Best XI – 2012 Euro Edition
With the European Championship being barely a month away, Goalden Times looks back at the previous editions in search of players who have performed exceptionally. There is no denying the fact that UEFA European Championships fall short of FIFA World Cup in terms of popularity and extravaganza. However, in terms of quality of football on display, it is no less than World Cup if not better. Given so little difference in quality of the competing nations the battle for supremacy have been of the highest order only to be decided by the brilliance of some gifted players. There have been performances by players which have caught the imagination of the audience and helped their country all the way to the glory. This month, Goalden Times tries to create a BEST XI out of all the players who have set the EURO alight with their performances as a tribute to them.
GOAL-KEEPER : LEV YASHIN
Arguably the best goalkeeper the game has ever seen and the only custodian to win the Ballon d’Or, Yashin is the most apt choice for the Goal-keeper position. Always dressed in black and nicknamed The Black Spider, he was imposing and extraordinarily agile. Many critics even said he was ahead of his time in terms of goalkeeping skills. The 1960 UEFA European Championship contributed considerably to his legend and he was in especially brilliant form against Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia as the USSR won the inaugural title. Actually in the Final, Yugoslavia played better than the Soviets but only because of Yashin’s heroics they had to settle with being the second best. In 1964, Yashin was again under the bar for the Soviets and they reached the final for the second straight time. But this time Yashin and his team were beaten by Spain.
DEFENDER : GIACINTO FACCHETTI
Facchetti is remembered as one of the first truly great attacking-full backs, and one of the best ever in his position. Facchetti was the heart and soul of FC Internazionale Milano for almost half a century. He captained Italy to glory at the 1968 UEFA European Championship thus ending a 30 years trophy drought. He was in impeccable form throughout the tournament and just as the proverb says “Luck favours the brave”, Facchetti was the man who made the right call on the toss of the coin after Italy’s goalless draw with the Soviet Union, thus enabling the hosts to progress through to the final. In the final replay. Facchetti lead from the front, marshalled his defence well to keep a clean sheet and eventually helping his team to the glory
DEFENDER : FRANZ BECKENBAUER
One of the greatest players in the history of the game, Beckenbauer confirmed his presence on the international stage when he captained West Germany to their first UEFA European Championship title in 1972. Commanding matters from his new role of sweeper, his team dominated in 1972. They were in stupendous form, crowning an imperious run with a resounding 3-0 win against the Soviet Union, still the largest margin of victory in a UEFA European Championship final. Many regard the West German team, under Beckenbauer, as the greatest to grace the competition. Winners West Germany totally dominated the 1972 European Player of the Year poll with Beckenbauer occupying the top position. In the next championship also, Beckenbauer led his team to the final. However this time inspite of being favourites they came out second best to Czechoslovakia. Beckenbauer again was selected as the European Player of the Year.
DEFENDER : LAURENT BLANC
Blanc was voted into UEFA’s Team of the Tournament in three successive UEFA European Championships, making the grade in 1992, 1996 and UEFA EURO 2000, where he bowed out with victory in the final – an honour cruelly denied of him through suspension at the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Nicknamed ‘Le Président’ on account of his authority, elegance and leadership, Blanc bowed out from the international scene after playing a big part in the 2-1 extra time victory over Italy. Even at the twilight of career, his efforts were herculean in ‘Les Blues’ road to glory.
DEFENDER : PAOLO MALDINI
One of the greatest ever defenders, Maldini played over 1,000 matches for club and country and made 126 appearances for Italy between 1988 and 2002. Maldini shone in several international tournaments, from his first (EURO ’88) to his last (2002 FIFA World Cup), In the UEFA EURO 2000 final, where Italy came to whiskers of the Championship glory only to be denied by golden goal. In that tournament Maldini helped the Azzuris to keep the meanest defence in the tournament, Maldini won EURO Team of the Tournament places in 1988, 1996 and 2000 but he never could experience the Cup glory.
MIDFIELDER : MATTHIAS SAMMER
His Franz Beckenbauer-like performances as sweeper at EURO ’96, where he played every minute of Germany’s triumphant campaign and scored winning goals against Russia and Croatia was one of the highlight of the tournament. Being the captain, he led from the front and was inspirational throughout the tournament. Under Sammer, Euro 96 was a resounding success for Germany as they not only remained undefeated throughout but they scored a mammoth ten goals, while conceding a mere three. He was a revelation in the Libero role and Sammer was chosen as “The Most Important Player Of the Tournament” for his performance in the tournament.
MIDFIELDER : MICHEL PLATINI
Platini exceeded all expectation when he captained  the Les Blues to their first international trophy in 1984. He was talismanic for the Les Blues throughout the tournament scoring in all five matches, including back-to-back hat-tricks in group games against Belgium and Yugoslavia. His other three goals were all winners, including strikes in the semi-final and the final against Spain. Combining with Tigana, Platini formed such a deadly midfield combo which is rarely seen. Having top-scored in Serie A for Italian champions Juventus just before the tournament, Platini retained the Ballon d’Or and would become the first player to win it three years running.
MIDFIELDER : DRAGAN DZAJIC
Dragan Dzajic is one of the most underrated footballers ever to play the game despite being one of the greatest left-wingers the world has ever produced. A dazzling dribbler, Džajić was named Yugoslavia’s Golden Player to mark UEFA’s Golden Jubilee in 2004. He saved his best for the UEFA European Championships. In 1968 he famously lobbed England goalkeeper Gordon Banks to score the late winner in the semi-final to give Yugoslavia a 1-0 victory against the defending world champion. He also opened the scoring in the final against Italy. The British press dubbed him “The Magic Dragan,” in that year, Beckenbauer mentioned Dzajic should win Ballon’ Dor instead of George Best without doubt. He was also the top-scorer in 1968 edition. Again in 1976, Dzajic was in his scintillating best making his way in “UEFA Team of the Tournament” for the 2nd time.
MIDFIELDER : ZINEDINE ZIDANE
The finest footballer of his generation, Zidane’s jour de gloire came when his two headers won the 1998 FIFA World Cup. Although crowned 1998 European and World Footballer of the Year, his performance at 1998 World Cup was sporadic. It was a different story two years later, he arguably played even better leading France to victory at UEFA EURO 2000, his late semi-final penalty against Portugal one of many highlights. He was the star of Euro 2000 as he was chosen as the ‘Best Player’ of the tournament. In Belgium and the Netherlands, Zidane dominated a major championship in a way no individual had managed since Diego Maradona in 1986. From the opening game against Denmark to the final against Italy, ‘Zizou’ shone brightly, casting a spell on his opponents with clever flicks, mesmerising stepovers, slaloming runs and masterful vision. The mark left by this footballing genius on the competition as a whole will never be forgotten.
FORWARD : GERD MULLER
Should the word “legend” ever be used for sportsmen then it is one that is highly appropriate for this man, perhaps football’s greatest goal-scorer. The centre forward was in top form at the UEFA European Football Championship 1972, which ended with the German team winning the competition for the first time. Der Bomber scored eleven during the 1972 UEFA European Championship campaign, including two in the final against the Soviet Union. Both were classic opportunist goals, or “kleine tore” as coach Helmut Schön often referred to Müller’s predatory strikes. Muller finished behind Beckenbauer for the 1972 European Footballer of the Year award.
FORWARD : MARCO VAN BASTEN
Van Basten led the charge of the Golden ORANJE generation to their first International Glory. Van Basten scored has many fabulous goals, but the one for which he will always be remembered is his volley against USSR goalkeeper Rinat Dasaev in the EURO ’88 final. It was his fifth goal of the tournament, following a hat-trick against England and a late winner in the semi-final against West Germany. The Dutch marksman scooped the Golden Boot and would win the first of his three Ballon d’Or awards that year.