All-Time European Championship XI

As we continue our build-up for the upcoming UEFA EURO 2012 finals in Poland & Ukraine, we take a break from previewing the teams taking part in the competition and have a look at the all time European Championship Best XI. 

It’s an impossible task really, trying to name your best XI from the history of the European Championships. So many great players – some legends in their respective nations – have played in the competition over the years and it wasn’t easy trying to find a formation which would allow us to give fair recognition to defenders and attackers. In the end we have gone with a 4-3-3 formation. Enjoy the team..

GK – PETER SCHMEICHEL (DENMARK)

Voted the World’s Best Goalkeeper in 1992 and 1993, Peter Boleslaw Schmeichel was famous for his platinum-blond locks, no-nonsense attitude and huge physique: he is 6ft 3in, 16st 7lb and wore specially crafted XXXL shirt. He won the 1992 European Championship with his beloved Denmark, played for his country at the 1998 FIFA World Cup and additional Euro tournaments, and wore the national skipper’s armband in 30 matches. A truly towering presence.

LB – GIACINTO FACCHETTI (ITALY)

Remembered as one of the first truly great attacking fullbacks – and one of the best ever in his position – Giacinto Facchetti captained the Italian side that won the European Championship on home soil in 1968. He won the coin toss that put out the might Soviets in the semi-final (penalty shoot-outs hadn’t yet been invented).

CB – LAURENT BLANC (FRANCE)

The French coach ahead of Poland/Ukraine 2012, it wasn’t long ago that Blanc was the one taking instruction at a European Championship. Despite being criticised for his age and lack of pace, he proved a rock at the heart of a Les Bleus side that followed up a World Cup win in 1998 with a European Championship two years later.

CB – FRANZ BECKENBAUER (GERMANY)

Playing as sweeper, Beckenbauer was famous for his instantaneous control and ability to build swift attacks with his turn of pace and exception vision and anticipation. At the age of 19, Beckenbauer made his debut for West Germany in a crucial World Cup qualifier against Sweden. He took over the captaincy of his national team in 1971 and lifted the European Championship trophy a year later, as head of what Uli Hoeness would later describe as “the best German team ever”. Some compliment.

RB – PAOLO MALDINI (ITALY)

Maldini played for his national team for 14 years and for AC Milan for two-and-a-half decades. He featured in all four of Italy’s games at UEFA EURO 1988 and played again in ’92, ’96 and 2000. But after Italy were eliminated in the FIFA World Cup 2002 round of 16, he retired, trophyless, from international competition, the only blip on a fruitful career.

CM – MICHEL PLATINI (FRANCE)

At a time when European players were considered more robust and athletic than their South American counterparts, Michel Platini stood out as a man who could caress and cajole a football with the flavours of Rio and Buenos Aires. He had the ability to make a dead ball come alive and directed the French midfield for a decade, conducting play with the inside and outside of both feet. He was voted European Footballer of the Year in 1983, 1984 and 1985, is now president of UEFA and scored and incredbile nine times at UEFA EURO 1984 (including two hat-tricks) to help France to victory on home soil.

CM – ZINEDINE ZIDANE (FRANCE)

Despite the ignominy of being sent off in the World Cup final of 2006, for headbutting Marco Materazzi, Zidane is rightly remembered as one of football’s all-time greats. A visionary midfielder, Zidane could pull the strings from the centre of the park, take control of set-pieces and weigh in with his fair share of goals. The 1998 France team won the World Cup on home soil, with Zidane scoring twice in the final, and he also orchestrated things in 2000. He scored a memorable free-kick against Spain in quarter-final and the ‘golden goal’ against Portugal in the semis.

CM – PAUL GASCOIGNE (ENGLAND)

Most famous for his waterworks during the extra-time period of the 1990 World Cup semi-final, ‘Gazza’ was the creative stimulus of Terry Venables’ 1996 England side and the penetrative force behind most of their best work. When Paul Gascoigne was on song, nothing could stop him, except a penalty shoot-out against the Germans.

ST – MARCO VAN BASTEN (NETHERLANDS)

Part of Netherlands’ second-wave of Total Footballers, Marco van Basten was the most single-minded goalscorer of his generation. With powerful thigh, poise and a cannon of a strike, the late ’80s and early ’90s belonged to Van Basten before injury prematurely put paid to his career. He was European Player of the Year in 1988, 1989 and 1992, World Soccer Player of the Year in 1988 and 1992, and FIFA world Player of the Year in 1992.

ST – GERD MULLER (GERMANY)

Gerd Muller top-scored with five goals in the flawless German displays of 1972 and explained his gift thus: “Something inside me tells me ‘Gerd go this way, Gerd go that way, Gerd move up’ and then the ball comes over and I score.” At one point in football’s history the instinct meant Gerd Muller was the most feared marksman on the planet.

ST – RUUD GULLIT (NETHERLANDS)

Such was his stardom in 1987 that Dutch newspapers considered employing dedicated Ruud Gullit correspondents – and George Best remarked that he believed Gullit to be a superior player to Maradona. Gullit’s tremendous athleticism and a versatility reminiscent of Total Football explained his overwhelming popularity. He could head the ball with almost as much power as he could kick it, leading to some pundits labelling him ‘Gullit the Bullet’. A true one-off.

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