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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Euro 2012

Posted: 1147 GMT
(left-right) Iker Casillas, Joachim Low, Andres Iniesta and Danny Welbeck have all made an impact. (Getty Images)
(left-right) Iker Casillas, Joachim Low, Andres Iniesta and Danny Welbeck have all made an impact. (Getty Images)
Wow! What a tournament! The group phase of Euro 2012 has yielded some fantastic games. No 0-0 draws and a total of 60 goals in 24 matches.
With the tournament now moving to the knockout stage, this is a good time to pick out some of the top performers so far. My choices are below, and let me know your thoughts about the action in Poland and Ukraine.
Best goal
I am going for Danny Welbeck’s winner for England against Sweden. His flick was simply sublime and it narrowly beat the goals scored by Mario Balotelli against Ireland and Zlatan Ibrahimovic against France. The creativity and flair shown by the young Manchester United striker to conjure up that finish really impressed me.
Best team
I am picking Germany because they were the only team with three wins in three matches, and Joachim Low's side looked solid in every game. Have they been spectacular? No. But they don’t need to be because they still look like the team to beat.
Best goalkeeper
Iker Casillas gets my vote. He came up with a couple of key saves against Italy in Spain's opening match and again in the decisive game against Croatia. He is still underrated because everyone talks about Spain’s creative players, but without "Saint Iker" La Roja may have already been knocked out of the tournament.
Best defender
Pepe has been sublime. The Portugal center back has a deserved reputation for being overly aggressive, but he has been a picture of class and composure in this tournament. Simply superb.
Best midfielder
Andres Iniesta. Voted man of the match twice, the Barcelona playmaker has been fantastic as far as I am concerned. This is the first tournament where he has been completely healthy and fit, and he is shining in Spain’s midfield. Some of his colleagues have looked jaded, but Iniesta is anything but.
Best forward
Sweden's Ibrahimovic and Croatia's Mario Mandzukic had great tournaments but since their teams have been knocked out, I have to go for Mario Gomez. You can love him or hate him, but one thing is for sure - this guy knows where the goal is. He had a stinker in the European Champions League final but the Germany striker is proving once again that you can never count him out!
Biggest surprise
Group A. I never expected the Czech Republic and Greece to qualify, especially after the first round of matches. However, somehow, they managed to knock out the strongest team in the group, Russia, and co-hosts Poland. Now everyone is asking, can Greece do a Greece and repeat that shock 2004 success?
Best post-match quote
Oleh Blokhin gets annoyed with one journalist’s line of questioning after Ukraine’s defeat to England and suggests they take the argument outside: “Respect my job and me. I won't allow anyone to criticize my team, about (Oleh) Gusev or (Andriy) Shevchenko. If you're a man, go with me. One-on-one.”
Best game
The quality of football played has been extremely high. There are many games to pick from but I am going for Italy versus Spain. It only had two goals but I was thoroughly entertained. The level of skill displayed by both teams was exquisite and either could have won the game. This was one match I had the pleasure of attending in person and I won’t forget it anytime soon.

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