Today I’ll be unveiling my Best XI from this past month’s football party in Brazil, so without further Freddy Adu, here they are:
Mascherano (ARG) – Hummels (BRA) – Yepes (COL) – Lahm (GER)
Schweinsteiger (GER) – Cuadrado (COL) – Shaqiri (SUI) – Kroos (GER)
Muller (GER) – James (COL)
MGR: Herrera (MEX)
GK – Manuel Neuer – No brainer here – 25 saves, 4 goals, 82.2% pass completion rate (including ridiculous long balls he accurately hoofed up to his forwards!). Has exemplified the term “sweeper-keeper” throughout the tournament, just check out his heat map from Die Mannschaft’s match against Algeria:
The caption from Squawka Football has it spot on, it looks like it could be a defender’s. The guy just has otherworldly reflexes and impeccable command of his area. He may go on to eclipse the legendary Oliver Kahn in the pantheon of German goalkeeping. Which may not sit well with Oli, he was a very aggressive man:
RB – Javier Mascherano – Another consensus choice is the Argentinean enforcer. Literally held the squad together when it looked like they wanted to implode, and carried them on his shoulders to the final. Messi may have scored the lion’s share of the team’s goals but without Mascherano’s impressive marking, stout defensive work, and organization of a steady backline they likely would not have had the chance to play for the Cup.
CB – Mats Hummels – Popped up with two important, and confidence-inspiring, goals, played flawlessly at the back, and was tidy in doing so. Hummels played the maximum number of matches in the tournament, and only committed four fouls the entire time. For a bruiser of a center back to go the entire tournament and only commit four fouls is a testament to his tidy play, intelligent passing, and remarkable positioning, somehow always at the right spot at the right time.
CB- Mario Yepes – At 38, Mario Yepes was the oldest outfield player (only outdone by his compatriot Faryd Mondragon at the ripe age of 43 in being the oldest player at this World Cup, period) and yet looked like he was some sort of sorcerer- what with his crazed look and flowing locks, able to turn back the clocks and channel his youthful self. Yepes anchored a Colombian defense that went largely unnoticed for their stellar work as the likes of James Rodriguez (who’s looking to parlay his performance into a massive payday and an introduction to superstardom with Real Madrid), Juan Cuadrado, Juan Sebastien Quintero, and Victor Ibarbo impressed on the attacking side of the ball. He was integral in Colombia’s run to the quarters, where they were harshly dispatched by a, frankly, lucky Brazilian side and were unfortunate to not continue their party in Samba-land. I have a bit of a thing for defenders, especially those who defend like ancient warriors (Giorgio Chiellini, Fabio Cannavaro, Paolo Maldini, John Terry, etc.) and Yepes fits this bill perfectly. It’s a shame that a player so passionate about his country and the national team, in a world climate where players seemingly appear annoyed at the prospect of representing their country, was only able to take part in one World Cup – but I guess that’s what happens when you have to qualify from a region like CONMEBOL (South America’s football confederation). Thanks for the memories Mario.
LB – Philip Lahm – Germans: Tall, strong, powerful. Philip Lahm: Small, agile, faster than a coked-up rabbit. Lahm is an anomaly for a German athlete when thinking about their stereotypical build, but he is just as indispensable as the big bruisers Die Mannschaft can call upon. Played a chunk of the tournament in midfield, but it was his move back to his natural position of outside back that helped the Germans assert their dominance. He’s comfortable with the ball at his feet distributing from the back – as evidenced in his stint in the midfield, he’s got great recovery speed, and can hit a fantastic long ball. Definitely made Germany more dynamic when moved to the backline, as the four centerback experiment that Germany had tried did make them look a little lumbering and cumbersome at times. At 30 years of age, he may be a bit long in the tooth by the time Russia 2018 comes around, but for what it’s worth, there isn’t a better outside back within the German setup that could unseat him – if he’s fit, he may well be making the short trek to Mother Russia for the next iteration.
MF – Bastian Schweinsteiger – The prototypical box-to-box midfielder, capable of defending in his own third and then springing forward to support the attack, and he showed his prowess throughout the tournament. Alongside Khedira, he ran the show for Germany both in providing attack impetus for the team, but also providing a steel curtain in front of the back four that was nearly impenetrable, besides their collective brainfart against Ghana. Another Teuton who may be considered sportingly “elderly” come Russia 2018, but so long as another young prodigy doesn’t come through the German setup and displaces him, expect him to grace the pitches in Russia and push for a fifth German World Cup title.
MF – Juan Cuadrado – Now, Colombia may not have qualified for a World Cup since 1994 and after enduring that atrocious campaign and the horrific slaying of Andres Escobar, they firmly placed themselves back in the limelight of the international stage. 20 years without qualifying for a World Cup would usually describe an underperforming side or a country without much of a footballing pedigree. In this case, you’d be dead wrong. Colombia has been an enigma in qualifying for the World Cup, but a lot has to be said for their federation (CONMEBOL) which boasts footballing powerhouses such as Brazil, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, as well as respectable programs in Paraguay, Ecuador, and Venezuela. As only four teams qualify from the group and one plays off against the Asian federation, there’s always a strong possibility that a strong team may miss out on the party. Cuadrado chipped in with a goal and four assists and was the brains behind the explosive and exciting Colombian attack. Los Cafeteros looked absolutely menacing any time the ball was at Cuadrado’s feet and watching him jink through defenses was a sight to behold. Those bouncy dreadlocks were a welcome addition as well, he must use Pantene.
MF – Xherdan Shaqiri – Although they bowed out fairly timidly to Argentina in the Round of 16, aside from their 2-minute push at the end of extra-time, the little bull that Shaqiri is showed a lot of promise and may be a bright spot for the Swiss in the coming tournaments. Chipped in with 3 goals against lowly Honduras, but I loved his direct play, taking defenders on and not being afraid to put the ball on frame. As he’s not the tallest player, he relies on his superior strength, low center of gravity, and a tenacious attitude to win the ball and keep it. His stature is similar to that of one Diego Armando Maradona, and we all know the magic he created. Hopefully his strong outing in the tournament can find him regular playing time either at Bayern or at pastures new, but one thing is for sure, the Swiss Federation will be hoping he does find regular time and can blossom into a true global superstar come Russia 2018.
MF – Toni Kroos – Another easy pick here as Kroos was the lead orchestrator for his compatriots, supplying 2 goals and assisting on a further 4, including the all important extra-time winner from Mario Götze. Real Madrid have snapped him up and look to have a tidy attack minded midfielder with splendid technical ability, can hit a fantastic dead ball, and has an eye for goal. One of five Germans in my Best XI, better believe they’ll be back for more in Russia.
FW – Thomas Müller – Frighteningly full of energy in the attacking third, this guy can high press with the best of the them, his finishing – otherworldly – leading the Germans with 5 strikes. One German (Miroslav Klose) just broke Ronaldo’s (the Brazilian one – and yes he did purposely cut his hair that way , not the pretty one) record for most goals scored at the World Cup Finals, but Müller may be right behind him in taking that title. He’s already got 10 goals in two World Cups annnnnnnd he’s only 24. If he keeps up his current strike rate he’s on track to hit his 15th in Russia. Who’s to say he doesn’t have another one in his pocket at the final in Moscow? However many he scores, he’s a lock to be there in 2018 and we may well see a record broken twice in consecutive World Cups…
FW – James Rodriguez – Last, but certainly not least is the Colombian delight, James (pronounced Ha-mess). He produced what was, in my opinion, the goal of the tournament – power, precision, technical ability, body control, it’s all there in that wonder volley from distance. Outside of coming up with highlight reel goals, he was always on the move finding dangerous spaces, and whenever he had the ball at his feet, it felt as if Colombia were really dangerous. His technical ability is amazing, the volley previously mentioned perfectly encapsulating his skill, but his ability to affect games from other areas of the pitch is what stands out to me. He’s not only a great striker, but he can playmake as well, something becoming increasingly en vogue in the football world recently. Another star for the future, and we’ll be seeing him strut his stuff next to Ronaldo for Los Blancos in the coming season, let’s keep our fingers crossed Colombia is on the world’s stage again come 2018.
I wasn’t sure that I was going to pick a manager, but when I thought about it after selecting the team, I thought to myself that there really is no other choice than one man, Miguel Herrera of Mexico, and the man needs his recognition not only for bringing a plucky Mexican team to the brink of the quarterfinals – one that scraped into the World Cup by the skin of their teeth and the noggin’ of Graham Zusi:
But also captured our hearts with his passion, crazed sideline antics, and his ‘zero f***s given’ attitude when it came to getting soaked during the match against Cameroon. Case in point, and point, and point. The man is passionate and unbeknownst to me until researching for this post, once had an absolutely glorious, feathered mullet during his days with El Tri. Wow. Just, wow. The man has become even more of a legend in my book with that revelation.
Well that about sums up my take on the best of this version of the Greatest Event on Earth. Who would you include in your XI? Agree or disagree with any of my selections? Think Miguel Herrera might explode during one of his goal celebrations? Wait, he already did!!
Hands clasped we pray for olé!