After an extraordinary month of football in Brazil which has seen Germany win their fourth World Cup, there have also been many individual players who took the tournament by storm. However, FIFA’s choice for the overall Player Of The Tournament has proven to be controversial. Lionel Messi was given the award despite not producing many heroics beyond the group stages.
He may well have carried his team through those first three matches against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria but due to his failure to replicate such brilliance in the latter stages of the competition could be seen as one of the reasons why Argentina fell slightly short. By his very high standards, he was average at best. However, there were many other players who were better than average and here is my “Team Of The Tournament”, minus a certain Argentinean number ten.
My team, in what is quickly becoming one of the most commonly used formations of 4-2-3-1, is as follows:
Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer (Germany)
Whilst there were many goalkeepers in top form at the tournament (Tim Howard, Keylor Navas, Guillermo Ochoa, Jasper Cillessen and Sergio Romero to name just a few) surely no one can argue that Manuel Neuer was the best of the best and is also the best in the world at the moment. Whilst he wasn’t called upon too often, he performed the role of “sweeper ‘keeper” extremely well. Never have I seen a goalkeeper rush off his line, and out of his own penalty area so often and every time he succeeded.
Centre Backs – Mats Hummels (Germany) & Ezequiel Garay (Argentina)
As for the centre halves, I’m going to pick one from each of the finalists; Mats Hummels for Germany and Ezequiel Garay for Argentina. Hummels, alongside Jerome Boateng (and with Manuel Neuer behind them) conceded just four goals in the whole tournament. However, Hummels edges out his centre back partner mainly due to the fact that he also contributed two goals (one of these being the crucial decider against France in the quarter final). Considering that Germany faced the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, an in-form Karim Benzema and the array of attacking superstars in the Argentinean squad including Lionel Messi and kept clean sheets against all of them suggests that they were nothing short of rock solid at the back.
Garay was equally impressive at the heart of Argentina’s defence. The fact that the tournament runners-up didn’t concede in the entire of the knock out stages until Mario Gotze’s winner in the final (a total of nearly seven and a half hours given that their second round game, semi-final and the final all went to extra time) again proves how influential he was. Argentina may not have faced as many world class players and teams in their route to the final as the Germans did but it became clear that even a one-goal advantage was safe for Argentina as they rarely looked like conceding.
Left Back – Daley Blind (Holland)
For left back, I’m going to marginally opt for Holland’s Daley Blind over Argentina’s Marcos Rojo. Both provided excellent options going forward for their respective sides but Blind’s goal in the third place play-off and excellent assist for Robin Van Persie’s wonderful goal against Spain puts him slightly ahead of Rojo in my team. If I were a manager of a top half Premier League club and in the market for a new full back, I’d be looking no further than Blind.
Right Back – Phillip Lahm (Germany)
For right back, it has to be the captain of the winning team – Phillip Lahm. Lahm has gone on to be one of the best full backs in the world since he burst onto the international scene at the 2006 World Cup in his homeland and in this tournament, he really excelled having also played in centre midfield at times. Both the roles of right back and centre midfield are also fairly new to him as he has always been a left back throughout his career but this wasn’t apparent during the tournament. Not only has he mastered these new positions but he could probably perform just as well anywhere on the pitch.
Centre Midfield – Javier Mascherano (Argentina) & Toni Kroos (Germany)
For me, Javier Mascherano was one of the top three best players of the tournament. He was undoubtedly Argentina’s best player in the tournament and one of the main reasons why they reached the final with his phenomenal work rate and tenacity. There’s nothing fancy about his game but he really is one of the best around at breaking up play and dictating the midfield. He put in man of the match displays when it really mattered as well, he was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch in the semi-final against Holland and maybe even in the final. Well, definitely in an Argentinean shirt.
For me, Toni Kroos was the pick of an excellent German midfield which was bursting with talent. Of course, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Sami Khedira played their parts very well but Kroos at times looked as if he was performing multiple roles and he was often the man to initiate the many counter attacks which Germany used to great effect. He’d also be the ideal man to partner Mascherano, if this were a real team, as Mascherano would break up the play and Kroos would start the attack.
Left Wing – Neymar (Brazil)
Whilst you might argue that Brazil don’t deserve anyone to feature in this “best XI”, Neymar did perform admirably with the weight of the world on his young shoulders. Everyone knew that he was carrying them to a large extent and this was proven in his absence. His presence in the team alone was papering over some large cracks and without that presence, the team looked deflated and all at sea and they also lacked organisation, leadership and inspiration. If a player means that much to one team, he has to be truly exceptional. I hate to think what would’ve happened to Brazil, and the World Cup in general, had Neymar not have been able to play any part at all.
Right Wing – Arjen Robben (Holland)
Arjen Robben edges out Colombia’s Juan Cuadrado for the right wing spot as the former, despite his apparent diving antics, was crucial in the Dutch campaign. He, along with Robin Van Persie, destroyed the defending champions Spain and throughout the tournament, he was Holland’s main creative force in attack. Sadly for Cuadrado, despite playing very well in an excellent Colombia side in the majority of their games, he was rather disappointing in the quarter-final against Brazil. The same can be said for France’s Mathieu Valbuena who tore opposition defences to shreds in the group stages but couldn’t inspire his side who were quite lacklustre when they were faced with their biggest test (Germany in the quarter-finals).
Attacking Midfield – James Rodriguez (Colombia)
There can only be one man for this spot. The Golden Boot winner was also many people’s pick for the Player Of The Tournament and it’s obvious why. Colombia had an excellent tournament and the fact that they were without Falcao, who was considered to be their star player, was barely noticed as Rodriguez announced himself. Colombia’s team would have still been very strong even without Rodriguez but with him, they became one of the most (if not the most) entertaining teams to watch at the tournament. He scored at least once in every one of Colombia’s games and finished with six goals in total. As a result, all of the top clubs in Europe are chasing his signature. Watch this space, he could really be one of the best players in the world in a couple of years.
Striker – Thomas Muller (Germany)
A good old fashioned number nine (when played there), there was little doubt that Muller was going to be the top striker at the tournament when he bagged a hat trick in the Germans’ opening game with minimal fuss. He may have gone on to score just two more but he was a constant threat to opposition defences. He has also proved that the days of the target man are not dead, even if most of the other names at the top of the scoring charts were in fact more like number tens. Karim Benzema also started the tournament in scarily good form but both his, and his team’s, purple patch didn’t last the distance.
Photo: himanisdas (via Flickr)