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World Cup 2010: Team of the tournament

July 11, 2010

One of these players has made it into our team of the tournament - can you guess which one?

It seems a long time ago that Siphiwe Tshabalala’s bullet shot lit the blue touch paper of the 2010 World Cup. Since then, we’ve had English buffoonery, German mastery, Ghanaian heartbreak and Brazilian surrender on our way to the final. And despite the early signs pointing to a tournament that would belong to the South Americans, tonight’s showpiece is an intriguing prospect between Holland and Spain, two of Europe’s underachieving giants. A guaranteed new name on the trophy is a fitting end to this tournament of surprises that has been a delight to watch if devoid of the classic ding dongs (Uruguay v Ghana aside) that have marked previous World Cups. There are a few surprises, too, in this team of the tournament. Not every selection makes perfect sense but then, in football, what does? One thing that does make sense is the success of the 4-2-3-1 formation, which we have used here in honour of the two finalists who both employ the ‘double-lock’ midfield to devastating effect. Using this system has meant a couple of the best players have had to miss out, but which ones? Read on to find out.

Do you agree with my selection? If not, tell me why I’ve got it spectacularly wrong via the comments….

GK: Maarten Stekelenburg (Holland)
It’s not easy taking over the goalkeeping jersey from the most capped player in your country’s history, and with 130 appearances in a majestic international career stretching back 15 years, Edwin Van Der Sar’s were big boots to fill. But Holland’s current custodian, 27-year-old Maarten Stekelenburg of Ajax, has filled them with asssured aplomb. Admittedly, he was at fault for Diego Forlan’s equaliser in the semi-final, misjudging the flight of the Uruguayan’s shot from distance, but his prodigious leap to deny Kaka in Holland’s quarter-final victory over Brazil was pivotal. Had that shot gone in, the South Americans would have turned around with a two-goal lead and may not have avoided their collapse and subsequent defeat.

RB: Maicon (Brazil)
Until that implosion against Holland, Brazil had looked virtually unbreakable, not least thanks to the efforts of their colossal right-back Maicon. Scorer of arguably the goal of the tournament – a bendy bullet from the by-line against North Korea – the Inter Milan defender terrorised opposition defences and attackers alike with his direct running and fierce tackling. Even though Dunga’s pragmatic approach denied the world of his gifted team’s full array of skills, 28-year-old Maicon Douglas Sisenando was able to prowl the right touchline on his own to devastating effect.

CB: Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand)
Only two teams remain unbeaten in the 2010 World Cup. Unsurprisingly, finalists Holland are one, thanks to their gritty midfield and propensity for flukey goals, but slightly more unpredictably, the other are minnows New Zealand who kept Slovakia, Paraguay and reining champions Italy at bay. Their success was undoubtedly a team effort but if one player epitomised their spirit, organisation and determination more than any other, it was Blackburn Rovers and All Whites captain Ryan Nelsen. An ever-present at the heart of defence, the 32-year-old cajoled and inspired his team of bank clerks and journeymen to undreamed of heights, conceding just two goals and missing out on qualification by one point.

CB: Yuji Nakazawa (Japan)
There may well have been more talented and celebrated centre-backs at the World Cup – Carlos Puyol, Gerard Pique, Joris Mathijsen and Lucio spring to mind– but few were as influential as the lionine Yuji Nakazawa. Japan conceded just two goals (against Denmark and Holland) in their unprecedented run to the second round on foreign soil, where they were cruelly dumped out on penalties by Paraguay in a goalless stalemate. Nakazawa’s flowing locks and flawless positional sense alongside the impressive Marcus Tulio Tanaka were critical to their progress, while the veteran’s unflappable, understated cool provided the platform for many of their attacks.

LB: Fabio Coentrao (Portugal)
Ultra-negative Portugal were largely disappointing in South Africa (a 7-0 obliteration of North Korea apart), boring everyone to death in their clash with Brazil before going out limply to finalists Spain in the second round. One bright spot amid all the drudgery was the skillful, all-action style of left-back Fabio Coentrao, who seemed to be attacking on his own for long periods. While all around him seemed hell-bent on sucking the life out of every fixture, the 22-year-old, fresh from winning the double with Benfica, bombed forward relentlessly piling cross after cross into the box and was no slouch in the tackle either.

CM: Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
Having made his name at the last World Cup as a spritely left-winger, it’s been as the beating heart of Germany’s dynamic midfield that Schweini has shone this time around. Thrown into the centre of midfield midway through last season by Bayern Munich coach Louis Van Gaal, Schweinsteiger has combined superb technique, immaculate positional sense and an unshakeable confidence in his own ability to emerge as the outstanding player of the tournament in the coveted holding midfielder role that is so critical to success in the current tactical era. His ability to dictate play almost single-handedly, alongside a knack of popping up in attacking positions with devastating effect have continually caught the eye. Unceasingly unfazed by the opposition, the 25-year-old made the game look frighteningly easy against both England and Argentina.

CM: Mark Van Bommel (Holland)
Schweinsteiger’s club-mate at Bayern Munich, the uncompromising Mark Van Bommel, has made destruction into an art form. To many, he epitomises everything that’s wrong with modern football – sly tackles, flying elbows, a fondness for falling theatrically to the turf and an arrogance that makes casual observers sneer in his general direction – but his performances at the heart of Holland’s miserly midfield have been critical to their success. Love him or loathe him, there’s no doubting his effectiveness at getting the job done.

AM (R): Thomas Mueller (Germany)
Not satisfied with winning the Bundesliga and appearing in the Champions League final in his first full season at Bayern Munich, 20-year-old Thomas Mueller decided to take the world by storm in South Africa as well. With just one cap to his name before the tournament, few expected him to ease so effortlessly into the international game, but five goals in a magnificent campaign highlight the giant, rangy strides Mueller has made. If David Villa or Wesley Sneijder fail to increase their goal tally in this evening’s final, the gangly attacking midfielder’s three assists would give him the Golden Boot. Holland’s Arjen Robben has been mightily impressive in the same position on the right of an attacking midfield three, but Mueller’s rampaging style just gives him the nod.

AM (C): Xavi (Spain)
Who’d be a manager? The central attacker of our midfield three was by far the most difficult position in our 4-2-3-1 to pick, as it meant two of the tournament’s best players twiddling their thumbs on the bench. Holland’s Wesley Sneijder’s incisive passing and crucial goals have propelled his team all the way to the final. Meanwhile, Germany’s Mesut Ozil has effortlessly pulled the strings like a classic playmaker, carrying on a rich tradition defined by greats like Maradona and Platini. While both players have been critical to their team’s success it is Spain’s Xavi who makes it into our team of the tournament. The little maestro is the central cog in the European Champions’ perpetually purring midfield and his contributiuon to their success can not be underestimated. With 570 passes so far (compared to Sneijder’s 325), he should comfortably overtake Dunga’s record set in 1994 to cement his place in World Cup history.

AM (L): David Villa (Spain)
Fenando Torres’ ineffectiveness has meant a shift to centre-forward in the final two games of the tournament for Spain’s goal machine David Villa, but it was on the left side of coach Vicente Del Bosque’s attacking trident that he pierced a succession of defences early on. Memorable goals against Honduras, Portugal and Paraguay – all scored marauding in from the left of midfield – have proved the difference in Spain’s string of narrow victories (in terms of the scoreline, at least) on their way to the final. Quite simply, Villa is the man who applies the finishing touch to Spain’s ‘tiki-taka’ passing game, and has enjoyed a magnificent World Cup.

CF: Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
Uruguay’s spearhead and most accomplished player, Diego Forlan continued his fine form for his club – his goals proved crucial in their victorious Europa Legue campaign – and provided the firepower that pushed the two-time champions to the semi-finals. His selfless running, ability to find space and mastery of the much-maligned Jabulani ball have been a joy to watch throughout the tournament and, after his nightmare at Old Trafford – where he seemed to make missing easy chances his forte – Forlan has blossomed into the consumate professional and an admirable ambassador of the game.

Subs from:
Wesley Sneijder (Holland) – will probably score a hat-trick in the final to render this article null and void
Mesut Ozil (Germany) – outstanding playmaker who will surely be even better in 2014
Miroslav Klose (Germany) – veteran striker proved he could still pop up in the right place
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana) – tireless front man whose goals catapulted Ghana to the quarter-finals. His penalty miss against Uruguay remains the tournament’s most memorable moment
Robinho (Brazil) – the Seleção’s best attacker until their collapse against Holland
Jong Tae Se (North Korea) – fearless striker who deserved a goal for his rambunctious efforts
Richard Kingson (Ghana) – he wobbled occasionally, but Ghana’s hulking goalkeeper performed heroics in equal measure
Keisuke Honda (Japan) – brilliant attacking player and scorer of vital goals
Claudio Morel (Paraguay) – neat and tidy full-back with an eye for a pass
Lionel Messi (Argentina) – flickered sporadically but didn’t deliver when it really mattered
Arjen Robben (Holland) – devastating pace and a stunning shot
Sergio Busquets (Spain) – metronome at the base of Spain’s midfield
Xabi Alonso (Spain) – magnificent passer of the ball who would walk into most teams
Carlos Puyol (Spain) – a rock at the back and scorer of the semi-final winner
Andres Iniesta (Spain) – Xavi’s partner in crime – skillful, quick with unerring vision
Gerard Pique (Spain) – the new Beckenbauer
Diego Lugano (Uruguay) – Captain Marvel
Phillipp Lahm (Germany) – industrious, rarely beaten and a continual attacking threat
Carlos Tevez (Argentina) – never-ending reserves of energy and a cannon shot
Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina) – poacher supreme

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