Picking a Confederations Cup Team of the Tournament
The FIFA Confederations Cup provided football fans with a great summer of action, with plenty of games being far better in terms of both quality and goal action than might have been expected.
Eight teams, 16 matches and 65 goals plus the final—and amongst all that lot was a group of players who stood out a little more than the rest.
Mexico, Nigeria and Japan played their part in the tournament, but none has a representative in the team of the tournament. The four semifinalists all have at least one player in the side.
Tahiti were game competitors and provided a level of interest in their games which belied the amateur status of their players, though Steevy Chong Hue deserves an honourable mention for his performances.
Here's the team of the tournament, set out in a 4-3-3 formation.
Goalkeeper: Fernando Muslera
Fernando Muslera helped Uruguay through to the semifinals with, in particular, a good performance against Nigeria in the group stage.
The experienced stopper made several good saves against Spain too, keeping the score down before his nation's late rally and consolation goal. His distribution is consistent and reliable, he does well from high balls into his area and his shot-stopping is largely exemplary.
Muslera also saved a penalty from Mattia De Sciglio in the third-place shootout, with only a poor goal conceded off a set piece in that same game his real mark against him.
Right-Back: Christian Maggio
Though there were plenty of players for other positions who could have built a case, not too many sides were possessed of a right-sided defender who was head-and-shoulders above.
Italy's Christian Maggio was a steady and reliable performer for his nation, playing both at full-back and in a wing-back role, quick to get forward into space ahead of him and provide an outlet for the creative members of his team's midfield.
He featured in four of Italy's matches at the tournament.
Centre-Back: Sergio Ramos
A hugely disappointing defeat in the final will mean the Confederations Cup does not rank high in Sergio Ramos' considerable list of achievements, but he nonetheless had a competition to rank amongst the finest defensive performances.
Though he missed a penalty in the final, he was certainly not one of those at fault for the goals conceded.
Ramos was strong and reliable, impressive in his duels with opposition forwards and was a threat going the other way too, frequently starting moves from the back. He was the only Spain player to play in every match at the tournament.
Centre-Back: David Luiz
He's not always lauded as a top-quality defender, but David Luiz was Brazil's best of the tournament by some distance.
Luiz was focused, aggressive, fast over the ground and irrepressible in his defensive challenges. A broken nose didn't halt him. He was a standout player in the final itself, with one crucial goal-line clearance proving enormously important when the score was still 1-0.
Many have called for David Luiz to be deployed in a midfield role, but at the Confederations Cup he was the best all-round defender.
The Brazilian left-back was a constant attacking threat throughout the tournament, blazing a trail on the outside of that flank past those ahead of him.
His defensive contribution improved significantly as the competition wore on too; he was quick to press off the ball and rugged in the challenge when needed, yet his first move was always to rapidly pass the ball on and charge forward once possession was won.
Marcelo frequently powered forward with the ball at his feet and often found a telling pass at the end of his dribbles.
Holding Midfielder: Luiz Gustavo
Brazil's success in getting the ball forward quickly was built on two men, one of whom was Luiz Gustavo. He might have missed out on a German Cup trophy by arriving early to this tournament, but having now played a massive part in winning the Confederations Cup, he will likely regard it as a wonderful exchange.
A good tackler, quick distributor to his midfield teammates and full of running, Luiz Gustavo's big strength is in helping his team maintain pressure off the ball and overrun the opposition.
Given Brazil's ability to put their game plan into action, it shows how well he did his own job.
Central Midfield: Paulinho
Brazil's midfield was a partnership, though, and Paulinho more than played his part.
He pressed and harried to help Brazil win back possession, but Paulinho also quickly pushed upfield to offer extra support or carried the ball great distances in a short time.
Combining on-the-ball technique with off-the-ball physicality, Paulinho was a perfect fit in Brazil's powerful and fast-moving system.
Central Midfielder: Andres Iniesta
In amongst Spain's difficult final performance against Brazil, it's easy to overlook their previous matches.
During those games though, Andres Iniesta was simply excellent, passing the ball accurately, moving with the ball at his feet through crowds of players and being the main man in transforming Spain's tiki-taka moves into dangerous attacks.
Iniesta still put in a good performance in the final on an individual level, though he was unable to inspire his side to come anywhere close to winning. Iniesta was the best player of the tournament who did not wear yellow.
Wide Forward: Luis Suarez
Uruguay's most dangerous attacker out of their usual trio, Luis Suarez hit three goals in the tournament.
A fabulous free-kick against Spain was mere consolation in the end, while two against Tahiti came on late on after he entered as a substitute.
He often sacrificed himself for the team tactics, operating out on the right side of the three before coming infield to help create chances for himself, Diego Forlan and Edinson Cavani.
Suarez's individual ability is the biggest danger Uruguay possess in attack. He will be key to getting back to Brazil in a year's time.
Centre Forward: Fred
Fred had already had a good impact on Brazil, leading the line and providing the movement in the final third for those behind him to show their best attributes. But he also did the most important part of his job—score goals.
He's not as lauded as some of his teammates. He's perhaps not even as feted as the striker who didn't make the tournament, Leandro Damiao. But Fred has consistently come up with the goods for Brazil over the past year.
His two goals in the final took him to five for the tournament, after strikes against Italy (twice) and Uruguay.
Wide Forward: Neymar
The star name for the hosts going into the tournament—and his reputation will only have been enhanced by his performances during it—Neymar was the undoubted player of the tournament.
Completely unfazed by the expectation and pressure on him, Neymar scored three minutes into the Confederations Cup's opening match and never looked back. Further strikes against Mexico and Italy showed his consistency in finding the target from the second line of attack, while he was also heavily involved in creating chances and goals for his teammates.
Another fantastic strike and an assist in the final were just reward for his performances in the competition.
He's got a big move at club level ahead of him and therefore a huge season ahead, but we could have just seen an early glimpse of the star of the 2014 World Cup.