Uefa.com, Friday, 19 January 2007
The uefa.com users' Team of 2006 was announced today with a record number of 3,887,556 votes registered by 323,963 users. Unsurprisingly UEFA Champions League holders FC Barcelona dominate the lineup with three of their victorious squad - Ronaldinho, Carles Puyol and Samuel Eto'o - selected for the second year running and coach Frank Rijkaard also picked along with new signing Gianluca Zambrotta, one of a trio of FIFA World Cup winners to make the team.
Goalkeeper - Gianluigi Buffon (Juventus)
The Italian is the only player selected not to be appearing in this season's UEFA Champions League. Such were his displays in the World Cup that over 160,000 voters were prepared to overlook the fact that he has not had a top-flight game since May. Buffon's shot-stopping, command of his penalty area and ability to start counterattacks makes him the archetype of the modern goalkeeper. His third Team of the Year selection in four years marks him out as arguably the best keeper of his generation.
Right-back - Gianluca Zambrotta (Juventus/FC Barcelona)
Another player selected on the basis of his stellar World Cup displays, Zambrotta is more than just a master of versatility. He is strong in defence and intelligent in possession and Barcelona fans are sure to see the best of him soon. In any other year, Daniel Alves would have earned Sevilla FC a merited spot in the team.
Central defender - Fabio Cannavaro (Juventus/Real Madrid CF)
Like Zambrotta, Cannavaro has struggled somewhat since swapping Turin for Spain but the FIFA World Player of the Year and Ballon d'Or winner was at his imperious best in leading Italy to World Cup glory. As captain and key defender he did not put a foot wrong during the tournament.
Central defender - Carles Puyol (FC Barcelona)
Barcelona's captain fantastic just shaded Chelsea FC's John Terry as he made it into his third Team of the Year selection. Barça's attacking flair might attract the plaudits but Puyol was the key figure in a defence that conceded just five goals in 13 matches in their successful UEFA Champions League campaign.
Left-back - Philipp Lahm (FC Bayern München)
The diminutive right-footed left-back scored the opening goal of the World Cup and did not miss a minute as Germany claimed third place. He also continued to impress as Bayern reached the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals and even Michael Ballack admitted missing Lahm's crosses after joining Chelsea.
Right midfield - Steven Gerrard (Liverpool FC)
Gerrard came out on top in one of the closest categories after spending most of late 2006 playing on the right. More of an all-round player than both his closest contenders, the impish Lionel Messi and the fleet-footed Cristiano Ronaldo, Gerrard once again proved himself a matchwinner par excellence with his stunning two-goal display in Liverpool's FA Cup final triumph.
Central midfield - Cesc Fabregas (Arsenal FC)
Few midfielders have made a more dramatic impact at such a young age as Fabregas. The teenager came of age with a stellar displays against Madrid in the UEFA Champions League and earned himself a remarkable eight-year contract extension. Even Andrea Pirlo's brilliance in the World Cup was not enough to dislodge Fabregas from the Team of the Year.
Attacking midfield - Kaká (AC Milan)
Milan endured an annus horribilis but Kaká enjoyed an amazing 2006 on a personal level. He was one of the few Brazil players to shine at the World Cup and was Milan's star as they reached the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. He scored a stunning hat-trick against RSC Anderlecht, his second of the year, and he has been arguably the most in-form player in Europe in recent months.
Left midfield - Ronaldinho (FC Barcelona)
After inspiring Barcelona to their UEFA Champions League triumph, Ronaldinho supposedly suffered a dip in form. Granted, he failed to show his best form at the World Cup but he scored 12 goals in 15 games in the last three months of 2006 to defy rumours of his decline. And with a whopping 291,636 votes, he remains the most popular player in Europe.
Attacker - Thierry Henry (Arsenal FC)
Henry has now been selected in every uefa.com users' Team of the Year except one - when he missed out by a mere 0.4 per cent in 2005. His strikes inspired Arsenal and France to the year's major finals while he also won the ESM Golden Shoe for the second successive season and finished as the Premiership's top scorer for the third year in a row.
Attacker - Samuel Eto'o (FC Barcelona)
Barcelona's relatively poor form during his absence in late 2006 has shown the crucial importance of Eto'o. The Indomitable Lion is the attacking alchemist who turns Barça's pretty play into goals. He has promised to come back from ten goals behind Fréderic Kanouté to retain his 'Pichichi' crown as the Primera División's top scorer and few would argue against him fulfilling the pledge.
Coach - Frank Rijkaard (FC Barcelona)
After winning the European Champion Clubs' Cup three times as a player, Rijkaard got his hands on the trophy as a coach in 2006. His transformation of Barcelona since his arrival in late 2003 has been remarkable and his fingerprints were all over their Paris triumph, in the sparkling attacking football that got them to the final and in the match-winning substitutions in the final.
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