Took over from the injured Ballack with grit and style
After every major tournament, journalists and the tournament organizers do their best to come up with a starting 11. Often the vast majority of the 11 consists of players from teams who participated in the semis and finals and there is an obvious logic to that.
More often than not, those are the best 4 teams in the tournament, and it’s their players who got them there. That coupled with the last 3 games (4 if there is a placement game) being the most memorable and people tend to forget about outstanding individuals from teams earlier in the competition.
Knowing this, I tried from the group stage on, to remember certain players and keep my eyes on them. I have lists of notes that make no sense to me now, and in the end a lot of the more exciting games were due to sloppy play rather than brilliance.
I often have trouble making final decisions and go back and forth ad nauseam, so I gave myself an escape clause by coming up with an honorable mention for each position. As usual, we welcome your comments!
For this team we’re going to use the formation du jour, the 4-2-3-1.
Diego Benaglio – (Switzerland)
Benaglio was the main reason that Switzerland only conceded one goal.
There were many great performances by keepers in 2010, though no one was perfect. The ones that stood out were often from the “lesser” teams. Paston from New Zealand and Enyeama from Nigeria, to name a couple. In the group stages, Kinson, Neuer and Stekelenburg all kept their teams in the tournament, though all could have done better with some of the goals they let in.
Switzerland were the only team to keep a clean sheet (and beat) the eventual champions, and that was all to do with Benaglios acrobatic saves and fantastic positioning. Against a prolific Chile, he thwarted Sanchez, Gonzales and Suazo, as the South Americans attacked in waves. When he was finally beaten, it had more to do with poor defending than his skill.
He’s only 26 and currently plays in the Bundesliga for Wolfsburg, but look for some of the bigger clubs to call on him soon!
Honorable mention – Iker Casillas (Spain)
The Real Madrid keeper had a dodgy World Cup by his usual high standards. He was clearly responsible for the goal against Switzerland and never looked comfortable with the Jubalani. He didn’t pull a “Green” but there were plenty of bobbles and awkward parries.
That said, when he was called into action during the group stages, he performed admirably, finely saving a penalty against Paraguay, a volleyed shot from Podolski, and a one-on-one with Robben to name just a few. He captained his country, and his fine saves ensured they went home as champions.
Fabio Coentrao – (Portugal)
The Portuguese leftback took it to everyone including Dani Alves
The Portuguese left back was one of the bright moments in a disappointing campaign. Surprisingly, Portugal, with their abundance of creative and attacking players, took a “park the bus” mentality against their opponents (North Korea aside). Coentrao was the exception.
His forays up the wing were always productive and exciting and he was responsible in some way, shape and form for most of Portugal’s World Cup goals, as his attacks from the left side were deliberate and precise.
He also formed a great partnership with Ronaldo, so look for the Spanish giants to inquire about the Benfica defender’s availability!
Honorable mention – Giovanni Van Bronckhorst - (The Netherlands)
The 35-year-old captain of The Netherlands team was one of the few Dutch players to play the final with the classiness that has been prevalent throughout his career. His wonder strike in the semis was a thing of beauty, and his intelligent positioning and experience made up for the lack of speed in his “old” age.
The final was his last game, as he retired from international and club football and he will be missed greatly.
Carlos Puyol - (Spain) and Juan – (Brazil)
No hair gel needed!
The floppy haired defender was the rock in the Spanish defense. He had a lot of help from his club-mate Pique, but it was his controlling and tireless effort in the back that was the major reason for Spain keeping clean sheets in the knock out rounds.
Not only did he marshal the defense, but he was always a threat in the (h)air of set pieces, and it was his thumping header that secured their passage into the finals.
Juan, like Puyol, is a rock in the center of a defense on a team that is best known for its attacking and fluid play. Often the forgotten one amongst his more celebrated and flashy teammates, the Roma defender has almost 80 caps for his country, and it’s his solid and fundamental play that has enabled Maicon, Lucio and Bastos to venture up field.
Also like the Catalan defender, Juan is a danger on set pieces, and it was off one that he scored the first goal for Brazil against Chile. Sadly, his defensive partners let him down in the quarters, as mistakes by Cesar and Lucio failed to deal with the ever present Sneijder, whose two goals sent Brazil and Juan packing for home.
Honorable mentions – Diego Lugano – (Uruguay) and Marcus Tulio Tanaka – (Japan)
The Juan you can count on
Both center halves were instrumental in their teams’ advancement into the knock out stages. Sadly for Lugano, he was hurt midway through the first half of his quarter and had to miss the semi’s. He came back for the third place game, but was sorely missed against the Dutch.
Marcus Tulio Tanaka not only possessed one of the best names of the tournament, but was tenacious at the back for the Blue Samurai. After dispossessing any attacker, he used his considerable ball skills to bring the ball up from the back to initiate Japan’s attacks. Many a mid-level European team could do with someone of his skill set.