Spain's victory at UEFA EURO 2008™ still reverberates through the European football community after uefa.com users voted six of Luis Aragonés's players into their Team of the Year 2008.
The voting, which ran from 8 December to 12 January and involved about 256,000 users, resulted in an emphatic thumbs-up to the boys of last summer – with places for Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernández, Cesc Fàbregas and Fernando Torres. Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo also gained widespread approval. Read on for a player-by-player analysis.
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Real Madrid CF & Spain)
A glorious year for the 27-year-old was sealed when he lifted the UEFA European Championship trophy as Spain captain in Vienna in June. His team's 1-0 final victory over Germany marked his third successive clean sheet in a competition in which he was beaten just twice in five matches. Casillas was also the rock on which Madrid built their Spanish Liga success of 2007/08. Now in his tenth season as No1 at the Santiago Bernabéu, he achieves the same status among uefa.com users for the second year running.
Right-back: Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid CF & Spain)
The former Sevilla FC prodigy makes the Team of the Year cut for the first time, having appeared in five of Spain's six games at the EURO. The sometime centre-back's gallops down the right flank were also a feature of Madrid's play as he scored five goals in their 2008 championship triumph. Still only 22 yet approaching a half-century of international caps, his medal haul with club and country justifies the €27m fee Madrid paid to Sevilla in summer 2005.
Central defender : John Terry (Chelsea FC & England)
Chelsea may not have landed any silverware in the calendar year, but Terry's triumph over adversity gets him the uefa.com users' vote for the third time. The England captain overcame a broken foot and a dislocated elbow to lead his club into a first UEFA Champions League final. Fortune hardly favoured the brave, however, as he slipped in taking the penalty that would have won the Londoners the cup. The 28-year-old's efforts were recognised by the Best Defender gong at the UEFA Club Football Awards in August.
Central defender: Carles Puyol (FC Barcelona & Spain)
Another of Aragonés's boys of summer to have played in all but the dead-rubber group game against Greece. First on the podium in Austria/Switzerland, the shaggy-haired centre-half also helped Barcelona to last season's UEFA Champions League semi-finals. This term the 30-year-old has been part of the Josep Guardiola revolution at Camp Nou, skippering Barça to the Liga summit going into 2009. A wholehearted performer, he ticks the boxes for uefa.com users as this is his fourth outing in their first XI.
Left-back: Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern München & Germany)
The right-footed left-back may best remember 2008 for his last-gasp winner in Germany's EURO semi-final against Turkey, when his trademark run in from the wing resulted in a cool finish that broke opposition hearts. Overall, his accounts for the year are no less impressive: add to the EURO final a UEFA Cup semi-final, plus winner's medals in the Bundesliga and the German Cup with Bayern. With Lahm having just reached his 25th birthday, there is still much to achieve for this eye-catching defender.
Right midfielder: Cristiano Ronaldo (Manchester United FC & Portugal)
His inclusion in Team of the Year supplements a stock-pile of personal accolades for the remarkable winger: European Footballer of the Year, FIFA World Player of the Year, UEFA Club Footballer of the Year and FIFAPro World Player of the Year. The 2007/08 campaign yielded a rich harvest for the 23-year-old, whose 42 goals in all competitions helped Manchester United triumph in both English Premier League and UEFA Champions League. Thirty-one of his strikes came in the league, earning Ronaldo the European Golden Boot, while the last arrived in the Moscow final against Chelsea. Perfection.
Central midfielder: Xavi Hernández (FC Barcelona & Spain)
The UEFA Technical Team chose Xavi as Player of the Tournament for UEFA EURO 2008™ after his ability to dictate the pace of games from midfield. It was due recognition for the Barcelona stalwart, who also scored the all-important opening goal of Spain's semi-final win against Russia. The 28-year-old showed maturity and brilliance throughout the finals, and subsequently kept up those Alpine-high standards during Barça's breathtaking first half of the 2008/09 season.
Attacking midfielder: Cesc Fàbregas (Arsenal FC & Spain)
One of nine Spanish players named in the 23-man EURO Team of the Tournament, Fàbregas continues to belie his years (now numbering 21). The Catalan started just two finals matches, yet had the character and confidence to come off the bench and score the winning penalty of the quarter-final shoot-out with Italy. He was also on target as a substitute against Russia. Arsenal have benefited from his all-action style, with Fàbregas driving them to last season's UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and an epic contest with Liverpool FC.
Left midfielder: Franck Ribéry (FC Bayern München & France)
Not even a serious leg injury sustained at EURO could disturb the Ribéry success story with Bayern. Since September he has picked up where he left off in May, prompting his club's surge up the Bundesliga table with a strike rate of more than a goal a game. Last season the winger's understanding with striker Luca Toni proved irresistible to opposition defences, culminating in Bayern's domestic double. This time around, the No7 has taken to the UEFA Champions League stage with aplomb, inspiring his side's group-stage supremacy.
Forward: Lionel Messi (FC Barcelona)
If 2007/08 bore the stamp of Ronaldo, then this season could be Messi's annus mirabilis. By the time voting for Team of the Year closed on 12 January, the Barcelona No10 had 19 goals for the campaign – including five in the UEFA Champions League and eleven from 14 Liga starts. The slaloming Argentinian forward, second only to Ronaldo in the Ballon d'Or and FIFA World Player votes, may yet supercede the Portuguese if he and his club can maintain the same peak performances.
Forward: Fernando Torres (Liverpool FC & Spain)
David Villa grabbed the EURO scoring honours with four goals, but Torres got the one that mattered most – the decisive strike that downed Germany in the final. The unerring finish was typical of an attacker who had rewarded Liverpool's £20m investment by finding the net 24 times during the preceding English top-flight season. Fair to say, the former Club Atlético de Madrid starlet has taken the Premier League by storm. It was no surprise, then, when 'El Niño' wreaked further havoc in Austria/Switzerland.
Coach: Sir Alex Ferguson (Manchester United FC)
Nominated as team manager for the second straight year, Sir Alex could scarcely have done more to merit his place in the dugout. He was sitting pretty when Manchester United landed the tenth English title of his Old Trafford reign on 11 May, ten days before they secured the European crown at Chelsea's expense. Sir Alex's second UEFA Champions League triumph came in his 67th year – and, to underline his longevity, some 25 years since he lifted the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup with Aberdeen FC.
Team captain: Xavi Hernández (FC Barcelona & Spain)
Who better to lead the side than the man who covered more ground than any other in the EURO final. That match showed Xavi to be the perfect pivot for a team, as the midfielder not only took all the corners but was also a ready recipient of the ball – being a constant presence in the Spanish passing carousel. He relishes the big occasion after having to sit through Barcelona's continental coronation of 2006 as an unused substitute.
Click here to see the star selection and to have your say.
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