The World Cup’s Best XI

So we’ve seen the best and worst of another World Cup and I’m left needing a hobby to fill the vacuous hole. For no other reason than mourning, here’s my team of the tournament (in a rough 4-2-3-1ish formation):

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas

He looked a shade below par last season and began the World Cup in similar fashion. But he proved his worth in some crucial moments: a penalty save against Chile and his stop against Arjen Robben in the final.

Left Back: Fábio Coentrão

On many occasions he provided Portugal’s attacking thrust and linked well with Ronaldo when both on the left side. His attacking instincts did not hinder his defensive responsibilities and he was Portugal’s best player.

Centre Back: Carles Puyol

He is a testament to Spain’s ability to cut it at both ends of the spectrum: they’re aesthetic and they’re functional. His partnership with Pique perfectly encapsulates the need for complementary characteristics (one is ball-playing, technical and responsible for recycling possession whilst the other, you feel, is willing to sprint into cavalry fire). His header in the semi final was a memorable moment and highlights our media’s inability to grasp the idea that this Spain team can get the job done both ways: intricately and absolutely directly.

Centre Back: Arne Friedrich

A lot was made of Germany’s ‘suspect’ defence before the tournament but Friedrich quietly impressed and even scored against Argentina. I didn’t know much about him before the World Cup but his consistent performances have been a pleasant surprise.

Right Back: Philipp Lahm

Taking over as Captain from the injured Michael Ballack only helped Lahm’s performances. He is as reliable as they come and displays an obstinate refusal to lose the ball – I was continuously surprised at the consummate ease of his play in possession. His attacking inclinations are known and became especially apparent in Germany’s demolition of Argentina.

Centre Midfield: Bastian Schweinsteiger

Much like Lahm, Schweinsteiger has grown into a player of the absolute highest calibre. His evolution from promising winger to accomplished deep lying midfielder has equipped him with a breadth of skills. But more than his qualities as a footballer, Schweinsteiger possesses the personality of a leader and seeing him captain Germany in their final match of the World Cup against Uruguay was a special moment.

Centre Midfield: Xabi Alonso

Behind Villa I thought he was Spain’s best performer until the final (we won’t know how much de Jong’s assault affected him physically). His distribution is not an unknown quantity – amongst the best passers in world football – but what I found interesting was his importance to the progress of Spain’s attacks through midfield; what I mean by this is his willingness to spread play directly with pace and a greater sense of direction (the cross field passes to Ramos a case in point). And whilst Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets allow for a similar style of short interplay, Alonso offered another dimension to the quartet. Alonso was the first pass Busquets looked for and he became the fulcrum between defence and attack, often responsible for supplying passes (primarily to Xavi) higher up the pitch. But none of this is to imply possession and consistency isn’t his prerogative; what’s startling is the Spanish central trio’s pass completion rate.

Attacking Midfield left: David Villa

Coming in high off the left led to Villa’s goal haul at this World Cup. What’s interesting is that though his own performances were match winning, the ramifications of deploying Torres proved too costly for Spain’s overall cohesion. Centrally it is much harder to isolate players and penetrate like he could on the left but his movement crucially allowed space for Xavi and Iniesta to manoeuvre. This World Cup showed a stubborn and desirable trait of delivering when your team most needs it and of Spain’s first 6 goals, Villa scored 5 and assisted the other.

Attacking midfield centre: Wesley Sneijder

Strangely I don’t think Sneijder had as good a tournament as many are making out. Of his 5 goals, 3 were fortuitous…but 5 goals is more than enough reason in terms of output and conversion. I’ve picked him more for his remarkable (and decisive) ability to execute; some of his through balls over the past month have been truly miraculous and it is unfortunate for him that Robben could not convert the most important one in the final.

Attacking Midfield right: Thomas Müller

After the Champions League final I heard a lot of negativity about the ‘skinny guy up front’. Thankfully Müller showed just why writing off 20-year-olds is one of the most rash and illogical streaks our media suffers from. To finish as top scorer at a World Cup at such a young age is a huge achievement and he’s taken over from Klose as the new German with an affinity for scoring on the biggest stage.

Striker: Diego Forlan

Football remains in a sphere of its own with stories like Forlan’s. As we all know, the national press has a habit of being quite insular and unforgiving; Forlan left England without leaving a mark and even his repeated goal scoring feats with Villarreal and Atletico Madrid (European Golden Boot winner for both clubs) weren’t enough to cast off his tag as an English flop. But to catch the eye of the watching world on the biggest stage and collect the Golden Ball award is too much. Poetic.

Subs bench: Neuer, Pique, Maicon, Iniesta, Oezil, Robben, Klose

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