New pretenders emerged in the likes of Germany’s Jerome Boetang and Mexico’s Javier Hernandez in South Africa. However, the likes of Wayne Rooney, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka faltered as their nations endured dissapointing, early exits. Dirk Kuyt was a creative hub in the wheels of Holland’s charge to the final, and let’s not forget the sprited, productive turn outs from Ghana’s Kevin-Prince Boateng, who looks like he could leave doomed Portsmouth for a top flight club soon. It’s been an engrossing four weeks, with flashes of brilliance nestled in between resolute defences. There’s been a few shocks as young unkowns such as Ghana’s Andre Ayew and New Zealand’s Winston Reid made a name for themselves.
Here are the players from our league who I feel graced South Africa with their talents. Your debate and opinion is of course welcome, so please comment and tell the world your top 10.
10 Park Ji-Sung (South Korea and Manchester United)
South Korea were a ray of light in South Africa until their second round exit. They were one of the few underdogs who played with energy, positivity and freedom. Park epitomised this. The player of seemingly any position showed relentless running and athleticism, and showed opportunistic qualities in his goal against Greece. After an embarrassing passage of clumsy passing at the back from the Greeks, Park scrapped for the ball and breezed past two challenges resembling a young Michael Owen, before finishing in serene fashion by passing into the bottom right hand corner. The David Beckham of South Korean football carried his team well and led by example.
9 Javier Hernandez (Mexico and Manchester United)
Wayne Rooney’s lethargic performances contrasted with his new teammate Javier Hernandez’s divisive adventures in the Mexico side. The fearless 22-year-old has a frightening amount of confidence on the ball and evaded markers with ease at set pieces. He scored a beautiful goal against Argentina in the second round. Hernandez showed shades of Dennis Bergkamp by casually dragging the ball and turning his man on the edge of the box. He rotated to face goal and slammed home a no nonsense Ruud van Nistelrooy style finish, booting the ball into the roof of the net. Signed for an undisclosed fee by Alex Ferguson, the Scot will hope Hernandez can succeed where the likes of Diego Forlan and Giuseppe Rossi have failed.
8 Robin van Persie (Holland and Arsenal)
Having appeared in just 20 matches for Arsenal last season, Van Persie’s blossoming reputation would obviously outweigh his niggling ankle injury. The silky swivels on the ball were present, but the sharpness and final touch were not. However, you do not become a bad player overnight, and Van Persie scored against Cameroon after a defence splitting one-two with Real Madrid’s Rafael van der Vaart. The 6 foot striker weighed in with 3 assists and was helpful to his side as opposed to wholly invaluable. He was one of many Dutch hopes who did not deliver in the final. He is still clearly one of the best finishers and most skilful centre-forwards around, and one wonders what Holland would have achieved if a fully fit Van Persie had boarded the plane to South Africa.
7 Jerome Boateng (Germany and Manchester City)
The German defence were one of the most unaccommodating in South Africa, conceding just 5 goals. Jerome Boateng was a reliable figure in their back line in the 394 minutes which he played. The 21-year-old showed unflinching discipline to allow those above him on the flanks to attack, and was calm in defensive duties, conceding just 3 fouls. If you look closely at the Germans stampeding forward before their third goal against England, Boateng started the attack, tapping the ball towards the unplayable Thomas Mueller as England’s defence frayed. Manchester City’s new singing is an industrious worker, and became the first footballer to face a sibling at the World Cup this summer. He faced brother Kevin-Prince Boateng when the Germans played Ghana.
6 Clint Dempsey (USA and Fulham)
When you consider that Clint Dempsey grew up in an American trailer park, his immense exploits at the World Cup seem even more unforgettable. Unforgettable became unbelievable after Dempsey’s speculative effort against England spilled through Rob Green in Group C’s opening match. A penetrating runner when played on the flanks or as a traditional striker, Dempsey had 11 shots on target during the tournament. As a youngster, Dempsey’s Dallas Texans teammates put funds towards his football as his family could no longer afford it. Coming into the World Cup after a Europe League final with Fulham, it is heart-warming to see a protagonist of the tournament lacking the ego of those who failed in South Africa.
5 Cesc Fabregas (Spain and Arsenal)
Largely involved in sub-plots at International level, Fabregas excelled himself and had a huge hand in the scripting of Spain’s blockbuster World Cup win. Despite only playing for 123 minutes, Arsenal’s skipper wrote himself into Spanish folklore by showing quick thinking in slotting through Andres Iniesta for the goal which won Spain the tournament. The 23-year-old breathed new life into his fatigued side as a substitute in the final. He could have scored but his close range one-on-one effort was smothered in dramatic fashion by Maarten Stekelenburg. And if reports are to be believed, the energetic terrier in the middle of the park could be linking up with many of his International teammates at club level. Watch this space.
4 Richard Kingson (Ghana and Wigan Athletic)
Ghana’s Richard Kingson was a relative unknown at the start of the World Cup. A few weeks later, he was keeping Africa’s hopes alive with a string of superhuman saves. Against USA, Jozy Altidore was hurtling towards goal unmarked, but Kingson darted from his goal to complete an impossibly calm sliding tackle. Ghana were so cruelly eliminated on penalties in a thrilling quarter-final against Uruguay, despite Kingson’s heroics in thwarting Luis Saurez twice. 32-year-old Kingson’s journey to South Africa was a heartening yet turbulent one. He played in footballing backwaters in Turkey and Sweden and has had 11 different clubs, never staying at any club for more than two seasons.
3 Robinho (Brazil and Manchester City)
On the basis of this diminutive Brazilian’s performances over the last month, it is hard to believe he failed to score in 10 league appearances for Manchester City last season. Recently on loan at Santos, his ingenious through ball left former City teammate Elano with an easy finish against North Korea. The man who cost Real Madrid around £30m scored twice in South Africa, the highlight of which being a weighted, beautifully dropping chip against Chile. As well as using tricky skills, Robinho was one of many Brazilians who mirrored the combative, workmanlike ethic of then manager Dunga, a part of his game largely absent for City.
2 Carlos Tevez (Argentina and Manchester City)
In the opening weeks before their forlorn surrender against Germany, Argentina ignited the tournament, playing in a boundless, attacking fashion. Carlos Tevez was the inspiration for many of their memorable moments and scored twice against Mexico in Soccer City, Johannesburg. It was in this second round match that Tevez produced one of the goals of the tournament. 25 yards from goal, with the ball running slightly behind him, Tevez cut back before a defender could react and hammered the ball sweetly into the top corner at a ferocious velocity. Many players found it difficult to shoot from range with the Adidas Jo’bulani ball, but the Manchester City attacker was one of the few with the grace and technique to succeed.
1 Dirk Kuyt (Holland and Liverpool)
With 3 assists, Dirk Kuyt topped the World Cup’s assists table with a host of other players. The Liverpool attacker was severely lacking in the final, but was a part of the Dutch’s lethal Kuyt-Sneijder-Robben midfield trio, who produced 8 goals and 5 assists between them in South Africa. Kuyt showed a great eye for a pass particularly in the last third, as well as optimum awareness of his teammates and opponents nearby. The 29-year-old is a slight enigma at club and country level however. Previously a goal grabber in the Netherlands for Feyernoord, Kuyt has been criticised at Liverpool and has switched to playing behind the striker. His lack of goals is irrelevant when you consider his other attributes. The World Cup has shown that in terms of killer passes, creativity and endless labouring, there are few better in the Premier League than Dirk Kuyt.
My World Cup 11
Neuer (Germany); Van Bronckhorst (Holland), Lucio (Brazil), Puyol (Spain), Maicon (Brazil); Ayew (Ghana), Muller (Germany), Iniesta (Spain), Robben (Holland); Villa (Spain), Forlan (Uruguay)