There were some excellent individual performances in the group stage and last 16 in France, but who’s impressed Michael Cox the most? You can vote for your top man at the end…
10. Mesut Ozil (Germany)
At the World Cup two years ago, Ozil was unusually peripheral and struggled to exert a constant influence for Germany, despite eventually collecting a winner’s medal. The Arsenal playmaker disliked playing from the left and other midfielders were more crucial.
This time around he’s been excellent. Fielded in a more central role, and with Germany always in command thanks to passing quality in deeper positions, Ozil has been able to float around between the lines and play casual, one-touch through-balls for onrushing team-mates. His missed penalty against Slovakia underlines his weakness in front of goal, but in terms of playing the final pass, Ozil is the best in the competition.
9. Alvaro Morata (Spain)
Morata’s role in this Spain side has been unspectacular, based mainly around hovering on the far side of defenders before making darts towards the near post
Three goals in four games is a fine return for a player who wasn’t even assured of his place in the squad six months ago. Morata’s role in this Spain side was unspectacular, based mainly around hovering on the far side of defenders before making darts towards the near post, but he’s played it excellently.
Crucially, he transformed the way Spain pass. Previously their midfielders used to make runs into channels and then find they had little support, forcing them to turn backwards. Now, they bomb into those positions because they can look across and find Morata on hand to provide a finish. Playing with a proper No.9 made Spain more penetrative.
8. Grzegorz Krychowiak (Poland)
A superb all-round defensive midfielder boasting mobility, tackling power, positional sense and technical quality in possession, he’s the main reason the centre-backs have barely been stretched
Poland have been slightly disappointing in an attacking sense, but defensively they’re arguably the strongest team in the competition, having conceded just one goal in four matches – Xherdan Shaqiri’s unstoppable bicycle kick.
Krychowiak deserves much of the credit. A superb all-round defensive midfielder boasting mobility, tackling power, positional sense and technical quality in possession, he’s the main reason the centre-backs have barely been stretched. Few ‘destructive’ midfielders in this tournament have excelled – Switzerland’s Granit Xhaka is another – but Krychowiak has shown the value of the role.
7. Ivan Perisic (Croatia)
[Perisic] provided one of the tournament’s greatest moments in the final group game against Spain, his driving run and near-post finish – albeit deflected – winning the best game of the group stage
There are two types of weird tournament haircut. There are weird tournament haircuts which become the major story themselves – Romania 1998 – and weird tournament haircuts which are an afterthought because the player was magnificent – Ronaldo 2002. Sadly, Perisic’s early exit from the competition means he’s in the former category when it could have been the latter.
Perisic was impressive in the first two games, a constant threat against Turkey before finding the net against Czech Republic, and then provided one of the tournament’s greatest moments in the final group game against Spain, his driving run and near-post finish – albeit deflected – winning the best game of the group stage and makingCroatia surprise winners of Group D.
6. Kevin De Bruyne (Belgium)
He’s an all-round attacking midfielder, able to skip past challenges, provide clever through-balls and shoot from long-range
Belgium started this tournament slowly with a 2-0 defeat by Italy, but since then have scored nine unanswered goals against Ireland, Sweden and Hungary. Eden Hazard starred in the third of those games, but De Bruyne has been brilliant in all three.
Against teams who have allowed Belgium to counter-attack, De Bruyne’s driven forward from his central position with great intent. He’s an all-round attacking midfielder, able to skip past challenges, provide clever through-balls and shoot from range. One goal and three assists tells the story – no one else in the tournament has been as efficient in the final third.
5. Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Finally playing in his favoured central midfield role having previously been out on the left in Vicente Del Bosque’s sides, Iniesta was more influential than ever
The most consistent tournament player of his generation, the loss of Iniesta from this competition before the quarter-final stage is a tremendous shame. Finally playing in his favoured central midfield role having previously been out on the left in Vicente del Bosque’s sides, Iniesta was more influential than ever.
Spain’s third goal against Turkey was a perfect illustration of what Iniesta adds: building play from the back, moving the ball through midfield, and then playing the penetrative pass – not the assist, but the pre-assist – to allow Jordi Alba to square for Morata’s tap-in.
4. Dimitri Payet (France)
[Payet] has every chance of being voted the tournament’s best player on home soil – especially if France lift the trophy
Payet’s stunning late winner on the opening night seems years ago – but it was crucial in bringing belief to a French side who had appeared extremely nervous throughout that game against Romania. Payet had done more than anyone else to put France in charge with clever positioning and neat trickery, and fully deserved to be the hero.
He scored another fine late goal against Albania, came close to another off the bench against Switzerland and, while he was quieter than usual against Ireland in the second round, has every chance of being voted the tournament’s best player on home soil – especially if France lift the trophy.
3. Graziano Pelle (Italy)
In possession he’s always been a target for long balls, often showing brilliant touches to control the ball and feeding strike partner Eder, and to encourage midfield runners forward
Hardly the most revered No.9 in the competition, Pelle has nevertheless been superb in both phases of the game. In possession he’s always been a target for long balls, often showing brilliant touches to control the ball and feeding strike partner Eder, and has encouraged midfield runners forward.
His performance against Spain was also excellent without the ball, Pelle man-marking Sergio Busquets to completely nullify the Barcelona midfielder’s influence. He’s also scored two goals; similar, close-range volleys in the dying moments to turn 1-0 leads into more convincing 2-0 victories. He’s been the best No.9 in a tournament lacking centre-forward quality.
2. Gareth Bale (Wales)
During the first two matches Bale was relatively quiet, and yet he still scored two crucial openers with long-range free-kicks
During the first two matches Bale was relatively quiet, and yet he still scored two crucial openers with long-range free-kicks. Although both Matus Kozacik and Joe Hart should have done better, the manner in which Bale hits the ball provides both power and late, unpredictable swerve. It’s no coincidence both goalkeepers were made to look foolish.
Against Russia, Wales were able to counter-attack and Bale ran the show, poking in the third goal, while against Northern Ireland his devilish cross forced Gareth McAuley to turn the ball into his own goal. Bale is providing one decisive moment per game; no one else in the tournament can claim to be doing the same.
1. Toni Kroos (Germany)
The tournament’s outstanding player so far, in a European Championship that has suited him nicely. With most sides sitting back and concentrating on compressing space on the edge of the box, deep playmakers like Kroos have been allowed plenty of space. Like Andrea Pirlo four years ago, Kroos’s passing from deep has been wonderful.
A wonderfully gifted all-round midfielder, the Real Madrid man’s passing range has never been more impressive. His diagonal balls towards the flanks encourage the full-backs forward, while his penetrative passes into the forwards ensures the tempo remains high. He conducts play, gesturing for his team-mates to move into place, and if he continues this form for the remainder of the tournament – where he may face tighter marking – he should be regarded as Europe’s best midfielder.