The World Cup 2014 Biggest Flop XI
There are some teams that nobody expected much from at this summer’s World Cup. Some had done remarkably well to battle through a months-long qualification process, and their games on the world stage were their reward.
However, there are some teams—and particular players—who carried the weight of expectation on their shoulders. Their names have adorned thousands of shirts, and their nations’ hopes rested on their performances—or lack thereof. Here is our team of of pivotal players who failed to perform, in a slightly unconventional 3-4-3 formation.
There’s a good case to be made that this team could be constructed entirely of Spanish players, after they surrendered their title as world champions in frankly embarrassing fashion.
However, a select number of players stood out from the rest of La Roja’s squad as being particularly inept, none more so than captain and goalkeeping stalwart Iker Casillas.
His blushes were spared by the sheer ingenuity of the first goal that the Netherlands put past him, even with his positioning extremely reminiscent of his gaff in the Champions League final. That said, there was nowhere to hide for the veteran keeper for the other four, as he went on to commit two more cataclysmic errors that led directly to Dutch goals.
He allowed another weak effort past him for Chile’s second goal which effectively sealed Spain’s fate, and without a starting berth at his club, it’s hard to see him remaining Spain’s number one for much longer.
The decision to not bring Ashley Cole to the World Cup was a controversial one taken by Roy Hodgson, but as he had demonstrated throughout the qualification phase, Everton star Leighton Baines was his man at left-back.
However, Baines failed to deliver on the promise he’s shown for his club. In a tournament that has been marked by the attacking nature of full-backs—something which should have lent itself perfectly to Baines’ skillset—the England man repeatedly failed to show the prowess in the opposition half that he’s famous for.
His defensive work was even worse, as he was left completely flat-footed by Italian Antonio Candreva, who crossed for Mario Balotelli to score the winner in the Three Lions’ opening match. With the form of young Luke Shaw, this could prove to be Baines’ only international tournament, which would be a huge shame.
Pepe has earned something of an unwanted reputation for himself due to his chequered behaviour record. He’s known for sly digs away from the prying eyes of the referee, such as stamping on Lionel Messi, per The Guardian.
However, there was nothing sneaky about his altercation with Thomas Muller in Portugal’s opening game against Germany. In full view of the referee, Pepe brought his forehead into Muller with next to no provocation.
While it could be argued that it was a harsh straight red—there was no way such gentle contact was ever going to cause any injury to the German—there’s no getting away from the complete lack of need for his action.
Without their best defender, Portugal wilted. Already 1-0 down, they conceded three more in that game. With Pepe suspended for their next match, they conceded another two and could only muster a draw with the US, leaving their fate—which ultimately proved to be elimination—out of their hands.
If there’s been one area of the pitch in which Spain never completely convinced during their years of dominance, it was at centre-back. Carles Puyol’s injury woes made him unreliable, and it was left to his Barcelona teammate Gerard Pique to shoulder the responsibility for this World Cup.
To say the former Manchester United defender failed to step up would be an understatement. Pique made just one appearance, the opening 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands, before he was unceremoniously dropped for the remainder of the tournament, per The Guardian.
The fact that Javi Martinez—naturally a defensive midfielder with just 18 caps—usurped Pique—who has amassed 64 caps—in the starting line-up speaks volumes for the disastrous nature of his performance against the Dutch.
Only Julio Cesar escaped from Brazil’s semi-final mauling at the hands of Germany with any dignity intact, but one player who’s been singled out for the defeat has been the country’s stand-in captain David Luiz.
Luiz had lived up to his reputation of being a talented yet ill-disciplined defender prior to the 7-1 defeat. His goal against Colombia highlighted his brilliant side, but he had regular captain Thiago Silva to thank for holding the fort as he repeatedly roamed forward.
Without his regular partner to cover him and facing a frontline vastly superior to what had come before, Luiz let his defensive colleagues down time and again. He completely failed to take up the mantle of organisation and leadership from Silva.
The mark of a truly world-class defender is his ability to partner anybody in defence. David Luiz demonstrated that he is not that calibre of player in the most emphatic way possible.
Now aged 34 and having amassed well over 100 caps for his country, there are few more reliable performers in international football than Barcelona’s midfield maestro Xavi. With this World Cup expected to be his final international tournament for La Roja, Spanish fans were hoping for a swansong fit for the man who won the Player of the Tournament award at Euro 2008.
In the end, he played just the one game—which may well prove to be his final international appearance—for the defending champions before being dropped and missing the final group game through injury, per The Guardian.
That one game—the 5-1 defeat to the Netherlands—was a complete disaster for both the team and Xavi personally, who looked nowhere near his best and had his lack of pace repeatedly exposed by the lightning-quick Dutch counter-attacks.
Despite being one of the better performers in Spain’s disastrous first game, Xabi Alonso suffered an ignominious possible end to his illustrious international career in Brazil.
The pressure on him to perform was increased significantly by Vicente del Bosque when he dropped Xavi for their crucial game against Chile, and it was here that the normally dependable Alonso completely crumbled.
His passing was wayward and he failed to inject the urgency into Spain’s play that they so desperately needed. Additionally, he gave the ball away for Chile’s first goal. Like Xavi, both his performance and his style made him look like a relic against the speed and verve of the opposition.
It seems strange to suggest that a player who started every game for the World Cup winners could have flopped, but in the dynamic German attack, Mesut Ozil frequently stood out like a sore thumb.
His form had been poor going into the tournament. Having started the Premier League season at Arsenal by immediately demonstrating that his £40 million fee wasn’t inflated, Ozil’s performances petered out, to the point where many felt he should be dropped.
Although he scored what proved to be the winner in the dying seconds against Algeria, Ozil’s other contributions were negligible at best.
His record of 315 completed passes looks impressive on paper. However, his pass completion rate of 79% is lower than that of teammates Philipp Lahm, Toni Kroos, Per Mertesacker, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Jerome Boateng, all of whom completed more passes as well.
There were numerous calls to drop Ozil throughout the tournament, with Die Mannschaft legend Paul Breitner among them. Even though Joachim Low was eventually vindicated in his selection, it’s hard to imagine Germany would have truly suffered had Ozil been absent.
Few players arrived in Brazil with such levels of expectation as Diego Costa. With a big-money move to Chelsea already in the works and a superb season under his belt, many felt that Costa was the man to bolster Spain’s weakest position.
It may be slightly harsh to call him a flop, given he had been struggling with injury for several weeks heading into the competition.
That said, both he and coach Vicente del Bosque deemed him fit enough to play, and there’s no getting away from the fact that he looked a shadow of the player he was earlier in the season.
In 126 minutes of play—accrued through starts in Spain’s first two games—Costa didn’t muster a single shot on target, and did more to blunt the La Roja attack than sharpen it.
Similarly to his fellow countryman David Luiz, Brazilian striker Fred has suffered through comparisons to others in his position. Luiz is the polar opposite to the dependable Thiago Silva, and Fred has been the antithesis of the country’s golden boy Neymar.
Neymar has been prolific, electrifying and dynamic, a bright spot in an otherwise uninspiring Brazilian side. Fred has become emblematic of Brazil’s massively disappointing campaign, scoring just once in six matches.
Things came to a head in Brazil’s humbling at the hands of Germany in the semi-final, where Fred again looked on an entirely different wavelength to his teammates. His appearance on the big screen following his substitution was greeted with one of the loudest boos of the night.
The striker has since retired from international football, and while it’s unfair to lay all the blame for the Selecao’s failings at his door, he must take his fair share.
Few teams went into the World Cup with such a reliance on one player as Uruguay did with Luis Suarez. Despite boasting some immensely talented players such as Edinson Cavani, there was very much the sense that without Suarez, Uruguay would struggle. That proved to be the case.
With Suarez ruled out for the South Americans’ first match, they floundered and succumbed to Costa Rica 3-1. He returned and lifted the team against England, scoring both goals and registering his team’s only efforts on target, per BBC Sport.
However, it was their decisive group game against Italy where Suarez demonstrated what has made him both one of the best players in world football and one of the most controversial. With him leading the line, Uruguay won 1-0 and qualified for the group stage.
But Suarez reared his other side, biting Giorgio Chiellini and being suspended for the rest of the tournament. Without his presence, Uruguay again looked poor, going out with a whimper against Colombia in the next round. With Suarez in the team, it could have been a very different story.