So that’s it for another four years. And after a month of infighting, dancing, tears of joy and sorrow, the time has come to choose my team of the tournament. Too often, these types of teams are picked in a lop-sided manner (I’m looking at you Gareth Crooks), with pundits filling the side with attacking players and forgetting that defending in a rather important component of the game. Others attempt to pick obscure players in an attempt to seem more observant than their peers, usually ignoring the fact that their selections have not been very good. Anyway, this is my choice for the best eleven from South Africa 2010, lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation:
Iker Casillas (Spain):
The victorious captain cried like a baby at the sight of Andres Iniesta’s winner in the final, but the Real Madrid stopper did as much as anyone in the Spanish ranks to win the trophy. His brilliant save from Arjen Robben in the second half was probably as close to a World Cup winning stop as you are likely to see. His penalty save against Paraguay was also vital, with the quarter-final still scoreless at the time. Managed to overcome a dodgy start and been humiliated by his girlfriend on national television to be the best goalkeeper at the tournament.
Phillip Lahm (Germany): The German captain was superb all tournament, giving his side width during his frequent crusades forward, whilst also offering excellent cover for his centre-backs sweeping up. With Thomas Mueller given a licence to drift in field, Lahm gave his colleagues an outlet, avoiding the congested middle of the field. The 26-year slipped seemlessly into the role of skipper, and is poised for a major face-off with Micheal Ballack to see who will lead Die Mannschaft into qualifers for the 2012 European Championship.
Fabio Coentrao (Portugal): A breath of fresh air in a rather turgid Portugese side, the sight of the converted left-back flying up and down the line was a prominent feature of the the Iberian’s disappointing campaign. His lust for charging forward has ably complemented by an appreciation of his defensive responsibities. Left-full was considered a problem position for manager Carlos Quiroez in the run-up to the competition, but Coentrao built on his impressive season with Benfica and has attracted the glances from numerous suitors around Europe.
Diego Lugano (Uruguay): La Celeste’s inspirational skipper was immense during the five and a quarter games he featured in during their impressive run to the semi-finals. After navigating the group stages with three clean sheets, Lugano needed all his experience when Uruguay conceded against South Korea in the second round as his calm demeanour spread to his team-mates who were becoming ever more erratic. Powerful in the air, strong in the tackle, with supreme organisational skills, he was sorely missing in Uruguay’s 3-2 semi-final defeat to the Netherlands.
Lucio (Brazil): It will be little consolation for the Inter Milan defender that he enjoyed an impressive three weeks as Brazil were eliminated in the quarter-finals. His transformation over the past few years from a ball-playing centre-back, noted for lapses in concentration, into arguably the most ruthless stopper in world football has astounded many observers. In South Africa, he displayed his many assets, with countless breaks with the ball at his feet from defence, aligned with his merciless handling of opposing forwards.
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany): Schweini, as he hates to be called, found himself in a bit of a dilemma at few months back. At Bayern Munich, the wide positions were earmarked for Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben, so the 26 year-old faced the prospect of sitting on the comfortable looking seats that make up the substitutes bench at the Allianz Arena. After a rapid transformation into to an authoritative central midfielder, he formed an uncompromising partnership with Mark Van Bommel, inspiring his side to a Champions League final. His good form continued into the World Cup, and was in total contrast to his 2006 soirée. From a swash-buckling young gun four years ago, to the heartbeat of the German side in 2010, his passing, maturity and energy was evident in all his displays. Particularly exceptional against Ghana and Argentina, there were calls for the midfielder to be in contention for the Golden Ball.
Mark Van Bommel (Netherlands): Public enemy number one after his bruising performance against Brazil, Van Bommel was vilified for his abrasive approach. But the former PSV star’s mere presence seemed to unsettle the opposition, meaning his vision and splendid range of passing was the springboard to many a Dutch attack. Seen as the epitome of the 2010 Holland vintage, he encountered much criticism from every corner of the globe, intensified by his inexcusable challenge on Uruguay’s Walter Gargano in the semi-final. But this has been Van Bommel’s style of play for much of his career, and it has brought him much success. With father –in-law Bert Van Marijk watching on proudly, the 33-year is certainly someone you would rather on your side than against you.
Thomas Mueller (Germany): Voted Young Player of the Tournament and winner of the Golden Boot, the illusive Mueller announced himself on the world stage with a series of dashing performances. Five goals and three assists meant the forward was directly involved in more goals than any other player in South Africa. He showed composure in ruthlessly disposing of England, finishing off two German counter-attacks within three minutes, and gave Argentina nightmares with his precision timed runs from deep. A careless booking against the Argies meant he missed the semi-final defeat to Spain, but the Bayern Munich youngster is arguably to most complete of this generation of carefree Germans. Was far more effective his wide midfield role than playing more centrally for Bayern in the latter stages of last season’s Champions League.
Xavi (Spain): His consistency and patience was rewarded with a World Cup winner’s medal for arguably the finest Spanish footballer of his generation. There could be a case made for the Catalan to be his country and regions greatest player of all-time. With the most passes and touches in the tournament, Xavi set the tempo and kept the ball moving within a Spanish team that was not firing on all cylinders. His encouragement coaxed his soul-mate Andres Iniesta back into form, and David Villa was given a taste of the exquisite service that he will enjoy on weekly basis at Barcelona next season. A player who is finally getting the plaudits he deserves, whose stock continues to rise.
David Villa (Spain): Top scorer at a major championship for the second time in succession, the Barcelona new-boy led a one-man crusade to get Spain past the quarter-finals. He scored five of the Spaniard’s six goals up until the semi-final. An oddity about his goals is that four of them were scored on a position when he started the game out wide on the left of the attack. This seems to suit El Guaje, who finds pockets of space more easily on the wing, and cuts inside to shoot with unerring accuracy with his lethal right-foot. When it gets congested in the middle of the field, he is less effective, but Pep Guardiola will have taken note of his excellence on the left. Potentially, Barcelona could line out with a strike-force of Lionel Messi, Pedro and Villa next season. Three players with will interchange and switch defenders at will, with their movement and trickery more than making up for their lack of height.
Redemption for the former Manchester United striker, as he was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournaments best player. Or so we are led to believe. Forlan redeemed himself many times over during the last six seasons in La Liga, where he has plundered 120 goals in 208 league games in prolific spells at Villareal and Atletico Madrid respectively. His enthusiasm, hard-running and superb long-range shooting were major factors in his country’s path to the last four. The striker gave his all for the cause, and was clearly spent by his efforts over the month as he dragged himself off the field in the heart-breaking defeat to the Dutch. In a tournament where few Premier League players made any sort of positive impact, it goes to show that there is life after the ‘Greatest League in the World’.