Well, it is over. And boy, was it ever fun!
Sure, it may not have been the best World Cup to look at, with all the defensive football and low-scoring games, but just like every world cup, it was memorable in so many ways.
What really stood out for me was how one or two players made the difference so many times. Whether it was Arjen Robben missing not one, but two golden opportunities to put the Netherlands ahead during the finals, or how much Thomas Müller was missed by Germany in their semi-finals, or how the lack of one quality Right-Back cost Argentina dearly (Zanetti, anyone?).
This World Cup will be remembered for the defensiveness, the goalkeeping and refereeing blunders and, of course, the vuvuzelas; however, the players on the field ultimately had to play the game. Here are the Best IX in my book.
I'll use the formation that most teams that went far in this tournament relied upon and what will become the next "it" tactic in World football, the 4-2-3-1.
GK: Iker Casillas (captain)
Two goals. That is all that got past Saint Iker. While Spain turned into an International version of Arsenal (lots of possession, no goals), Casillas never wavered, even after being berated by the media early on in the tournament. The two goals, mind you, were both quite the fluke; Yes, he came out too soon in the Switzerland goal, but Puyol was completely out of place, and the Chilean goal was deflected in. He made Spain's back four, which some people were calling the team's weak point, look like all-stars and behaved and guided his team like a true leader. (Hear that, John Terry?).
Apologies to: Eduardo (Portugal), Benaglio (Switzerland).
I could have gone with many players here, Phillip Lahm and Sergio Ramos being strong candidates, but Maicon takes the cake for being arguably Brazil's best player during what was a disappointing campaign. What most people will remember is his goal against North Korea, and while that was impressive, the way he played the game overall was what separated him from the rest. He effectively negated the left side of attack for the opponents (see how many runs Sneijder made down the left side against him. Answer: 0), he attacked with true mettle, giving Brazil a new dimension, and helped the Samba Kings have one of the stingiest defenses in the tournament.
Apologies to: Lahm (Germany), Ramos (Spain)
Don't worry, this won't turn into a Brazil love-fest, but Lucio was certainly influential as Brazil's captain and defensive leader. His strength at the back helped overshadow how weak the Brazilian midfield was at times and his runs up the field to the attacking half were truly a surprise. Who knew the Big Sheriff had such moves?
CB: Gerrard Piqué
While Spain's defense was being pointed as its weak point at the start of the tournament, Piqué grew better and better every game. Like Casillas, he allowed for the headlines to go to their more famous, attacking teammates such as Villa and Iniesta. He was never flashy, but helped Puyol look better than he was during a shaky start to the tournament, and helped Spain become champions with one of the best defenses ever in a World Cup
Apologies to: Ricardo Carvalho (Portugal), Diego Lugano (Uruguay)
LB: Fabio Coentrão
What a tournament for the young Portuguese. He could've never had the chance if Carlos Queiroz had decide to use Paulo Ferreira instead. Luckily for him and us viewers, that was one bad decision Queiroz didn't make. He was the Anti-Cristiano Ronaldo, a true dynamo who never stopped working, with bombing runs down the left side, tenacious defending, and a vision to make the right pass that would make Xavi proud.
Apologies to: Jorge Fucile (Uruguay), Ashley Cole (England)
CDM: Bastian Schweinsteiger
For as much as Özil and Müller got the headlines as the two German surprises this tournament, the bigger surprise for me was how Schweinsteiger (CTRL+C, CTRL+V, I love you) seamlessly stepped into the feet of Michael Ballack and performed superbly. A little known fact: Most people think that it was Mezut Özil who played in Ballack's position; that is not true. When Ballack went down, Schweinsteiger moved back into his position as one of the holding midfielders, and Özil then took Schweinsteiger's spot in the formation. For Schweinsteiger to perform as well as he did playing out of position shows how much he is an world-class player.
CDM: Xabi Alonso
The quiet Spaniard does it all, is barely mentioned by the broadcasters, never gets the glory, and never complains, as a true professional (I'm talking about you again, Terry). Alonso was also a big part of Spain's dominant run defensively and worked perfectly as the connector from the back four to the two creators in the midfield. I could go on for a long time talking about Alonso, so I'll say just this: During those 0-0 periods against the likes of Paraguay and the Netherlands, the best player for Spain was the one no one ever mentions. About time he got his dues.
Apologies to: Gilberto Silva (Brazil), Diego Perez (Uruguay)
A big F-U to: Van Bommel, De Jong (Netherlands), you thugs.
RM: Wesley Sneijder
A quick rule of thumb for future World Cups: If a player puts on a great performance and eliminates Brazil, chances are he'll be one of the best players in the tournament. Paolo Rossi did it, Zidane did it (twice), and now Sneijder joins the club. The Dutch needed to rely on someone while Robben was nursing his injury, and Sneijder stepped right up. Dominating the midfield and leading the Dutch to another WC final was no small feat.
Apologies to: Lionel Messi (Argentina), Dirk Kuyt (Netherlands)
CM: Andres Iniesta
What can I say about Iniesta that hasn't been said already after his performance, both during the tournament and the final match? Well, I'll try. The fact that Xavi gets all the glory at club and country (well, at least he did before this World Cup) and yet Iniesta is always clutch, which speaks of his strong mentality—and nowhere was that more evident than against the Dutch in the final. Even while facing "Hack-a-Spaniard" tactics from every Dutch defender, Iniesta kept his cool, never allowed himself to get frustrated, and in the end, it paid off big time. A finer midfielder does not exist at the moment.
Apologies to: Xavi (Spain)
LM: Thomas Müller
What's with the name Müller? It's to Germany what the name Ronaldo is in Brazil. Thomas seems to be headed down the right path, and with the company, he will be keeping in this Germany side, and considering his age, it's not hard to think he may match the mark of another Müller (Gerd) in number of World Cup goals. Many saw Müller as the revelation of this World Cup, but for those who saw him keep Klose and Gomez on the Bayern Munich bench during crucial Champions League games, his performance is not a surprise at all.
Apologies to: Mesut Özil (Germany)
ST: Diego Forlán
Forlán was the engine of the "Little Train that Could" that was Uruguay. His performances against Ghana and especially against the Netherlands (even thought they lost) were masterful. He made the German defense look shaky for the only time in the tournament when they played, and most importantly he never complained about the Jabulani, instead mastering it to make every goalkeeper look like a fool trying to stop his curling shots.
Apologies to: David Villa (Spain)
Hope you enjoyed this World Cup as much as I did, and post on the comments bellow what you thought of my selection. Disagree with something? Was your favorite player left out? Let me know down bellow.
And soon I'll be making Top Five lists of best goals, saves, among other things, so be sure to check back throughout the week.