With the 2014 FIFA World Cup having come to an end, we summarise the star performers in Brazil.
It seems only yesterday that Brazil were kicking off the tournament with a thrilling, if somewhat controversial, 3-1 win over Croatia in Sao Paulo.
Some five weeks and 64 games later, football’s greatest event reached its climax with Germany defeating Argentina by a single extra-time goal at the Maracana.
There were an abundance of star performers on show in South America, making it a very difficult job picking a team of the tournament, but here is our final selection.
In goal we have Manuel Neuer, who almost redefined the role of a sweeper-keeper in Brazil. His supreme shot-stopping, awareness and use of the ball helped Germany to keep five clean sheets en route to glory as he cemented his place as the undisputed top player in the world in his position.
At right-back, we have gone for Philipp Lahm. Initially used in central midfield during the group phase, Joachim Low moved his captain back to his more natural position, and Germany conceded just two goals from then on. Consistently excellent on the ball and with a positional sense to better the world’s best, Lahm was deservedly named on the Golden Ball shortlist.
Mats Hummels lines up at centre-back after his exemplary showings for Germany. The Borussia Dortmund man banished any lingering doubts over his long-term fitness by playing in each of his side’s seven matches, helping them to clean sheets against Portugal, USA, France – against whom he scored the winning goal with an emphatic header – and Argentina in the final.
Alongside Hummels is Costa Rica hero Giancarlo Gonzalez, who was at the heart of the Central Americans’ sensational run to the quarter-finals. He helped to shut out Italy and England in the group stage, as well as Netherlands for 120 minutes in the last eight, but his battling showing against Greece following Oscar Duarte’s red card was his finest of the tournament.
At left-back, Netherlands’ Daley Blind earns a spot after coming of age in Brazil. Louis van Gaal’s side earned a surprise third place in the tournament, with Blind deployed at left-back, left wing-back and central midfield as he delivered a superbly consistent string of performances. Two assists against Spain and a first international goal in the play-off win over Brazil were the icing on the cake for the 24-year-old.
Javier Mascherano lines up in midfield. The 30-year-old, deployed in his more traditional role after two seasons at centre-back for Barcelona, was a rock for Argentina, helping the side to three clean sheets in the knockout phase while allowing the attacking stars more freedom to flourish. His performance against Netherlands – capped by a stunning late block on Arjen Robben – was arguably the best of his 104-match international career, and he ran himself ragged in the final.
Alongside him is Toni Kroos, the heartbeat of the Germany machine. With two goals and four assists, Kroos was exemplary for Low’s side throughout the tournament. His nomination for the Golden Ball – and almost certain transfer to European club champions Real Madrid – came as little surprise.
On the right of the attack is Arjen Robben. Another nominee for the Golden Ball, the Bayern Munich star was electrifying in the group stage – giving the Spanish defence in particular a torrid time with two goals. Although he was shackled more effectively in the knockout phase, he won decisive penalties against both Mexico and Brazil with his bursts forward.
In the centre is Lionel Messi, who carried Argentina through their group almost single-handedly, with winning goals against Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria. The Barcelona ace later set up Angel di Maria for the winner against Switzerland and was involved in Gonzalo Higuain’s goal against Belgium. Though he was ultimately unable to inspire his side to a win in the final, he still picked up the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
On the left, we have James Rodriguez, the inspiration behind Colombia’s vibrant displays. Six goals from an attacking midfield position is remarkable in a World Cup, but the quality of the strikes – in particular his chipped finish against Japan and outrageous swivel volley versus Uruguay – underlined his class, and sealed the Golden Boot for the Monaco star.
In the lone striker role is Thomas Muller – Germany’s most consistent World Cup performer. The Golden Boot winner from 2010 bagged a hat-trick against Portugal and never looked back. He hit the winner against USA and proved decisive in extra-time versus Algeria before tearing the Brazil defence to shreds in the last four and delivering another tireless showing against Argentina.