Monday, 14 July 2014

The LBITCR Team of the Tournament

So it is over - a joyous, reinvigorating World Cup is done and dusted. For some lucky devils that was their first ever World Cup. They will be in love for a long time yet and, in twenty years time, they'll be reminiscing over James Rodriguez, Lionel Messi, Alexis Sanchez and co.

Who will be this year's Viola - the best player on the pitch in the 1994 World Cup Final (for the 14 minutes he was on the pitch) but never heard of again?

Will there be players who had a fine tournament but who will be forever defined by their moments in Brazil? Surely there must be. Skuhravý, Polster, and Schillaci all had fine careers but it was their exploits in Italia '90 which will see them remembered.

Who will be the Saeed Al-Owairan - the scorer of a wondergoal but now little more than a footnote in footballing history*?

Will Higuain become synonymous with a sitter missed? The van Vossen, Rosenthal or Smith for the Snapchat generation.

There is plenty to write about this World Cup - hopefully a hundred or so bloggers will write a piece entitled 'in defence of Messi' - but today let's celebrate the stars. Who, if we were in the position to pick the best team of the tournament, would we pick?


Before the final most observers thought that Keylor Navas of Costa Rica was the goalkeeper of the tournament. After the final, when Neuer didn't save a shot and, in my opinion, should have been sent off the punditariat thought that Neuer should win the golden glove hands down.

On balance, this shift to the winner is right. Neuer was overlooked earlier when he had been immense throughout. He looked, at points, like he was inventing a position (not really - Jongbloed played a similar role 40 years ago. There is nothing new in footbal).

Neuer is everything one would want in a goalkeeper and rather a lot more. Numerous other goalkeepers performed well - Navas, Howard, Ochoa etc - but Neuer was outstanding. There's an argument, whisper it quietly, that he will be mentioned in the same breath as Yashin, Banks, Zoff and Maier.


Equally gifted was the German captain. Guardiola noticed that Lahm could play in the midfield as well as on either side of the defence - he was the outstanding throughout, barely putting a foot wrong. Like Neuer, and Muller, Lahm is redefining what players in his position can do.

On the other side, Daley Blind. It was his deep crosses that defenestrated Spain - first for van Persie's wonder header and then for Robben's goal. A solid defensive player who added so much to the Dutch going forward.

The only Brazilian in the 11 is Thiago Silva. He was impressive throughout the tournament but it was in absentia where his true value was shown. Without him, Brazil looked like schoolboys. With him, they looked like potential winners.

The team that charmed the world was Costa Rica. There standout player, particularly against the Dutch, was Giancarlo Gonzalez. The Group of Death barely troubled him at all and, over the course of the tournament, the defence he organised let in two goals. Against the Dutch, his performance was outstanding - one of the best of the tournament.

Central midfield

It is always difficult looking into the eyes of a player whose team lost the World Cup final. That was particularly true of Mascherano. He was the best player in the knock-out stages of the tournament - wonderful in the semi-final and final in particular - and if there was such a thing as desert in football one would say he deserved a winners' medal. The German team which won out was a superb attacking team at points. They eviscerated Portugal and Brazil. That they were limited to so few chances against Argentina was largely down to Mascherano's reading of the game, vision and work-rate. The vision was a two-way thing - not only did he have a radar like quality to snuff out attacks his passing was, at points, outstanding. No one was more offended by the ''one man team' jibe that was often levelled at Argentina - they were behind, in the entire tournament, for 7 minutes. The last 7 minutes..

Khedira, Schweinsteiger and Kroos could all sit next to Mascherano but Schweinsteiger was the pick of the bunch. A deep-lying destroyer, like Mascherano, who showed that sumptuous skill can be allied with determination and grit. For years, he has been under-rated but that has changed forever.

Attacking trio

Given the passing, solidity and work-rate in the base of midfield there is a bit more freedom up front.

James Rodriguez had the tournament that many of us wanted Messi to have. Running games, running past players and playing football with a grin plastered across his face. His goal against Japan was the finest in the tournament - yes, there were some wonderful blasts from distance (including one from Rodriguez) - because it was so nonchalant. Few players make scoring so beautifully so easy. He was the Cruyff of this tournament.

At points people seemed to think he had arrived from nowhere. That wasn't true - he's been a wonderful player for some time - but he announced himself to the world with a series of jaw-dropping displays.

Lionel Messi starts alongside him. If only the genius had won the tournament! Then we wouldn't have to listen to the blowhards forever more about him not being an all-time great - they are to be despised. It was he who scored the late goal that won against Bosnia, he did the same against Iran and then scored two against Nigeria. It isn't inconceivable to think that Argentina wouldn't have got out the group stage without him. Instead they finished with 9 points.

Against Switzerland, he set up the winner with a sumptuous pass. He started the move that set up the goal against Belgium and played, in that game, one of the finest passes I've ever seen played at a World Cup. Admittedly, he wasn't at his best against the Netherlands or Germany (though there were flashes of his genius in both games) but he seemed to be labouring - either under pressure or fitness. The latter seems probable. Some will argue he should have won Argentina the World Cup. Others will point out that he seemed to be struggling with injury, did a Baggio in getting Argentina out of the group stages, and it wasn't as if the team that beat Argentina were a bunch of duffers.

Next to him is the second Dutchman Arjen Robben. There will be some who will never forgive him his diving but the man is a phenomenon on the football pitch. A whirling dervish who, at various points, was utterly unplayable. Some players - too man wearing the white of England - shrink in their national shirts. Robben, like most of the Germans and like Alexis Sanchez, seems to perform at his absolute peak when playing international football.

Up front, we pick the man who isn't quite a striker but who can't stop scoring goals: 
Thomas Müller. Few other players globally have his sense of awareness and sense of space. Where others chase the ball, he senses where the ball be or, if not, opens the game up for others. Probably the cleverest and cutest player playing the game. He's a one-off.

So the team is:

  1. M. Neuer (Germany)
  2. P. Lahm (Germany)
  3. D. Blind (Netherlands)
  4. G. Gonzalez (Costa Rica)
  5. Thiago Silva (Brazil)
  6. J. Mascherano (Argentina)
  7. B. Schweinsteiger (Germany)
  8. J. Rodriguez (Colombia)
  9. L. Messi (Argentina)
  10. T. Muller (Germany)
  11. A. Robben (Netherlands)

Subs: Medel (Chile), Boateng (Germany), Kroos (Germany), Herrara (Mexico), Valbuena (France), Neymar (Brazil), Navas (Costa Rica)


*No insult to Al-Owairan there. Most of us would crawl over broken glass to be a footnote in the history of this game!


dearieme said...

You rate Muller ahead of Fang?

Rob Marrs said...

On this World Cup's showing, yes. Suarez only shone in one game, after all.

There is a cuteness about Suarez's play and a cleverness too. I think, though, they are different sorts of cleverness.

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