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Goal.com Special: The Best European Championship XI Of All Time

Dino Zoff (Italy – 1968, 1980)

The legendary ex-Juventus goalkeeper is most famous for captaining Italy to World Cup glory at the age of 40, but his European Championships record was also outstanding. In seven games split between two tournaments, three of which went to extra time, Zoff conceded just two goals. He was inspired in the semi final toss-of-the-coin win over the Soviet Union, and the replayed final against Yugoslavia as Italy won the cup in 1968.

Matthias Sammer (Germany - 1992, 1996)

The best player by a country mile at the 1996 European Championships in England. Playing as sweeper, one of the very last before the role disappeared, Sammer led a declining and ageing Germany side to glory with a string of indomitable displays at the back. The ex-Dortmund hero regularly burst forward from defence to launch attacks, and scored two goals in the tournament including the winner in the quarter final against a dangerous Croatia side. Sammer was also an important member of the 1992 team that finished runners-up in Sweden.

Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany - 1972, 1976)

West Germany’s 1972 Euro winners are regarded by some as the best international European team of all time. The leader of Die Mannschaft, of course, was Germany’s greatest footballer in history – Franz Beckenbauer. The Bayern Munich icon completely shut out the Soviets in the final in a thumping 3-0 win. Four years later, in Beckenbauer’s last tournament, he earned a runners-up medal despite a classic semi-final comeback against Yugoslavia, and an almost-heroic recovery against Czechoslovakia in the final.

Paolo Maldini (Italy - 1988, 1996, 2000)

The greatest left back of all time played in three European Championships, and on all three occasions he was selected in the competition’s All Star Team. Maldini burst onto the world stage for the first time as a 19-year-old during the group stages of Euro 88. His marking of Spain’s best player Michel during the 1-0 win left few in any doubt about the great things he would go on to achieve. The Azzurri were eliminated in the semis by the Soviet Union in the pouring rain, but Maldini went desperately close to lifting the trophy 12 years later when France scored in the fourth minute of injury time to force extra time in the final. At Euro 2000, Maldini featured as a left wing back and established an almost insurmountable backline also including Fabio Cannavaro, Alessandro Nesta and goalkeeper Francesco Toldo.

Wilfried Van Moer (Belgium - 1980)

Will be something of an unknown to most readers, but the most romantic story from the 1980 European Championships centred around the heroics of the 35-year-old veteran. Back in the 1972 quarter final win over Italy in which he scored, midfielder Van Moer broke his leg. His career at the very top seemed to be over as he struggled for fitness in the following years and he eventually went into international exile. Having not played for Belgium in almost five years, Van Moer was surprisingly recalled by legendary coach Guy Thys for a crucial qualifier against Portugal. Van Moer scored and Belgium progressed to the finals. In Italy, Van Moer was the star of the tournament as he won every midfield battle and displayed the energy and will of a player 10 years his junior. Van Moer dragged Belgium to the final where they lost 2-1 to West Germany.

Günter Netzer (West Germany - 1972)

No player has single-handedly humiliated England at Wembley like Günter Netzer did during the Euro 1972 quarter final first leg where the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder ran the show and was simply unplayable as West Germany won 3-1 on the night and on aggregate. The playmaker, one of the greatest passers ever, continued his unstoppable form in the semi-finals and final – and the Soviet Union couldn’t get close to him as they were thrashed 3-0 in the Brussels showpiece. Sadly, Netzer wouldn’t shine on the international stage again due to the presence of the great Wolfgang Overath who he was incompatible with.

Zinedine Zidane (France - 1996, 2000, 2004)

Zidane put up a tired showing after 12 months non-stop football in his first international tournament in 1996, but was at the peak of his magical powers four years later when France followed up their World Cup success with European glory. In the group stages, Zidane played with defenders and perfected his trademark ‘Marseilles Turn’, in the knockouts the Juventus star scored the winner against Spain in the quarter final with a stunning free kick and the Golden Goal penalty that eliminated Portugal in the semis. Zizou was overshadowed in the final, but four years later in a divided France team he still was able to produce some moments of genius – scoring three times – including another magnificent free kick against England.

Dragan Dzajic (Yugoslavia - 1968, 1976)

Regarded by some as the greatest left winger in history, Dzajic was the best player at Euro 1968. He scored the winner in the semi final versus England with a delightful lob over Gordon Banks before he opened the scoring in the final against Italy. Yugoslavia were all set to triumph until a late equaliser from Angelo Domenghini forced a replay that Italy won 2-0. In 1976, he was again up to mischief as he ran West Germany ragged in the semis, scoring to put Yugoslavia 2-0 up. The Blues created numerous chances but bottled it late on as Germany forced extra time with a late comeback and eventually won 4-2. Dzajic was a master dribbler with a vicious left foot and falling leaf of a free kick.

Michel Platini (France - 1984)

No single player has, nor is ever likely to, repeat the impact that attacking midfielder Michel Platini had on Euro 1984. The Juventus fantasista scored an incredible nine goals, including two hat-tricks, and was to France in 1984 what Diego Maradona was to Argentina at the World Cup two years later. Playing in front of the Luis Fernandez, Jean Tigana, Alain Giresse triangle, Platini broke forward to create havoc for defences. He scored the 119th minute winner in the classic 3-2 semi final victory over Portugal, and also broke the deadlock with a free kick in the 2-0 final success against Spain. Simply the best passer in the history of the game.

Gerd Mueller (West Germany - 1972)

Undoubtedly the greatest penalty box striker of all time, Mueller’s statistics in all competitions are just incredible and this includes in the European Championships. At Euro 1972, he scored both goals in the 2-1 semi final win over Belgium, and he hit another double in the 3-0 final victory against the Soviet Union. In qualifying, Mueller scored six goals in as many games as West Germany topped Group 8 while he also found the back of the net in the aforementioned quarter final conquest of Wembley. An absolute goal machine whose record at international level reads: 62 games, 68 goals.

Marco Van Basten (Netherlands - 1988, 1992)

The symbol of Rinus Michels’ wonderful 1988 Euro winners was super-striker Marco Van Basten, who finished the competition as top scorer with five goals – including a host of brilliant strikes. His clinical hat-trick eliminated England, before he scored the 88th minute turn-and-shot to eliminate hosts and favourites West Germany. But it was the final itself for which Van Basten will always be associated with as he thundered home an impossible volley – the greatest Euro goal of all time – from the acutest of angles to finish off the Soviet Union in a 2-0 victory. Four years later he enjoyed less success as the Dutch lost to shock winners Denmark in the semis – with Van Basten missing the crucial spot-kick.




Zoff

Sammer – Beckenbauer - Maldini

Van Moer – Netzer – Zidane – Dzajic

Platini

Van Basten - Muller