World Cup: Team of the tournament
Matt Brocklebank looks back on a thrilling World Cup and picks his team of the tournament.
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Claudio Bravo (Chile, Goalkeeper)
Barcelona reached an agreement with Real Sociedad to bring the 31-year-old goalkeeper to the Nou Camp during the tournament and it’s not hard see why they were so keen to secure his services.
Bravo’s exceptional agility between the sticks was evident during Chile’s 3-1 win over Australia, as well as the 1-1 draw with Brazil, but it was against Spain when he shone brightest.
Brilliant close-range saves from Xabi Alonso, and Santi Cazorla in the second half, helped his side to a 2-0 victory and saw the reigning champions crash out after just two games.
Bravo gets the nod for me over the Golden Glove winner Manuel Neuer.
Giancarlo Gonzalez (Costa Rica, Defender)
Costa Rica were the real surprise package at Brazil 2014, beating Uruguay and Italy before drawing with England, Greece and Holland.
They edged past the Greeks following a dramatic penalty shootout and although they weren’t so fortunate in the quarter-finals, Jorge Luis Pinto’s side were fantastically organised throughout.
Much of the credit goes to Gonzalez, who marshalled his troops in defence, especially when reduced to 10 men after 66 minutes against Greece in the last-16.
He signed for MLS side Colombus Crew earlier in the year and the 26-year-old’s progress will no doubt be monitored by many clubs across the world.
Mats Hummels (Germany, Defender)
Much was talked pre-tournament about the lack of pace in Germany’s central defence but it’s all gone a bit quiet on that front now, especially after Joachim Low’s decision to move Jerome Boateng into the middle in place of Per Mertesacker.
Mats Hummels was absolutely key to Germany’s progress, not only with his power and awareness at the back, but the fact he also contributed up with a couple of goals.
He was badly missed against Algeria in the round of 16 when suffering from illness but came straight back into the team for the quarter-final against France and produced a man of the match performance. Moments after blocking a low cross destined for the boot of Karim Benzema, Hummels was wheeling away in celebration after firing a header in off the bar at the other end.
There were shaky moments during the final but Hummels ended up lifting the trophy.
Rafael Marquez (Mexico, Defender)
At 35-years-old many would have thought Marquez was way past his best going into his fourth World Cup finals – how wrong they would have been.
Mexico only conceded one goal in Group A and that was an 87th minute Ivan Perisic strike against Croatia when Marquez and co were understandably pushing forward in the hope of securing top spot.
He was sensational in this particular game, scoring the opening goal in a 3-1 win and being completely dominant at the heart of the Mexican back line.
Mexico will miss the classy centre-half when he finally decides to call it a day at international level, but Los Manitos are still improving on the whole and will remain a force nevertheless.
Pablo Zabaleta (Argentina, Defender)
We’ve almost run out of superlatives to describe Argentina and Manchester City’s right-back.
He is consistently one of the best players whenever he takes to the field and his standards didn't change on the biggest stage of all this summer.
Argentina built their World Cup challenge on a solid foundation and Zabaleta’s discipline, especially when compared to the likes of Dani Alves, Marcelo and David Luiz of bitter rivals Brazil, was first-class.
Javier Mascherano (Argentina, Midfielder)
The Barcelona player's last-ditch and perfectly-timed tackle on Arjen Robben when the Dutch speedster seemed certain to fire the Oranje into the final will be one of the lasting memories of this remarkable World Cup.
There were just seconds on the clock and Robben burst into the box but an extra touch allowed Mascherano a half-chance to make the block and he got there in the nick of time.
There are often moments during games that end up going to penalties which are never forgotten (think Jerzy Dudek’s save from Shevchenko), and this was one of them.
Mascherano was again on top form in the final as Argentina fell to a late Germany winner.
Toni Kroos (Germany, Midfielder)
Despite not opening his goalscoring account until the well-taken brace against Brazil in the semi-final, Kroos impressed in each and every game for Germany.
His range of passing and set-piece accuracy contributed to many of his side’s goals and just about everything he did was executed with an air of supreme confidence.
The 24-year-old is reportedly on the verge of signing for Real Madrid and he’d be a major asset as Los Merengues look to claim back-to-back Champions League victories.
Paul Pogba (France, Midfielder)
France’s new-look midfield contained a couple of players who were feasible candidates for the team of the tournament, with Yohan Cabaye, Mathieu Valbuena and the promising Antoine Griezmann all seriously impressive in spells.
However, Pogba makes this line-up on account of his consistently high-class performances.
It was a shame he couldn’t manufacture anything against Germany in the quarter-final but the whole France team fell a bit flat that day and Pogba is better judged on his starring performance in the quarters against Nigeria.
The former Manchester United midfielder is a driving force in midfield and deserved the young player of the tournament award.
James Rodriguez (Colombia, Forward)
I couldn’t imagine a better goal being scored at Brazil 2014 than Tim Cahill’s exquisite volley, but just 10 days later Colombia's superstar trumped the Aussie's effort with a stunner.
'That' goal featured among six strikes in total for 23-year-old, who found the net in each of his team’s five games at the finals, and there’s a strong case for him being named the tournament’s best player.
Every time he got the ball Colombia looked dangerous and he clearly shone in the spotlight of a major international tournament by finishing as the top goalscorer.
Monaco shelled out 45 million euros for Rodriguez in May 2013 but he has already spoken about Real Madrid being a “dream move” and that looks a distinct possibility on the back of this showing.
Thomas Muller (Germany, Forward)
Muller is one of those players whose attributes are perfectly suited to the demands of an international tournament.
|Germany||1 - 0||Argentina|
|Brazil||0 - 3||Holland|
|Holland||0 - 0||Argentina|
|Brazil||1 - 7||Germany|
|Argentina||1 - 0||Belgium|
|Holland||0 - 0||Costa Rica|
|France||0 - 1||Germany|
|Brazil||2 - 1||Colombia|
|Argentina||1 - 0||Switzerlan|
|Belgium||2 - 1||USA|
|France||2 - 0||Nigeria|
|Germany||2 - 1||Algeria|
|Holland||2 - 1||Mexico|
|Costa Rica||1 - 1||Greece|
|Brazil||1 - 1||Chile|
|Colombia||2 - 0||Uruguay|
He is, of course, a key member of Bayern Munich’s record-breaking side, but he seems to play with a renewed vigour when donning the colours of the national team.
Having started the tournament in the lone striker’s role, Muller effortlessly switched to a slightly deeper position in behind Miroslav Klose and continued to pick up wonderful positions in space between the opposing defence and midfield.
It was his fine movement and clinical finish from a corner that set the Germans off against Brazil and, having also scored five goals in South Africa, his World Cup record now stands at 10.
Could he now be setting his sights on Miroslav Klose’s all-time record of 16?
Arjen Robben (Holland, Forward)
Arjen Robben isn’t to everybody’s taste and when he comes out with lines such as: “The one (at the end) was a penalty, but the other one was a dive in the first half. I shouldn't be doing that…” you can see why.
However, he is a player who has transformed his game since moving to Bayern Munich and his work-rate for Holland cannot be faulted either.
The manner in which he and Robin van Persie ripped through 2010 champions Spain on the second day of the tournament really set the tone for what was to come and Robben backed that up with another top-class performance against Australia.
'Simulation' remains an issue for the 30-year-old but he won legitimate penalties against Mexico and Brazil in the third-place play-off and he is in the main a joy to watch.