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A European team for the 'noughties'

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Phil Minshull | 18:34 UK time, Monday, 21 December 2009

As we lurch towards the end of the year and, indeed, the end of the decade, it's time for a retrospective piece which considers the top European stars of the game in the last 10 years.

Here's a quick recap of who won what.

After all the hangovers from all the parties at the start of the Millennium had ebbed away, Italy were Europe's only World Cup winners, but France, Greece and Spain all won what's now become colloquially known as the 'Euro'.

Three teams lifted the Champions League twice in the last decade - Real Madrid, AC Milan and Barcelona while Bayern Munich, Porto, Liverpool and Manchester United all triumphed once.

ronaldo_blog.jpgThe world's most expensive player - Cristiano Ronaldo

The fact that no team was able to either win the trophy on more than two occasions or defend it successfully either - and four different nations also won the major international championships - suggests that there is still a broad spread of talent across Europe's top footballing nations, even if it is concentrated around a dozen clubs.

Six European players have also won the Ballon D'Or which goes to the leading player in European club football - Luis Figo, Michael Owen, Pavel Nedved, Andrey Shevchenko, Fabio Cannavaro and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Figo, Cannavaro and Ronaldo also picked up the Fifa World Player of the Year award along with Zinedine Zidane (twice), who had curiously won the Ballon D'Or back in 1998 but not in 2000 and 2003, the years he was voted the best player in the world.

On this occasion, hoping not to steal any other BBC blogger's material, I have also considered British players and players at British clubs despite the fact that I normally stick reasonably strictly to subject matter on the European mainland.

However, it would be a bit artificial to name a 'Europe XI' without them. This being my blog, I have decided to exert my right as an armchair critic and chose a 4-3-3 formation.

Goalkeeper: Oliver Kahn (Germany). A tough choice but four consecutive Uefa Best European goalkeeper awards (1999-2002) clinched it. His shot-stopping saw him awarded the gloves ahead of other excellent candidates such as Iker Casillas, Edwin van der Sar and Gianluigi Buffon.

Right-back: Lilian Thuram (France). Of course, he won the World Cup with France in 1998 but I'm selecting him for his outstanding performance in Euro 2000 and his constant excellence while at Parma and Juventus, even if he wasn't the type of speedy wing-back that is in vogue at many Spanish and Italian clubs. He could also play in the centre of the defence, which he often did for France.

Centre-back: Fabio Cannavaro (Italy). The Italian captain was 2006 world player of the year and instrumental in the Azzurri winning the World Cup that year. Outstanding at reading the game and the epitome of a firm but fair tackling. Still going strong and he's now his country's most capped player.

Centre-back: Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal): A rock solid central defender who was a cornerstone behind Portugal's improved performances at major championships. Enjoyed his best performances during the mid-2000s at Euro 2004 and when Porto won the Champions League but in recent seasons he has been very effective at Chelsea, despite his current injury problems.

Left-back: Philipp Lahm (Germany). Possibly my most controversial choice for some people but he has never failed on the big occasion and was in the team of the tournament at the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008. Compact, quick and a superb crosser. Europe's answer to Roberto Carlos.

Right midfield: David Beckham (England). It's not all hype, he can play a bit as well. Good pace and few players can cross with such pinpoint accuracy as Becks. He's also arguably still the best dead-ball specialist in Europe, if not the world.

zidane_blog.jpgWas Zidane's goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the Champions League final the best of the decade?

Centre midfield: Zinedine Zidane (France). It all ended on a sour note in the 2006 World Cup final but let's remember the good times when he was indisputably the world's best playmaker. His left-foot volley which won Real Madrid the 2002 Champions League is also, in my opinion, possibly the best goal of the last decade.

Left midfield: Luis Figo (Portugal). The Beckham-Zidane-Figo triumvirate was one that played together regularly at Real Madrid for two seasons between 2003 and 2005 and in that time they didn't actually win a thing, but this team is obviously more about individual ability and accomplishments, and Figo was equally comfortable as an advanced right-sided or left-sided midfielder.

Striker: Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal). Won everything there was in terms of individual honours at the end of the 2007-08 season, when he was with Manchester United. Real Madrid valued him so highly that they were prepared to pay a world record transfer fee last summer. A dazzling runner and dribbler on his day and there is the sense that after recent injuries and the upheaval of his his move, he is returning to his best form of two years ago.

Striker: Ruud van Nistelrooy (Netherlands). The only man to top the scoring charts in both the Netherlands, England and Spain. He has never failed at a club, despite several long-term injuries. Great ball skills, which often get over-looked because of his clinical close-range finishing.

Striker: Thierry Henry (France). It could be argued that Henry has too often failed to show what he was capable of for Les Bleus but his performances for Arsenal and, to a certain extent, Barcelona, have more than compensated for that.

Coach: Marcello Lippi (Italy). Some people might view things differently but this was an obvious choice for me as he was the only European coach to have won the World Cup in the last decade, especially with the problems of a poor performance by Italy at Euro 2004 and the Calciopoli game-rigging scandal that centred around his former club Juventus and was uncovered in May 2006.

Substitutes: Iker Casillas (Spain), Paolo Maldini (Italy) Sergio Ramos (Spain), Xavi Hernandez (Spain), Pavel Nedved (Czech Republic), Wayne Rooney (England), Fernando Torres (Spain).

There are so many other players about whom an argument could me made to be included in this team. However, since we all know that only 11 men can be on the pitch at anyone time, feel free to post comments about who would be in your team this team and who you would leave out of mine.

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