The (Unofficial) Team of the Tournament
Explanations after the jump.
Goal Keeper: Manuel Neuer: Winner of the Tallest Dwarf award. Very few keepers merely had good tournaments let alone great ones. Neuer is my choice because he didn’t make any mistakes and for a young keeper was composed on the biggest of stages. Somewhat suspect to long-range shots, he overcame this by marshalling his defence superbly and performing well under high balls. Neuer was aided by the superb defensive play in front of him but this doesn’t take away from his own assured performances.
Runner Up: Diego Benaglio: The Swiss keeper may have won this award had his tournament lasted longer. Beaten only the once and impressive in their win over Spain.
Right Back: Sergio Ramos: The Real Madrid fullback had an excellent tournament. Solid at the back and good going forward he was often Spain’s only true width. His sheer physical presence and pace meant that Ramos was very rarely in trouble. When coming forward his ability on the ball led to a few chances for the Spainairds, a constant threat at Set-pieces he probably should’ve done better when left free for a header in the final.
Runner Up: Gregory Van Der Wiel: In the running right up until the final, the Dutch full back is very similar to Ramos but picked up bookings too frequently which left him unable to commit to tackles
Centre Back [Left]: Joris Mathijsen: Was quietly brilliant throughout the tournament, never troubled despite the opposition Mathijsen was usually in the right place at the right time and played every single minute of Qualifying and the Finals. This phenomenal record shows his ability, stability and discipline. Helped by the rock-solid defensive midfield in front of him Mathijsen was a key part in the Netherlands success.
Runner Up: Ryan Nelson: New Zealand were supposed to be whipping boys, a team whom you could build up confidence against. However it turned out they were the only team not to have been beaten at the finals. New Zealand arrived on merit and exited with their heads held high. Ryan Nelson was key in marshalling the All white’s defence.
Centre Back [Right]: Diego Lugano: The Uruguay captain was a relative unknown coming into the Finals. Leaving the finals he and his partner Godin were excellent throughout. It was only when Lugano picked up an unfortunate injury that opposing teams were able to expose Muslera’s weaknesses and eliminate the Uruguayans. Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez drew all the headlines for making the team progress but do not be fooled it was Lugano who kept his team in the Tournament.
Runner Up: Carles Puyol: Dubbed “the caveman” by some, Puyol was meant to be Spain’s one liability, the Barcelona captain proved his doubters wrong. Caught for pace once or twice explains why he is not ahead of Lugano but his dominance of those coming straight at him and in the air showed why the born and bred Catalan still holds a place in the defence of two great teams.
Left Back: Gio Van Bronckhorst: Much like Carlos Puyol, Gio was to be the weak link in defence, he was supposed to be exposed for his lack of pace and a sentimental choice rather than the smart one. Van Bronckhorst drew upon the experience garnered from a career in the elite to show for his final games. Intelligent with and without the ball and scoring the goal of the tournament Gio was denied the perfect send off much like Zidane before him. Whilst the end might sting Van Bronckhorst can be very proud of his tournament.
Runner Up: Fabio Coentrao: The Portuguese left-back estabilished himself on the world stage. Many teams may be sniffing around him post-tournament. Quick, strong and with an excellent left foot Coentrao was as effective going forward as he was stopping the opposition.
Defensive Midfield: Sami Khedira: Khedira was inserted into the first team after Michael Ballack’s injury. Ballack must be fearing for his place now. Khedira was unshakeable in defence and very rarely wasted the ball. Often allowing his partner to go forward, Khedira stayed back and made mince-meat of Gerrard, Iniesta and Messi nullifying all three in their respective games. It took a set-piece for Spain to finally break the German’s defence. His goal galvinised his tournament and whilst third place will feel like a failure it is much more than was expected of this young German team.
Defensive Midfield: Bastian Schweinsteiger: Much like his partner Schweisteiger was exceptional. A converted winger Schweinsteiger has taken to defensive midfield for club and country with gusto. When Perez picked his pocket in the penultimate game it was Schweinsteiger’s first mistake of the tournament and his disappointment was evident. Schweinsteiger was the bridge between the German’s defence and attack. Linking the play and only very rarely losing the ball, a fierce shot and useful in the air Germany had their Ballack but he had a different name.
Runner(s) up: Busquets and Alonso: Spain were excellent in defence and owed much to the hard work of their defensive midfielders. Busquets and Alonso are not club team-mates but they played like it, shadowing each other’s movements and covering for their collective mistakes Spain’s success relied on the pivot of these two. Not as (sigh) efficient as their German partners the defensive midfield was where this tournament was won and lost.
Right Wing: Thomas Müller: The young player of the tournament was the key to Germany’s success. Having played the same role for Bayern Munich Müller was deployed on the right wing. His remit was to help out defensively and arrive late in the box for his teammates. Müller provided the out-ball for his defensive colleagues and Keeper, lauching counter-attacks with his long strides the semi-final may have turned out differently had he not been harshly suspended. When Trochowski played Germany realised what they were missing. It came as no surprise when he scored in the 3rd place play-off and he deserved the Golden Shoe for his all-round attacking play and should have been considered for the Golden Ball too.
Runner-Up: Arjen Robben: Moody? Check. Infuriating? Check. Flashes of Brilliance? Checkmate. The Dutch would’ve made much lighter work of their group opponents had Robben been fit for the entire tournament. Had the opportunity to change world-cup history if not for the cow-skin on Casillas’ feet.
Attacking Midfielder: Wesley Sneijder: Sneijder is laconic and brilliant. Often doing very little for a worryingly long time but somehow finding the one key pass, shot or set-piece that changes the course of games. Revitalised under Mourinho, Sneijder had a cheeky confidence coming into the World Cup and he lived up to his billing. The key part of the Netherland’s success he didn’t have a great final until he released Robben with an amazing through-ball. Watching Sneijder on the ball was a joy, his creativity, range of passing and shot always made the highlight reels of every Dutch game.
Runner Up: Andres Iniesta: Iniesta played all over the Spanish attacking trident but he was most useful when playing just behind the striker. The most fouled player of the tournament, usually because the ball was away before the opposition arrived. It was fitting that he scored the winning goal. The reason he doesn’t displace Sneijder is that he didn’t play to his high standards until the final stages whilst Sneijder was excellent throughout, the toughest decision.
Left Wing: David Villa: Until the Semi-Final this was Villa’s tournament. His goals were key and his enthusiasm pervasive. I’ve placed him on the left wing as this is where he did his damage. In 3 games where he played up front on his own he was ineffective. When coming in from the right he was devastating, scoring one of the goals of the tournament in doing so. He was moved due to Torres’ troubles but a more elegant solution would’ve been to play Llorente as the striker. David Villa missed out on all the top prizes but the trophy itself because of this move.
Runner Up: Nelson Valdez: The long-haired Paraguayan was their key player, an all action attacker he was notable for his work up front and at the back. Strong, quick and good on the ball Valdez was a pleasant surprise in an otherwise unpleasant team. Hardly prolific but had a great tournament.
Striker: Diego Forlan: FIFA’s player of the tournament. Strictly speaking i’m playing him out of position here. Forlan was the reason for Uruguay’s continued success, taking every corner and free-kick showed a confidence in his ability as does the stat that he had the most shots on target of any player at the tournament. By constantly testing opposition keeper’s Forlan picked up his fair share of goals. Luis Suarez was his perfect foil, dragging defenders out of position and allowing space for his shots it was only through the omission of Suarez that Forlan and by extension Uruguay were stopped. Forlan suffered through the final two games but his final goal showed his quality as a predatory striker as well as his overall attacking play.
Runner-up: Asamoah Gyan: You could argue this is a sentimental pick and that Klose was the better striker. Klose wasn’t as vital for his teams success as Gyan. Despite a bizarre shirt number choice Gyan could be described as a prototypical African Striker. Fast and Strong his finishing may not be prolific but his ability to get into a shooting position meant that he made many chances. His tournament will be overshadowed by his QF miss but Gyan brought all of Africa to it’s feet before unfortunately bringing them all to their knees. Showed extreme composure to take another penalty with his very next kick, perhaps a mid-table French team is not where Gyan will be playing next year.