World Cup Player to Watch: Part Eight
Spain – Carles Puyol
The 28 year-old defender is the captain and inspirational leader for his club team FC Barcelona. For the Spanish national team, Puyol also plays a big leadership role. Having come up through the ranks at the Catalan club, Puyol achieved a dream this season by winning both La Liga and the UEFA Champions League.
To say Spain has underachieved in recent tournaments would be unnecessarily polite. They have disappointed time after time despite vast resources of talent to draw upon. In 2002, UEFA voted him the top Right Back in Europe and his play at the World Cup earned plaudits from many analysts. Though knocked out in the quarter-finals of the 2002 tournament, Puyol gained valuable experience playing in a back four that included legends Fernando Hierro, as tough a tackler as you could ask for with technical skills to match, and Miguel Nadal who also played for FC Barcelona.
While not the most technically skilled player, Puyol has evolved into one of the smartest and most versatile. He has sufficient pace and physical strength to operate effectively at either centre-back or right-back. He is a tough but fair tackler, has good tactical sense and is difficult to beat one-on-one. Spain opened strong with a 4-0 win over Ukraine and Puyol was again rock-solid in defense. He also managed to combine with striker Fernando Torres on one of the best goals of the tournament. After making a powerful, determined run up the middle of the field, Puyol played some lovely one-two with Torres who finished things off with a superb low strike. If Spain are to finally fulfill their promise, Puyol will need to repeat his 2002 performance and so far it looks like he even improve upon it.