To say the 2012 FIFPro World XI was a bit conspicuous might be the understatement of 2013. The selection of 11 players all from La Liga was unprecedented and has since sparked heated debate over the legitimacy of the lineup, which was determined by the votes of 55,000 players worldwide.
Ambiguous selection criteria and the general stereotype of footballers being out of touch with reality are among the criticisms against the selection, which came with a disturbing undertone that all football outside Spain is irrelevant.
This undertone is a severe injustice to footballers around the world who give their best effort week in, week out, particularly those who have outplayed members of the World XI on numerous occasion in their careers—in many instances, in the last 12 months.
Consider the stars of Dortmund and Bayern Munich, for example. Both clubs got the better of Real Madrid in 2012, with the latter advancing to the Champions League final following a penalty shootout, and the former winning 2-1 at home and drawing 2-2 at the Bernabeu in the Champions League group stage.
Still, Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos, Xabi Alonso, Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcelo—some more deservedly than others—represented los Blancos in the World XI.
Click "Begin Slideshow" to see a player-by-player comparison of the recently voted World XI and a selection of Bundesliga stars, the latter of which were chosen based on class and performance in 2012 with heavy emphasis given to those who have a record of showing up those from the former.
World XI selection: Iker Casillas
Manuel Neuer has faced Iker Casillas three times in his career, at the 2010 World Cup and in the 2011-12 Champions League semifinals. Both goalkeepers played well in their first meeting, although neither was tested very often. Spain's possession-based football limited Germany to just two shots on goal, but die Mannschaft's defense largely contained the Spanish attack. In the end, a bullet header from a corner decided the match in favor of eventual champions Spain.
Last spring, Neuer and Casillas had a more direct head-to-head encounter in the Champions League. The pair played well individually over the two legs, but Neuer came out aces in the penalty shootout. The Germany international let just one out of four spot kicks find the net as he made particularly brilliant saves from Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka. Casillas saved just one out of the four attempts that came his way.
In his favor, Casillas has many more trophies than Neuer, who has only won the DFB-Pokal and DFB-Superpokal at professional level. The Spaniard has won two European Championships, the World Cup, two Champions League titles, five Spanish Primera championships, and the Copa del Rey.
On the other hand, he is in his 14th year at a top club; Neuer is in his second. And Casillas has worked with a Spain side in its prime years, while Neuer's Germany were the youngest team at Euro 2012 and are still far from peaking.
There is no clear winner between Casillas and Neuer, but based on performance and importance to their respective teams in 2012, one can easily make a case in favor of the latter. Neuer commanded a Bayern Munich defense that was more effective than Casillas' Real Madrid throughout the calendar year, and when the two met head-to-head it was the Germany international who came out on top.
World XI selection: Dani Alves
A couple years ago, Dani Alves was the world's best right-back. At present, he'd struggle to make the top five. As he approaches his 30th birthday, the Brazilian appears set to follow illustrious compatriots like Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Kaka and Maicon in reaching a rather early expiration date. At present he is only a backup at Barca, having played the full 90 minutes just six times in La Liga this season.
On team merit in 2012, Lukasz Piszczek blows Alves out of the water. His Dortmund won more trophies (two, the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal) than Barca (one, the Copa del Rey), and their domestic title triumph set a new record for points earned in a Bundesliga season. And his Dortmund earned more points in their Champions League "Group of Death" than Barca took from Celtic, Benfica and Spartak Moscow.
Individually, Piszczek started the calendar year strong and finished just as well. The 27-year-old was rated by Kicker as the Bundesliga's best fullback last season, and in the current campaign is second only behind Philipp Lahm. Dortmund's illustrious attack would not be the same without Piszczek, but the Poland international proved his class as a defender in the Champions League.
In 180 minutes against Piszczek, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo only managed to take four shots, two of which were on target (Uefa.com match reports here and here). And nearly all of those shots only came after the Portugal international peeled away from his normal left-wing position and out of Piszczek's area of responsibility.
Dani Alves has had a great career, but his class is declining quicker than his reputation. No matter how you slice it, Piszczek was in 2012 and continues to be a better right-back.
World XI selection: Gerard Pique
In the goalkeeper slide, the case was made that Casillas has benefited from having a strong supporting cast throughout his career. This was meant not to downgrade the Spain goalkeeper, but rather to explain how Neuer, a player of similar skill, had a much smaller trophy cabinet.
In the case of Gerard Pique vs. Mats Hummels, the same case can be made, but this time to bring Pique back down to Earth. The Barcelona center back is a terribly sloppy defender, whose class has been vastly exaggerated by his trophy cabinet, which can be attributed more to the brilliance of Xavi, Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi and others.
Since his move to Barcelona in 2008, Pique has seen the yellow card 59 times for club and country, an average of once every 4.3 games. He also has been sent off five times.
The figures are head-scratching, considering how little defending he's had to do behind the world's best midfields in Barcelona and Spain. In the same span of time, Hummels has been booked just 20 times and has never been sent off; he's averaged a yellow card every 9.8 games. And with far less midfield quality to help cover him for much of the period in consideration, the Germany international has had much, much more danger come his way.
Looking back, 2012 was a tumultuous year for Pique personally. His form was so dire that he was omitted from the starting lineup in the April Clasico against Real Madrid, as well as the Champions League semifinal first leg against Chelsea. In fact, the only real headlines Pique caused involved his relationship with Shakira, which reportedly caused a rift between the player and Pep Guardiola.
Pique has put a better foot forward in the current campaign, but making fewer mistakes does not merit recognition as one of the top two center-backs in the world. Put Pique in another team and he'll certainly struggle, just as he did at Manchester United.
Hummels, by contrast, had a brilliant 2012 calendar year with Dortmund, particularly in the spring when BVB went undefeated with just two draws in the Bundesliga. He's been sublime in the Champions League, and at Euro 2012, there was no better player than he before the semifinals.
Like Pique, he's great with the ball at his feet. But unlike Pique, he has real, well-developed defending skills. His man-marking ability is only rivaled by Thiago Silva. And when he needs to, he can make a fair and clean challenge, not throw himself at a striker and receive a booking.
World XI selection: Sergio Ramos
The 2012 calendar year was one to forget for Holger Badstuber, who finished second in three club competitions, was suspended for the Champions League final, struggled at the European Championship, and suffered a tear of his anterior cruciate ligament.
Sergio Ramos, on the other hand, won La Liga and was among the top performers at Euro 2012 as his Spain won the title. Yet still, despite the clear differences in ultimate fortune, less than may be initially expected separates the Spaniard from the German.
Badstuber and Ramos met for the first time in the Champions League semifinals last year, in what was their only encounter to date. The former was booked in each leg, and while his performance at the Allianz Arena was quite impressive overall, he left plenty to be desired in the second leg at the Bernabeu.
Ramos, on the other hand, was a complete flop in both legs: In the first, he lost the ball that led to Franck Ribery's opener, and let Mario Gomez have chance after chance, including the winner. Gomez still had plenty of chances in the second leg, and in the shootout that came after extra time, Ramos fired a penalty into near-Earth orbit.
World XI selection: Marcelo
Along with Dani Alves, Marcelo was one of the more enigmatic selections in the FIFPro World XI. The Brazilian won La Liga with Real Madrid, but his dodgy defending was costly to los Blancos and earned him a spot on the bench in the first leg of their Champions League semifinals loss to Bayern.
He came off the bench in the second half and had little effect: His most noteworthy contribution was a scything tackle on Thomas Mueller that inexplicably did not result in his dismissal.
Marcelo was given the nod to start in the second leg, but his performance was one-sided. He was lively in contributing to the attack, but his positioning was often suspect as Arjen Robben often slipped away.
Jose Mourinho's unwillingness to put Marcelo against the Dutchman in the first leg, coupled with the player's overall underwhelming performance during the tie confirmed suspicions that although very strong in attack, Marcelo is no defender.
Lahm's performance against Real Madrid was a classic display of leadership and balance. He proved himself as a fullback, and by comparison made Marcelo look like an out-of-place winger.
Especially in the first leg, Lahm kept Cristiano Ronaldo at bay, dispossessing the Portuguese again and again. And when his team desperately needed a goal, he ran Fabio Coentrao inside-out before assisting Mario Gomez's winner.
Marcelo has never gone head-to-head with any of the forwards in the Bundesliga's current best XI. Lahm, on the other hand, has faced Lionel Messi of the World XI. The two were not exactly in much direct contact in Germany's 4-0 rout of Argentina at the 2010 World Cup (Messi played in the center, Lahm on the wing), but met in the 2008-09 Champions League quarterfinals.
An injury kept Lahm out of the first leg, which Barcelona won 4-0. There was little to play for in the second leg, but Lahm allowed his opponent very little space as Messi's name stayed off the scoresheet in the 1-1 draw.
World XI selection: Xavi
Their dates of birth separated by 21 days less than a decade, Toni Kroos and Xavi are at very different places in their respective careers. Still barely 23, the Bayern man is still honing his game and is only just starting to emerge as a star of world football. The Barcelona vice-captain, who will turn 33 in a couple weeks, is in the twilight of an illustrious career.
There are some things Xavi can no longer do. He can't play at a high level every week for an entire season, nor does he have the legs he once had—in fact, his unwillingness to track Ramires' runs from deep in midfield cost Barca two goals against Chelsea in last spring's Champions League semifinals.
However, at Euro 2012 and in several high-profile matches against Real Madrid, he affirmed that his class with the ball remains when it's needed. He's not what he was in 2009, but Xavi is still the best central midfielder in the game.
Kroos has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence in the last 18 months, and seemed destined for greatness with Bayern and Germany. He lacked courage in the Champions League final shootout, however, and was benched at the Euros.
To his credit, Kroos rebounded well at the start of the current season and has been one of the Bundesliga's very best players. Will he ever match Xavi? In all likelihood, no, because the Spain international has few peers throughout history. But time is on his side, and if he overcomes some mental hurdles, he'll surely do great things.
Less separates Kroos and Xavi than did a year ago. And less will separate them 12 months from now; eventually, Kroos will catch up as the Spaniard fades into the sunset. But that time certainly has not yet come.
World XI selection: Xabi Alonso
Moving across the midfield to the most defensive-minded midfielders in each selection, we put Bastian Schweinsteiger against Xabi Alonso.
The two have gone head-to-head three times, with Xabi comprehensively getting the better of his opponent at the 2010 World Cup, and Schweinsteiger playing his comparison off the park in the 2011-12 Champions League semifinals.
In 2012, Xabi won the European Championship and La Liga, but Schweinsteiger proved head-to-head that he is the better player. Bayern bossed the possession in the first (54 percent) and second (55 percent) legs of their Champions League tie with Real Madrid, and die Roten forced los Blancos to counterattack.
Thanks in part to their superiority in the deep areas of midfield, the Bavarians created more attempts and deservedly advanced.
Xabi is without question an excellent distributor of the ball, especially over long distances. He does, however, have his limitations. He isn't the most adept dribbler, and despite his size, is not the greatest at winning the ball in 50-50 situations.
And in a game with tight marking and little space, he often struggles to play a telling pass. Xabi faced Bayern and Dortmund twice each in 2012, and struggled against both.
Schweinsteiger can distribute over long distances, but also is great with one-touch passing and dribbling, and is an excellent ball-winner: he's incredibly complete.
He marked Lionel Messi into anonymity in Germany's 4-0 win against Argentina at the 2010 World Cup, and although injuries saw him play below his brilliant best in the spring and summer, he still managed to get the better of Xabi head-to-head.
World XI selection: Andres Iniesta
As with the case of Kroos and Xavi, the comparison of Mario Goetze and Andres Iniesta is one of an established star who has enjoyed an enormously successful career to a younger talent who is only now on the cusp of greatness.
While there are some Barcelona and Spain players who have largely been passengers or have otherwise enjoyed inflated reputation due to the titles they've won, Iniesta has done more than his share of the legwork in making his teams so successful.
He scored key goals in the 2008-09 Champions League semifinals and in the 2010 World Cup final. And he was one of the very best players at Euro 2012. Supremely talented as a dribbler and passer, and self-assured at all the telling moments, Iniesta is absolutely deserving of his spot in the World XI.
The winner of Tuttosport's Golden Boy award in 2011, Goetze is a rare talent of tremendous potential. Kicker rated him as the Bundesliga's fourth-best player when he was 18, and recently named him one of only two "World-Class" players in the set comprised of those in the Bundesliga or Germans abroad (the other was Franck Ribery).
Goetze was phenomenal in the fall campaign, and ended it in even more remarkable form: in his last eight games before the winter break, he scored seven goals and gave five assists. He's absolutely passed all tests in his career thus far; given a few years, anything is possible.
World XI selection: Lionel Messi
There is no arguing with the fact that Lionel Messi deserves his spot in the World XI. And also, whether or not one believes his fourth consecutive Ballon d'Or was righteously claimed, there is little arguing he is the best individual footballer on the planet.
The Argentine scored a record 91 goals in 2012, and despite a modest trophy haul and his missing a key penalty against Chelsea, his 2012 will be remembered as one of the great calendar years in football history.
Marco Reus' 2012 was like Messi's in that he received praise for individual performance while falling short in terms of trophy haul. However, he hardly had a chance to earn silverware before his transfer from Moenchengladbach to Dortmund, and Joachim Loew only used him sparingly at Euro 2012.
When he was given his chances, Reus took them brilliantly: In the Champions League, he opened the scoring in away matches against Ajax, Manchester City and Real Madrid.
As with many of the prior comparisons, that between Messi and Reus is one of an established star and one who is still on the rise. The Argentine is certainly closer to his peak if he has not already reached it, while the latter has yet to play in his first Champions League knockout match and thus has much to prove.
Although none can yet compare Reus and Messi overall and the pair have never faced one another in a competitive match, it is noteworthy that both have a record for scoring in big games.
Messi has found the net in two Champions League finals, while Reus has proven to be a Champions League natural especially with his key away goals. In a head-to-head match between the World and Bundesliga XIs, both would in all likelihood play well.
Analyzing head-to-head matchups, there is little to discuss. Reus has only faced Casillas and Ramos twice, and he scored once.
Messi has only been put against Philipp Lahm twice in his career in competitive matches, neither in which he scored: The first was a 1-1 draw with Bayern in a trivial Champions League match in 2009, and the other was in Germany's 4-0 win against Argentina at the 2010 World Cup.
World XI selection: Radamel Falcao
Mario Gomez missed most of the fall campaign due to an ankle injury, but his performance in 2012 before the 2012-13 club season began was sublime. In the Champions League, the Bayern man gave Sergio Ramos and Pepe the runaround for 210 minutes as the Real Madrid pair struggled to contain him throughout the two-legged tie.
He scored a critical, last-gasp winner for the Bavarians at the Allianz Arena, won a penalty in the second leg, and slotted home his spot kick in penalty shootout with a cool composure.
At Euro 2012, Gomez finished as joint-top scorer despite playing in a team that was designed for a striker of Miroslav Klose's skill set.
Ankle surgery and the impressive performance of Mario Mandzukic at Bayern saw Gomez feature in just eight matches during the first half of the season, but the Germany international has been extremely efficient in his limited time. On average in all competitions, he's scored or assisted a goal every 51.8 minutes.
While Gomez has established himself with 25 Champions League goals and 129 more in the Bundesliga in his career, Radamel Falcao is more of a newcomer to the big time.
Following goal tallies of 34 and 38 in consecutive seasons at Porto, he found the net 36 times in 2011-12 and has already scored 20 this season.
By the numbers, he's an absolute machine. However, he's yet to prove himself in the Champions League, and his record for Colombia is a modest 15 goals in 41 appearances.
The question still remains: Is Falcao a minnow-slayer, or does he have the class to beat a strong defense in the latter stages of the Champions League? The answer will come sooner or later, with the player currently linked to Chelsea.
For now, though, he's neither played nor scored against any member of the Bundesliga XI.
World XI selection: Cristiano Ronaldo
Ask any pundit to rank their top five wingers in world football, and nearly every response will include Franck Ribery and Cristiano Ronaldo. The two are extremely gifted technically, the latter being a brilliant scorer of goals while the former is a tremendous playmaker.
Ribery and Ronaldo have only met twice in their respective careers, with both games played last spring in the Champions League semifinals. In the first leg, the Portuguese was stymied by Philipp Lahm throughout the 90 minutes and was guilty of conceding possession time and time again.
He was efficient enough to assist Mesut Ozil for los Blancos' only goal of the match. Ribery was much more involved in the build-up for Bayern, and scored the opener.
Ronaldo was better in the second leg, in which he scored an early opener from the penalty spot, and struck again to make it 2-0 after 14 minutes. He was put under wraps after his brace, however, and saw his penalty kick saved after extra time. Ribery was by no means a flop, but he was unable to make the difference before being taken off in extra time.
Both Ribery and Ronaldo have previously squared off against opponents they would face if the World XI and proposed Bundesliga XI were to lock horns. Ronaldo has played for Portugal against Lahm's Germany on three occasions (2006 World Cup, Euro 2008, and Euro 2012). The 27-year-old winger has never scored against die Mannschaft, and was completely absent last June as Joachim Loew's side won the fixture 1-0.
Ribery went head-to-head with Dani Alves in the 2008-09 Champions League but was powerless to prevent Bayern's 4-0 loss to Barcelona at Camp Nou. To his credit, he scored a consolation goal in the second leg.
Ronaldo indeed has a reputation for scoring goals by the truckload, but on the other hand, he's often been found lacking the mentality needed to make the difference in big games.
Despite playing for a star-studded Real Madrid side, the Portuguese hasn't been to a Champions League final since 2008 and has missed three crucial penalties in his career (2008 vs Barcelona, 2008 vs Chelsea, and 2012 vs Bayern).
For a player of his reputation, one Liga and one Copa in three seasons is not exactly overwhelming. In the same span of time, Ribery has reached two Champions League finals and had equal domestic success, winning the Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal.
Ribery is not exactly the epitome of cool, either; he senselessly earned a red card that kept him out of the 2010 Champions League final, and he lacked composure in the final third in the 2012 final as Bayern were upset by Chelsea last May.
Is the Bundesliga XI proposed in this article better than the FIFPro World XI? No definite answer can be obtained through objective means. And unless the full XIs meet on the pitch, there will never be a very clear answer.
However, it's the undeniable truth that players in the Bundesliga XI have in their careers performed very well against those in the World XI, in many instances outplaying their opponents in last 12 months.
Which selection is better is debatable, but what can be far more commonly accepted is that not very much separates the two.
This alone exposes the World XI voting for being farcical: that all the best players in the world play in La Liga is simply nonsense. There are many great players in Spain, but there is also relevant football outside the Iberian Peninsula.