Soccer America's 25 Winners

[BEST OF THE WORLD CUP] Soccer America continues its look at the best of the World Cup with its 25 winners, the best of the tournament on and off the field.

Tomorrow: Soccer America's 25 Losers.

25. New Zealand.

Who would have imagined the All Whites would be the only unbeaten team at the World Cup? They were dubbed "Herbert's Heroes" after part-time coach Ricki Herbert led them to ties against Slovakia, Italy and Paraguay. Plans for a parade to honor the players were called off -- many of them don't live in New Zealand -- but their success has already had an impact. Many youngsters are taking up the round-ball game in a country where oval sports are king.

24. World Cup Prime Time.
ESPN's World Cup game coverage was good but what made it so much better than anything previously offered on American television was the extras. ESPN could have settled for offering game coverage for which it paid FIFA $100 million (for 2010 and 2014), but it spent millions on its studio shows, the best of which was "World Cup Prime Time" packaging highlights and features for those who couldn't watch the action during the day. (It's hard to imagine what the World Cup would have been like on NBC, rather than ESPN and Univision, if Chuck Blazer, the American representative on the FIFA executive committee, had not intervened.)

23. Slovakia.
After blowing a 1-0 lead late in the game and having to settle for a 1-1 tie with lowly New Zealand in its first game and then losing, 2-0, to Paraguay in its next game, Slovakia was given no chance of advancing. But the World Cup's lone debutant pulled one of the biggest upsets of the tournament with a 3-2 win over Italy that knocked the defending champions out of the tournament.

22. Bill Clinton.
The former president became the USA's No. 1 fan, whooping it up with Bob Bradley and the boys in the locker room after their win over Algeria. Clinton was in South Africa to lend his support to the USA Bid Committee. Let's hope he's whooping it up in December when FIFA names the hosts of the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.

21. Chris Fowler.
Known to college football fans as the host of ESPN's enormously popular "College GameDay" roadshow, Fowler made the seamless transition to soccer, anchoring much of its World Cup coverage and giving an American face to its coverage. His work was on the whole excellent. His final comments were eloquent, noting that you can't leave South Africa "without being moved and inspired and changed if you open your heart to it because after all, as human beings, if you go back far enough to our roots, we are all Africans." (He offended those who believe in creationism but perhaps not as many folks as with his memorable remark that Peyton Manning's failure to win the 1997 Heisman Trophy created a "trailer park frenzy" in Tennessee, resulting in "College GameDay" being banned the next season for the Tennessee-Florida game.)

20. Alexi Lalas.
If Fowler was the American face of ESPN's coverage, Lalas was the American voice. He was wrong with his Netherlands-over-Spain pick for the final but he did pick all four semifinalists correctly. Lalas may have flopped as an MLS GM, but he was superb with his pre-game, halftime and post-game analysis.

19. Bob Bradley.
The USA may not have gone as deep in the World Cup as he and his bosses would have liked, but Bob Bradley became an instant celebrity, appearing with Landon Donovan on such shows as "Good Morning America," "Live with Regis and Kelly" and "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." His biggest thrill? Getting to throw the first ball out at not one but two Major League parks, Yankee Stadium and Oriole Park at Camden Yards.

18. Landon Donovan.
This was Landon Donovan's make-or-break World Cup. And 91 minutes into the USA's game against Algeria, Donovan appeared to be doomed for failure like four years earlier in Germany. But he scored the most dramatic goal in U.S. Soccer history to send the USA into the second round and ensure his place as the greatest player in U.S. history.

17. "I scored a goal in the FIFA World Cup final."
Of all the features ESPN presented, none was better than the ESPN Films documentary "I scored a goal in the FIFA World Cup final," featuring interviews and highlights from those who scored a goal in a World Cup final.

16. Univision.
With its promotional blitz, ESPN's coverage overshadowed that of Univision, but it produced two of the three largest audiences ever on U.S. Spanish-language TV. Argentina's win over Mexico on June 27 drew nearly 9.5 million viewers, breaking the record previously set for the finale of the novella "Destilando Amor" in 2007. Sunday's World Cup final drew more than 8.8 million viewers on Univision.

15. South America.
All five South American teams reached the round of 16 -- they didn't lose a game in the group stage until the last day when Chile fell to Spain, 2-1 -- and four advanced to the final eight ...

14. Europe.
... but the South American teams were no match for their European counterparts after that. Europe won all five Europe-South America meetings in the knockout stage, and Spain became the first European team to hoist the World Cup trophy outside Europe.

13. The third-place game.
The World Cup is one of the few competitions that still offers a consolation game, and this year's game between Germany and Uruguay was a cracker. Germany won, 3-2, but the match probably wrapped up the tournament MVP award for Uruguayan Diego Forlan.

12. Ghana.
The Black Stars were again the lone African team to get out of the group stage and they became only the third African team -- after Cameroon in 1990 and Senegal in 2002 -- to win a game in the knockout stage when they beat the USA, 2-1, in overtime.

Much was made of ESPN's television coverage, but it was its World Cup coverage on new mediums that was trailblazing. The Spain-Germany semifinal was the most watched live event ever on with an average audience of 355,000.

10. Bars and restaurants.
The World Cup was a boost to bars and restaurants packed for the morning and midday games. No other event brings in more fans longer than the World Cup, and establishments everywhere had some kind of World Cup bracket posted. (Out-of-home viewing and usage of non-TV platforms added 45 percent to the daily TV audiences on ESPN, and much of it was from folks watching at viewing establishments.)

9. Thomas Mueller.
The 20-year-old Bayern Munich player had never played for Germany before March, when it hosted Argentina. Diego Maradona refused to share a press conference with the young player, joking that he first thought Mueller was the ball boy. Mueller got the last laugh, helping Germany crush Argentina, 4-0 in the quarterfinals. Symbol of the German youth movement, Mueller scored five goals and three assists to win the adidas Golden Boot as the top scorer and Hyundai Best Young Player award.

8. Diego Forlan.
The Uruguayan gives hope to players over 30 that they can star in the World Cup. At 31 he's the oldest field player ever to win the World Cup MVP trophy, the adidas Golden Ball.

7. Wesley Sneijder.
On a team with hard men, Sneijder was different. The midfielder stood out, leading the Netherlands to the final with five goals in its six wins. He was responsible for knocking out co-favorite Brazil with both goals in the 2-1 comeback win in the quarterfinals. The second came when the 5-foot-7 Sneijder scored on a header through a maze of Brazilian giants.

6. Octopus Paul.
No one had a better World Cup than the "Oracle of Oberhausen." He went eight for eight in World Cup predictions, becoming an international celebrity up there with the biggest of World Cup stars. More is known about his future -- he'll return to his day job entertaining children at the Sea Life aquarium -- than his past. Octopus Paul was thought to have been born in England, but his trainer, Verena Bartsch, now says he was actually caught off the Italian island of Elba, making him Polpo Paolo.

5. Vicente del Bosque.
Two years after Luis Aragones led Spain to the Euro '08 title, del Bosque masterminded Spain's run to its first World Cup title. Del Bosque's low-key style won the respect of Spain players just as it had the star-studded players at Real Madrid, where management pushed him out a day after the Merengues won the 2003 La Liga title because it believed he wasn't strong enough. How wrong it was.

4. Iker Casillas.
The Spanish captain was overcome by the emotion of Spain's victory over the Netherlands. He cried after Andres Iniesta scored to put Spain in overtime and broke down in tears on the field after Spain had won. He kissed his girlfriend, reporter Sara Carbonero, on live television -- the same Carbonero whose presence on the sidelines was considered a distraction and blamed for Spain's loss to Switzerland in its opening game.

3. Xavi.
FIFA now keeps stats for everything, and the Spanish playmaker finished first in passes completed (544), crosses completed (26) and corner kicks completed (14).

2. Andres Iniesta.
The 5-foot-7 Iniesta's journey to soccer stardom began at the age of 12 when he left his home in the province of Albacete and enrolled at La Masia, Barcelona's soccer academy. Fourteen years later, Iniesta led Spain to its first World Cup title with the only goal in the final, a worthy climax to the game's best performance.

1. South Africa.
Who said South Africa couldn't pull off hosting the World Cup? The stadiums were al most filled and the crime almost nonexistent. South Africa was a magnificent host to one of the most memorable World Cups ever.

(Soccer America Readers: What were your World Cup winners? Let us know in the comments below.)



15 comments about "Soccer America's 25 Winners".
  1. Jiminez Hernandes, July 13, 2010 at 9:55 a.m.

    Paul, I could not have said it better, you're right on, 100%.
    But I must stress again, ESPN was tops, all games broadcasted, a first and I know it will not be the last. Thank you so much ESPN. Lalas is born for the job, McManamann I darn sure could do without so, one bad apple ain't bad at all.

  2. Steven SIegel, July 13, 2010 at 10:18 a.m.

    The only downer for me was the announcing on ESPN. Even the final game had Martin Tyler blathering on about other matches instead of calling the one we're watching. I watched almost every match on Univision which was better at capturing the excitement and conveying the appreciation for what was going on, actually sticking to calling the match: which players were touching the ball, who was coming up to defend, etc. The Univision 360 feature was excellent.

  3. John Yunker, July 13, 2010 at 11:21 a.m.

    I was disappointed in Alexi Lalas analysis - instead of seeing what was exciting about the games, he instead chose dry criticism of points that were caused by run of play. Seemed to always question other players integrity instead of really seeing the wonderful free flowing cause and effect of the game. Seemed to be an arrogant american - "I know this game", well Alexi, by your comments I don't think you do.

  4. Power Dive, July 13, 2010 at 11:54 a.m.

    I think U.S. Soccer has to be on the list. Or, maybe I should say, soccer in the U.S. Not since 1994 has soccer gained this much exposure. For one solid month, soccer was at least on the radar for almost all Americans.

  5. David Sirias, July 13, 2010 at 12:23 p.m.

    Ok, you have highlighted much of the good from this cup. But including Lalas is plain wrong. He's arrogant, inarticulate, literally unprofessional. What are you guys smoking. He, Harkes, and Ruud G. were the weak links in the ESPN chain. Hell, imagine Christopher Sullivan or Max Bretos in the Lalas role. They have their critics but either would have been far superior in entertainment and informative value. I can name a dozen american soccer broadcasters better than lalas and Harkes. That they played at high levels is irrelevant. Don't be a homer SA. Tell the truth.

  6. David V, July 13, 2010 at 12:25 p.m.

    How could you possibly miss DAVID VILLA, 5 goals, carried the team through the first two knock-out games, would have been top scorer alone had he not had to take up the unnatural position (up top alone) when Torres was struggling as a result of knee surgery. Best forward in the tournament, unselfish team player who did what he had to to help his team win. When all the teams were clogging the defense against Spain, the team marked from before the tournament and being studied for two years, guys like Forlan, a good player, where under the radar screen. Villa was right in the center of the target for two years (Four Four Two's "deadliest hitman" and "Europe's most wanted" - magnificent performance with all gunning for him. Had Torres, or another been able to help, the first 5 games, and the last two where he was playing out of position, he would have 8-10 goals easily. Villa, Villa, Mara-Villa! Bravo to Xavi and Iniesta, the world's two best midfielders, who by their standards, both had poor performances this tournament, they still outshined them all... even while Xavi was playing with a partially torn calf muscle and Iniesta struggled with injuries for the past 14 months. These two are magic, and unfortunately the world did not see their best. Take a look at and find the media section, brilliant goals by Villa, the should-have-been golden boot winner.

  7. Jeff Gingold, July 13, 2010 at 1:02 p.m.

    Alexei Lalas was the weak link in an otherwise stellar team of commentators. Although, as you observed, his predictions were generally on the mark until the final, he conveyed all of the snideness of Eddie Haskel and the objectivity of a Fox News commentator.
    Another disappointment: Denmark should have given Christian Ericksen more field time. In the first of only a few minutes on the pitch in DKs last match against Japan, the youngest player in the Copa barely missed hitting a spectacular shot on goal. He should have been in much earlier.
    On the plus side, I'd add:
    Puyol for both of his headers and a tireless work ethic that equaled or exceeded that of Kuyt, and
    Paraguay's Morel Rodriguez who had the most consistently perfect crosses into the box.

  8. Kevin Leahy, July 13, 2010 at 4:35 p.m.

    Lalas? Really?

  9. Kenneth Barr, July 13, 2010 at 7:52 p.m.

    I absolutely agree with your #1, South Africa. All we heard from the Europoeans before the World Cup was how unsuitable it was as a host, no one would go becuse of crime, etc. The tragedy at the African Cup in Angola was thrown in the South Africans faces. Even the vuvulezas were derided. Where are all those critics now? Enthusiastic crowds, lots of atmosphere and people who were truly glad to have the world come to their country. No one could blame the organizers for the rotten officiating, but even that was overshadowed by the joy and good humor South Africans displayed. For a country that 20 years ago was a pariah, South Africa showed that it is now at the center of the international community. Sepp Blatter took a lot of stick over his championing the cause of South Africa's credentials as a host. Now, he looks like a prophet. He even defended the vuvuzeles. Maybe next time the Euro chauvinists, who think the World Cup should be the European Invitational, will think twice before denegrating the credentials of another country. Bravo, South Africa.

  10. David Huff, July 13, 2010 at 7:55 p.m.

    The inclusion of Banal Bob and Annoying Alexi leaves one scratching their head. Also there was no mention of Miroslav Klose achivement in surpassing Pele's WC career goal total to end up at 2nd on the all-time list with 14 goals.

  11. James Froehlich, July 13, 2010 at 8 p.m.

    Happy to see the high place that you gave to Xavi and Iniesta. I would hope that their display of skill and Spain's determination to play their own style no matter what was thrown at them would provide some inspiration to the US coaching establishment but I'm not holding my breath !!!!!

  12. David Crowther, July 13, 2010 at 9:03 p.m.

    This business of who did better between South America and Europe isn’t as obvious as it seems. People at the office here seem to think this World Cup was a big win for Europe and I see that you ranked Europe higher as a winner. And it’s quite true that the top 3 Europeans were clearly better than the top South Americans. But on the other hand, all 5 South American teams finished higher in the standings than all 10 of the remaining European teams, including heavyweights like France, England and Italy.

  13. charles davenport, July 13, 2010 at 9:12 p.m.

    Klose, Villa, simply amazing; biggest disappointment was dissing of JP Delacamara who was relegated to lead radio role, leaving us with blathering brits on American TV, some of whom couldn't be understood without subtitles.

  14. Clint Burgess, July 14, 2010 at 1:30 a.m.

    Instead of Lalas, I would have liked to have seen Dennis Bergkamp.

  15. Joseph Krantz, July 16, 2010 at 9:27 a.m.

    I would have rather seen a mime than Lalas

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