Sunday, July 09, 2006

Team of the Tournament

As is customary among football critics/ pundits/ journalists/ commentators (yes I consider myself among this crowd!) I shall here and now make up my team of the tournament thus far. This could possibly change after the final game, if someone puts on an amazing performance in the final who hasn't been included among my team they may yet force their way in. The World Cup Final is the biggest stage of all so brilliant performances count for more there.

Goalkeeper:

Buffon (Italy): Pulled off a series of amazing saves and has only been beaten once, this by a fluke Gilardino own goal for which he had no chance. He has been consistently brilliant throughout - a little like Kahn 4 years ago, although lets hope he doesn't do a Kahn in the World Cup Final and undo much of his good work by being at fault for the oppositions opening goal!

Note: A very important part of a goalkeepers game, often overlooked, but to which I subscribe to - having been alerted to this fact a few years ago when I heard Schmeichal talk about it - is to organise the defence. As Schmeichal said, if the keeper has no saves to make he's done his job even better because he's got the defenders working well in front of him. Buffon has also been exemplary in this regard although he does have an excellent defence in front of him who could probably perform that job anyway!

Second Choice: Jens Lehmann (Germany) who has had a sterling tournament.

Honourable mentions: Kawaguchi (Japan) who pulled off some fabulous saves in the group stages, Petr Cech (Czech Republic) who had a magical game against Ghana and could have been in line for the keeper of the tournament award had his side progressed a few stages further, and Ricardo (Portugal) who was mammoth in the penalty shoot-out against England as well as pulling off crucial saves in normal time, particularly against Holland and Germany.

Right back:

Zambrotta (Italy): Yet again demonstrated his class especially bombing forward but also in the bread and butter jobs of the defence.

Second Choice: Willy Sagnol (France): Performed consistently well throughout the tournament with only one or two small mistakes noticeable.

Honourable mention: Cafu (Brazil) - an elder statesman of the game who never fails to impress.

Centre backs (pick 2):

Cannavaro (Italy): An absolutely immense tournament - hasn't put a foot wrong so far, my player of the tournament without question thus far.

Thuram (France): Has played well all World Cup but gets in to the team by virtue of his semi-final performance against Portugal.

Second Choices: Ayala (Argentina): I nearly put him in the team ahead of Thuram but with so little between them the defining factor came down to the facts that Argentina were eliminated in the quarters, and also that he was one of the unfortunate ones to miss a penalty in the shoot-out against Germany.

Lucas Neill (Australia): Also not a popular choice I imagine but this man rarely put a foot wrong. Just like his fellow centre-back Craig Moore (Aus)

Honourable mention: Marquez (Mexico) - Always led from the front and played exceptionally against Argentina in the second round including scoring a goal. The only blot on his copybook was conceding the penalty against Portugal.

Left back:

Phillip Lahm (Germany): A vintage tournament from Lahm who scored the first goal of the tournament with a cracker and who looked great overlapping on the flanks in each game. His defending was great bar a couple of mistakes against Ecuador, and showed his versatility in the 3rd/4th play off playing right back.

Second choice: Miguel (Portugal): A physical player who impressed going forward and in defence although he did unluckily concede a penalty against Portugal for handball.

Midfield: I'm going to play 5 across the midfield, not because I believe in that system but because it's so hard to only pick 4 and some of the supposedly best strikers in the world have not stood up to be counted. Allow me to pick more centrally minded players on the wings, remember that the fullbacks I have picked can create the width. Remember that I am trying to accommodate the best players of the tournament as well as have a formation that can very roughly work!

Right wing:

Deco (Portugal): Not a traditional winger but his vision has been superb throughout the tournament with pinpoint passing, and lovely interplay. Scored a great goal against Iran and has been the main player for Portugal.

Central Midfield (3 of them):

Zidane (France): Gains his place courtesy of his quarter-final appearance alone. In the knock-out stages he has been inspirational, his vision is still there, and he can create chances for his team-mates.

Pirlo (Italy): Has been consistently excellent scoring and creating throughout the tournament.

Gattuso (Italy): Simply outstanding in the defensive midfield role, cannot fault him, he turns up everywhere and beats off some very strong competition for that defensively minded role.

Left Wing:

Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina): Shone, scoring 3 goals in 5 matches including a wonder goal against Mexico, and always looked dangerous. Not a typical winger type but I'll have him here and he can go up to help the attack to make a bit more of a 4-4-2 if necessary.

The unlucky midfielders to miss out:

Ronaldo (Portugal) - OK I don't really like the guy but on pure footy talent his lightning pace and exciting dribbles make him a worthy contender.

Makelele and Vieira (France) are both brilliant at breaking the play up and setting the team on their way but this is what I have the even more impressive Gattusso for. Vieira also showed an eye for goal that was a little surprising.

Luis Figo (Portugal): A couple of unsavoury incidents notwithstanding Figo still let his class shine through as he bowed out on the world stage

Nakamura (Japan): Tremendously good effort from this man, lovely passing, very impressive.

Kaka (Brazil): In a team of individuals Kaka always impressed.

Joe Cole (England): At times looked quite exceptional, but only at times!

Striker:

The world cup has been disappointing for the efforts of the strikers - with one game to go the top scorer has 5 followed by 7 men on 3.

Klose (Germany): You can't argue with 5 goals plus he has created for his strike partner Podolski proving he is not just a finisher. He was a trifle lucky to have 5 world cup goals to his name in 2002 but he's really proved himself this time around.

Unlucky:

Torres (Spain) scored 3 goals in exactly half the number of minutes Klose was on the pitch but he scored them in only the first two games and one of them was a penalty, his goal against Ukraine absolutely brilliant. He played an exciting brand of football but was unusually subdued against France in the second round.

Crespo (Argentina) - also socred 3 and regularly made an impact.

Henry (France) - scorer of 3 crucial goals but never looked as good as he does when he plays for Arsenal.

Players who might have had a chance had they played more:

Tevez (Argentina) for me appeared an outstanding talent but he came off the bench in all matches bar the quarter-final in which he started.

Lennon (England): don't laugh but I really believe more game time and he could really have stamped his mark on World Cup 2006. Of course he would - he's a Leeds boy at heart!

Fabregas (Spain): Played with great maturity but apart from the fact he only ever played relative bit parts in matches his team didn't progress past the second round.

Robben and Van Persie (Holland): Looked magical on occasions.

Ivory Coast players like Zakora, Kone, Toure who were unlucky to be in such a hard group all could have come mighty close had they played an extra game or so. The same could have been said for Michael Essien.

So the final reckoning for me was:

Buffon
Zambrotta Cannavaro Thuram Lahm
Deco Pirlo Zidane Gattuso Rodriguez
Klose.

Whaddya reckon? I possibly got it slightly wrong but I think I've made a good fist of it!

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