The obligatory Team of the World Cup:
Saint Iker is widely regarded to have had a below-par time at the Bernabeu this past season. When Spain’s World Cup began with a 1-0 defeat at the hands of Switzerland and Casillas was partially responsible for the goal, the whispers grew louder. Victor Valdes? Pepe Reina? What followed was six straight wins with just one (deflected) goal conceded. Casillas’s handling in the final itself was exemplary and the save from Robben when clean through was one of the pivotal moments in the biggest match of the tournament. History is written by the winners… and winners don’t come much bigger than the World Cup winning captain.
The Uruguayan full-back has long had a reputation for being a whole hearted trier but Maxi Pereira showed so much more at this World Cup. His energetic performances were a standout in Uruguay’s remarkable run to the semi-finals. Indeed, by the end of the tournament only Xavi & Bastian Schweinsteiger of the other 736 players at the World Cup covered more yards than Maxi Pereira. As a wing-back responsible for providing attacking support as well as defensive solidarity, Pereira played an important role in both facets of the Uruguayan success story. It represented a colossal ongoing effort that reached a crescendo with his fantastic goal in the dying stages of the semi-final against the Dutch.
The fact that Mexico’s Carlos Salcido is the only player in this XI to have played in just four World Cup matches is testament to the impact he made in those games. The right-footed left-back was virtually faultness and adapted brilliantly to the various demands of the flexible Mexican system. He switched between full-back and wing-back with ease, proving defensively adept whilst always proving a threat going forward. His long range efforts and capable crossing caught the eye in some bright Mexico displays, the highlight being the 2-0 victory over France that exposed the extent of the Gallic malaise.
The failure of every other African nation to reach the knockout stage only served to concentrate the continent’s efforts upon the Ghanaians and they performed admirably – disposing of the USA in extra-time and following up with the controversial penalty shoot-out defeat at the hands (literally in Suarez’s case) of Uruguay. In the case of Ghana, and John Mensah in particular, cliches about naive African defending feel more offensive than ever. Their success this World Cup centred around organised defence and solid defending and this is emphasised by their conceding just four goals in over eight and a half hours of football in the tournament. Mensah was a colossus throughout.
Da Silva was a rock throughout Paraguay’s World Cup campaign as they battled their way to the quarter finals. He competed endlessly and was the key figure in their defence. The Paraguayans defended resolutely through their five games, conceding a goal in the opener against Italy and another in their last eight tie with Spain but with three clean sheets in between. I accept that the inclusion of a second Sunderland centre-back is somewhat bizarre and it does feel a little harsh on the efforts of bigger names such as Puyol, Lucio and Friedrich. However, Da Silva’s performances in one of the better defensive outfits caught the eye and deserve a nod.
You don’t need to go to the statistics to know that Bastian Schweinsteiger had a stunning World Cup. He was the central figure in Germany’s impressive campaign – controlling games from midfield, prompting and probing, driving the side on. That said, the stats do bear it out – 2nd most passes, 2nd most distance covered. He was excellent in the destruction of England but his finest hour was surely the 4-0 demolition of Argentina. Schweinsteiger fought hard when out of possession and stuck the knife in superbly when the time came. He had already established himself as the star turn by the time he danced through the Argentine defence to lay on Friedrich’s goal, sealing a tour de force display from the German.
What is there left to be said about Xavi? Such is his status in the game now that it is easy to take his performances for granted. He covered more ground than any other player at the World Cup – 80.2 km. He completed more passes – 544 of them. He took more corners (47) and he completed more crosses than anyone else (14). Of players who had more than 200 minutes of action, only Xavi played more passes than minutes he was on the pitch for: 669 passes in 636 minutes. Basically he was a constant force at the hub of the finest team in the tournament. I think you can call that a well-deserved World Cup winners medal.
He didn’t get a Panini sticker and he only made his full International debut in March. In fact, his rise has been so meteoric that he wasn’t even a part of the much vaunted German U21 side that won the European Championships last summer. A year on, he is in just about everybody’s World Cup XI. Mueller’s all-action displays were central to the German success story as they surpassed expectations to come 3rd in the tournament. While Mesut Oezil took the early plaudits it was Mueller who grew as the competition went on – 2 goals against England and 1 against Argentina before missing the semi-final defeat to Spain through suspension. A 5th goal against Uruguay in the 3rd place play-off win sealed the Golden Boot for Mueller, thanks in part to the 3 assists he also managed at the World Cup… boys own stuff from the Bayern star.
He’s a gorgeous player to watch but boy is there end product with Iniesta. He is the youngest player in over 30 years to add a World Cup to Euros and Champions League success. There were loads of the little touches and feints, plenty to enjoy, but Iniesta was key to almost all of the pivotal moments of Spain’s success. There was the goal against Chile to secure qualification. The incisive passes that led to the only goal in the knockout victories over Portugal and Paraguay. And finally, brilliantly, the World Cup winning goal with just 4 minutes of extra time remaining. A wonderful tournament for a wonderful player.
When you score 5 of the 8 goals that the World Cup winning side manage in the tournament then it makes you a hard man to ignore. Villa impressed from the left-wing in the early stages before moving to a central role to do a job for the team following Fernando Torres being axed. Villa grabbed both goals against Honduras - one a contender for goal of the tournament as he slalomed through players before firing into the top corner whilst stretching. By the time he had followed this up with a goal against Chile and the winners against both Portugal and Paraguay, Villa had established himself as one of the stars of the World Cup.
The Uruguayan has been a revelation at the World Cup. It is a bit of a cliche to say that he was the only guy to master the Jabulani but at times it did feel that way. Comfortable striking the ball with either foot he sparked – scoring 5 goals in 7 games – as Uruguay surprised many to reach the semi-finals. He’s still suffering at the hands of some of the bafflingly short-sighted British media who feel the need to constantly refer to the remarkable turnaround from his time at Manchester United. Well, he has been one of the finest forwards in the world for many years since then, twice a winner of the European Golden Boot. He nearly added the World Cup Golden Boot, only denied on the basis of assists, but the Golden Ball as the outstanding player of the tournament tells you all you need to know.. Diego Forlan is a class act.