as his life-long teammate was subbed against Portugal. When you talk about the versatility in the Spanish midfield, Iniesta is the first name that needs to come up, proving that when Xavi will step down, there’s someone to count on for both club and country.
Goalkeeper – Iker Casillas (Spain). Conceded only once during the tournament, as much for his ability as for other, team reasons. His act of sportsmanship in the end of the final was the icing on the cake.
Defenders – Sergio Ramos (Spain). This year Ramos returned to centre back after playing mostly as a full back since arriving at Real Madrid. He now possesses the maturity, the experience and decision making combined with his physical abilities to lead a defense. Gerard Pique (Spain). After a troubled season with Barcelona, which included injuries and a dip in his form, Pique was fantastic in the tournament, even without Carles Puyol at his side. Like Ramos, simply didn’t make any mistakes.
Jordi Alba (Spain). Barcelona paid €14 million for the young left back, who scored in the final and was one of Spain’s more consistent performers throughout the tournament. Philipp Lahm (Germany). The German captain wasn’t at his best against Italy, making one big mistake, failing to create an offside situation, allowing Mario Balotelli’s second goal, but he scored one of the tournament’s better strikers against Greece and was pretty much flawless through the first four matches.
Midfield – Andres Iniesta (Spain). See above. Cesc Fabregas (Spain). In, out. Striker, midfielder. It didn’t matter. Fabregas was, as always, clutch for Spain in the big tournaments, scoring two goals and the winning penalty in the shootout against Portugal, adding the assist to the opening goal in the final. Andrea Pirlo (Italy). If his brilliant season for Juventus wasn’t enough of proof how mistaken AC Milan were for letting him go, this tournament came and proved just how special he is in the middle of the park, hardly making a mistake or bad pass all tournament long.
Xabi Alonso (Spain). It’s impossible to pick with Spain, because someone will be left out. But Xabi Alonso, who seems to shine less, most of the time, had his big moment in the spotlight with a brace in the quarterfinal against France, to go along with his excellent performances. In the Spanish setup, Alonso’s role is to make as few mistakes as possible and allow as few attacks to build up against his team. He did that perfectly. Xavi (Spain). This year, despite Xavi scoring a record 10 league goals, was the beginning of the decline for one of Spain’s and Barcelona’s greatest players. He was still good enough in almost every match to navigate his team, like only he knows how.
Striker – Mario Balotelli (Italy). There were no stand out strikers in the tournament, but if you had to choose one, it’d be Balotelli, and not just for all the attention he gathered. Balotelli was always dangerous, just not always accurate. He scored twice in the semifinal against Germany and once as a sub against Ireland, but was impossible to fully cover for entire matches. Bad luck and lack of concentration cost him the golden boot.
Fernando Torres got the UEFA golden boot, although he wasn’t the only player to score three goals during the tournament. Mario Mandzukic (Croatia), Mario Gomez (Germany), Mario Balotelli (Italy), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Alan Dzagoev (Russia).
Torres scored three goals and had an assist, which counts as a tie breaker in this case. But… Mario Gomez had an assist as well, so what do we do? Well, then playing time comes into action. Torres spent 92 minutes less than Gomez on the pitch during the tournament, so he should thank Del Bosque’s 4-6-0 tactics for winning the award eventually. He also became the first player to score in two Euro finals.