Euro 2016: ST picks the best starting XI of the group stage

GOALKEEPER

Michael McGovern (Northern Ireland)


Goalkeeper Michael McGovern of Northern Ireland blocks a shot by Thomas Mueller of Germany. PHOTO: EPA

Northern Ireland took the 16th and final knockout round berth as the fourth-best third-placed team, edging out Turkey by goal difference. McGovern was the difference between the debutants exiting the continental showpiece and progressing. The 31-year-old made eight saves against world champions Germany to keep their defeat to a 1-0 margin. He had 16 saves overall in the group stage, with only Iceland's Hannes Halldorsson making more (19).

RIGHT BACK

Kyle Walker (England)


England defender Kyle Walker (left) vies with Russia forward Fedor Smolov. PHOTO: AFP

Defensively solid, Walker has also provided England with a vital outlet on the right flank, offering width in attack as Roy Hodgson's team tend to favour a narrow midfield. The Tottenham Hotspur man completed six dribbles against Russia - more than any other player. His pace, energy, and crosses will be crucial to England's success in the knockout stages.

CENTRAL DEFENDERS

Jerome Boateng (Germany)


Germany's Jerome Boateng (right) clears the ball off the line against Ukraine. PHOTO: EPA

Fast, strong and brave, Boateng possesses all the attributes of a top-class defender. His acrobatic goal-line clearance against Ukraine also showed his ability to read the game and sense danger. The Bayern Munich star barely put a foot wrong as Germany kept three clean sheets in the group stage.

Giorgio Chiellini (Italy)


Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) of Sweden in action against Giorgio Chiellini of Italy. PHOTO: EPA

The 31-year-old has also protected his goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon well. Italy kept clean sheets against Belgium and Sweden before both Chiellini and Buffon were rested in the Azzurri's 1-0 loss to the Republic of Ireland. Powerful in the air, Chiellini uses his experience to snuff out any dangers and is not afraid to resort to cynical means to frustrate opposing attackers.

LEFT BACK

Jordi Alba (Spain)


Jordi Alba of Spain (right) and Pavel Kaderabek of Czech Republic in action. PHOTO: EPA

Alba has been heavily involved in matches. He has attempted more passes (211) than any full-back thus far, with a completion rate of 94 per cent. One of those passes was an assist for Alvaro Morata against Turkey.

RIGHT MIDFIELDER

Dimitri Payet (France)


France forward Dimitri Payet celebrates after scoring the team's second goal against Albania. PHOTO: AFP

He has been the shining light for France. His stunning late winner against Romania lifted the pressure off the hosts, and he also netted against Albania. He was rested following those two man-of-the-match displays but almost scored after coming on against Switzerland. His volley struck the frame of the goal, denying him of another goal-of-the-tournament contender.

CENTRAL MIDFIELDERS

Andres Iniesta (Spain)


Spain midfielder Andres Iniesta (second from left) vies for the ball with Turkey midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup (left), defender Gokhan Gonul (second from right) and midfielder Ozan Tufan. PHOTO: AFP

The pass master was majestic in Spain's opening two matches against the Czech Republic and Turkey. Despite opposing teams constantly trying to crowd him out, the Barcelona star almost always found a team-mate. His pass to Alba that led to Spain's third goal against Turkey is arguably the pass of the tournament so far.

Granit Xhaka (Switzerland)


 Paul Pogba of France (right) in action against Granit Xhaka of Switzerland. PHOTO: EPA

He completed the most passes in all three of Switzerland's games - 102 against Albania, 94 against Romania and 84 against France. Against the hosts, he completed 58 passes, more than twice as many as any other player. The new Arsenal signing does not shy away from defensive duties either, and has showed his tackling ability.

LEFT MIDFIELDER

Kevin de Bruyne (Belgium)


Belgium's Kevin de Bruyne in action against Italy. PHOTO: REUTERS

The Manchester City star created 17 chances in the group stage - more than any other player. He has been a huge threat on the wings, particularly on the counter-attack.

FORWARDS

Gareth Bale (Wales)


Gareth Bale of Wales celebrates scoring his team's third goal against Russia. PHOTO: EPA

Every team knows that he is Wales' dangerman and free-kick specialist, yet they have not been able to stop him. Bale scored free kicks against Slovakia and England, and also netted against Russia. The Real Madrid star is the first player to score in all three group games since Czech Milan Baros and Dutchman Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2004.

Alvaro Morata (Spain)


Alvaro Morata scores Spain's third goal against Turkey. PHOTO: EPA

Morata also has three goals, joining Bale at the top of the scoring charts. Despite a slow start, the 23-year-old has found his feet in his first major tournament. His goal against Croatia was an example of his poaching prowess.