It seems to be a sort of tradition for bloggers to put together a “best eleven” at the conclusion of any major tournament or competition, so, for my last piece of World Cup coverage before the re-focusing on club football begins, I thought I’d follow suit.
The Equaliser’s “Best XI” (4-2-3-1)
Manuel Neuer (Germany)
In a tournament short of top class goalkeeping Manuel Neuer came to the fore with a series of calm performances under pressure, displays that belied his relative inexperience at senior international level.
The 21 year-old Schalke ‘keeper looks to have made the German number one shirt his own after a period of disruption in the position and clearly has a long and successful career ahead of him.
Honourable mention: Eduardo (Portugal)
Sergio Ramos (Spain)
Both Sergio Ramos and Philipp Lahm have impressed at right-back for their respective countries in South Africa, but in my opinion the Spaniard has given his team far more of an attacking edge than the German captain.
Often criticised for a lack of awareness in defence, we have seen a more mature Ramos during the World Cup, a player who has combined the fulfilment of his defensive duties with a greater intelligence and dynamism in his forward movement.
Honourable mention: Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand)
Of all the teams at the World Cup few performed more impressively than New Zealand, Ricki Herbert’s rank outsiders emerging unbeaten from a group including Italy, Paraguay and Slovakia, only narrowly missing out on a place in the last 16. At the heart of this trio of impressive Kiwi performances was Ryan Nelsen, the proverbial rock at the centre of his team’s defence.
With the All Whites conceding just two goals in their three games, the Blackburn Rovers player impressively marshalled those around him and was exemplary in his distribution and accuracy of passing. An underrated but stand-out performer in South Africa.
Honourable mention: Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal)
Often overshadowed by the more gung-ho Lucio at the heart of the Brazilian defence, Juan was arguably the better of the pair in South Africa.
Demonstrating an impressive passing ability and a comfort in possession to complement the strong physical side to his game, the Roma centre-half was, in statistical terms, one of the most active and successful defenders in a tournament that was disappointingly bereft of top-class centre-back performances.
Honourable mention: Carles Puyol (Spain)
Carlos Salcido (Mexico)
With marauding full-backs key to Mexico’s adventurous 3-4-3 system, Carlos Salcido, the team’s left wing-back, was a crucial player in both his country’s attacking and defensive strategies.
Showing incredible levels of stamina and great intelligence in his movement, Salcido bombed up and down the left side to good effect in all of El Tri’s games and has established himself as one of the game’s most energetic and dangerous full-backs in the process.
Honourable mention: Fabio Coentrao (Portugal)
Sergio Busquets (Spain)
This was the tournament of the defensive midfielder and few shone more brightly than Spain and Barcelona’s Sergio Busquets. At just 21 years-old there were fears that Busquets would have his inexperienced exposed in South Africa, but the midfield anchorman handled the pressure and expectation admirably, producing an excellent consistency of performance throughout.
Expert in his ability to break up opposition attacks and retain possession for his own team, Busquets is – despite what some may say about his temperament – developing into one of the game’s finest deep-lying midfielders.
Honourable mention: Sami Khedira (Germany)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
Having transformed himself from a temperamental winger to an intelligent and mature defensive midfielder in recent seasons, Bastian Schweinsteiger proved in South Africa that he can rightfully be considered as one of the world’s best in his adopted position.
The pinnacle of his tournament came in Germany’s quarter-final against Argentina, simultaneously shackling Lionel Messi and acting as the creative hub of Jogi Low’s side, finding the time and space to pick out some wonderfully incisive passes. The Bayern Munich player continues to go from strength to strength.
Honourable mention: Raul Meireles (Portugal)
Thomas Muller (Germany)
Considering that he is just 20 years-old and had only represented his country twice before travelling to South Africa, Thomas Muller’s form during the World Cup was simply astonishing.
Claiming both the Golden Boot and the Young Player of the Tournament awards is no more than the Bayern Munich man deserved, his skill and quickness of both thought and movement – particularly on the break – one of the key features of what was an excellent German side.
Honourable mention: Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Andres Iniesta has been one of the European game’s most sublime players for several years now and in South Africa he translated his excellent form onto the highest level of the all.
In a team filled with superstars it was Iniesta (and David Villa) who shone the brightest, epitomising the pass-and-move ethos around which Vicente Del Bosque’s team are built. To score the winning goal in the final was a wonderful moment for a player that has thrilled audiences around the world for so many seasons.
Honourable mention: Mesut Ozil (Germany)
David Villa (Spain)
For several years now David Villa has been arguably the world’s best striker and he further cemented his excellent reputation this summer by firing Spain to the final with five goals that showcased his almost unrivalled pace and finishing ability.
Playing the majority of the games on the left side, the new Barcelona signing enjoyed the space and freedom afforded to him on the flank, cutting inside to good effect and acting as Spain’s major attacking spark and goalscoring threat. Seeing him link up with Pedro, Messi, Xavi and Iniesta on a regular basis at the Camp Nou next season promises to be spectacular.
Honourable mention: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
The deserved recipient of the FIFA Golden Ball, Diego Forlan was simply electric during his team’s run to the semi-finals.
Spearheading Uruguay’s attack from roles as both a centre-forward and, at times, a deep-lying playmaker, the Atletico Madrid forward provided five goals and an assist for La Celeste as Oscar Tabarez’s side exceeded all expectations to reach the last four. For his prowess in front of goal and for lifting the level of the players around him, Forlan is more than deserving of a place in any team of the World Cup.
Honourable mention: Luis Suarez (Uruguay)