With only four matches left in another glorious edition of the World Cup, a new champion of the tournament will be crowned soon. Another competition is heating up in Brazil as the Golden Ball is still up for the taking.
Neymar’s injury unfortunately has him out for the remainder of the World Cup while ruining the chance of the 22-year-old winning the award in his homeland. Neymar still may receive plenty of votes because he was the face of Brazil and had the duty of being the primary goalscorer, scoring four of Selecao’s 10 goals, and being the creative mind for his country.
Even though Colombia lost in the quarterfinals, James Rodriguez still leads the tournament with six goals and emerged as the latest rising star to take the competition by storm. Unfortunately, Ligue 1’s 2013-14 leader in assists will most likely not win the Golden Ball because the trophy has not gone to anyone whose team didn’t at least play in the semifinals. This leaves four world class players who have a chance on Tuesday and Wednesday to move closer to winning the esteemed award.
David Luiz wouldn’t be on the radar for the prestigious honor if not for the unique circumstance he finds himself on Tuesday. Paris Saint-Germain’s latest signee will be without his partner in central defense and the team’s captain Thiago Silva due to a yellow card suspension. Many pundits believe that Luiz plays so much better for his country than for club because Silva is a calming presence that helps maintain the 27-year-old’s focus and without him, Luiz has the chance to prove critics that he has the ability to play well with anyone. The 2011-12 Champions League winner is known for his prowess in attack and technical skills due to his incredible goal from a direct free kick against Colombia, and he has two goals in the tournament. Another goal and solid defensive work in an upset victory over Germany can make Luiz a darkhorse contender for the prize if Brazil can win the World Cup.
Thomas Muller’s started the tournament on fire as he scored a hat trick against Portugal. Since then, the 24-year-old scored one more goal in the group stage against the U.S. and hasn’t been a threat to score since. Because Muller is a versatile player, he’s still been a threat in attack while using his impeccable understanding of positioning to provide two assists. Germany defeated France in the quarterfinals by reverting back to their old philosophy of playing solid defense and grinding out a result but they may go back to manager Joachim Low’s style of attacking soccer with intricate passing. If Muller can find his goal scoring form of the beginning of the World Cup and Germany wins their fourth World Cup, then he has a solid chance of winning the award.
People from all over the world love redemption stories and what better example is Arjen Robben in the World Cup. From missing the potential goal that would’ve provided the Netherlands with their first World Cup four years ago to being two matches from being back in the final is extraordinary for a side that weren’t expected to go far. Under manager Louis Van Gaal’s tactical brilliance and leadership, Der Oranje have been the best team in the tournament heading into the semifinals. Robben has the role midfielder Wesley Sneijder has in 2010 as well as being the main creative force for the national team, and he’s succeeded shedding away the perception that he’s selfish, even though the flopping attacks remain. The 30-year-old has been consistent every game with his pace and technical ability. All soccer fans, pundits and opponents know the three-time Bundesliga winner wants to cut left but they can’t stop him without dishing out bad tackles which can potentially become penalties like against Mexico in the round of 16. With a great performance against Argentina, Robben has a chance to be a favorite for the Golden ball while having pundits reevaluate where he ranks among the best of his generation.
Many, including myself, have discussed what a World Cup victory can do for Lionel Messi’s legacy. To me it’s simple. If Argentina wins, Messi become the greatest soccer player of all time especially after how he’s had to carry his country. Angel Di Maria being out of the World Cup with an injury may increase the reliance on the captain but Sergio Aguero’s return on Wednesday seems imminent and maybe he can help the four-time Ballon d’Or winner. Messi is in a three-way tie for being second in the World Cup leaderboard for goals with four and his assist to Di Maria to defeat Switzerland in the round of 16 displayed his surreal vision. La Albiceleste has only scored eight goals in the tournament and plays next against a team who has scored the most in the competition, in the Netherlands with 12. If Argentina can find their way to the final then Messi win most likely win the Golden Ball. But if Argentina can win the tournament, then a new discussion will be launched in Pele’s native land.