After a month on the road covering an excellent and dramatic Euro 2020, ESPN commentator Ian Darke selects his tournament best XI and his most disappointing XI. Who made the cut for the best and worst?
Officially named Player of the Tournament, the Paris Saint-Germain-bound keeper capped a marvelous month with crucial saves in the final shootout against England. Yet to concede more than one goal in any game under Roberto Mancini, the 22-year-old will be Italy’s No. 1 for at least the next decade. Made from the same cloth as great Italian keepers Dino Zoff and Gianluigi Buffon.
Kyle Walker | England
The oldest player in England’s squad at 31 but still the quickest, and his recovery speed rescued some difficult moments. All in all, the tournament marked a remarkable comeback for a player who seemed to be out of favour with Gareth Southgate a year ago. Among the other right-backs at Euro 2020, Austria‘s Stefan Lainer had a very good tournament.
Leonardo Bonucci | Italy
His defiant display in the final — grabbing an equaliser and scoring in the shootout — gives him the edge over John Stones of England and Denmark captain Simon Kjaer. It’s amazing to think he and his friend, Giorgio Chiellini, played and lost in the final nine years ago. They are even going on holiday together with their families this week and probably won’t even give away a goal kicking a ball around on the beach with their kids.
Giorgio Chiellini | Italy
What a player, and what a man. Starts a party amongst his teammates and Italy fans every time he stops an attack, which he does frequently. It looked like some nasty injuries were going to bring his career to an end over the past year or so, but he was monumental when it mattered this summer. It’s hard to believe he is nearing his 37th birthday.
Luke Shaw | England
Written off in the past as lazy, overweight and lacking a football brain by one former manager in particular, the Manchester United left-back had a brilliant tournament with three assists on top of his second-minute goal in the final, forming part of a miserly defence and always offering a threat going forward. The electric Leonardo Spinazzola of Italy was obviously in the running to fill this spot, until he suffered an Achilles injury against Belgium that would rule him out for several months.
Jorginho | Italy
Ran further than anyone in the tournament and was the beating heart of Roberto Mancini’s champions, forever dictating the tempo with his intelligent use of the ball in midfield. Strange to think that Chelsea fans once derided him as a bland non-creator when Maurizio Sarri was in charge at Stamford Bridge, especially as he’s pulled off a Champions League and Euro double with Chelsea and Italy. His partner, an English singer, may not be talking to him this week!
Although the World Cup winners made a shock early exit to Switzerland, Pogba showed again that he looks twice the player when wearing the blue shirt of France rather than the red one of Man United. Strolling imperiously through games, spraying some wonderful passes and scoring one memorable goal, the problem was that one or two others around him misfired.
It is almost frightening to think what this 18-year-old might go on to achieve; so clever and mature was this elegant youngster. Barcelona look like they have a possible successor to Andres Iniesta. Spain bossed Italy for much of the semifinal too, with Pedri playing a big part of that. He’s jetting off for the Olympics this week, but beyond that, he’s bound to be a major star at next year’s World Cup. His teammates Dani Olmo and evergreen Sergio Busquets shone too for the unlucky Spaniards. Was named Young Player of the Tournament.
Raheem Sterling | England
Often out of favour at Manchester City towards the end of the 2020-21 season, it looked like the time on the subs’ bench had freshened him up for the Euros, all a goal kick away from the Wembley estate where he grew up playing youth football for a team called Alpha and Omega. Scored three goals, set up Harry Kane‘s opener against Ukraine and earned the albeit debatable penalty that won England the semifinal. Always menacing.
Romelu Lukaku | Belgium
Scored four goals and carried the confidence of a happy man who had propelled Inter Milan to the Serie A title and wants to stay there. Quick and dangerous, he is now acquiring extra craft, but was this the last hurrah for this gifted Belgian generation? Possibly not, with the World Cup only 16 months away.
Lorenzo Insigne | Italy
The work rate of the little Napoli wide man is off the scale. He scored two lovely goals and was constantly darting here and there, twisting and turning, to engineer openings for his team. Denmark’s Mikkel Damsgaard and Spain’s shock selection Pablo Sarabia were also in the conversation for this place.
Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark); Aymeric Laporte (Spain), John Stones, (England), Harry Maguire (England), Milan Skriniar (Slovakia), Simon Kjaer (Denmark), Joakim Maehle (Denmark), Attila Fiola (Hungary), Martin Hinteregger (Austria), Stefan Lainer (Austria); Marco Verratti (Italy), Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (Denmark), Declan Rice (England); Antoine Griezmann (France), Federico Chiesa (Italy).
Most disappointing XI
Burn-out and fatigue meant some of the expected stars of Euro 2020 just failed to deliver. Or, perhaps, they were simply out of form. For a few, the tournament would have come as a nasty reality check. Having already picked his best XI, Ian selects a team of players who will not remember the past month with much fondness.
The Newcastle keeper will be haunted by his own goal against Spain, as he turned a routine tip over the bar into a hilarious howler by palming the ball into his own net. Slovakia imploded after that, conceding five goals and exiting the tournament. This otherwise fine operator will be burning every copy of that match tape.
Julien Laurens assesses whether France will back Didier Deschamps or bring in Zinedine Zidane in the near future.
Scorer of the best goal of the 2018 World Cup for France against Argentina, but shaky at these Euros. Allowed Hungary‘s Attila Fiola to run in and score in Budapest, and he never inspired much confidence as the World Cup winners crashed out in the quarterfinals.
Renowned in the Bundesliga for being a king of one-on-one duels, here he looked like the weakest link in a German defence that conceded seven goals in four games. Both England goals at Wembley came down his side on the night Germany were eliminated.
Much was made of Turkey’s fantastic defending in qualifying when they conceded just three goals. But from the word go at the Euros, they looked vulnerable and Demiral’s clumsy own goal in the opener against Italy summed up a bitterly disappointing campaign.
Ben Chilwell | England
This is a little harsh, because Chilwell did not kick a ball in the entire tournament and was not even on the bench for the final. But that’s the point. Even allowing for Luke Shaw’s stellar tournament, it was a mystery how a man who had starred in the Champions League final for Chelsea at the end of May wasn’t required for a single moment by Gareth Southgate.
Julien Laurens can’t understand Gareth Southgate’s tactics in England’s loss to Italy in the Euro 2020 final.
Marcos Llorente | Spain
Tipped as one of the stars of the summer and coming off a season in which he was a vital cog in Atletico Madrid‘s title win, Llorente was altogether more subdued in this tournament. He lost his place in Luis Enrique’s starting line-up as Spain found a better rhythm without him. This high-energy performer will be back.
Marek Hamsik | Slovakia
The trademark Mohawk is still there, but not the top-quality Hamsik has brought to Napoli and his country over the course of an illustrious career. Now aged 33, he was unable to impact and illuminate matches with that old swagger.
Hakan Calhanoglu | Turkey
His country needed this enigmatic creator to be on song for this tournament if they were to flourish. But frankly, he was a no-show and Turkey were home before the postcards. Hard to know went wrong after a good season for AC Milan.
Full of goals, assists and ideas for Manchester United, but he never got going in these Euros and found himself left out of the line-up. A long and gruelling season, that didn’t end until the Europa League final in late-May, looked as if it had blunted his edge.
Kylian Mbappe | France
Into the life of even the brightest stars a little rain must fall. He is a brilliant talent, but it just would not happen for him at this tournament. He scored no goals and his anguished look at missing the decisive penalty against Switzerland is an enduring image of this championship. Expect normal service to be resumed at the World Cup.
Serge Gnabry | Germany
A potential match-winner for Germany who misfired. Dropped for the big game against England at Wembley, he gave the impression of sulking his way through an entirely ineffective appearance as a substitute. Just seemed off the boil.
Some other major names who couldn’t quite live up to their star billing: Phil Foden (England), Joao Felix (Portugal), Burak Yilmaz (Turkey), Ruslan Malinowski (Ukraine ), Zeki Celik (Turkey), Thiago Alcantara (Spain), Eden Hazard (Belgium)