Euro 2016’s round of 16 threw up a few surprises, namely reigning champions Spain crashing out at the hands of the Italians in a repeat of the 2012 final and Iceland’s defeat of England.
It is now time to choose the best eleven of the first knockout round. For the team, a much-used 4-3-3 formation has been selected, with Italy being the most represented team in the 11.
The choice for goalkeeper was a tough one between Germany’s Manuel Neuer and Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, but the latter was eventually chosen. Despite his age, the Azzurri’s ever present number one made a point blank save moments before Graziano Pelle’s 91st minute goal. Had he not made the save the game would have probably gone into the lottery of extra time. He thrives in his role of captain, constantly exuding a passion and determination the rest of his players live off.
Following in their keeper’s path, Giorgio Chiellini and Mattia De Sciglio make up half of the best defence of the round of 16. Chiellini, who scored Italy’s all-important goal to give his country a deserved lead before half time, takes up the first centre back spot. De Sciglio won 100% of his tackles in a flawless performance against Spain, giving him the right back position.
Lining up alongside Chiellini is Germany’s Jerome Boateng, who once again showed how far he has come since being sold by Manchester City. His volley from just outside the box - which opened up the Slovakian floodgates - was his first for his country. He is a vital clog in a stern looking German defence, who are yet to concede a goal at these European Championships.
Ricardo Rodriguez takes up the left back and last defensive spot in this team. Although Switzerland crashed out on penalties at the hands of the Poles, Rodriguez, a summer target for Arsenal, was strong in both attack and defence for his country. He made seven crosses, had five shots and managed a successful tackling rate of 67%. He also scored his penalty in the shootout.
Jakub Blaszczykowski, Kevin De Bruyne and Xherdan Shaqiri make up the midfield trio. Shaqiri scored arguably the goal of the tournament with a dramatic overhead kick that looked to have rescued the game for the Swiss. He had been having a rather quiet tournament, but came alive in that moment in the Polish box in a move that was typical of the quality he showed that day.
De Bruyne had a talent-fueled display in Belgium’s game against Hungary. Although the score line may have flattered the Red Devils in the end, the Manchester City man showed the sort of quality we have been subjected to week in week out over the past 10 months. Blaszczykowski, who had been out of favour in the Poland team before their last group game, scored his countries goal that looked to have sent them through before Shaqiri’s wonder goal. He was also the playmaker of their team on the day, creating four chances and putting four crosses into the Swiss box.
The front three includes the two players of the round, the captain and vice-captain of this team so to speak. Eden Hazard and Antoine Griezmann produced two of the best individual displays of the tournament so far, albeit in different circumstances.
Hazard was central to his team’s rout of a spirited Hungarian team, and his performance was summarised by the fact he got an assist and a goal just one minute between each other. It was arguably the first time Belgium’s captain acted as such, but most would argue it was well worth the wait and his team are now favourites to reach the final.
The hosts of Euro 2016 needed their poster boy to avoid what would have been one of the biggest upsets in European history against the Irish. Two goals in four minutes was enough from Griezmann to avoid the blushes, but his overall performance saw him stand out above everyone but Hazard in the round of 16.
The centre forward position was another tough pick, but Italy’s Graziano Pelle gets the nod, giving Italy a remarkable four players in the best 11. Although Italy were most active in defence, Pelle’s tireless work always provided an out ball for Chiellini and Co. His performance was topped off by a stylish 91st minute goal that confirmed their place in the quarter finals.
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