Two years ago, I chose my Greatest World Cup XI Ever, and it has proved to be one of the most popular ever posts on It’s Football Not Soccer. So I thought I would do the same for the European Championships and you can pick your dream XI here. Some big names missed out, and I’ve picked players based on solely their performances at the Euros, it has nothing to do with their World Cup or club achievements. Without further ado…
Goalkeeper – Iker Casillas (Spain)
For me, this was one of the easiest decisions. Iker Casillas is the only man to captain two winning sides, lifting the trophy as Spain were victorious in 2008 and 2012. He kept a clean sheet throughout the knockout stages of both tournaments as well as being named in the team of the tournament on both occasions. He has been part of five Championship squads (including this year, aged 35), more than any other player, and made the most appearances as a captain (11). Finally on Casillas’ long list of achievements, he holds the record for most consecutive minutes without conceding a goal in the finals (509), whilst during Euro 2012 he conceded just one goal the entire tournament – only Dino Zoff in 1968 and Thomas Myhre in 2000 have done the same.
Right-Back – Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Also part of Spain’s winning teams in 2008 and 2012, Sergio Ramos played at right-back first time around, so that’s where I have put him in order to fit the Real Madrid defender into this team. He missed just one game out of those two tournaments and in the 11 matches Ramos has featured in, he has never suffered a loss. He contributed to Spain’s impressive defensive solidity and the records that Casillas claimed above, being named in the Team of the Tournament in 2012. In the semi-finals against Portugal, he scored his penalty in the shoot-out Panenka style that personified his cool nature and at the end of the tournament won the Castrol EDGE Index award, a stats ranking accolade.
Centre-Back – Ronald Koeman (Netherlands)
Deployed usually as a sweeper, Ronald Koeman fits in as centre-back in this 4-4-2 diamond. He won the European Championships in 1988 as part of the Netherlands’ side that lifted the trophy in Munich. It was in fact Koeman’s major tournament debut, and his impressive performances earned him a place in the team of the competition. Not only was he a rock at the back, the current Southampton manager scored a crucial equalising penalty against hosts West Germany in the semi-final. It is to date the Netherlands’ only international trophy, and at Euro 1992 when they reached the semi-final, Koeman scored his spot-kick in the shootout against Denmark which they ended up losing.
Centre-Back – Laurent Blanc (France)
Having initially retired from international football, Laurent Blanc was persuaded to return to the French side ahead of Euro 1996, where he scored not only in the group stage against Bulgaria, but in penalty shoot-outs against the Netherlands and Czech Republic too, as Les Bleus reached the semi-finals. But Blanc’s greatest triumph came at Euro 2000, which despite having been criticised for his age (35) and lack of speed during the qualifications, he proved reliable in defence and even scored France’s first goal of the tournament against Denmark before they went on to lift the trophy. Blanc is the only player to be voted in the team of the tournament three times in a row – 1992, 1996 and 2000.
Left-Back – Lilian Thuram (France)
Lilian Thuram is a European Championship veteran, playing for the first time with France in 1996 and ending his international career with one game at the 2008 tournament at which he captained Les Bleus. In between, he lifted the trophy at Euro 2000, playing an integral part in the heart of the French defence and being named in the team of the tournament. Thuram was a versatile defender though and could play anywhere across the back as he was equally competent offensively as he was defensively, which is why I’ve slotted him in at left-back in this team. The main reason for his inclusion is that no other player has played (16) or won (9) more European Championship games than Thuram, who is France’s record appearance maker.
Holding Midfield – Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Like Sergio Ramos, Andres Iniesta has a European Championship record of two tournaments, two wins and his hoping to make it a hat-trick following his inclusion in Spain’s squad this summer. Despite not scoring a goal in either tournament, the midfielder has played a crucial role in both, not missing a single game in either competition. At Euro 2012, he was awarded the man of the match award in three different fixtures, including the 4-0 final triumph against Italy, and subsequently was named player of the tournament. Iniesta, now 32, was also given a place in the team of the tournament in both 2008 and 2012. He is another player to have won a record nine games at the Championships.
Centre Midfield – Zinedine Zidane (France)
His crowing moment may have come at the 1998 World Cup, but Zinedine Zidane was arguably even more influential in France’s triumph at Euro 2000. He scored twice, including the golden goal in the semi-final against Portugal, and after lifting the trophy was named as the player of the tournament. Then at Euro 2004 in France’s opening match against England, Zizou scored a free kick and penalty both in stoppage time to turn defeat into a 2–1 victory. The midfielder was named in the team of the tournament in both years, after he also scored in two penalty shoot-outs at Euro 1996 when his country reached the semi-finals. Finally, you’ve guessed it, Zidane is another player to have won a record nine games at the Championships.
Centre Midfield – Ruud Gullit (Netherlands)
The dreadlocks and moustache of Ruud Gullit is an iconic footballing image, and the midfielder himself is an icon of the beautiful game based on his playing ability alone – not least of all at the European Championships. Gullit won the competition in 1988, heading in the opening goal of the final as the Netherlands beat the Soviet Union 2-0. Then 25, he was the captain of the Oranje, making him the first (and so far only) Dutch captain to hold aloft international silverware. In 1992, Gullit was a key player once again but his country were beaten by eventual winners, surprise package Denmark, in the semi-finals. In both ’88 and ’92, he was named in the team of the tournament.
Attacking Midfield – Michel Platini (France)
You have whisper his name quietly at the moment, but Michel Platini was a very talented player in his prime. He only featured in one European Championship, but perhaps the best individual performance the competition has ever seen earns him a spot in my team. The Frenchman scored nine goals at Euro 1984, which is not only a Euro record for one tournament, but no player has even scored more across multiple years. Platini scored in all five games on home soil (which is also a record in itself), including two hat-tricks (one of them ‘perfect’). He was the captain of Les Bleus as they lifted their first ever piece of silverware, and it’s no surprise he was named player of the tournament and included in the team of the tournament. It was pure magic from Michel.
Striker – Thierry Henry (France)
Euro 2000 was the competition that saw Thierry Henry establish himself as a world class international striker as he netted three times as France lifted the trophy, making him Les Bleus’ top scorer in Belgium and the Netherlands. On the way to glory, he won three man of the match of the awards, including in the final against Italy and afterwards was named in the team of the tournament. He would go on to score in the next two Euros, twice in 2004 and once in 2008 but France’s poor performance meant he was unable to get more. Even so, his total of six makes him the third all-time scorer in the tournament’s history.
Striker – Alan Shearer (England)
Whether this is my English bias or not, I think Alan Shearer deserves a spot in the team. He might be the only player in the XI not to win the European Championships, but only Platini has scored more goals than the Geordie (7) in the tournament’s history. Five of these came at Euro 1996, when he nearly propelled England to the final on home soil, and claimed the golden boot as well as a place in the team of the tournament. At Euro 2000, when the Three Lions performed poorly and bowed out at the group stages, Shearer still scored twice as captain. Along with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the now MOTD pundit holds the record for the most Euros matches with at least one goal (6).
How They Line Up
- Total European Championship appearances: 123
- Total European Championship goals: 31
- Total European Championships won: 13
So in total, there’s five Frenchmen, three Spaniards, two Dutchmen and an Englishman in my team. Perhaps surprisingly, there are no Germans, who are the joint most successful team in European Championship history. But as I say, if you disagree, pick your dream XI here and share it with me!