Memorable EURO playmaker performances: Zidane, Pirlo, Xavi

    Andrea Pirlo, Mesut Ozil
    Pirlo delivered his masterclass in 2012 | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

    During the late flourishing of his career, Pirlo played with the insouciance of a man wearing velvet slippers while a sommelier held his glass of Sangiovese. So smooth was he, that days later opponents would discover in their possession the business card the Italy No10 had surreptitiously slipped them as he glided by.

    EURO 2012 saw him at his debonair best. Mario Balotelli took the headlines with two goals in the semi-final against Germany but many in Kyiv, including the man of the match adjudicators, only had eyes for the Juventus man.

    Claudio Villa Archive
    Zidane gallops through Portugal’s midfield | Claudio Villa/Getty Images

    A highlights package of this semi-final performance is the second most-watched video onEURO’s social media channels. Zidane was at his balletic best, dazzling with flicks and tricks, pirouetting out of danger, hurdling challenges with a flourish – such was the poise and balance that you half expected to discover amid the blur of his feet that he was ‘en pointe’.

    He was powerful too, leaving a trail of red Portuguese shirts in his wake every time he galloped forward, and it was this combination of beauty and beast that decided matters as Zidane thumped an extra-time penalty into the top corner.

    Schuster’s West Germany won the 1980 Euros | STAFF/Getty Images

    Klaus Allofs scored all three goals, but it was 20-year-old firebrand Schuster who caught the eye. With a shock of blond hair and combative mouth that provided shocks of its own, he often garnered attention although here it was his feet doing the talking: the Oranje had no answer to the prodigious youngster’s speed and aggressive running.

    The Köln schemer played a part in all three goals before a late Dutch comeback in this group match, a display that soon brought Barcelona calling. Schuster’s star burned briefly but bright at international level (he retired from West Germany duty aged 24); it was never more brilliant than this.

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    Andrei Arshavin
    Arshavin being a bit cheeky | Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Such was Arshavin’s importance that coach Guus Hiddink selected the diminutive forward for EURO 2008 despite his being banned for the first two games. In his absence Russia were struggling but the impish Arshavin transformed fortunes on his return.

    He set up one and scored another in a victory against Sweden, before a mesmerising showing against the Netherlands in the quarter-finals. Constantly flirting with defenders before turning on his heels the moment they committed, Arshavin teed up two and clinched a semi-final spot with a goal of his own.

    Xavi Hernandez, Andrea Pirlo
    Xavi bested Pirlo in the 2012 final | Sports Illustrated China/Getty Images

    The beating heart of Spain’s back-to-back EURO triumphs, Xavi conducted matters as if he was watching atop a high platform in the centre circle. Spain’s No8 picked up the baton from the off in the 2012 final, dictating La Roja’s staccato movement as Italy were forced deeper.

    The olés had already begun when, just before the quarter-hour, a moment of harmony with Andrés Iniesta teed up David Silva. Xavi was at it again before the break, with Jordi Alba the beneficiary, and late in the second period he upped the tempo for a rousing crescendo, setting up Fernando Torres as Spain finished strongly.

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