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’ve gone with a 4-4-2 formation.
Enjoy our picks as they are all great players in their own rights and we are sure you’ll be the first one to tell us if you think we have missed someone!
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GK: Peter Schmeichel (Denmark)
There were only ever going to be two names fighting for the goalkeeper’s position in our All-time European Championship Best XI – Denmark’s Peter Schmeichel and the legendary Lev Yashin who played for the former Soviet Union back in the 60s.
The ‘Great Dane’ was immense for Denmark as they surprised everyone by winning the European Championship in 1992. Schmeichel impressed throughout the tournament, saving a Marco van Basten penalty in the semi-final shootout to set up a clash with world champions Germany in the final. There, he made two world-class saves to deny Jurgen Klinsmann as the Germans lost 2-0 to give Denmark their first major trophy.
Yashin, who always cut an imposing figure in his trademark black, was also impressive for his team as he guided the USSR to glory in the competition's inaugural edition back in 1960. In particular, the ‘Black Spider’ showed tremendous agility and leadership qualities in games against Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia en route to winning the trophy.
To be considered for the No. 1 position in our All-time European Championship XI, our goalkeeper has to be an individual with the mentality to lead a championship winning team while also the ability to keep his team in games when things are not going to plan. Schmeichel and Yashin both did this.
Schmeichel perhaps did it better than anyone else.
RB: Carles Puyol (Spain)
With 99 caps to his name, Carles Puyol has been the backbone of Spain’s defence for many years now. However, it is mainly the Barcelona skipper’s performances in the European Championship in 2008 which cements his place in our team ahead of some big names like France’s Lilian Thuram.
A team of flair and skill will win nothing without some grit and determination and this is exactly what Puyol brings to any side. Just as comfortable played as a right-back or in central-defence, Puyol starred in the heart of defence for Luis Aragones’ Spain who on the back of successive clean sheets against Italy, Russia and Germany finally ended 44 years of hurt by winning European Championship crown in 2008.
Puyol is currently recovering from knee surgery and Spain will miss his presence at the back at Euro 2012.
LB: Claudio Gentile (Italy)
Born in 1953, Claudio Gentile grew up to be an unflinching defender for the Italian national team. Gentile – who was anything but gentle – made his name as an expert man marker who successful shackled the very best in world football during his career including Diego Maradona and Zico at the 1982 World Cup which Italy won. Two years earlier, the Italians finished fourth in the 1980 European Championship in a tournament where Gentile received many plaudits for his uncompromising style.
Italy only conceded one goal in four games in the tournament (it was an eight-team format at the time) and Gentile had a large hand in this – including a masterful display of defending against Ballon d'Or holder Kevin Keegan in a 1-0 defeat of England.
CB: Laurent Blanc (France)
Few centre-backs in world football have enjoyed the longevity in terms of form at major tournaments that Laurent Blanc has had with France. In fact, the Les Bleus stalwart was voted into UEFA's Team of the Tournament in three successive European Championships in 1992, 1996 and 2000.
Blanc is the epitome of elegance and authoritativeness in the centre-back position and it is no coincidence that his presence at the back for Les Bleus saw the most successful period in the national team’s history (France won the World Cup in 1998 and the European Championship in 2000).
CB: Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany)
What else can you say about one of the world’s greatest ever players? Franz Beckenbauer has won everything the game has to offer but his career only took off on the international stage at the 1972 European Championship in Belgium.
It was in 1972 where Beckenbauer captained West Germany to their first European Championship – and in the process changed football forever by helping to create the new role of sweeper.
Beckenbauer would lead West Germany to the FIFA World Cup two years later and was one win away from completing a unique hat-trick of major trophies in a row at the 1976 European Championship – the West Germans lost 5-3 on penalties to Czechoslovakia after the final had finished 2-2 in extra-time.
RM: Luis Figo (Portugal)
On the right flank we have Portuguese legend Luis Figo – although he would be just as comfortable played on the left as well. Figo is described by UEFA.com as a “dazzling dribbler and crosser” and we wouldn’t disagree with that description.
Figo is currently the most capped player in the Portuguese national team’s history with 127 appearances and his best moments with Portugal came at the European Championships in 2000 and 2004.
At Euro 2000, Figo was instrumental in guiding Portugal to the semi-finals where they lost to eventual winners France via the golden goal ruling – Zinedine Zidane’s 117th-minute penalty put France in the final.
Figo would go one better four years later when he steered host nation Portugal to the finals of Euro 2004. However, Figo, who was 32-years old at the time, could not deliver the trophy for the expectant home fans as Portugal slumped to a surprise 1-0 defeat to Greece in the finals.
LM: Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic)
Former European Footballer of the Year winner Pavel Nedved has a good history with the European Championships. His first international goal came in the 1996 edition of the tournament which saw the Czech Republic go all the way to the finals where they lost to Germany on the Golden Goal rule.
Eight years later at Euro 2004, Nedved had grown into a superstar player – a tireless midfielder capable of scoring spectacular goals. He was the skipper and the Czech’s best player as they made an undefeated start to the tournament by winning their first three group games against Latvia, Holland, and Germany.
In the quarter-finals, Nedved laid on the ball for Milan Baros to score the Czech’s final goal in a 3-0 demolition of Denmark. At this point, the unbeaten Czechs were considered hot favourites to win the tournament but disaster struck in the semi-finals against Greece. Nedved limped off injured after just 40 minutes of the game and could only watch in horror as a Silver Goal from Greek defender Traianos Dellas eliminated his nation at the semi-final stage.
CM: Michel Platini (France)
There are few Frenchmen who made our European Championship All-Time Best XI but none have been greater than Michel Platini. A sublime passer of the ball, Platini was also one of the best finishers from midfield that football has ever seen.
Injuries dogged his career at major tournaments but in 1984 the world witnessed what a fit Platini could do against the best. He scored nine goals – including two hat-tricks – to inspire France to their first ever major trophy in football and this goal tally remains a tournament record to this day.
“I don't think I was at the summit of my career at that point because if you want to stay at the top, you have to last a long time. But it was the only final tournament where I wasn't injured,” Platini told UEFA.com.
Just how good is Platini? He was the first person to win the Ballon d'Or three years running and finished his international career with 41 goals in 71 games for France.
He has been UEFA President since January 2007.
CM: Zinedine Zidane (France)
What a central midfield combination we have in our European Championship All-Time Best XI. Zinedine Zidane next to Michel Platini – two of the finest footballers to ever grace the field in the tournament’s storied history.
Zidane was at the peak of his powers in 1998 when his two headers powered France to the FIFA World Cup in 1998. And this form continued into the European Championship in 2000. It was at this tournament where 'Zizou' shone once again on the big stage.
Zidane got the opening goal in France’s 2-1 win over Spain in the quarter-finals and held his nerve to convert a 117th-minute penalty against Portugal to earn his country a Golden Goal victory in the semi-finals.
With Zidane’s creativity behind them, France turned defeat into victory in the final against Italy with two late goals to become the first team to win the European Championship as world champions.
ST: Gerd Muller (West Germany)
With a record which reads 365 goals in 427 Bundesliga games for Bayern Munich, Gerd Muller is widely regarded as football’s greatest goal scorer.
Muller was also ‘pretty’ handy at finding the back of the net in international games too. He managed an incredible 68 goals for West Germany in just 62 games – 11 of which came during the 1972 European Championship campaign.
'Der Bomber' was undoubtedly vital for West Germany’s success in winning the 1972 tournament as he scored both goals in the 2-1 semi-final win against Belgium and two more in the 3-0 defeat of the Soviet Union in the final.
Muller was a predatory striker who scored opportunist goals but we may never know just how many more he could have scored as he retired at the age of just 28 for “personal reasons”.
ST: Marco van Basten (Holland)
The final name on our European Championship All-Time Best XI is Dutchman Marco van Basten. The prolific striker scored plenty of stunning goals during his career with Holland but perhaps his most important run of goals came in the European Championship in 1988.
Van Basten finished the tournament as its top scorer with five goals – including a hat-trick against England and a late winner in the semi-final against West Germany.
His other goal in the tournament? Why, of course, it was THAT magnificent volley against the Soviet Union in the final to lead the Dutch to their only European Championship title to date.
“You know, you need a lot of luck with a shot like that,” Van Basten told UEFA.com.
“Everything went well. It is one of these things that sometimes just happen. You try to do it, but you need so much luck and at that moment, it was given to me, to do it at the right time.”
Van Basten’s career was cut short because of a serious injury but not before the Dutchman was crowned European Footballer of the Year in 1988, 1989, and 1992.