GK: Iker Casillas (Spain)
An outstanding servant for Real Madrid and Spain, who broke records for international clean sheets and wins. The goalkeeper, who made his Roja debut in 2000, inherited the captain's armband on the eve of UEFA EURO 2008 and led the side impeccably, keeping clean sheets in the quarter-finals – when he also saved two penalties in the shoot-out against Italy – semi-finals and the final. Casillas proved inspirational once more at the 2010 FIFA World Cup, joining a select group of players who have won all major club and international titles, and shipped a solitary goal as Spain became the first side to defend the UEFA European Championship in 2012.
DF: Fábio Coentrão (Portugal)
Coentrão has not looked back since capping an exponential rise with a €30m switch to Real Madrid in summer 2011. Two years earlier, he had been pondering his future after returning to Benfica from a season on loan at home-town club Rio Ave, but then came the breakthrough. He helped the Eagles win the Liga, had a memorable 2010 FIFA World Cup and was soon snapped up by Madrid. An adventurous left-back who can also play in midfield, he was ever-present as Portugal reached the UEFA EURO 2012 semi-finals.
DF: Pepe (Portugal)
A gifted, tough-tackling Brazilian-born centre-back also capable of operating as a holding midfielder, Pepe commanded a fee of €30m when he joined Real Madrid in 2007. He obtained Portuguese citizenship shortly afterwards and helped his adoptive country through to the knockout stages of the next three final tournaments, being named in the team of the tournament at the UEFA European Championships in 2008 and 2012, reaching the semi-finals in the latter. He arrived in Europe aged 18, joining Marítimo, and went on to win titles with Porto and Madrid.
DF: Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Ramos went for €27m, then a record between two Spanish clubs, when he joined Real Madrid from home-town side Sevilla aged 19. He was already a senior international – Spain's youngest in over half a century – and has gone on to enjoy a glittering career as the Roja won an unprecedented three successive major tournaments. Right-back at UEFA EURO 2008 and in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, he impressively switched, as he often has, to centre-back during UEFA EURO 2012.
DF: Jordi Alba (Spain)
If Alba was unknown to many outside Spain before UEFA EURO 2012, nobody needed an introduction by the end of it, when his fine goal helped earn a record 4-0 victory in the final against Italy. The lung-bursting run from deep inside his own half was typical of a tireless player comfortable playing anywhere – and often everywhere – on the left flank. Released as a teenager after playing at Barcelona's academy, he joined Valencia before returning five years and €14m later to the Catalan giants during UEFA EURO 2012.
MF: Sami Khedira (Germany)
Since making his breakthrough in home-town club Stuttgart's 2006/07 title-winning side, Khedira, with his unique brand of speed, stamina, technique and aerial ability, has been instrumental wherever he has played. Born to a Tunisian father and a German mother, he skippered the national team to glory at the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship. He then helped the seniors through to the semi-finals of the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012 either side of a switch to Real Madrid. Agonisingly, he was injured in the warm-up ahead of Germany's 2014 World Cup final triumph.
MF: Andrea Pirlo (Italy)
Perhaps the finest deep-lying playmaker of his generation, Pirlo was touted for greatness the moment he made his debut for Brescia two days after his 16th birthday. Feted for Italy's 2006 FIFA World Cup triumph and a decade at AC Milan, where he won two Scudetti and two UEFA Champions League titles, he enjoyed an Indian summer at Juventus. A graceful presence with a perfect pass, he was known as L'Architetto (the Architect) among his Azzurri team-mates and Italy's surprise run to the UEFA EURO 2012 final was built on his solid foundations – an audacious chipped penalty against England in the quarter-finals helped, too.
MF: Andrés Iniesta (Spain)
Scoring the winning goal in the 2010 FIFA World Cup final may have rubber-stamped Iniesta's superstar status, but he has long been integral for club and country. Superb at UEFA EURO 2008, he was player of the tournament as Spain won UEFA EURO 2012 and has also been an enduring presence for Barcelona, with his elegance pivotal to their 'tika-taka' style. Almost every step of the way he has had Xavi Hernández, his great midfield foil, alongside him, the heartbeat of an Azulgrana side that won three UEFA Champions Leagues in seven seasons.
MF: Xavi Hernández (Spain)
Xavi picked up his first league title with Barcelona at 19 and was a Spanish international at 20, yet it took a few years for his talent to receive global recognition. His intelligent if invariably simple use of the ball means he does not always stand out, but there is no doubting his immense contribution to the success enjoyed by club and country. Barça's record appearance maker's metronomic passing and superb reading of the game made him a critical part of Spain's triumphs at UEFA EURO 2008 (when he was named player of the tournament), the 2010 FIFA World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012.
FW: Mario Balotelli (Italy)
'Why always me?' Balotelli famously asked during one celebration. As often on the front pages as the back, the effervescent striker was never too far from the headlines. By the time he joined Manchester City for a reported €28m aged 19 he was already a three-time Scudetto winner and had helped Internazionale Milano to the 2010 UEFA Champions League title. Agile, quick and powerful, Balotelli perhaps best showcased his talents in Italy's UEFA EURO 2012 semi-final victory over Germany, when he scored twice.
FW: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
The 19-year-old Ronaldo came to prominence at UEFA EURO 2004, starring throughout Portugal's run to the final after scoring his first international goal in the opener. At club level the Sporting CP academy product helped Manchester United to three successive titles and the UEFA Champions League in 2008. It was a memorable year: 42 goals in 49 games saw him crowned UEFA Club Footballer of the Year, winner of the Ballon d'Or and the FIFA World Player of the Year. His world record €92m move to Real Madrid brought more goals, bringing up his Liga century after just 92 games – a Spanish top-flight record.
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