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Skysports.com picks out ten players who can be considered legends of the European Championship
Anticipation is already building ahead of Euro 2012 as the draw for the tournament prepares to go ahead in Kiev on Friday afternoon.
The finest players that the continent has to offer will gather in Poland and Ukraine next summer and the latest chapter in football history will be written.
New stars are sure to emerge to take their place alongside the greats of the past, who have lit up such events since its formation in 1960.
Here, skysports.com picks out ten players who can be considered legends of the European Championship.
Marco van Basten
The biggest stage is the ideal platform for the greatest players to showcase their talents, and Dutch legend Van Basten certainly seized his moment in 1988 to inspire Holland to European glory. He scored a hat-trick in the 3-1 group phase victory over England and found the target again in the semi-finals to secure a late win against host nation West Germany. Van Basten saved his best for last, however, as Holland went up against a formidable Soviet Union side in the final that had beaten them in their opening game. Ruud Gullit broke the deadlock before Van Basten smashed an incredible volley from a tight angle into the far top corner to seal their success. It was his fifth goal of the tournament and one of the most famous ever scored, cementing his standing as one of the best footballers of all time and bringing Holland their only major trophy to date.
Matthaus broke all sorts of records during a remarkable career to firmly establish himself as a legend of the game. His first experience of a European Championship came in 1980 when West Germany went all the way to lift the trophy after beating Belgium in the final. While Matthaus was a member of the squad and got his hands on a winners' medal, he did not get much game time in the tournament in Italy. That all changed over the following two decades, as he became the joint record-holder for appearing at four European Championships, incredibly turning out at Euro 2000 at the age of 39.
The record goalscorer at European Championship finals, Platini's performances at the 1984 event are a part of football folklore. France had home advantage and a formidable midfield with the likes of Jean Tigana, Luis Fernandez and Alain Giresse, but Platini was the main man as he weighed in with a staggering nine goals. Having netted the winner in the opening group game against Denmark, he hit hat-tricks in the victories over Belgium and Yugoslavia. A last-gasp extra-time strike knocked out Portugal in the semi-finals and he kept up his record of scoring in every game by grabbing the opener in a 2-0 final success against Spain. While his goalscoring was phenomenal, Platini will also be remembered as perhaps the greatest passer in the history of the game.
He may be remembered most by British fans for what he achieved with Manchester United, but Schmeichel also had a distinguished international career. Another player, like Matthaus, who appeared at four European Championships, Schmeichel was a talismanic figure for his country, Denmark. The goalkeeper's finest hour came at Euro 1992, when Denmark only competed as a late replacement following the disqualification of Yugoslavia. Having started as rank outsiders, the Danes defied the odds to first reach the last four and then knock out defending champions Holland to progress to the final. Schmeichel was brilliant in the semis and pulled off a number of stunning saves, including a decisive stop from Van Basten in the penalty shoot-out. He then kept a clean sheet in the final as Denmark shocked Germany to claim an unlikely triumph.
It would be impossible to compile such a list without recognising the accomplishments of Beckenbauer, one of the greatest players to ever grace the European Championship finals. 'Der Kaiser' guided West Germany to glory in 1972, back in the days when the tournament featured just four sides. A 2-1 victory over host nation Belgium in the semi-finals was followed by a 3-0 win against Soviet Union in the Brussels showpiece, with Beckenbauer at his dominant best. Four years later, in Beckenbauer's last tournament, he earned a runners-up medal after a classic semi-final comeback against Yugoslavia and a defeat on penalties against Czechoslovakia in the final.
The second Frenchman in our countdown, and just as deserving of a place as Platini. Les Bleus may have won in 1984 and achieved World Cup glory in 1998, but both of those victories came on home soil and there was a lot of scrutiny on the team in 2000 to prove they were the best on the planet. Zidane had failed to impress four years earlier but was at the peak of his powers in Holland and Belgium and steered France to a hard-fought success. As well as producing numerous moments of breathtaking skill, Zidane netted a glorious free-kick against Spain in the quarter-finals and scored the Golden Goal penalty that eliminated Portugal in the semis. Zidane also shone in 2004 in an otherwise forgettable campaign for France, a wonderful free-kick against England one of his three goals in Portugal.
A Real Madrid team-mate of Zidane's at club level but international rival, Figo came close to winning silverware with Portugal but agonisingly missed out in 2004. He had inspired his country to the final on home soil with a series of mesmerising displays, only for Greece to pull off a shock victory. The cultured midfielder had also starred in each of the two previous European Championships, racking up 14 appearances in total. He scored a famous goal in Euro 2000 to set Portugal on their way to an incredible comeback against England, finding the net from 25 yards via a deflection off Tony Adams.
Like Figo, Maldini never won a European Championship, but he remains a continental great after three times being named in the team of the tournament. One of the finest defenders to have ever played the game, Maldini helped make Italy's backline almost impenetrable for the duration of his very long career. The left-back's first major competition was Euro 1988, when the Azzurri were knocked out at the semi-final stage by Soviet Union. He went on to feature in England eight years later before Italy came up just short against France in the 2000 final, agonisingly losing out after a Golden Goal in extra time.
Second only to Platini in the all-time list of European Championship goalscorers, Shearer netted seven times across two tournaments. He came into Euro 96 under pressure following a barren run, but Terry Venables kept faith with the striker and he scored in the opening draw against Switzerland. Shearer went from strength to strength for the rest of the tournament and also found the target in the group stage wins over Scotland and Holland, before his goal against Germany in the semi-finals put England on the brink of a place in the final. It was not to be as Germany came back, but Shearer returned four years later to score twice more in Holland and Belgium.
The youngest name on our list and somebody whose reputation could grow further in Poland and Ukraine next summer. Xavi was named the player of the tournament at Euro 2008 as Spain finally put an end to years of unfulfilled promise by lifting the trophy. It is Spain's remarkable ability to control possession against any opposition that has set them apart and Xavi personifies their whole philosophy with the way he passes and moves. The reigning champions are definitely the team to avoid in Friday's draw for Euro 2012.
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