ZM’s World Cup 2010 Best XI

July 19, 2010

The first XI, in the 4-2-3-1 formation that dominated the tournament

This was the tournament in which many of the big names failed to perform, but few of this XI were unknowns before the tournament started.

No rules about number of players per country, here’s ZM’s all-star XI.

Eduardo, Portugal

Eduardo had a tremendous domestic season for FC Braga, who were kings of the 1-0 win, and he continued that form into this tournament. He made several key saves, and only conceded one goal in four games – and even that goal, David Villa’s in the Spain game, Eduardo had saved the first attempt. He was the final goalkeeper to be beaten in the tournament. His performances have earned him a move to Serie A, where he will be between the posts for Genoa next season.

Philip Lahm, Germany

The archetypal full-back. Positionally excellent and good defensively, but keen to get forward and good on the ball. Comfortable on either flank, his return to the right-back position seems to have brought the best out of him at both club and international level, and he stuck to the right even when Jerome Boateng was selected. Lahm has been one of the best players in the tournament for the second World Cup running – can any other player say that?

Carles Puyol, Spain

Started slowly in the defeat to Switzerland, but was superb after that. Often given too little credit despite being a top-class defender for the last decade – he’s sometimes unfairly characterized as a player who owes his status more to hard work than natural talent. His attitude is certainly spot on, but this should not detract from the fact that he is a brilliant natural defender – yes, he’s rugged and sometimes a little scrappy, and he sometimes looks a yard short of pace, but it’s also an excellent reader of the game and composed on the ball. His winner against Germany was a nice moment – his first international goal of any real importance.

Ricardo Carvalho, Portugal

Incredible. Has been a first-rate defender for many years, but his performances in this tournament were even more assured than usual. His anticipation skills and aerial ability were obvious throughout, and he seems to be more inclined to stay on his feet these days – his occasional rash tackles were the one downside to his game. Also charged forward to launch attacks from deep, vital in a Portugal side that lacked driving runs from the centre of midfield. The Carvalho-Alves defensive partnership was the best of the tournament.

Fabio Coentrao, Portugal

The most impressive thing about Coentrao’s display was that he looked like a natural left-back. As a recently-converted winger, his defensive abilities were questioned before the tournament, but he was rarely beaten by opposing wingers. He retains his attacking instinct – his incredible acceleration and fitness levels means he was a constant outlet on the left, and he’ll be a very good full-back for years to come.

Xavi, Spain

Not at his best and yet still worthy of a place in the tournament’s best XI – that sums up what an incredible footballer Xavi is. His position in the centre of the three attacking players in a 4-2-3-1 is probably not his favoured role – he can’t see as much of the pitch as he can from a deeper midfield position. But Spain won the tournament essentially by keeping the ball, and there’s no-one better in the world at that than Xavi. His performance in the semi-final against Germany was one of the best individual displays of the tournament – he controlled the game, playing more passes than any other player, running further than any other player, and providing the assist for Carles Puyol’s goal. Also completed more passes and created more chances than any other player in the tournament.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany

Schweinsteiger, Oezil and Muller celebrate their place in ZM's best XI

Schweinsteiger has finally lived up to his promise. In truth, however, no-one expected him to be an intelligent, creative and solid central midfielder – he even seemed to take Joachim Loew by surprise in how well he played at this tournament. He was man-of-the-match in the best team performance of the tournament, Germany’s 4-0 win over Argentina when Loew said, ”He was fabulous, I have to say. An extremely hard worker. He ran long distances, was a leader, the head of the whole set-up. He was the linchpin in every attack we had. The way he set up Arne Friedrich was second to none. You couldn’t do that better, going through three or four players then feigning a pass and cutting out their defenders. A magnificent performance.” He was similarly brilliant against England.

Mesut Oezil, Germany

Deployed in an advanced playmaker position that opponents found difficult to pick up, Oezil turned in the first top-class performance of the tournament against Australia, and scored a cracking goal in the crucial final group game against Ghana. Both England and Argentina gave him too much space and were punished, before he failed to make an impact against Spain, as his side were starved of the ball. Able to dribble, pass or shoot, Oezil is a very good player technically, but his true brilliance comes from his intelligence – his positioning and movement allow him and his teammates space and time on the ball, and that resulted in some great counter-attacking goals from Germany.

Thomas Mueller, Germany

A World Cup Golden Ball winner at just 20, Mueller was the revelation of the tournament. Used behind the main striker at Bayern, the right-wing position he played here with Germany seems to suit him far more. His star performance was in the 4-1 thrashing of England where he scored two and created another, and he also started the rout against Argentina with a header. The booking that prevented him playing in the semi-final was one of the tournament’s low points, but also gave us a taste of Mueller’s professionalism; he went over to shake the hand of the referee (who had harshly denied him a chance of competing in the biggest game of his life) before being substituted.

David Villa, Spain

Villa was uncharacteristically quiet in Spain’s semi-final against Germany and the final against Holland after being moved forward into a central striking role where he struggled with his back to goal. But it is not unreasonable to suggest that Spain wouldn’t have got that far without Villa. After the quarter-final, Spain had scored six goals – Villa had scored five and assisted the other. His drifts in from the left flank were extremely difficult for opposition defences to stop, and his finishing was as sublime as ever.

Diego Forlan, Uruguay

Deservedly awarded FIFA’s Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament. Five goals is the headline figure, but Forlan’s contribution to his side’s performance was more complex than that – he dropped into deep positions and provided the creativity that was lacking from Uruguay’s central midfield area. He also played a variety of positions  as Oscar Tabarez changed his formation throughout the tournament – as the furthest-forward striker against France, as an enganche against Mexico, and something in-between against South Korea. He played each role to perfection.

A reserve XI in the style of Marcelo Bielsa's Chile, the most interesting formation of the tournament - 3-3-1-3

To complete the 23-man squad:

Manuel Neuer – Some good saves and no notable mistakes.

Iker Casillas – Made a big mistake in the opening game against Switzerland, but was only beaten once in six games afterwards, and that was via a wicked deflection against Chile.

Joris Mathijsen – The unsung hero in Holland’s run to the final, where he was probably their best player.

Ryan Nelsen - Turned in three incredible displays as the spare man in a three-man defence for New Zealand – the only unbeaten team in the competition.

Diego Lugano – Good positionally and composed on the ball. He started the first five games and Uruguay only conceded a single goal when he was on the pitch – then he was injured for the semi-final and they conceded three in one game.

Mauricio Isla – Energetic, pacey, good on the ball – everything Marcelo Bielsa wants from his players

Carlos SalcidoHis performance against France was the best full-back display of the competition – he was constantly an out-ball and played high up the pitch, stretching the play.

Sergio BusquetsSolid, reliable, unfussy, disciplined. Etc.

Andres Iniesta - Tended to drift in and out of games, but provided some great touches, including the most important one of the tournament.

Wesley Sneijder – Was actually quite underwhelming for most of the competition and his performances have been overrated by many, but deserves a mention for his goal count, even if a couple were rather fortunate.

Lionel Messi – Sadly played deeper than he would have liked, but the extent to which he dominated games was incredible.

Asamoah Gyan – Ran the channels tirelessly, in a lone striker role where he often lacked support, and his pace created chances out of nothing.

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