As Greece’s upset victory in EURO 2004 proved, defense wins championships. A structured defense will always guide a team towards success and helps contribute to a disciplined brand of soccer. Here are the ten best defenders you will see in this summer’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine:
Honorable Mentions: Kyriakos Papadopoulous (Greece), Javi Martinez (Spain)
10. Christian Maggio, Italy- The versatile Italian will need to showcase his skills in a big way against the dynamic attacks of Spain and Croatia in the group stage. The 30-year old can function as a wing-back, a full-back, or even a wide shuttling midfielder if Italy chooses to play with 3 defenders. A very underrated player, the Napoli man could feasibly move to a bigger club if he performs well this summer.
9. Fabio Coentrao, Portugal- Coentrao’s first season for Real Madrid was outstanding, as he shared time at left back with Marcelo and helped Los Blancos to a Spanish league title. Only 24 years old, Coentrao has great pace and dribbling; there is potential for him to get even better.
8. Pepe, Portugal- Coentrao’s partner in crime at Madrid will anchor the Seleccao’s back line this summer; love him or hate him, Pepe’s mean streak is virtually unparalleled. Despite his well-documented record of ill discipline and unsportsmanlike conduct, Pepe is an old-school defender with new-school traits. His size and strength, combined with good athleticism and ability to play as a sweeper for Madrid sometimes, makes him a great player and intimidating stalwart for Portugal.
7. John Terry, England- Never a stranger to controversy, Terry comes into EURO 2012 on the heels of a tumultuous 2011-12 campaign with Chelsea marked by racism charges amidst a cup double. Unable to play in the Champions League final due to a red card in the semifinal, Terry is an incredibly tough center-back who is also quite composed on the ball. Moreover, he’s known to nod in a few goals off set pieces (corner kicks, especially).
6. Ashley Cole, England- A teammate of Terry’s, Ashley Cole does not seem as if he has lost a step throughout his career. Despite being 31, Cole runs up and down the left flank as if he’s 25 again. He is England’s most capped full-back with 94 appearances and brings a lot of motivation into this summer’s Three Lions squad. Cole is a member of the older “golden generation” that never played to their potential; along with Terry and Steven Gerrard, he represents the old guard that is desperate to bring England glory.
5. Giorgio Chiellini, Italy- The Italians, always known for their stout defense, come into the tournament with their weakest link being perhaps their depth in the back line. The loss of Andrea Barzagli to injury is a crucial blow, but Chiellini is undoubtedly the anchor of the Azzurri. The Juventus man is coming off of a Serie A title and is looking to bring a positive light to Italian football this summer in wake of a recent match-fixing investigation.
4. Mats Hummels, Germany- Undoubtedly one of the best center-backs in the sport, Hummels is “only” ranked fourth on this list because he has not played at a true world-class level for Die Mannschaft yet. Despite only being 23 years old, Hummels has held down the defense for Bundesliga champions Borussia Dortmund so impressively, he has been at the forefront of many transfer rumors all around Europe. EURO 2012 may be the tournament in which he becomes a household name; this is his moment to shine.
3. Sergio Ramos, Spain- Ramos had arguably his most successful season yet, helping Madrid win the La Liga title with excellent performances at center-back and occasionally right-back, his old position. Although he will start as a center-back under Vicente del Bosque, he may asked to fill in on the right flank if Alvaro Arbeloa is inefficient. A slight knock on Ramos is that he accumulates several unnecessary red cards at Madrid; he needs to be mild-tempered if Spain wants to become repeat EURO champions.
2. Philip Lahm, Germany- Despite being the captain of one of the most talented footballing nations (and clubs), Lahm remains one of the most underrated players in the world. He is Germany’s best right-back and left-back, a testament to his physical and technical skills alike. The Bayern Munich skipper has 86 international caps to his name, having played in each of the last two European Championships and World Cups: an impressive feat for the 28-year old.
1. Gerard Pique, Spain- Shakira’s boyfriend is quite simply the prototype of a quintessential modern-day center-back. A graduate of Barcelona’s vaunted La Masia youth academy, Pique is an amazingly-gifted defender, possessing a rare blend of size and speed, capable of dispossessing the greatest dribblers, frustrating Cristiano Ronaldo in many of the Clasicos over the past three years. To further add to his skills, Pique is one of the most composed defenders on the ball in the world right now; anyone who doubts his ball skills needs to watch his goal against Inter Milan in the 2010 Champions League semifinal.