By Paul Kennedy
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.
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
In a tournament with so many outstanding goalkeepers, it's hard to single one out. Manuel Neuerwon 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.
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.
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.
James Rodriguez (Colombia)
Lionel Messi (Argentina)
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.