So here it is. The best World Cup XI. It is not the first nor the last you will see as South Africa 2010 draws to a triumphant close. These are the men who, for me, have starred in their given positions in a pulsating tournament. I’ve gone with a 4-4-2 formation with obvious bias towards the sides that progressed furthest in the tournament.
Oh, and I’ve selected the worst player at each position too. There are a lot of Englishmen in that team. And Nigeria's Yakubu (above). Yes, he missed from there against South Korea.
The highly-regarded Castrol Index suggests the best defense should consist solely of Spain’s back four—they’ve certainly been tight—but that would ignore the Brazilian talents of Maicon and Lucio.
In the midfield Castrol’s statistics point to Cristian Riveros of Paraguay and Sergio Busquets of Spain. But then what about his excellent compatriot Andres Iniesta and Holland’s superb Mark van Bommel? Where would the Dutch be without him?
Up front they choose Uruguay’s Luis “Hand of God” Suarez next to Golden Boot leader David Villa. But that would ignore Suarez's posturing after the Ghana travesty. Give me his teammate Diego Forlan any day.
Castrol’s World Cup XI, scientifically selected, looks like this: Manuel Neuer (Germany), Sergio Ramos, Joan Capdevila, Gerard Pique, Carles Puyol (all Spain), Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands), Gilberto Silva (Brazil), Sergio Busquets (Spain), Cristian Riveros (Paraguay), Luis Suarez (Uruguay) and David Villa (Spain).
I’ve stuck with Capdevila, Pique, Sneijder, and Villa. But the rest? No way. Where’s Thomas Mueller? And only one Dutchman? This isn’t science, it’s sport. And my side would give Castrol’s lot a right tonking.
Three games, 270 minutes. Club: Hapoel Tel Aviv. Born: 29 August, 1982.
Iker Casillas may be the natural choice given Spain’s advancement to its first ever World Cup final, but there was no better stopper in South Africa during the group stages. Enyeama single-handedly kept Lionel Messi and Argentina in check with a series of saves at Ellis Park, and the Israel-based No. 1 is surely in line for a major move after the tournament.
Already scrutinized by Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, Enyeama was unable to lift Nigeria to the knockout stages—but that’s hardly his fault. The same could be said of Ghana’s Richard Kingson.
Worst goalkeeper: England’s Robert Green. One game, one blunder. And that was it.
Five games, 450 minutes. Club: Inter Milan. Born: 25 July, 1981.
Maicon gets the nod at No. 2 ahead of German captain Philipp Lahm and Spain’s Sergio Ramos purely for his ability to change games as a wing-back. Not only did he score that brilliant narrow-angle goal against North Korea, he also managed six shots on target in his five games and was effective as both a defender and an extra attacker. One of four Inter Champions League winners in my selections.
Worst right back: Jonathan Spector of the US. Plenty of chat, not much defending.
Six games, 540 minutes. Club: Villarreal. Born: 3 February, 1978.
Capdevila, a converted midfielder, was one of the mainstays of Spain’s Euro 2008 triumph and has been a revelation in South Africa. After Spain's opening defeat against Switzerland, the Spanish back four have risen steadily in the scientific Castrol rankings, and the big six-footer has made it this far without a single yellow card.
While Sergio Ramos has also excelled down the right side, Capedevila has barely put a wrong foot down the left.
Dutch captain Giovanni van Bronckhorst is worth a mention at this stage. His superb semifinal goal will be long remembered, but the choice has to be Capdevila. For Capdevila, part of the Spanish silver-medal winning Olympic squad way back at Sydney 2000, a World Cup triumph at Soccer City would seal a phenomenal rise.
Worst left back: South Africa’s Lucas Thwala. Out-classed against Mexico and axed.
Five games, 450 minutes. Club: Inter Milan. Born: 8 May, 1978.
Sorry, I can’t go with the concept of all four Spaniards in my World XI defense. Lucio is simply magnificent. The way he dealt with Cristiano Ronaldo in the dull 0-0 draw between Portugal and Brazil to decide Group G in Durban was quite magnificent. Lucio, with 96 international caps, also managed to avoid a single yellow card in the tournament.
Exactly how 5'7" Wesley Sneijder managed to head in the decisive Dutch goal in the Port Elizabeth quarterfinal we will never know. That blip aside, Lucio—with Juan so strong beside him for the Selecao—has proven at the club and international levels he is the best centre-back in the game. I’ve seen nothing in South Africa to change that view.
The 6'3" defender can play a bit too, as he proved with Jose Mourinho’s Champions League winning Inter outfit last season.
Worst centre back: England’s John Terry. Distracted, sluggish, awful.
Six games, 540 minutes. Club: Barcelona. Born: 2 February, 1987.
Sir Alex Ferguson was the first to recognize Pique’s considerable talents. At just 17 he was whisked away from the Barcelona academy to Old Trafford. He won the Premier League and Champions League with Manchester United but returned home to Barca in 2008.
Since then, he has gone from strength to strength, a rock defensively and blessed with surprisingly quick feet for a 6'4" giant. And he’s still only 23. With the equally effective but less statuesque Carles Puyol beside him, history beckons.
Worst centre back: William Gallas. Like the rest of the French team, he just didn’t look up for it.
Five games, 437 minutes. Club: Barcelona. Born: 11 May, 1984.
Does anybody have better feet at this tournament? Sure Lionel Messi goes on those crazy runs and Cristiano Ronaldo can throw a mean step-over, but Iniesta carries more weight and rides more tackles. With just one goal so far for Iniesta, Soccer City on Sunday may provide the defining moment in his career.
Iniesta is surrounded by considerable talent in Sergio Busquets, Xavi, and Xabi Alonso, but for me he is the man to unlock defenses; Vincente del Bosque’s side is too precise in its build-up, and Iniesta is the only one prepared to take a risk.
Keisuke Honda of Japan deserves a mention at this point. Great tournament. Sad to see them go out in a boring last 16 tie against Paraguay.
Worst midfielder: Cristiano Ronaldo. Probably the greatest disappointment of this World Cup.
Six games, 540 minutes. Club: Bayern Munich. Born: 22 April, 1977.
Forget your fancy-pants midfielders. Kaka really was kak for Brazil while van Bommel made things tick for the Dutch. His physicality and hard work behind Wesley Sneijder has gotten tiny Holland to the final.
In the 3-2 semifinal win over Uruguay, Van Bommel never stopped—he was still repelling Latin Americans with some gusto after the final whistle. So vital to the Oranje cause, he has 62 caps and 10 goals to his name despite a brief international retirement that saw him miss Euro 2008. Never a great fan of Marco van Basten, he thrives under Bert van Marwijk.
Now for that World Cup winners’ medal.
Worst midfielder: Frank Lampard. So effective for Chelsea, so limp for England.
Six games, 532 minutes. Club: Inter Milan. Born: 9 June, 1984.
What a tournament for the 5'7" Dutch dynamo. Five goals, including THAT header against Brazil, and four Man of the Match awards. His free kicks may not be as effective with the ultra-light Jabulani ball, but Sneijder appears capable of tearing any side apart right now.
Rejected by Real Madrid last season and sold to Inter for half the price they paid Ajax, he went on to win the Champions League at the Bernabeu in May. Now he stands ready to embarrass the whole of Spain at Soccer City.
Worst midfielder: Italy’s Gennaro Gattuso. Not the winner he was four years ago. Not by a long shot.
Five games, 383 minutes. Club: Bayern Munich. Born: 13 September 1989.
Unquestionably the find of the tournament. Mueller is just 20, but his four goals in this tournament did so much to make a young German side thrive without injured captain Michael Ballack. Not many teams score four goals in a game three times in one World Cup.
Mueller’s suspension for the semifinal against Spain was crucial in Germany’s failure to reach Soccer City. Mueller will be around for years to come. And as any England fan will tell you, he can destroy a nation at will. Just like that other Muller, Gerd.
Worst midfielder: Steven Pienaar. Everton’s player of the year failed to inspire South Africa.
Six games, 529 minutes. Club: Barcelona. Born: 3 December, 1981.
Ghana’s heart-broken Asamoah Gyan deserves an honourable mention at this point, but it’s impossible to put him ahead of Villa, the man who spear-headed Spain’s trip to the semifinals. With out-of-form Fernando Torres (right, above, with Villa) reduced to the role of on-looker, Villa came up with the vital quarterfinal strike to defeat Paraguay.
Curiously quiet in the semifinal win over Germany, with five goals Villa still looks to be the favourite for the golden boot—before he starts his big new career with Barcelona next season.
Worst striker: Nigeria’s Yevgeny Yakubu. That miss against South Korea will never be forgotten.
Neal Collins is in South Africa to promote his book A GAME APART. For more details see www.nealcollins.co.uk.
Six games, 564 minutes. Club: Atletico Madrid. Born: 19 May, 1979.
Nobody at this World Cup carried more on his shoulders than forlorn Forlan did. He took 28 games and nearly eight months to score his first goal as a youngster at Manchester United. But since his move to La Liga he’s been scoring for fun. He got four here as he attempted to carry his side to the final on his own.
While Brazil and Argentina slipped away, there was Diego, desperately trying to get the better of Holland with Luis Suarez suspended after THAT handball against Ghana. Curiously Forlan was pulled off with 10 minutes to go in that epic 3-2 semifinal defeat. Then we were told he’d played through injury. What a bloke.
Worst striker: England’s Wayne Rooney. Absolutely dreadful. The new Pele? Hah!