Euro 2020 is a showcase for some of the most exciting players in world football, but imagine trying to pick 11 of them to create a European team of all talents? As ESPN senior writer Mark Ogden noted in his pre-tournament selection of his best XI’s, the hardest element of this particular challenge is deciding who to leave out rather than which players to choose.
So without spending limits or international quotas, what’s the best eleven out of all 24 of the 26-man squad? Mark played fantasy football to select his team of the tournament before a ball was even kicked. (And stay tuned for its tournament finale to see how things change over the coming month.)
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Euro 2020 is blessed with a number of outstanding goalkeepers including Thibaut Courtois (Belgium), Rui Patricio (Portugal) and Kasper Schmeichel (Denmark), as well as rising stars like Unai Simon (Spain) and Gianluigi Donnarumma (Italy). But even after more than a decade at the highest level, Germany’s newcomer remains the best.
With his constancy, physical abilities and presence between the posts, Bayern Munich No. 1 Marc-Andre ter Stegen continues to hold on the sidelines. Neuer has overcome injury problems to regain his status as the best in Europe, if not the world, and he will be a crucial factor for Germany if coach Joachim Loew is to end his tenure with the country’s first European title since 1996.
Neuer has taken the goalkeeping game to a new level over the past decade; and players like Alisson and Ederson, his two rivals for being the best in the world, have modeled their game on the 35-year-old’s sweeper-keeper mentality, which means he starts attacks as he stops them. Germany is in a tough group alongside world champions France and European champions Portugal, but Neuer is a good reason not to write them off.
Right-Back: Joao Cancelo (Portugal)
England in particular has embarrassing wealth in this position, with coach Gareth Southgate choosing between Kyle Walker, Reece James and Kieran Trippier. Trent Alexander-Arnold was the fourth right-back in the English squad until the Liverpool defender was forced to resign with a hamstring injury.
France right-back Benjamin Pavard is another strong contender for the position, with Bayern team-mate Joshua Kimmich also in the frame as Low is considering using the defensive midfielder as a right-wing defender.
But Portugal’s Cancelo sneaks into this team because they can be as effective up front as they are defensive. The Manchester City defender can also play on the left and is technically the best right-back of the tournament.
Center-backs are the foundation of any successful team – it’s a cliché, but a well-deserved cliché that defense wins trophies – and there are several world-class center-backs at Euro 2020. The only way to select the two for partnership is to use the form they have been shown during the last few months of the club season.
On this basis, Rüdiger and Dias ousted the French Raphael Varane and Presnel Kimpembe as well as the Dutch Matthijs de Ligt. Spain’s central defender Pau Torres was perhaps the greatest threat to the duo Rüdiger-Dias due to his performances for Europa League winners Villarreal. Virgil van Dijk would almost certainly have been an element of the best Euro 2020 but the Dutch defender is still recovering from a cruciate ligament injury in Liverpool.
Rudiger’s form during Chelsea’s run to the Champions League title and Dias’ performances for Manchester City make her the obvious choice to play at the center of the defense.
French defender Lucas Hernandez and Portuguese Raphael Guerreiro have the international pedigree to claim the left-back position, while in England Luke Shaw and Ben Chilwell battle for the start. But despite representing Scotland, a country slated for its first major tournament since the 1998 World Cup, Robertson is the standout left-back at Euro 2020.
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As winners of the Premier League and Champions League, Robertson’s defensive ability has been a mainstay for Liverpool, but his performance from the left has also been a crucial part of the club’s success in recent seasons. His skills at both ends of the pitch give him an edge over his rivals and his form and fitness could be critical to whether Scotland make the knockout stage.
Defensive midfield: N’Golo Kante (France)
There is only one possible choice for the central defensive midfield role and that is Edge. The Chelsea midfielder stood out in the Champions League final last month and his energetic play and mastery of the central third make him one of the first selections for France coach Didier Deschamps.
– Laurens: Why Kante deserves the Ballon d’Or 2021
However, Edge is more than a destroyer. While his defensive play allows Paul Pogba to thrive for France, Kante has also shown that he has creativity in his game and the ability to burst forward. Any top team in the tournament would be better if it had an edge.
Englishman Jude Bellingham, who is only 17, has the potential to dominate the position in the years to come. But at the moment, Kante is the undisputed number one.
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With Edge providing the shield in front of the defense, the attacking midfielders on the team would have the license to come forward and drill holes in the opponent. But the offensive midfield is an area of real depth at Euro 2020, with players like Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Toni Kroos, Bernardo Silva and Ilkay Gündogan all capable of making a game-winning contribution. England is strong in this division too, with Southgate likely having to choose between Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, and Mason Mount.
But there are two players who simply cannot be overlooked in this area of the court: De Bruyne and Modric.
De Bruyne, who could miss Saturday’s opening game against Russia due to the facial injury sustained in the Champions League final, offers as much as a box-to-box midfield powerhouse. He scores goals, creates threats in set pieces and has incredible potential to create opportunities, be it with crosses from the right or clean passes from the edge of the penalty area.
At his side would be Modric, who, despite his age, is still the most effective No. 10 in Europe at 35. The Real Madrid player can control the pace of a game like no other and his age and lack of pace make no difference as he can force an opponent deeper and deeper with his use of the ball in the attacking third.
Kylian Mbappe already has a World Cup winners medal, and in an outstanding tournament he could also win Euro 2020. SEBASTIEN NOGIER / EPA-EFE / Shutterstock
This is an area of the pitch where you can choose multiple permutations and still get a world’s best line of strikers. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku, two of the most consistent goalscorers in Europe, fail, while talents like Antoine Griezmann, Thomas Muller, Marcus Rashford, Raheem Sterling, Jadon Sancho, Kai Havertz, Joao Felix and Karim Benzema can also make the triumvirate Ronaldo, Lewandowski and Mbappe not dissolve.
Ronaldo (103) and Lewandowski (66) are the top two in the all-time list of Europe’s top scorers and although both are over 30, they continue to dominate goals for both the club and the country. Lewandowski is arguably the best center forward in the world and has been for five years. Many believe the Polish striker was only denied the Ballon d’Or last year because the prize was canceled due to the pandemic. As for Ronaldo, his incredible record speaks for itself. He remains the center of gravity of the Portuguese team and is five goals short of offsetting former Iranian striker Ali Daei’s record for top scorer in the history of men’s international football.
And then there is Mbappe, the 22-year-old French striker who already has a World Cup medal in his collection after Les Bleus triumphed in 2018. Mbappe’s rapid pace is a threat to any defense and he, alongside Erling Haaland, is likely to dominate the world stage for the next decade.
There are some sensational strikers at Euro 2020, but none are better than Ronaldo, Lewandowski and Mbappe.