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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