With the final whistle signalling the end of a historic final between France and Portugal, so too did Euro 2016 come to a close. This summer’s European Championship will be remembered for its many underdog stories - from debutantes Iceland, who won the hearts of so many as they made their way to the quarterfinals; to an inspired Wales side, led by Gareth Bale & co. to the semifinal stage; to Portugal, who stunned the pundits after turning a third-place group stage finish around to lift the trophy on Sunday.
And so our taste of international football will be over until the Olympics in Rio, with the Olympic Football Tournament kicking off on the 4th of August. The tournament will undoubtedly serve as a great opportunity to scout some up-and-coming talent who will be hoping to light up the world’s stage in a few years’ time.
To give final closure to our coverage of the European Championship, FutbolPulse’s many Euro 2016 correspondents again submitted their picks to collaboratively compile a Best XI for the entirety of the tournament. Here is the FutbolPulse Writers’ Euro 2016 Team of the Tournament, along with a corresponding overview of each players’ achievements and performances throughout the competition.
Gianluigi Buffon (Italy)
Gianluigi Buffon seems to have taken the Elixer of Eternal Youth, as the Italy and Juventus legend has only gotten better and better with age. The 38-year-old stole the show from between the sticks in Euro 2016, with his technical ability, skillful positioning, and raw talent carrying Italy through to the quarterfinals when no one seemed to expect much of anything from the Italians. Buffon would be beaten only once - by Arsenal man Mesut Özil - in four appearances for the Azzurri. And with his vowing to play with his national side in the World Cup in 2018, the footballing world will surely be eager to see similarly spectacular performances in two years’ time from Buffon.
Raphaël Guerreiro (Portugal)
Borussia Dortmund’s Portuguese defender shined for his national team as Portugal completed a shocking European Championship coup. Solid throughout the tournament, Guerreiro excelled on the left side of the pitch with an average 85% passing accuracy, as per Squawka. Guerreiro played a significant role in the build-up to a number of Portuguese attacks, making eight key passes - including one assist - in his five appearances. The 22-year-old native Parisian played the entirety of the 120 minutes against France in the final.
Leonardo Bonucci (Italy)
Bonucci starred as a leader in Italy’s almost impenetrable back-line. His experience was vital to the Azzurri‘s astute organization in defense. Bonucci made numerous tackles and other defensive actions that crucially kept his side from conceding any goals up until the quarterfinal stage. Bonucci stepped up to the plate when his country most needed him and scored the equalizing penalty for Italy against the Germans, but it was unfortunately not enough as Die Mannschaft emerged victorious after an astounding penalty shootout victory.
Pepe was arguably the defender of the entire tournament, and was vital to Portugal’s progression through to the final victory. Although usually remembered for his temper and nasty tackling, Pepe remained consistent and well-tempered throughout his six starts to lead the spine of his national team. According to Squawka, Pepe made an impressive eleven defensive actions on average in Euro 2016, whilst also showcasing some accurate distribution from the back to support the front line.
Blaise Matuidi (France)
Blaise Matuidi was a rock in the center of the pitch for France, with both his defensive and attacking contributions serving as beneficial factors powering his side to the tournament’s final. The PSG midfielder, who has recently been linked with a move to José Mourinho’s Manchester United, was clinical in terms of his passing, finishing the tournament with an average 90% passing accuracy. Matuidi helped set up a number of chances for the host nation as well, contributing 10 key passes and an assist.
Toni Kroos (Germany)
Toni Kroos was the tireless engine for Die Mannschaft in another impressive run of form in international competition. Although Germany were unable to replicate the successes of their World Cup title of two years ago, Kroos’ vision and pinpoint accuracy were key factors in his side’s domination in the center of the pitch. Kroos finished the tournament with an average 92% pass accuracy, while contributing 16 key passes to the attack and recording an assist. His distribution of long balls - alongside compatriot Jérôme Boateng - was something to behold for the Germans.
Dimitri Payet (France)
Sensational. Nothing more can be said of the West Ham United midfielder’s performances in Euro 2016. Payet lit up the tournament - particularly in its early stages - with his majestic flair and impeccable passing ability. Racking up three very special goals for his side, as well as two assists from an astonishing 24 chances created, Payet was the man linking all of the French attacks in many of the hosts’ performances. Although his contributions in the semifinal and final were not as great as those through to the quarterfinal round, this does not diminish the undoubtedly positive impact he has had for his side.
Antoine Griezmann (France)
Griezmann was another of France’s shining stars in Euro 2016. The Golden Boot winner and official UEFA Player of the Tournament, Griezmann continued his rapid ascendancy to world-class status with a string of fantastic performances for Les Bleus. The Atlético Madrid forward accumulated six clinical goals - two against currently world champions Germany in the semifinals - and two assists to fire his team to the final in the Stade de France. Griezmann was also very solid in his passing ability, but unfortunately was unable to win it all for France after missing a couple of clear-cut chances in the final.
Aaron Ramsey (Wales)
The Welsh playmaker was a clinical factor in his national team’s impressive run to the semifinals of the European Championship. Ramsey grabbed a goal and four assists (from 15 chances created) in his five appearances for Wales, while serving a number of accurate, defense-penetrating passes to the front line as well. Ramsey was unlucky to miss out on Wales’ semifinal clash with eventual champions Portugal due to suspension; perhaps the result would have been different had the Welsh had their Arsenal talisman dictating play from the center of the pitch.
Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
What an up and down tournament for Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portuguese national team. Despite some disappointing performances early on in the tournament, Portugal held on to their chances tightly and took full advantage of the new format to advance into the knockout round after a third-place finish in Group F. Ronaldo scored two crucial equalizers against the Hungarians in the group stage and later rose high to head in the opening goal in the semifinal victory over Belgium. The Real Madrid Galactico was subbed off after an unfortunate injury early into the final, but displayed his strong leadership abilities from the sideline as he shouted commands to his teammates alongside coach Fernando Santos for the remainder of the match.
Gareth Bale (Wales)
Gareth Bale was, not surprisingly, the outstanding performer for Wales in a magnificent Euro 2016 run. Like his Real Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo, Bale contributed three goals throughout the duration of the tournament - one was scored in each of the group stage matches against Slovakia, England, and Russia respectively. As typically does the main man for any side, Bale was also critical for Wales in that he drew out the opposition defense to allow his teammates an opportunity to creep in and score goals. Bale will be hoping to continue and improve on this form in the upcoming season with Real Madrid.