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Euro 2016: Picking the Best XI From the Group Stages

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have impressed at this year’s tournament.

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It’s no surprise to see Gareth Bale and Andres Iniesta lighting up the European Championship. However, some other players who are hardly household names in European soccer have also impressed at this year’s tournament.

Here’s the composite side of Euro 2016’s group stage, chosen by The Associated Press’ team of writers in France.

It’s in a 4-2-3-1 used by the majority of countries this tournament:

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Goalkeeper: HANNES HALLDORSSON (Iceland)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

The part-time movie director is writing another script at Euro 2016, stopping everything against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal, and making some significant saves in the 2-1 win over Austria that sealed Iceland’s historic progress to the round of 16.

Right Back: ELSEID HYSAJ (Albania)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Elseid Hysaj)

A full back with pace and a fine cross, Hysaj arguably was Albania’s best player against Switzerland, and caused France problems with his probing runs forward. He then helped his team beat Romania 1-0 for its first win at a major tournament. He might be joining a bigger club than Napoli before long.

Left Back: JONAS HECTOR (Germany)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

The full back positions were supposed to be a problem area for Germany heading into the tournament, but Hector – at 26, a late bloomer for the national team – has stood out with his overlapping runs and crosses into the box.

Center Back: LEONARDO BONUCCI (Italy)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

The centre back anchored an impressive defence that didn’t concede a goal against Belgium’s Eden Hazard and Kevin de Bruyne, or Sweden’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Bonucci also made a telling 40-metre pass for Italy’s first goal in its 2-0 win over Belgium.

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Centre Back: JEROME BOATENG (Germany)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

After a spectacular, and crucial, goal-line clearance against Ukraine for one of the moments of the tournament, Jerome Boateng was declared man of the match against Poland. The defender is also one of the key reasons why Germany hasn’t conceded a goal yet.

Central Midfield: ERIC DIER (England)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

Dier is beginning to look at home in a position he only started playing this season at Tottenham. Blasted in a free kick against Russia, he has been a rock in front of England’s potentially fragile defence in all three games.

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Central Midfield: ANDRES INIESTA (Spain)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

With the looks of it, Iniesta seems to be getting better with age. The Barcelona playmaker set up Gerard Pique for Spain’s late winner against the Czech Republic and ran the game in a 3-0 victory over Turkey with a series of probing passes.

Attacking Midfield: GARETH BALE (Wales)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

The world’s most expensive player has scored a goal in all three games – two of them coming from direct free kicks – to lead Wales into the last 16 as a group winner. Bale sure has outshone his illustrious Real Madrid teammate, Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Attacking Midfield: DIMITRI PAYET (France)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

Without assurance of a place in France’s team at the start of the tournament, Payet now has the hosts pinning their hopes on him. The midfielder scored a spectacular left-footed winner in the opening game against Romania and a clincher against Albania.

Attacking Midfield: IVAN PERISIC (Croatia)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

Using Euro 2016 as a shop window for a move away from Inter Milan, Ivan Perisic is showing what an asset he can be. A versatile, hard-working and skillful winger, Perisic scored the winner against Spain and has been a consistent performer in Croatia’s star-studded midfield.

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Striker: ALVARO MORATA (Spain)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photo: AP)

It hasn’t been a great tournament for out-and-out strikers, but Morata has started to find his range with two goals against Turkey and another against Croatia. Looks to be established as Spain’s No. 1 striker, a giddy prospect with all its playmakers feeding him.

Coach: LARS LAGERBACK/HEIMIR HALLGRIMSSON (Iceland)

Some of the lesser-known names in European soccer have  impressed at this year’s tournament.
(Photos: AP)

A dentist (Hallgrimsson) and one of the most journeyed coaches in international soccer (Lagerback) have combined to mastermind the feel-good story of Euro 2016. Iceland’s tactics – defend in numbers, strike on the counter-attack – have worked so far.

(With inputs from AP)

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