By ESPNSTAR.com Editorial Team
In a victorious Euro 2012 campaign, Spain swept past all who stood in their way to achieve their third successive major international title. As the players of La Roja continue bask in the glory of their historic feat, ESPNSTAR.com highlights the eleven individuals deserving of a mention for enthralling us with their performances at Euro 2012.
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid custodian has now proved he is not only one of the best goalkeepers in the world, but also one of the greatest leaders in the game, having captained Spain to three straight triumphs in major tournaments. Despite his side enjoying the majority of possession in most of their games, Casillas was always ready to be called into action and made several good stops at crucial moments in their games against France, Portugal and Italy.
Right-back: Mathieu Debuchy (France)
Although Debuchy only got the nod as France's first-choice right-back due to an injury to Bacary Sagna, he ensured the Arsenal man's absence wasn't felt as he put in a number of accomplished performances and helped France reach the quarter-finals. The Lille man was not only capable when supporting in attack, but was equally steady at the back and nullified the combined threat of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ashley Young in Les Bleus' opening group game against England.
Centre-back: Pepe (Portugal)
While Cristiano Ronaldo garnered most of the plaudits for firing Portugal to the semi-finals, plenty of credit should be given to the Seleccao backline, which was marshalled with authority by Pepe. The Real man was near unbeatable in the air and formed a formidable partnership with Bruno Alves that kept both Czech Republic and Spain at bay in the knockout round.
Centre-back: Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Plenty has been made of Ramos' erratic nature in the past and question marks were raised ahead of the tournament as Vicente Del Bosque opted to deploy him in the heart of defence to replace the injured Carles Puyol. Nonetheless, the 26-year-old repaid his coach's faith with some steadfast defending and was never afraid to put his body on the line for the Spanish cause.
Left-back: Jordi Alba (Spain)
What used to be the only problem area in the Spain team has been emphatically solved by the emergence of Alba, who is now regarded as one of the best left-backs in the world. The former Valencia man, who completed a return to boyhood club Barcelona midway through the tournament, was a constant threat down the wing for La Roja and capped off a fine tournament with a well-taken goal in the final, as he raced out of defence and latched onto a Xavi pass before firing past Gianluigi Buffon.
Defensive-midfield: Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
It is hard to find superlatives which have not yet been used in this tournament to describe the Italian midfield maestro that is Andrea Pirlo. The way he dictated games and spread the play was mesmeric to watch and he was often at the heart of everything good the Italians did.
Indeed, it would not be a stretch to claim Pirlo as the player of the tournament, such was the influence and impact he made in this Euros. The Juventus player put in consistently eye catching displays in the middle of the park and was the main reason Italy managed to exceed pre-tournament expectations and get to the final. His performances in the tournament, bar perhaps the final, should be taped and shown to every aspiring footballer as a prime example of how a midfielder should play.
Centre-midfield: Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Germany may be a team brimming with talent but Ozil was the biggest reason they were tipped to go all the way in this year's Euros. The Real Madrid man was tasked to be the main creative outlet for the Germans and he did not disappoint, creating a total of 22 goal-scoring chances for his teammates in this tournament, three of which resulted in goals.
His crisp passing and technical ability from an advanced position in the middle of the park made him many a defenders' nightmare and it is no surprise that the Germans looked toothless when Ozil was played out of position against the Italians.
Centre-midfield: David Silva (Spain)
It has been quite a year for David Silva. Instrumental in leading his club Manchester City to the league title last season, Silva was a crucial cog in the Spanish machine which won the Euros. He laid off three assists for his teammates and chipped in with two goals to ensure that he would lift his second major trophy in the space of three months. Playing in a Spanish side accused of lacking penetration in the final third of the pitch, Silva was perhaps the one player who could be absolved from any blame of lacking a cutting edge and this is reflected in the fact that he was involved in more than half of Spain's 12 goals in the tournament.
Attacking-midfield: Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Iniesta may not have scored a single goal and only provided one assist for the Spanish in this tournament but to judge him on these statistics alone would be folly. His wonderful close control of the ball and dazzling quick feet had defences running scared; the iconic image of five Italian defenders surrounding the Barcelona playmaker in a bid to win the ball from him (during their group game) is a fitting testament to the threat he represented. He was the stimulus for Spain's opening goal in the final, displaying his vision and passing prowess in the build-up with a delightful through ball for Cesc Fabregas which sliced the Italian defence open.
Attacking-midfield: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
This was the tournament which finally saw Cristiano Ronaldo translate his scintillating club form onto the international stage. Despite a relatively slow start to the tournament, Ronaldo burst into life against the imploding Dutch and scored a brace in that game to cap off a dazzling performance. He was once again the difference for the Portuguese in the quarter-finals, scoring the winner with a headed goal to break the stubborn Czech defence to send his team into the semi-finals.
Striker: Mario Balotelli (Italy)
If Mario Balotelli goes on to fulfil his massive potential and not let his temperament stand in the way of him becoming a future Ballon d'Or winner, then Euro 2012 will go down as the stage where we saw the Italian mature from boy to man.
The 21-year-old Italian was undoubtedly the striker of the tournament - albeit in an edition which sorely lacked prolific goal scorers (Spain's Fernando Torres won the Golden Boot award with a tally of just 3 goals and 1 assist). In total, he scored three goals at Euro 2012 including a memorable brace to beat the Germans in the semi-finals while his other goal came in the Group Stage - a well-executed scissor-kick against Republic of Ireland. Of course, it is not just in the numbers which put Balotelli ahead of the other top marksmen at Euro 2012 (There were five other players all stuck on three goals at the top of the goal scoring chart) in our selection. It was the magnitude of the goals; especially his second goal against Germany which was smashed past Manuel Neuer with such coolness that even the German applauded it.
Manager: Vicente del Bosque (Spain)
Under pressure to change his striker-less formation and to go against his own belief in his players' ability, Spain manager Vicente del Bosque held firm - for the most part - throughout 2012. And he got his reward when the referee blew the final whistle in the tournament's showpiece: Spain had beaten Italy 4-0 in the final to issue a strong challenge to history to recognise them as the 'greatest-of-all-time'. If Spain are considered the best team ever - then where does that leave Del Bosque when the time comes to draw out a list of the greatest coach in world football?
It took time before 'Total Football' was widely recognised as a complete success in the 60s and 70s, and you get the sense with Del Bosque's Spain side we might just have witnessed another watershed moment in football theory and tactics.