So here it is. The best World Cup XI. 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 during a pulsating tournament. I’ve gone for 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 in each position too. Lots of Englishmen in that team.
The highly-regarded Castrol Index suggests the best defence should consist solely of Spain’s back four – they’ve certainly been tight – but that would be to 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 Sergio’s excellent compatriot Andres Iniesta and Holland’s mighty Mark van Bommel? Where would the Dutch be without him?
Up front, they choose Uruguay’s Luiz “Hand of God” Suarez next to golden boot leader David Villa. But that would be to ignore his posturing after the Ghana travesty. Give me his team-mate Diego Forlan any day.
Castrol’s World Cup XI, scientifically selected, looks like this: Manuel Nueur (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).
My definitive World Cup XI: Enyeama (Nigeria), Maicon (Brazil) Capdevila (Spain), Lucio (Brazil), Piquet (Spain); Iniesta (Spain), Van Bommel (Neth), Sneijder (Neth), Mueller (Germ); Forlan (Urg), Villa (Spain).
The worst? Green (England), Spector (US), Thwale (SA), Terry (Eng), Gallas (France), Ronaldo (Portugal), Lampard (England), Gattuso (Italy), Pienaar (SA), Rooney (Eng), Yakubu (Nigeria).
I’ve stuck with Capdevila, Pique, Sneijder and Villa. But the rest? No way. Where’s Thomas Mueller for a start... and only one Dutchman? This isn’t science, it’s sport. And my side would give Castrol’s lot a right tonking.
GOALKEEPER: Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria)
Three games, 270 minutes. Club: Hapoel Tel Aviv. Born: 29 August, 1982.
Iker Casillas may be the natural choice given Spain’s progress to a first ever World Cup final, but there was no better stopper on show 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 No1 is surely in line for a major move after the tournament. Already scrutinised by Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger, Enyeama was unable to lift Nigeria to the knock-out 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.
RIGHT BACK: Maicon (Brazil)
Five games, 450 minutes. Club: Inter Milan. Born: 25 July, 1981.
Maicon gets the nod at No2 ahead of German captain Phillip 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 he was effective as both defender and an extra attacker. One of three Inter Champions League winners in my selection – Barcelona also boast three.
Worst right back: Jonathan Spektor of the US. Plenty of chat, not much defending.
LEFT BACK: Joan Capdevila (Spain)
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 that opening defeat against Switzerland, the Spanish back four have risen steadily in the scientific Castrol rankings but the big six-footer has made it this far without a single yellow card. While Sergio Ramos has also excelled down the right, Capedevila has barely put a foot wrong down the left. Dutch captain Gio van Bronckhorst is worth a mention at this stage. His superb semi-final goal will be long remembered. But it has to be 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 Thwale. Out-classed against Mexico and axed.
CENTRE BACK: Lucio (Brazil)
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 defence. Lucio is simply magnificent. The way he dealt with Cristiano Ronaldo in the dull 0-0 draw between Portugal and Brazil when they met to decide Group G in Durban was quite magnificent. Lucio, with 96 international caps, also managed to avoid a singled yellow card in the tournament. Quite how 5ft 7in Wesley Sneijder managed to get in to head the decisive Dutch goal in the Port Elizabeth quarter-final we will never know. That blip apart, Lucio – with Juan so strong beside him for the Selecao - has proven at club and international level he is the best centre-back in the game. I’ve seen nothing to change that view. The 6ft 3in 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.
CENTRE BACK: Gerard Piquet (Spain)
Six games, 540 minutes. Club: Barcelona. Born: 2 February, 1987.
Sir Alex Ferguson was the first to recognise Piquet’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 6ft 4in 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, just didn’t look up for it.
MIDFIELD: Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Five games, 437 minutes. Club: Barcelona. Born: 11 May, 1984.
Has anybody got better feet at this tournament? Sure Lionel Messi goes on those mazy runs and Cristiano Ronaldo can throw a mean step-over but Iniesta carries more weight, rides more tackles. With just one goal so far, Soccer City on Sunday may provide the defining moment in his career. Iniesta is surrounded by considerable talent in Busquets, Xavi and Alonso, but for me he is the man to unlock defences; Vincente del Bosque’s side are too precise in their build-up, 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.
MIDFIELD: Mark van Bommel (Netherlands)
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 got tiny Holland to the final. In the 3-2 semi-final win over Uruguay, Van Bommel never stopped – he was still repelling Latin Americans after the final whistle with some gusto. 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.
MIDFIELD: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Six games, 532 minutes. Club: Inter Milan. Born: 9 June, 1984.
What a tournament for the 5ft 7in 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 Genarro Gattuso. Not the winner he was four years ago. Not by a long chalk.
MIDFIELD: Thomas Mueller (Germany)
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 semi-final against Spain was crucial to 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: Steve Pienaar. Everton’s player of the year failed to inspire South Africa.
STRIKER: Diego Forlan (Uruguay)
Six games, 564 minutes. Club: Atletico Madrid. Born: 19 May, 1979.
Nobody at this World Cup carried more on his shoulders than forlorn Forlan. 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 sloped away, there was Diego, desperately trying to get the better of Holland with Luiz Suarez suspended after THAT handball against Ghana. Curiously Forlan was pulled off with ten minutes to go in that epic 3-2 semi-final 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!
STRIKER: David Villa (Spain)
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 progress to the semi-finals. With out-of-form Fernando Torres reduced to the role of on-looker, Villa came up with the vital quarter-final strike to defeat Paraguay. Curiously quiet in the semi-final win over Germany, Villa still looks 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.