Usually, when putting together a tournament best XI, the temptation is to cram extra forwards into the side at the expense of a defender or two, but looking back on Euro 2016, that won’t be the case this time.

As Portugal’s surprise victory over France in the final demonstrated, this was a tournament in which defensive organisation, commitment and team-work trumped the individual brilliance of some of the game’s biggest names.

Following the trend set by the likes of Leicester City and Atlético Madrid, teams like Iceland, Wales and champions Portugal recognised the value of having a strong unit, greater than the sum of its parts, and caused some major upsets.

GK – Rui Patricio (Portugal)

The Long-time Sporting CP goalkeeper didn’t put a foot wrong all tournament, and excelled in the 1-0 extra-time victory over France in the final, making a string of crucial saves to keep his sheet clean.

LB – Raphaël Guerreiro (Portugal)

Raphaël Guerreiro was marked out as one of the young players to keep an eye on before the Euros began thanks to his excellent season in Ligue 1. The young full-back didn’t disappoint as he was outstanding for Portugal throughout the competition. Guerrero’s performances will have Borussia Dortmund fans drooling at the prospect of having him in their side next season, after BVB secured the 22-year-old’s signature from Lorient.

CB – Pepe (Portugal)

Real Madrid centre-back Pepe is a figure of derision in many quarters due to his gamesmanship and penchant for the dramatic. But the 33-year-old won over many observers with his performances at Euro 2016. Pepe stood at the heart of the Portuguese defence, and was their most consistent and dependable performer, and would be my personal pick for player of the tournament.

CB – Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)

Juventus centre-half Leanardo Bonucci was already considered to be arguably the best player in the world in his position before the Euros kicked off, and his performances for Italy in their run to the quarter-finals served only to rubber stamp his status as perhaps the best defender in the world. Physical, athletic and strong in the challenge, the 29-year-old is also extremely comfortable in possession and able to play accurate, long, defence-splitting passes.

RB – Joshua Kimmich (Germany)

As a midfielder who spent most of his time at centre-back for Bayern Munich last season, 21-year-old Joshua Kimmich is used to adapting to new positions. And that’s exactly what he did for Germany at Euro 2016, turning out at right-back and playing as though he’d been operating in that role for a decade.

MD – Aaron Ramsey (Wales)

Gareth Bale may be the Welshman to grab most of the headlines, but Aaron Ramsey was the Dragons’ best player at Euro 2016. The Arsenal man demonstrated a steel and physicality that has not always been apparent in his game, while providing the key passes to fire his side into an unlikely semi-final. Ramsey missed Wales’ semi-final defeat to Portugal due to suspension; who knows what could’ve been had he been on the pitch.

MD – Toni Kroos (Germany)

Toni Kroos ended Euro 2016 with a pass accuracy of over 92%, and averaged 107 passes per match. The Germany midfielder was Mister Consistent for Joachim Löwe’s men. The 26-year-old was at his usual impervious best as he helped Die Mannschaft reach the semi-finals, before losing 2-0 to France despite dominating possession.

MD – Renato Sanches (Portugal)

Teenager Renato Sanches was named young player of the tournament, and he edges out Portugal team-mate William Carvalho to get into my XI. The Bayern Munch new boy was not a starter as the tournament kicked off, but at the competition progressed he forced his way into the side, making himself vital to his nation’s Euro glory with his energy, dynamism and drive from midfield.

RW – Gareth Bale (Wales)

Gareth Bale was pegged as the key man for Wales before the tournament began, with many suggesting that the Wales team was simply Bale plus 10. That assertion was wholly unfair on the rest of Chris Coleman’s men, but there is no doubt that Bale is the man they look to for attacking inspiration. And the Real Madrid man didn’t let his nation down as he bagged an impressive three goals on Wales’ run to the semi-finals.

CF – Antoine Griezmann (France)

Top scorer with six goals, and named the official player of the tournament by UEFA, Atlético Madrid forward Antione Griezmann had a fantastic Euro 2016. Despite a slow start – Griezmann was even dropped for France’s second group game – as soon as Didier Deschamps deployed the former Real Socieded man in a central position he came to life, scoring the goals that fired Les Bleus to the final. He was, however, unable to net his side’s best chance in the Final, as the hosts slumped to a shock defeat against Portugal.

LW – Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

Based purely on footballing performances, Ronaldo wouldn’t make this team. Undoubtedly the best player in the competition, and arguable the best European player of all time, Ronaldo’s on-field displays were largely disappointing. A strong second half in the final group game against Hungary and a solid display against Wales in the semi-final, were juxtaposed with some below-par performances, including a particularly wasteful game against Poland in the quarter-final.

But Ronaldo, as captain of the competition winners, gets in to this XI by virtue of the leadership he demonstrated in guiding an unfancied side to an unlikely triumph. And, although he wasn’t always at his best on the pitch, the former Manchester United man still managed to bag three goals, making him the second-highest scorer behind Griezmann.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here.

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB


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There were no huge surprises when Germany manager Joachim Löwe announced his 27-man provisional squad for this summer’s European Championship. The usual cast of superstars like Bayern Munich’s Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer, and Borussia Dortmund’s departing captain Mats Hummels, were all included.

So too were some trusted members of Die Mannschaft’s 2014 World Cup winning side, such as Toni Kroos, Lucas Podolski and captain Bastian Schweinsteiger.

If eyebrows were raised at the exclusion of Dortmund left-back Marcel Schmelzer, they were soon followed by a resigned shrug, as Löwe has overlooked the BVB player for the best part of two years now, despite there being no other outstanding full-back candidate to justify his absence.

But, just to keep things interesting, there are a handful of young up-and-comers who, given the right platform, could launch themselves into the wider footballing conscience.

Julian Weigl, Joshua Kimmich and, in particular, exciting wingers Leroy Sané and Julian Brandt.

Despite only having one cap between them, Sané and Brandt have produced the kind of performances over the last Bundesliga season that Löwe simply couldn’t ignore.

Schalke 04’s Sané has drawn interest from both Manchester City and Manchester United, with City rumoured to be weighing up an offer in excess of £30m, as they hope to make the 20-year-old the first signing of the Pep Guardiola era at the Etihad.

Athletic pedigree runs in the family for Sané: his father is a former Senegalese international footballer, and his mother is a former German rhythmic gymnastics champion. So with those genes, a career in professional sport was never too much of a stretch for Sané junior.Playing predominantly on the right-wing – though also comfortable on the left, or centrally as a number 10 – Sané has been a key player for Schalke this season, making 42 appearances in all competitions, scoring nine times and registering seven assists.

In addition to being blessed with blistering pace and crowd-pleasing dribbling skills, Sané is also a confident finisher. Several times this season he has expertly manufactured a pocket of space for himself inside the opposition’s penalty area, and tucked away a neatly slotted effort. Although he only has one senior international cap to his name, Löwe clearly values Sané’s game-changing abilities, and should find room for him within the final 23-man Germany squad.

Despite having made more Bundesliga appearances than Sané (65 compared to the Schalke man’s 47), Brandt’s rise to prominence took a little longer. But as the season drew to a close, the Bayer Leverkusen youngster came into his own. Between 20 April and 30 May 2016, Brandt went on a run of scoring in six consecutive Bundesliga matches, becoming the first player to do so since Dieter Müller 42 years ago.

Perhaps not quite as quick across the ground as Sané, though by no means a slouch, Brandt’s major calling-card is his phenomenally quick feet. The 20-year-old is able to wriggle away from fastidious markers and move into space in a way that is not possible for the vast majority of players.

Typically deployed on the left-wing for Leverkusen, Brandt will regularly switch sides with right-winger – and fellow Euro 2016 Germany squad member – Karim Bellerabi. Brandt possesses an acute eye for a killer pass and, in recent months, has evidently developed his finishing to a level where, when presented with a scoring chance, a goal feels like a mere formality.

Having closed out the Bundesliga season with six goals and three assists from his final seven games, if selecting a squad on current form, Brandt would be assured to play a key part for his county at Euro 2016.

The fact remains that only 23 men will be making the trip to France in June, so four members of Löwe’s provisional 27-man squad will have to be cut. And one or both of Sané and Brandt could be among that unfortunate number, especially considering their inexperience at international level. But both young men have out-performed most of their more-senior peers this season, and are more than deserving of a place in the final squad.

With the eyes of Europe, if not the world, on the European Championship this summer, the stage is perfectly set for Sané and Brandt to elevate themselves to the status of the continent’s elite.

About the author – Ryan Baldi

Ryan is a Midlands based freelance sports writer specialising in European football. He has been fascinated with the continental game ever since he was presented with his first football kit at the age of 7 years old whilst on holiday in Spain – a Barcelona shirt with ‘Romario 10’ printed on the back. A contributor to numerous footballing websites, Ryan has also covered martial arts for local and national print publications. Ryan’s musings on European football can be found here. 

twitter: @RyanBaldiEFB



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Joshua Kimmich, Bayern Munich

Germany ultimately fell short in this summer’s European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic, unceremoniously dumped out by a rampant Portugal side in the semi-final. Nevertheless, there were plenty of positives to take from Horst Hrubesch’s outfit’s prior showings, with Kimmich among their best players at the tournament.

The 20-year-old has spent the last two seasons on loan at RB Leipzig from Stuttgart, with the upcoming campaign set to be his first taste of top-flight football. Regardless of his lack of experience at the highest level, Pep Guardiola and Bayern have clearly seen enough in the holding midfielder, tying him down to a five-year deal after a €7m move was finalised earlier this year.

Kimmich is an energetic ball-winner who is comfortable in possession and likes to set the tempo of his team from deep. Bayern have plenty of options in central midfield, with new addition Arturo Vidal joining the likes of Thiago, Xabi Alonso, Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and David Alaba and Philipp Lahm – full-backs who have previously been deployed in the engine room by Guardiola – in the Bavarians’ squad. With Bayern looking to compete on multiple fronts, though, Kimmich should get a few chances to impress in the first team.

Leroy Sane, Schalke

Despite being linked with a switch to the Premier League and Tottenham Hotspur in recent weeks, Sane remains in the Bundesliga and could be a key player for Schalke as they attempt to secure a top-four spot this season.

The 19-year-old is a versatile forward who has played on the right, left, behind the striker and even right up top. Quick, tricky and in possession a fine left foot, Sane is full of craft and a player who looks capable of making something happen whenever he has the ball at his feet. A powerful and accurate shot is another weapon that Schalke will be looking for him to utilise in the coming months.

With fellow attacker Julian Draxler potentially on the way to Juventus, who are thought to be seeking a creative presence in the final third, Sane could step up to play an even more prominent role. He will certainly look to have a bigger impact than last season when, while shining at times, he only started seven Bundesliga games. His fantastic display against Real Madrid in the Champions League in March was evidence of his exciting potential.

Hakan Calhanoglu, Bayer Leverkusen

Being a fellow Turkish-born German is not the only reason Calhanoglu has been likened to Arsenal’s Mesut Ozil. The attacking midfielder enjoyed an impressive debut campaign at Leverkusen last term, scoring eight goals and recording six assists as Roger Schmidt’s side finished in the top four and qualified for this year’s Champions League.

2015-16 will be Calhanoglu’s fifth campaign as a senior professional, which makes it easy to forget he is still just 21 years of age. He began his career at Karlsruher SC in 2011, before some promising performances earned him a move to Hamburg after a year. Calhanoglu has since improved year-on- year, adding consistency and a better end product to his game.

Creative and energetic with a fine range of passing, Calhanoglu operates best as a number 10 but is also comfortable playing deeper in the field, as he did on occasion last season. The playmaker, who has nine caps and three goals for Turkey, is also a superb free-kick taker and dead-ball specialist capable of testing any keeper from almost any distance. With a good deal of experience under his belt and another year of Champions League football to look forward to, Calhanoglu is certainly one to watch this season.

About the Author – Greg Lea

Freelance football writer. Work published by FourFourTwo, The Guardian, World Soccer, Goal, The National, Squawka, Eurosport, The Blizzard + others.
Twitter @GregLeaFootball


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