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Soccer America's World Cup Best XI
by Paul Kennedy, July 13th, 2014 10:36PM

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TAGS:  argentina, colombia, costa rica, germany, netherlands, world cup 2014

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By Paul Kennedy
(@pkedit)

In a tournament with so many twists and turns, it isn't easy to come up with a World Cup Best XI. Over the tournament's 32 days, there were many outstanding individual performances but not a lot of consistency. Even champion Germany mixed great with not-so-great performances in its seven matches. The choices for World Cup Best XI, as selected by the editors of Soccer America, place an emphasis on the influence these players had on the success of their teams over the entirety of the tournament.

Goalkeeper:
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)

In a tournament with so many outstanding goalkeepers, it's hard to single one out. Manuel Neuer won the adidas Golden Glove, though he did not have to make a save in the final. Sergio Romero, another Golden Glove nominee, was solid for Argentina. Tim Howard and Guillermo Ochoa had the individual games of the tournament in goal for the USA and Mexico, respectively, but the award for top keeper has to go to Navas. Costa Rica would not have won a game, let alone been a shootout away from being in the final four without Navas.

Defenders:
Philipp Lahm (Germany)
Mats Hummels (Germany)
Ezequiel Garay (Argentina)
Daley Blind (Netherlands)

Lahm began the World Cup in midfield -- where Pep Guardiola moved him at Bayern Munich -- but the Germans found their form when their captain was moved to right back, giving them an attacking option they had not had out of the back until then with a back four comprised entirely of centerbacks.

Blind, our choice at left back, immediately caught everyone's eye with his two long passes that set up spectacular goals by Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben against Spain. Blind, whose father, Danny, will take over as Dutch head coach in 2016, had a solid tournament on the left side of the Dutch backline and was rewarded for his efforts with a goal in the third-place game.

Until caution took over in the knockout phase, the play of the outside backs was one of the keys to the tournament's exciting play. Mention, then, should go to the USA's Fabian Johnson (for his first two games), Ivory Coast's Serge Aurier and Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez.

Hummels (whose goal ousted France) and Garay (one of three Portuguese-based players in the Argentina lineup) represent the two finalists in the middle of our backline, but their partners, Jerome Boateng for Germany and Martin Demichelis for Argentina, also distinguished themselves. Boateng was excellent in the final, and Demichelis solidified the Argentina defense when he was inserted into the lineup against Belgium.

Holding Midfielders:
Javier Mascherano (Argentina)
Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany)

For Mascherano and Schweinsteiger, the final was their third Argentina-Germany meeting at the World Cup. Mascherano was the only Argentina starter to also play in 2006 and 2010 and he was rock in midfield for the Argentines in Brazil. They gave up only four goals in the tournament. Even in the final against the much-vaunted German attack, Argentina was not seriously threatened, giving up just 10 shots.

Schweinsteiger -- one of the eight German starters from the 2010 Germany-Argentina match to play on Sunday at Maracana -- saved his best for last with an excellent final during which he carried a yellow card for 91 minutes, no easy feat considering the chippy nature of the match.

Germany sorely missed Sami Khedira (another starter four years ago) after his late scratch. He was one of the architects of the 7-1 demolition of Brazil in the semifinals. Again on the opposing side, Lucas Biglia was an important piece of the Argentine puzzle, taking over alongside Mascherano for the game against Belgium, where he labored for many years at Anderlecht.

Young Paul Pogba of France won the Hyundai Young Player for players 21 and under. One of the revelations for the Dutch was Georginio Wijnaldum, who is only 23.

Front Four
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
Thomas Mueller (Germany)
Arjen Robben (Netherlands)

Any Best XI must contain these four. James won the adidas Golden Boot as the top scorer (six goals), Messi won the adidas Golden Ball as the best player, Mueller, the winner of the Golden Boot and Young Player awards four years ago, again scored five goals, while Robben carried the Dutch to five wins, a shootout win and shootout loss, stamping his mark on every game except the semifinal against Argentina.

We'll never know what Neymar could have done in the semifinal as he was lost for the tournament with the fractured vertebra suffered at the end of the quarterfinal against Colombia. His individual efforts won the two group matches against Croatia and Cameroon, but he had nowhere near the influence on Brazil's overall success that James, Messi and Robben had.

Besides Mueller, who finished as the tournament's marathon champion, running 50 miles, Toni Kroos was the outstanding German attacker with two goals and four assists, though he had a surprisingly subdued final.

Karim Benzema might have been the best attacker during the group stage, but the Frenchman faded after that. Juan Cuadrado was the tournament's best winger, contributing a goal and four assists for Colombia but disappeared against Brazil. Robin van Persie had a quiet four goals for the Netherlands, which got a better tournament out of Wesley Sneijder, who resurrected his international reputation in Brazil.


15 comments
  1. TK TK
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 9:54 a.m.
    Best Goalie award is tight but to say Costa Rica would not have won a game without Nava is too much. You can defenitely say that about USA who offered little else but bunkering behind the ball most of the tournament. Costa Rica outp[layed most of the teams they played and showed a willingness to want to score throughout. If you go by who depended on the goalie the most to get as far as it did that award goes to Howard, hands down.

  1. David V
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 10:01 a.m.
    4 true notables - Messi, Schweinsteiger, Mascherano, and James Rodriguez (Robben is almost there but too many dives to put him in top category)... it's not mistake that Schweinsteiger and Mascherano have a link to Xavi... Masche has played and bettered his game since going to Barcelona (the pinnacle of his career, and why for the life of me, that Bozo Ian Darke described Masche as "former liverpool man" and not as "Barca Man" is beyond reason... what a bozo, get rid of these Brit refs... England is NOT the reference for world football)... and Schweinsteiger who studied and copied Xavi, as he waited patiently, for 6 years, with loss after loss, after loss to the Spaniards, Schweinsteiger picked well, and his game matured with the emulation of Xavi... well done Schweinie, you got what you deserved last night... James is now on his way to a big club, Real Madrid nearly have captured him, well done James

  1. David V
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 10:03 a.m.
    Brit commentators, get rid of them

  1. David V
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 10:04 a.m.
    ooops, and for coach Yogi Low... same thing, well done

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 11:43 a.m.
    nobody intimidates like Neuer, that is why he is the best in the world.......

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 1:33 p.m.
    Navas, definitely. He, amongst all the keepers, is a game changer. Anyone who saw him play every game knows what he means to this Costa Rica team. His numbers are stellar. Here they are, compared to Neuer (in parens): 5 games, 510 minutes played (7 & 690); 21 saves (25); 2 GA, (4); 3 clean sheets (4); save percentage 91% (86%). This is a guy who delivers game after game.

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 1:37 p.m.
    Robert Bond, Neuer (a.k.a. Shumacher 2.0) is very lucky he didn't concede a PK and get a red card. For the life of me I can't understand how the referee did not give the PK, let alone call Higuain for the foul, other than he didn't want to do it. The sideline views of the incident are stomach turning. Any field player does this and they get tossed. Anticipating a Paul Gardner column on this in 3...2...1...

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 1:50 p.m.
    it's a contact sport, Ramon-just ask Sammy's sub...as for your stats, Manny kept 2 of his clean sheets against quarter finalists, and do you think guys were going post randomly?

  1. Ramon Creager
    commented on: July 14, 2014 at 3:38 p.m.
    Robert, Navas also kept a clean sheet against a quartefinalist (NED)--in the quarterfinals. And that save % is insane. As for this being a contact sport, the Laws clearly define what serious foul play is. If any field player does this he's out. Here is FIFA's "Interpretations and Guidelines for Referees" on Law 12: "A player is guilty of serious foul play if he uses excessive force or brutality against an opponent when challenging for the ball when it is in play. ... Any player who lunges at an opponent in challenging for the ball from the front, from the side or from behind using one or both legs, with excessive force and endangering the safety of an opponent is guilty of serious foul play. ... A player who is guilty of serious foul play should be sent off and play is restarted with a direct free kick from the position where the offence occurred (see Law 13 – Position of free kick) or a penalty kick (if the offence occurred inside the offender’s penalty area)." Neuer's action is clearly covered here; GKs are not excepted from this. You can make patronizing comments about it being a contact sport all you like. I played it and refereed it decades and I can tell the difference between normal contact and serious foul play.

  1. Steven SIegel
    commented on: July 15, 2014 at 12:58 a.m.
    I would not have awarded the penalty or foul to Neuer. He cam in fast to punch the ball away, which he did. It was not excessive because he needed to charge hard like that. It was called for. I don't think thsi moment was all that controversial. The final XI is obviously top-heavy with players from the semi-finalists. I would put Yepes in there over Garay.

  1. Kent James
    commented on: July 15, 2014 at 9:16 a.m.
    Steven, I agree with your assessment of Neuer's challenge. He got there first. What the ref did wrong was calling the foul on Higuain (though in his defense, most people probably thought somebody must have committed a foul). The correct call should have been a throw-in for Argentina (though the only question I had was whether or not Neuer made contact with the ball outside the box, which would have been handling and a yellow card). It was much like the incident in which Kramer was injured by the Argentine defender going hard to the ball. In both cases, bone crunching contact, but the players who did the crunching were there first and got to the ball (and in neither case did the players use "excessive" force).

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: July 15, 2014 at 9:54 a.m.
    Ramon probably never played keeper-he was in the box, moving to the ball, anyone getting in his way is just that-in the way! (His feet were in the box, in any event)The point being, all the balls sent wide & over, the shooters factor in that there is no point kicking it anywhere near Neuer......

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: July 15, 2014 at 10:30 a.m.
    As for being "patronizing", had a concussion playing basketball, ruptured cervical disc playing american football, and many broken ribs, pulled muscles, torn tendons playing fussball & basketball,it is what it is..

  1. Steven SIegel
    commented on: July 15, 2014 at 12:47 p.m.
    I will say that we could all be singing a different tune about Neuer if he got burned early in the Algeria game. Early on he got caught halfway between the goal and the Algerian forward on a long ball. The forward played the ball right to Neuer. Neuer didn't even have to leave his feet for the save.

  1. ROBERT BOND
    commented on: July 15, 2014 at 1:59 p.m.
    great pic on espnfc shows Neuer in the box & playing the ball.......


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