It has been a tough task picking a team of the tournament for this World Cup. For all the talk of defensive tactics ruling the day, I was strangely spoilt for choice when it came to attacking players.
In keeping with the spirit of the tournament, I have decided to go with the 4-2-3-1 formation which has served many countries so well. I am sure you will disagree with some of my choices, so please let me know who would make your XI.
Goalkeeper – Diego Benaglio (Switzerland)
Yes, before you point it out to me, I know Switzerland didn’t make it past the group stage. That was not for want of trying though, and Benaglio did everything in his power to see his side escape a tricky group.
He was the only goalkeeper to stop champions Spain from scoring, while he was comfortable against Honduras and gave his country every chance of pulling off an impressive draw with 10 men against a Chile side who recorded 19 shots on goal.
While he only played three games, Benaglio undoubtedly made his mark on this year’s World Cup.
Right-back – Sergio Ramos (Spain)
In a tournament where many right-backs have flourished, Ramos still managed to stand out.
While Philipp Lahm caught the eye with his leadership and defensive strength, and Maicon thrilled fans with his attacking exploits, the Real Madrid man showed he has the complete package.
Getting forward well without neglecting his defensive duties, Ramos was an integral part of a side which cruised to four successive one-nil victories in the knockout stages. He has certainly come a long way from the naive teenager who starred intermittently for Sevilla in the early 2000s.
Left-back – Fabio Coentrão (Portugal)
In a Portuguese team full of stars like Ronaldo, Carvalho and Simão, little was expected of the young Benfica left-back.
A converted winger, Coentrão emerged as one of the stars of the tournament in a strangely defensive Selecção side.
He never once looked overawed, even in the face of some of the best right-sided players in world football. Maicon, Gervinho and Iniesta all pitted their wits against the 22-year-old, but their efforts reaped little reward.
Centre-back – Antolin Alcaraz (Paraguay)
Managers Europe-wide may feel they have missed a trick in allowing Alcaraz to join Wigan on the cheap just before the World Cup.
A late-bloomer, the former Club Brugge man only made his international debut at the age of 26. Nevertheless, he looked imperious alongside captain Paulo da Silva as Paraguay cruised through a potentially-tricky group.
Latics boss Roberto Martinez must be looking forward to seeing how Alcaraz adapts to the Premier League. If this tournament is anything to go by, he should go some way to shoring up a defence which shipped 79 goals last season.
Centre-back – Diego Lugano (Uruguay)
Known in Turkey for his uncompromising style, the Uruguayan captain showed in this tournament that there is a lot more to his game than merely kicking opponents.
Dealing excellently with dangerous strikers Nicolas Anelka and Guille Franco, in the group stage, the Fenerbahçe man was sorely missed after suffering a knee injury against Ghana.
The stats speak for themselves: Before Lugano’s injury, Uruguay conceded only one goal in nearly 400 minutes of football. In his absence, they let in four in less than two games.
Central midfield – Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)
When Michael Ballack pulled out of the Germany squad on the eve of the tournament, few would have predicted them to make the semi-finals. Even less would have expected them to do so in the style they did.
Much of this is down to the new midfield combination in Jogi Löw’s youthful side. In Ballack’s absence some felt the burden would be too much for ‘Schweini’ to handle, but he has stepped up to the plate…and then some.
Anchoring the midfield to perfection, the Bayern man showed wonderful patience and restraint, affording team-mates Mesut Özil and Sami Khedira the opportunity to play higher up the field. Commentators have often said attack is the best form of defence, but – in Schweinsteiger’s case – defence proved to be the best form of attack.
Central midfield – Xavi (Spain)
While Villa and Iniesta gained the plaudits, Spain would not have been able to win the World Cup without the contribution of the Barça maestro.
Barely putting a foot wrong over the course of the champions’ seven games (no mean feat considering the demanding season he had faced in La Liga), Xavi quietly went about his business, stretching the opposition so his team-mates had space to work their magic.
While Iniesta may have been earmarked as the creative influence in the team, it might be noted that Xavi completed nearly twice as many passes as his club and international team-mate.
Attacking midfield – Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
The creative spark in an at-times rustic Dutch side, Sneijder can consider himself unfortunate to have missed out on the Ballon d’Or award.
Picking up where he left off with Inter, the playmaker went into the final with the chance of becoming the first player to win domestic league and cup trophies, the Champions League, World Cup, Ballon d’Or and Golden Boot all within the space of one season.
While team-mates Mark van Bommel, Nigel de Jong (and Demy de Zeeuw, when he was called upon) acted as destroyers, Sneijder was the man who Bert van Marwijk’s side turned to when a breakthrough was needed.
If his first goal against Brazil was fortunate, the same cannot be said of his marvellous through-ball for Arjen Robben’s opener against Slovakia in the second round, and for numerous other passes throughout the tournament. After a poor domestic season for Kaká, Real Madrid must be regretting their decision to let Sneijder leave last summer.
Right-wing – Thomas Müller (Germany)
Of all the coming-of-age stories to emerge at this World Cup, Müller’s is perhaps both the most impressive and the most surprising.
Little over a year ago he was plying his trade in Bayern’s reserve team, and his displays in last season’s Champions League – though full of honesty and hard graft – were largely unremarkable.
Yet now he will return home with the World Cup Golden Boot, after netting his first five goals for Germany in the space of a month, as well as the award for best young player of the tournament.
The secret to his success has been a change in position. At club level he has often ploughed a lone furrow up front, frozen out of the wide positions by star names such as Ribery and Robben. But Germany coach Jogi Löw has sensibly – whether by choice or necessity – deployed the 20-year-old on the right wing.
Müller’s striking instinct and great movement have allowed him to get into goalscoring positions, time after time finding an extra yard of space, and his performance at this World Cup was matched by team-mates Mesut Özil and Miroslav Klose as Löw’s team narrowly missed out on a place in the final.
Left wing – Diego Forlán (Uruguay)
It was a difficult task fitting Forlán into this team, given the free role he has been granted by Uruguay boss Óscar Tabárez. But there was no way I could leave him out.
Another player to have enjoyed a fruitful season before the World Cup, Forlán starred in a Uruguayan side which exceeded all expectations in reaching the semi-finals.
As is often the case with a country’s most high-profile player, the Atlético frontman acted as a real talisman for his country. Doing almost everything, Forlán drifted between the right and left wings, sometimes joining team-mate Luis Suárez in the middle, replicating the role played by Diego Maradona in 1986.
Had his team-mates matched his skill and incisiveness, rather than merely (on the whole) providing effort and commitment, semi-final defeat need not have been the extent of Uruguay’s achievement.
Striker – David Villa (Spain)
In a tournament where many world-class strikers struggled to reach the heights expected of them, Villa showed once again why he is one of the hottest properties in world football.
The striker signed for Barcelona shortly before the tournament started, and on the evidence of this tournament he should have no trouble fitting in with new team-mates Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Pedro, Pique and Busquets.
In stark contrast to strike-partner Fernando Torres, Villa got into his stride almost as soon as the tournament began, netting five of his country’s eight goals. In a low-scoring tournament, Villa’s consistency saw Spain through a number of challenging ties on the way to their final triumph.
Vincent Enyeama (Nigeria, goalkeeper) – pulled off a number of stunning saves, although tournament may be remembered for error against Greece
Philipp Lahm (Germany, right-back) – great leader in the absence of Ballack, gave an inexperienced team the confidence to perform
Gerard Pique (Spain, centre-back) – calm and assured throughout, outshone club team-mate Puyol
Diego Pérez (Uruguay, midfield) – performed the ‘Makelele role’ admirably, seemed never to run out of energy
Mesut Özil (Germany, attacking midfield) – a real bright spark in an underwhelming group stage, goal against Ghana was a real highlight
Arjen Robben (Netherlands, left wing) – appearances were limited by injury, but worried defences whenever he received the ball
Samuel Eto’o (Cameroon, striker) – perhaps a surprising choice, but carried an abysmal Cameroon side. Surely frustrated by team-mates’ lack of industry.