The Most Important Player for Every World Cup Team
OK, folks, we are almost there now. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup finals kicking off in Brazil next Thursday, we take a look at who each country’s most important player will be at this summer’s global showpiece event.
In other words, we are talking about the equivalent in American football of the Most Valuable Player (MVP), as opposed to simply the best player in a team. This very often reflects as an underrated performer whose value goes undetected.
On that basis, and using stats provided by respective website www.transfermarkt.co.uk, this slideshow will look at each competing nation’s MVP heading into this month’s much-anticipated competition.
Brazil: Thiago Silva
While most understandably tend to focus on the myriad attacking weapons at the Selecao’s disposal when discussing the host nation’s chances of winning a sixth world title this summer, in fact it is their defence that will decide just how well Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men will fare.
And that is why their captain and centre-back Thiago Silva will be such an important player, with Brazil’s two previous World Cups having both been characterised by poor defensive displays that ultimately resulted in their premature exit from the competition. The most recent campaign saw the Paris Saint-Germain skipper occupying the substitutes’ bench throughout.
Croatia: Ivan Rakitic
Blond-haired playmaker Ivan Rakitic heads into this summer’s World Cup in the form of his life following an outstanding season with Sevilla, who he captained to glory in last month’s UEFA Europa League final against Benfica.
And while Croatia’s Group A opponents will tend to focus on the likes of Bayern Munich front man Mario Mandzukic and Rakitic’s partner in the centre of the park, Luka Modric, in actual fact it is the all-action, Swiss-born 26-year-old who can operate anywhere across the midfield and will be his country’s MVP.
Mexico: Javier Hernandez
You really do feel that if Mexico are to somehow make it through a tough-looking Group A, their "fox in the box" from Manchester United will need to be at his absolute predatory best.
But striker Javier Hernandez, aka Chicharito, showed at the previous World Cup that he has both an ice-cool temperament and razor-sharp instincts in front of goal, as well as the lightning pace to be measured as the quickest player at South Africa 2010, according to FIFA.
And with 35 goals to his name so far in just 59 international appearances for his country in the past five years, the 26-year-old will be without doubt Mexico's key player at Brazil 2014.
Cameroon: Vincent Aboubakar
While Cameroon captain Samuel Eto’o, even at the age of 33, is still considered to be the Indomitable Lions’ best player, it is the striker’s partner up front who is now their most important.
Lorient forward Vincent Aboubakar, 22, will head into this month’s tournament full of confidence after a hugely impressive debut campaign with the Ligue 1 outfit that saw the Cameroon international register 16 goals and eight assists in his 35 league contests.
And while his goalscoring record for his country most definitely needs some improving, anyone who saw Aboubakar’s wonder strike in a recent friendly international with Portugal will be able to vouch for the player’s obvious attacking qualities.
Spain: Xabi Alonso
The Basque holding midfielder, along with FC Barcelona skipper Xavi Hernandez, are the players who most dictate the rhythm and tempo of the world champions’ game; when the duo is strong, so too are La Roja.
However, the now-aged-34 Xavi is less able to impose himself on matches—as we have seen with Barca of late—meaning that Alonso, who is two years younger, will be the more important of the two as Spain look to defend their title in Brazil.
And with 110 caps to his name in a trophy-laden 11-year international career to date, the holders will be in good hands with the experienced Alonso putting out fires in front of their back four this summer. As we saw recently with Real Madrid during normal time of the UEFA Champions League final, all teams tend to miss Alonso’s presence in midfield.
Netherlands: Arjen Robben
With no Rafael van der Vaart to call upon due to injury and Wesley Sneijder turning 30 next week, much of the Oranje’s creative responsibility at this summer’s World Cup will fall on the shoulders of the brilliant Bayern Munich winger.
However, while Robben may also now be 30, the tricky wide man still has the stamina and physique of a player many years younger, which could prove crucial in the hot and humid climate of Brazil.
And with the Dutchman having also been playing the best football of his career in Bavaria these past five years, you really do feel that Robben will be the man to provide the openings for the likes of striker Robin van Persie to feed off.
Chile: Alexis Sanchez
Anyone who watched the FC Barcelona forward create all three Chile goals as they overturned a two-goal deficit to beat Egypt 3-2 in a friendly on Saturday will know just how vital Alexis Sanchez will be to his country’s chances at the World Cup.
The eye-catching 25-year-old has just enjoyed easily his best-ever season since turning professional nine years ago, with Alexis managing 21 goals and 17 assists in 54 matches in all competitions for Barca.
And with fitness clouds currently hanging over Arturo Vidal following the Juventus midfielder’s recent knee operation, there is absolutely no doubt at all about the identity of the South American nation's most important player at Brazil 2014.
Australia: Mile Jedinak
Sometimes your most important player can also be your best one, as is the case with the Socceroos’ newly appointed skipper, Mile Jedinak. The Crystal Palace midfielder was outstanding last season as he captained the Eagles to a surprise 11th-place finish in the Premier League.
And now the 29-year-old, who has replaced the experienced Lucas Neill as captain of his country, will be hoping to show the rest of the world just what a fine midfielder he is in what will be the New South Welshman’s second appearance in the finals of the World Cup.
Colombia: James Rodriguez
While the whole of Colombia are currently still mourning the recent withdrawal of prolific front man Radamel Falcao, in actual fact it is the health of attacking midfielder James Rodriguez that will be key to the South Americans' hopes at this summer’s competition.
The 22-year-old has been representing his country since 2011, and since then the AS Monaco star has proved himself to be Los Cafeteros' MVP. Rodriguez’s importance to the team will only further increase now that it has been confirmed that his club-mate won’t be taking part in the World Cup.
Greece: Giorgos Karagounis
Giorgos Karagounis has just turned 37, and there will be few players more experienced on show at Brazil 2014 than the 133-capped Fulham midfielder.
Karagounis, who made his international debut back in 1999 and was part of the Greek team that won Euro 2004, may not have the pace, energy or drive from earlier in his career, but the former Inter Milan and Benfica player is still manager Fernando Santos’ on-pitch leader and the man who makes his team tick.
Ivory Coast: Gervinho
There may be more than a few raised eyebrows at the Emirates at the suggestion that Gervinho could be a key component for any team; however, the forward well and truly left behind his woes from his two-year spell with Arsenal in his debut campaign with Roma last season.
And given that it is still far from certain 36-year-old Didier Drogba will start for the Ivory Coast at this summer’s World Cup, and with the Galatasaray striker’s likely replacement up front, Wilfried Bony, having never played before at the tournament, suddenly Gervinho has become vitally important to his side’s chances of success in Brazil.
Japan: Shinji Kagawa
While AC Milan attacking midfielder Keisuke Honda is still viewed by many in Japan as their country’s best player, in recent years Manchester United playmaker Shinji Kagawa’s value to the national team has become more pronounced.
So much so, in fact, that heading into next week’s World Cup, the little No. 10, who has 17 goals to his name in just 55 appearances for the Samurai Blue, is now considered absolutely pivotal to his side’s chances of qualifying from Group C.
Uruguay: Edinson Cavani
With fitness doubts currently surrounding Luis Suarez following the forward’s recent knee operation, much of the pressure of seeing that Uruguay make it through a tricky-looking Group D will now fall on the shoulders of the Liverpool star’s strike partner, Edinson Cavani.
However, with 20 goals already to his name in 60 internationals since making his Celeste bow six years ago, including at the previous World Cup, the 27-year-old Paris Saint-Germain front man is now ready to show the world just why the Ligue 1 champions splashed out €64.5 million to lure him from Napoli last summer.
Costa Rica: Keylor Navas
In what has already been dubbed the "group of death," Costa Rica know that if they are somehow to pull off a miracle and make it through to the knockout phase of the competition, goalkeeper Keylor Navas will need to be in inspired form between the posts.
However, luckily for the Central Americans, the Levante No. 1 was one of the standout shot-stoppers in La Liga last season—so much so, in fact, that a number of big-name clubs, including Liverpool (according to a report by Paul Brown in the Daily Star), have been closely monitoring the 27-year-old of late.
England: Gary Cahill
The Chelsea central defender cruelly missed out on selection for Euro 2012 after breaking his jaw in a pre-tournament friendly with Belgium at Wembley Stadium; however, were such an unfortunate scenario to happen again before this summer’s World Cup it would be far more damaging to England’s hopes at Brazil 2014.
That is because Cahill is now without doubt his country’s most important defender after the outstanding campaign the 28-year-old has just enjoyed at Stamford Bridge, where he proved himself to be a centre-back of true international class.
And with the back four being the Three Lions’ main area of concern heading into the competition, then just how well Cahill performs for England in South America could very well decide how far Roy Hodgson’s side progress.
Italy: Daniele De Rossi
Incredibly, despite being just 30 years old, the AS Roma midfielder has already been playing for Italy for the past decade now, during which time De Rossi has been capped 93 times. Were the Azzurri to reach the World Cup final next month, the player would be in line to possibly make his 100th international appearance for his country.
As such, like a number of his Italy teammates, De Rossi will bring huge experience with him to Brazil 2014, having played in the finals of both the 2006 World Cup and the 2012 European championship.
However, perhaps crucially, De Rossi is somewhat younger than the likes of Gianluigi Buffon and Andrea Pirlo, meaning that for the first tournament ever, it is the Roman, rather than either of the latter two, who will be his side’s most valuable player.
Switzerland: Valon Behrami
Having appeared in both the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups, as well as at Euro 2012, the all-energy Napoli midfielder is now rightly considered to be Switzerland coach Ottmar Hitzfeld’s most important player heading into this summer’s competition.
When Valon Behrami is firing on all cylinders, as we have seen on so many occasions in the past during his near 10-year international career, the Swiss team as a whole tend to be inspired by their blond-haired star and so perform as such.
Ecuador: Antonio Valencia
While last season may have been a frustrating one for Antonio Valencia at Manchester United, the experienced Ecuador international will no doubt now be relishing his return home to South America and the chance to feature in a second World Cup finals for his country.
And having shined on the wing in Germany eight years ago, Ecuador’s hopes of once again making it into the knockout phase of the competition seem to now rest at the feet of their skillful 28-year-old.
France: Yohan Cabaye
France boss Didier Deschamps is set to start this World Cup with a midfield three comprising the Paris Saint-Germain duo of Yohan Cabaye and Blaise Matuidi, plus Juventus playmaker Paul Pogba.
But of that trio of star players, though, it is PSG’s £19 million January buy from St James’ Park who makes Les Bleus tick with his inch-perfect passing, tough tackling, fierce shooting and dangerous set-piece deliveries, attributes that all make the 28-year-old his country’s key man.
Honduras: Emilio Izaguirre
Following his impressive displays for Honduras at the last World Cup, Emilio Izaguirre earned a move to Celtic where the left-back has really managed to catch the eye ever since—so much so, in fact, that Premier League sides like Liverpool have been linked with the 28-year-old in recent years, as reported by Luke Reddy on Goal.com.
And now four years on from South Africa 2010, the attacking full-back has become the Central American outfit’s MVP with his ability to both stop opposition attacks and get forward in support of his own side’s forward thrusts too.
Argentina: Angel Di Maria
To some people’s great surprise, Real Madrid manager Carlo Ancelotti opted to keep hold of wide man Angel Di Maria at the Santiago Bernabeu last summer instead of Mesut Ozil.
However, a year later and the Italian’s then-controversial choice has since been borne out by the twinkle-toed Argentina international’s brilliant displays on the wing for Los Blancos last season.
And while four-time FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi is obviously still his country’s best player, it is Di Maria’s unrivalled pace, trickery and ability to stretch the opposition by continuously hugging the left flank that will actually make the 26-year-old the most crucial player for coach Alejandro Sabella this summer.
Bosnia-Herzegovina: Miralem Pjanic
While much of the focus leading up to Bosnia’s first-ever appearance in the finals of a major international tournament has naturally tended to concentrate on the goalscoring abilities of front man Edin Dzeko, the importance of AS Roma midfielder Miralem Pjanic to his side should not be underestimated either.
The former Luxembourg under-17 and under-19 international enters this month’s World Cup on the back of an impressive campaign in the centre of the park for the Romans, with the highly rated 24-year-old having registered six goals and six assists in 35 league matches to help his side finish as runners-up behind champions Juventus in Serie A last season.
And as a result, it is Pjanic who the tiny Balkan nation will rely on to supply the ammunition for Dzeko to fire at Brazil 2014.
Iran: Reza Ghoochannejhad
With nine goals already to his name in only 13 appearances for Iran since being called up by manager Carlos Queiroz to make his international debut in a World Cup qualifier against South Korea in October 2012, Charlton Athletic striker Reza Ghoochannejhad will now very much be the key player in his country’s upcoming campaign in Brazil.
If Iran are to cause a major surprise by making it through Group F, they will need the 26-year-old, who represented the Netherlands at under-16 to under-19 level between 2003 and 2007, to continue on in his recent rich vein of form in front of goal this month.
Nigeria: John Obi Mikel
Having missed the previous World Cup through injury, John Obi Mikel will be determined to make up for that heartbreak by helping Nigeria qualify from Group F at this summer’s competition in Brazil.
And it is the Chelsea midfielder that the Super Eagles will most look to for inspiration and creativity, both of which the 27-year-old was able to supply in abundance at last year’s Africa Cup of Nations when Mikel operated in a far more advanced position than he ever does for his club side.
Germany: Manuel Neuer
It is not just Manuel Neuer’s outstanding reflexes and shot-stopping that means the Germany No. 1 is now rightly considered by many to be the world’s best goalkeeper, but also his unrivalled abilities with the ball at his feet when helping to launch counter-attacks for his side too.
And that is why the 28-year-old, who starred for his country at both the 2010 World Cup and at Euro 2012, is such a key component of Joachim Low’s much-fancied outfit, as you feel that if the Bayern Munich keeper plays to his full potential at Brazil 2014, then Die Mannschaft will finally end their 18-year wait for a major international trophy.
Portugal: Joao Moutinho
The technically accomplished AS Monaco midfielder will be desperately keen to make up for only being a back-up squad member for Portugal at the last World Cup when this summer’s competition gets underway next week.
And while all eyes will, of course, be on FIFA Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, it is the experienced 27-year-old Joao Moutinho, making his third appearance in the finals of a major international tournament after Euro 2008 and Euro 2012, who invariably lays on the passes for the Real Madrid forward to finish—as was seen to such devastating effect in Portugal’s play-off win in Sweden last November that sealed their passage to Brazil.
Ghana: Andre Ayew
A member of the Ghana side at the three previous Africa Cup of Nations, as well as the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, and yet still aged only 24, Marseille wide man Andre Ayew is now considered to be an absolutely vital component of the Black Stars’ hugely talented starting lineup heading into this summer’s tournament in Brazil.
In fact, after a series of eye-catching performances on the wing at the Stade Velodrome during the past four seasons, including in the UEFA Champions League, Ayew has now moved ahead of the likes of Michael Essien, Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng in the pecking order of his country’s most important players.
United States: Clint Dempsey
In the surprise absence of veteran Landon Donovan, the role of the equally experienced Seattle Sounders forward will become even more important to the U.S. side at this summer’s FIFA World Cup finals.
Dempsey, 31, has already proved himself in the past to be an attacker of great intelligence during successful spells in the Premier League with both Fulham and Tottenham Hotspur, while the U.S. skipper will also be looking to become the first-ever American to score in three World Cups after netting at Germany 2006 and South Africa 2010.
And with 37 goals to his name in 104 internationals during the last decade, you can understand just why Deuce will be his country’s MVP at Brazil 2014.
Belgium: Eden Hazard
Anyone who watched the Professional Footballers’ Association Young Player of the Year light up the Premier League with a series of dazzling wing displays for Chelsea last season will know just how much talent Eden Hazard readily has at his disposal.
And against tiring defences in the oppressive heat of Brazil this summer, the skillful and tricky Belgium international will be the key to his country fulfilling many people’s pre-tournament expectations that the Red Devils will be one of the dark horses at the World Cup.
Algeria: Sofiane Feghouli
Valencia wide man Sofiane Feghouli will go into this summer’s World Cup with confidence sky-high following an outstanding campaign that saw the 24-year-old record seven goals and 10 assists in 45 matches in all competitions for Los Che.
However, the former France under-18 and under-21 international will need to replicate that same kind of eye-catching form on the wing in Brazil this month if Algeria are to stand any chance at all of emerging unscathed from Group H.
Russia: Alexander Kerzhakov
With manager Fabio Capello having opted not to select experienced attackers of the pedigree of Pavel Pogrebnyak, Andrey Arshavin, Roman Pavlyuchenko or Diniyar Bilyaletdinov in his final 23-man squad for this summer’s World Cup, the responsibility for scoring Russia’s goals at Brazil 2014 will very much fall on Alexander Kerzhakov.
But the striker is coming off the back of a good scoring campaign with Zenit St Petersburg, while he also has the experience of competing in major international tournaments for his country at the 2002 World Cup, as well as at Euro 2004, 2008 and 2012, to prove his coach was right to put his faith in the 31-year-old front man.
South Korea: Son Heung-min
Twelve goals and seven assists in 43 contests in what was Son Heung-min’s debut campaign for Bayer Leverkusen in the previous season, following an £8.5 million move from Hamburg last June, represented a fine start to his career at the BayArena by the forward.
And with the versatile and pacy 21-year-old able to operate in a number of different positions across the forward line, the two-footed Son will be South Korea’s most important player at this summer’s World Cup.