Ranking the 11 Best Players in Euros History

Ranking the 11 Best Players in Euros History

 

Ranking the best players in European Championships history featuring Cristiano Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane and Xavi

Since the first edition in 1960, the UEFA European Football Championship has established itself as the leading international competition in Europe.

Held every four years and alternating with the World Cup in even-numbered years, the tournament is arguably the most prestigious international competition behind the one that features countries around the globe. It’s a reputation that has been forged in the name of the many talented footballers who have taken part in this historic competition. Amid the drama and entertainment being provided right now by Euro 2024, we have decided to look back through the archives to see who the greatest player in Euros history is.

Ranking factors

As is always the case with a list like this, some big names have just missed out on the cut. To try and ensure the top 11 is as reasoned as possible, we have compiled a list of criteria to make the ranking. These are:

Ranking the 11 Greatest Players in Euros History

Rank
Name
Country


Appearances
Trophies Won

1
Cristiano Ronaldo
Portugal
25
1

2
Andres Iniesta
Spain


16
2

3
Zinedine Zidane
France
14
1

4
Michel Platini
France
5
1

5
Xavi
Spain
11
2

6
Marco van Basten
Netherlands
9
1

7
Fernando Torres
Spain
13
2

8
Rainer Bonhof
West Germany
N/A
2

9
Gianluigi Buffon
Italy
17
0

10
Antoine Griezmann
France
13
0

11
Franz Beckenbauer
West Germany
4
1

11Franz Beckenbauer

West Germany

Franz Beckenbauer

After being named captain in 1971, Franz Beckenbauer led West Germany into the semi-finals of the Euro 1972, and helped them beat Belgium 2-1 thanks to a brace from Gerd Muller. The latter would score another brace in the final of the competition against the Soviet Union, and a 3-0 victory ensured Beckenbauer would be lifting the trophy come the end of the 90 minutes. Fast forward four years later, and Beckenbauer would once again be skipper for West Germany, and after leading them past Yugoslavia in the semi-finals, couldn’t help his country retain their crown against Czechoslovakia in the showpiece finale. An Antonin Panenka penalty in the shoot-out was enough to consign West Germany to defeat, but that did not tarnish the incredible legacy built by Beckenbauer during the 1970s.

10Antoine Griezmann

France

Antoine Griezmann for France celebrates.

Euro 2016 may not have ended as expected, but it is sure to remain indelibly etched in the memories of the French for many years to come. A tournament marked by one player, Antoine Griezmann, who dazzled the world with his talent. Having enjoyed a great season with Atletico Madrid, the versatile striker also made his mark on the international stage.

Top scorer (six goals) and best player of the tournament, he scored two memorable braces, in the round of 16 against Ireland (2-1), then in the semi-final against favourites Germany (0-2), sending millions of French fans across the country into raptures.

Antoine Griezmann’s Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

2016
6
7

2020
1
4

9Gianluigi Buffon

Italy

Gianluigi Buffon

Unlike many of the players in this ranking, Gianluigi Buffon has never won a single European Championship. That doesn’t stop the legendary Italian goalkeeper from being part of its history however. A record holder for the number of matches played as captain (13), the 2006 world champion has played in four final phases of the competition (2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016) – he was absent from the competition in 2000 due to a fractured hand.

In 2012, he literally carried the Azzurri all the way to the final, conceding just three goals before the final showdown with Spain. In total, Buffon played 17 games at the Euros, in which he was always in the starting line-up.

Gianluigi Buffon’s Euros stats

Year
Goals conceded
Appearances

2004
2
3

2008
4
4

2012
7
6

2016
1
4

8Rainer Bonhof

West Germany

Rainer Bonhof’s name is unlikely to be familiar to younger generations. A former star with the glorious Borussia Monchengladbach in the 1970s, the German midfielder, renowned for his powerful kicks, remains the only player in history to have played in three consecutive European Championship finals.

Winner of the 1972 and 1980 editions, he was part of the West Germany team beaten by Czechoslovakia in the final of Euro 1976. It was a match marked by another player, Antonin Panenka, who gave his side victory by converting the decisive penalty with his signature move.

Rainer Bonhof’s Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

1972
N/A
N/A

1976
3
2

1980
N/A
N/A

7Fernando Torres

Spain

Fernando Torres celebrates scoring for Spain.

When he arrived at Euro 2008, Fernando Torres was coming off a fantastic season with Liverpool. Scoring 24 Premier League goals, the centre-forward capitalised on his resplendent form to help Spain win the second European Championship in their history and their first title since 1964. The only scorer in the final against Germany (his second goal of the competition), Torres was logically named Man of the Match and included in the competition’s best team.

Four years later, it was in a different form that he approached Euro 2012. Despite winning the Champions League with Chelsea, the Iberian striker had an average season in statistical terms. No longer an undisputed starter for La Roja, he nonetheless scored three goals in the competition, which earned him the title of top scorer, including another in the final against Italy. A unique achievement in the history of the competition, he remains the only player to have scored in two European Championship finals.

Fernando Torres’ Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

2004
0
3

2008
2
5

2012
3
5

6Marco van Basten

Netherlands

Marco van Basten

It’s strange to think that a team like the Netherlands, which has been home to some of the greatest players in history, have only one major trophy to its name. But that is indeed the case. Marco van Basten played a key role in that triumph, scoring a stunning hat-trick at Euro 1988.

From his hat-trick against England to his mythical volley in the final to complete his life’s work against the Soviet Union, the three-time Ballon d’Or winner will forever be remembered as the man who brought the Netherlands back from the brink of disillusionment at the 1974 World Cup when they lost in the final 2-1 to West Germany.

Marco van Basten’s Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

1988
5
5

1992
0
4

5Xavi Hernandez

Spain

Xavi passing the ball for Spain

It is hard to separate Xavi from his compatriot Andres Iniesta, given the close links between the two players throughout their careers. Xavi, who also won two European Championships (2008 and 2012), was named best player of the tournament in 2008, before becoming the first player in history to provide an assist in back-to-back Euro finals in 2012.

The former Barcelona pass master was the midfield conductor for Spain for a number of years, and was of course ably assisted by Iniesta. While the latter might have found himself in the limelight a lot more – he was the scorer of the winner in the World Cup final 2010 against the Netherlands – Xavi served the understated role of setting attacks up from the base of midfield. Whatever the case, you just can’t mention one without the other.

Xavi Hernandez’s Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

2008
1
5

2012
0
6

4Michel Platini

France

Michel Platini, captain of France, at the 1982 World Cup.

France’s legendary number ten only played in one European Championships in his career, but he made sure it was a memorable one. Captain of Les Bleus at the 1984 tournament in France, the former Juventus player scored nine goals in five games – including two hat-tricks – to give his team the first major trophy in their history.

It was a performance that will go down in the history books forever. To this day, Platini remains the all-time top scorer in a single edition, as well as the second-highest scorer in its history. That is some going for a player with just the one tournament appearance, and speaks volumes of the kind of lasting impact he had.

Michel Platini’s Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

1984
9
5

3Zinedine Zidane

France

zinedine-zidane-france

For many, Euro 2000 was perhaps the most competitive edition in the history of the competition. Apart from Croatia – semi-finalists at the last World Cup – all the so-called greatest European nations held their own in the qualifying stages. With dream line-ups and a plethora of talented players, all the ingredients were in place for a memorable tournament. And it worked!

From the match between England and Portugal to that between Yugoslavia and Slovenia – not to mention the final between France and Italy – the new millennium got off to the best possible start. And in this competition, one player stood out once again: Zinedine Zidane. Although he was decisive on three occasions (two goals and one assist), it was above all his technical ease that dazzled.

A true master of the game for a reigning world champion team, the number ten, Michel Platini’s announced successor, dominated the proceedings. Producing one of the most outstanding individual performances of the 21st century, Zidane led his all-star French cast to the European Championship title, and thus crowning Les Bleus as not only World champions, but European champions too.

Zinedine Zidane’s Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

1996
0
5

2000
2
5

2002
3
4

2Andres Iniesta

Spain

 

Andres Iniesta in action for Spain Andres Iniesta Andres IniestaAndres Iniesta in action for Spain Andres Iniesta Andres Iniesta

At the end of the 2000s and beginning of the 2010s, Spain left its mark on an entire generation. Dominant, they won two Euros and a World Cup in the space of four years. A performance as fantastic as it was unprecedented, driven by a team in which every player was even more talented than his team-mate. Among them, Andres Iniesta is perhaps the most outstanding.

Joint-holder – with Cesc Fabregas – of the total number of games won at the Euros (11), the scintillating former Barcelona midfielder earned himself a place in the team of the tournament in 2008, won by La Roja. Four years later, he put the finishing touches to a fantastic Euro 2012, being voted ‘Man of the Match’ three times, including in the final, and being crowned the competition’s best player.

Andres Iniesta’s Euros stats

Year
Goals
Appearances

2008
0
6

2012
0
6

2016
0
4

1Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal

cristiano-ronaldo-portugal

Cristiano Ronaldo’s history at the European Championships is just like his career: full of records. The competition’s all-time top scorer (14 goals), the player who has played the most games in the competition (25), joint-record holder for the most tournaments played in (five between 2004 and 2021, tied with Iker Casillas), the player with the most minutes played in the competition (2063), joint top-scorer in 2012 (3 goals) and Golden Shoe winner in 2021 (five goals), the list is virtually never-ending.

But nothing can compare with his greatest achievement, Portugal’s final victory in 2016, synonymous with the first major trophy in the country’s footballing history. Simply put, there is nothing much else to say than Ronaldo’s legacy at the Euros is firmly established as the greatest ever.

 

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