Manuel Neuer might have won the Golden Glove to along with his World Cup winners medal, but his ability was expected given his record and reputation in the game so far. That is why Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas should be part of this best eleven. Navas may have came into the tournament as one of La Liga’s best goalkeepers – stats-wise – but outside of Valencia and Costa Rica, he was a relative unknown, until now. The Costa Rican shot stopper was the main reason the Central American minnows only conceded one goal against group stage opponents and former world champions Italy, Uruguay and England. His form extended to the last 16, where Navas not only saved his side with some quite unbelievable saves, but also showed off his penalty-saving ability as he brilliantly kept two Greek efforts out. Navas and everyone’s favourite underdogs was to bound out in the quarters, during yet another penalty shootout, this time to the Netherlands, but this tournament will arguably be one remembered by the heroics of Navas and this inspiring Costa Rica side.
Who else, but Germany’s World Cup-winning captain Philipp Lahm. Having already won almost everything club football has to offer, the Bayern Munich skipper has finally gotten his hands on the greatest football prize of all. Having started the tournament as the midfield anchor, Joachim Löew finally conceded to the fact that Germany’s weak spot was at full-back, and there was no way he could have two centre-backs in those positions. It would have made him looked very bad if Germany were to be exposed on the flanks having the world’s best full-back deployed in midfield. Lahm gave the German’s much width in their narrow shape, especially given the fact that Benedikt Höwedes, a central defender, was playing on the other side. A leader on and off the pitch, Lahm is fully deserving of lifting the biggest trophy in world football.
He may have tugged Arjen Robben and conceded the penalty that led to another of Brazil’s humiliation, but Thiago Silva was arguably the men that held this fragile Brazil side together and got them to the semifinals in the first place. It was there where his absence was badly missed by his compatriots as the hosts succumbed to an embarrassing defeat. Thiago Silva had to marshal a defence alongside the volatile and unpredictable presence that is David Luiz, and at times had to double to the sides to cover for his overly-offensive wing-backs. He may not have been able to stop the German landslide in Belo Horizonte, but it could be argued that had the PSG man played in that semifinal, his presence and leadership may have helped Brazil hold on sufficiently long enough to recover their footing, even after inevitably falling behind.
Having different partners in Per Mertesacker and Jerome Boateng, Mat Hummels was, along with Lahm and Neuer, the constants in Germany’s ‘back five’. Hummels scored the crucial second, a bullet header from a corner, in Germany’s 4-0 thrashing of Portugal, before adding his second of the tournament as his deft header was the difference against France in the quarterfinals. The Borussia Dortmund central defender also made a significant contribution in the semifinals, his role in the third was evident as he stepped up from his defensive position to dispossess Fernandinho in the central midfield area. Hummels’ aerial ability was second to none, and he did well to complement his different partners during the different stages of the tournament.
This was definitely not a position where many stars were born, or where headlines were made, but it is still an important one nonetheless. It was really between Netherlands’ Daley Blind and Argentina’s Marcos Rojo. In the end, this should go to the Argentinean. Rojo managed to stifle the threat of Thomas Müller and Lahm in the final, and was a key part of this tight knit defence, especially during the last 16 versus Switzerland, in which he shackled Xhedan Shaqiri, and the semifinals against the Dutch.
It would have been Chile’s Gary Medel, but Argentina’s Javier Mascherano’s performances in the semis and final tipped it in his favour. Mascherano’s lion-hearted effort against the Dutch, after getting a knock to his head, was supremely commendable, while he successfully stifled the German trio of playmakers for most of the finals. Mascherano was the vocal lead of the team, even as Lionel Messi was the one carrying the armband, and that was no more evident than during his rallying cry just before the penalty shootout against the Dutch. He can count himself unlucky to end up on the losing side, but Mascherano’s brilliant performances throughout the tournament has put him back amongst the best in the position he favours the most.
Even though he did not shine in the final as most expected him to, Toni Kroos was integral to Germany in their road to the final. Crucial in that semifinal mauling, the Bayern man sustained his magnificent form right from the get go. Kroos was the main man to provide a seamless connection between the midfield and whatever supposed attack they had – a combination of no one or Müller or Klose & Müller, etc. Kroos followed Löew’s instruction to the word, pressing high when required and pulling the strings in midfield. He will be the mainstay in this German side for years to come, a potential candidate for the skipper’s armband after Lahm’s eventual retirement.
Arguably Argentina’s best player behind Mascherano and Messi, Angel Di Maria was one of the most effective players going forward in the tournament. His influence was sorely missed in the hard-fought penalty shootout win over the Netherlands, and his attacking talents were also needed in the final against Germany. Di Maria scored the winner late in extra time against Switzerland, and against Belgium his deflected pass led to Gonzalo Higuain’s early winner. Messi might have been the star man, but it was Di Maria who got Argentina ticking, and in a way, it was the Real Madrid man who helped manager Alejandro Sabella blend his side’s attacking talents together.
This position is perfect for German super sub Andre Schürrle. The Chelsea winger never started a single game, but he did come on as a sub in every game except the draw against Ghana, and boy did he have much impact in every game he had come on for. It was his shot that was parried into Müller’s path for Germany’s 4th against Portugal, before his clever back heel flick gave Germany the vital lead in extra time against Algeria in the last 16. Schürrle continued his goalscoring form from the bench with a brace against Brazil, with his second another contender for goal of the tournament. His most vital contribution, though, was not a goal, but instead a pinpoint cross to Götze, giving him the golden opportunity to finish and send Germans all around the world into raptures.
The tournament’s Golden Boot winner, James Rodriguez of Colombia, had to be placed here. True, Swiss hero Xhedan Shaqiri had his moments, and so too did Arjen Robben have a wonderful start, but the truth is Rodriguez was the most consistent performer of the three till the end, even in defeat. Rodriguez netted his first in a comfortable opening win over Greece, his second was the temporary breakthrough goal against Ivory Coast, and his third a sublime solo effort against Japan. The Monaco forward continued his sublime form into the last 16, notching two in the win over a Luis Suarez-less Uruguay, where his first was one of the goals of the tournament. Rodriguez even almost single-handedly saved his nation against the hosts in the quarters, where he netted the consolation penalty in the 80th minute, as Colombia could not find the crucial equaliser in the end. It was fitting that the tournament’s breakthrough player took home the Golden Boot, though scant consolation for one of the tournament’s most exciting teams.
Miroslav Klose might have been here based purely on sentimental reasons, and due to the fact he broke the all-time goalscoring record for World Cup history, but this had to go to Thomas Müller. Even though the Bayern star isn’t considered a striker, but more of a midfielder, Müller’s ability to play anywhere has made him a valuable asset to club and country. His two poacher strikes against Portugal set things rolling for the Germans, before helping his side seal top spot in the group with a late strike against the USA, a measured volley of much control and finesse one would not associate with the lanky German international. He took a break in the last 16 and quarters before finding his knack for scoring vital goals yet again, where he netted the all-important first against Brazil. Müller did not find the net in the final, though his presence was a hindrance for the Argentineans and constantly unsettled them, making sure they were kept on guard throughout the game. Müller may not have a glorified goalscoring record, but he does it when it matters – in the big games, and in the big tournaments.
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