With a week of the World Cup completed it’s time to reflect on the tournament and discuss our Best XI from the group games thus far.
Brazil 2014 has certainly lived up to the hype with an all-round emphasis on attacking play providing goals galore and numerous come-from-behind victories. Fortune has favoured the brave and after the defence-dominated at-times sterile 2010 competition in South Africa, the positive approach shown by most teams has been thoroughly refreshing and has reminded us of how enjoyable a festival of the beautiful game can be.
To reflect the nature of the tournament I’ve plumped for a highly adventurous – and slightly kamikaze – 3-2-3-2 formation featuring two attacking defenders because when I assembled a list of players who have impressed it was overwhelmingly dominated by attacking players.
I’m sure you’ll disagree with some of my picks but there can be no disputing the attacking flavour it should have.
Perhaps the only person happier than Mexico manager Miguel Herrera after his goalkeeper’s superb performance which frustrated Brazil and earned El Tri a valuable point was Guillermo Ochoa’s agent.
The 28-year-old made a string of fine stops, the pick an outstanding save at full stretch to deny Neymar – which inevitably inspired unimaginative comparisons with Gordon Banks’ save from Pele in 1970 – and his man-of-the-match display will have alerted clubs to his pedigree and his availability as a free agent.
A proposed move to PSG collapsed in 2011 after his part in a drugs scandal – for which he was later exonerated – and favourites to sign him Marseilles may find they now have other bigger clubs to fend off to secure his signature.
Honourable mention: Claudio Bravo (Chile)
Although England’s equaliser came from Wayne Rooney scampering down the flank which he had left unguarded, in keeping with the tournament so far we’re going to reward Italy’s Matteo Darmian for his attacking thrusts with a spot on the right-hand side of our defence. Winning only his second cap, the Torino man was undoubtedly aided in his numerous forays forward by Rooney’s lack of defensive diligence but Darmian had the pace, guile and sense of adventure to take full advantage of the situation.
Although tempted to omit him for his reckless challenge on Javier Hernandez which may have resulted in a sending-off if their roles had been reversed, Thiago Silva has otherwise been his usual imperious self. The Brazil captain has the additional task of ensuring David Luiz doesn’t suffer any brain-freezes beside him and yet he still manages to provide authority and he simply oozes class.
Although less impressive, along with most of his team-mates, in the narrow win over Australia, Daley Blind takes the spot on the left-hand side of the defence for his part in the Netherlands dismantling of Spain. The Ajax man’s laser-guided passes to release Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben for the Dutch equaliser and second goal, his last-ditch tackle from nowhere to deny Fernando Torres a late consolation and his all-round assuredness in possession were hugely impressive.
The predictable reports linking him with a move to Old Trafford with his current national team boss may be a little wide of the mark but Blind is a 24-year-old who has the potential to play in one of Europe’s biggest leagues.
Honourable mentions: Rafael Marquez (Mexico), Raphael Varane (France), Ezequiel Garay (Argentina)
The dummy, the bamboozling free-kick, the trademark composure, comfort and creativity in possession – case closed for Andrea Pirlo’s inclusion.
Supposedly not fully fit after minor surgery just weeks ago – and his early withdrawal in Chile’s win over Australia supports that theory – Arturo Vidal’s all-action display in helping condemn Spain to a humiliating early exit earns him a place alongside his Juventus club-mate in midfield.
A genuine box-to-box midfielder with bite in the tackle and a real threat in the opposing penalty area, Vidal’s varied passing range marks him out as complete midfielder and he can drive this hugely impressive Chile team deep into the tournament.
Honourable mentions: Luka Modric (Croatia), Ivan Rakitic (Croatia), Paul Pogba (France)
He’s always been a world-class talent but it is perhaps only in the last couple of years that Arjen Robben is beginning to receive the plaudits that his rare talents and consistently excellent displays deserve. Instrumental in ripping Spain’s defence to shreds and scoring his third with another superb solo strike against Australia, the Bayern Munich man has also assumed a leadership role in this young Dutch team, displaying a maturity and commitment to a team ethic not always associated with his unflattering public persona.
Some players just love the spotlight, the pressure and the uniqueness of tournament football and Thomas Muller has already confirmed that he is one of those. Top scorer in South Africa four years ago when he announced his talent on the biggest of stages as a 20-year-old, the German’s hat-trick against Portugal showcased his knack for finding space and the ball in the penalty area and his calm, clinical finishing.
This column is already deeply regretting not having a sniff at 33/1 for him to walk away with the Golden Boot once more.
Out on the left but with the licence to scamper off in whichever direction his lightning-quick legs want to take him, is Alexis Sanchez. The Barcelona player’s combination of an ability to dribble at speed and also to time his runs into space behind opposing defences at-times tormented Spain while his sharpness in front of goal was demonstrated to some effect against Australia.
The type of player who gets fans on their feet and gives opposing defenders nightmares.
Honourable mentions: Oscar (Brazil), Lionel Messi (Argentina), Raheem Sterling (England), Jamie Rodriguez (Colombia)
Not a player whose level of performance can always be relied upon but Karim Benzema’s display against Honduras earns him a spot up front. With the late withdrawal of Franck Ribery placing much of the attacking onus on the Real Madrid man, he responded with a match-winning turn and his goals will be key to France’s hopes of having a successful tournament after the disgrace of four years ago.
Joining Benzema up front is Robin Van Persie. The Manchester United striker’s wonderful lobbed diving header over Iker Casillas provided the most iconic moment of the World Cup so far and the Netherlands will miss him badly in their group decider against Chile after he picked up his second booking against the Socceroos.
Back to his razor-sharp best, Van Persie is clearly thriving under the stewardship of Louis Van Gaal and on this form will be a huge threat to any defence.
Honourable mentions: Neymar (Brazil), Tim Cahill (Australia), Joel Campbell (Costa Rica)
Manager: Impossible to split the Netherlands’ Louis Van Gaal and Chile’s Jorge Sampaoli for their tactical masterclass and unwavering faith in their system respectively in their briliant wins over Spain.
Honourable mention: Ottmar Hitzfeld(Switzerland) – two substitutions, two goals!
Cian O’Callaghan, Pundit Arena.