With so many players on show in such a short span of time, it can be very difficult to make a team of the week, especially when all the defenders of all the teams have collectively decided to throw away all the basics of the game out of the window! There will surely be a difference of opinion in the list compiled, so please feel free to let your views known in the comments below.
This one was a bit difficult, as there seemed to be no outstanding goal keeper after the first round of games were completed in the Group Stage. Perhaps the best showing was from USA’s Tim Howard, helping his team take revenge on Ghana, who had knocked them out in the last 2 editions. While the saves he made were comfortable enough, his confidence to claim high balls and sweeping behind the defence certainly gave his defenders a calming influence.
Perhaps the most irritating aspect of this world cup is the way top teams seem to have decided to not even fake knowledge of how to defend. Thankfully, there are still some who have shone through, and here’s my pick.
I’ll start with the very obvious. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that Daley Blind has taken the World Cup by the scruff of the neck right from game one. He was a relative unknown before the World Cup, but his assists have made him an instant star. A left back that can also play as a defensive midfielder, one might well be seeing the next Philipp Lahm!
France had quite an easy opening game against Honduras which they won 3-0. But despite the rough tactics of the Honduras team, Mathieu Debuchy had quite a good game for France, bombing forward, making short passes as well as long ones, and coming back to do his defence duties. His constant runs to the byline stretched an otherwise packed Honduras defence, helping create spaces for the strikers to exploit.
Before the tournament started, Johan Djourou may not have known whether he would make it to the starting XI. But he was given the chance, and he took it with both hands. Not only did he ensure that clear danger was averted on more than one occasion, he also did the sweeping role, cleaning up behind his partner. On the basis of this performance, it would be a surprise if he wasn’t picked for the rest of the games.
After having a masterclass season for club, Mertesacker seemed to have taken his form to the national side too. In a defence packed with 4 centre backs, he organized the defence well, and his positional game was spot on as always. Portugal never even had a chance to get back into the game, especially not after Pepe’s red card.
I guess anything written about this great man is inadequate. But perhaps the most important thing to note was not just the way he controlled the game, but also his own body. While youngsters around him were cramping up from the heat, he had no such problems throughout the game. In fact, he was never in any hurry throughout the game, and the same reflected on the entire Italian team too.
Getting a start in a World Cup match at such a young age is an achievement in itself. To go on and perform beyond expectations is what Raheem Sterling did. He was the heart and soul behind most England attacks and it was a pity that he had to end up on the losing side after such a wonderful display.
Mathieu Valbuena made telling contributions in the game against Honduras. He was energetic on the flanks and drifted inward a number of times, creating problems for the Honduras defence. He switched sides multiple times, making it difficult for the defenders to mark him during the game. If France are to continue in this free and fluid game, he will be an important cog.
That miss in the 2010 World Cup final would have eaten up an otherwise spectacular Arjen Robben and he now had the chance to make amends. And how he did it! He was a constant thorn in the Spanish defence, moving and dribbling past defenders with ease. He even scored 2 goals, putting to bed that costly miss 4 years ago.
Robin van Persie
The captain of the Netherlands team had a fantastic start to the tournament, scoring 2 crucial goals against a much fancied Spain side. His first goal was especially a treat to watch, using his head to lob it over Iker Casillas rather than use his foot, which is what most strikers would have done. He had an overall good game, and this would be a good confidence boost coming off a poor season in Manchester United colours.
It was a toss-up between Joel Campbell and Thomas Mueller, but the German’s hattrick against Portugal meant he would take the honours. With only Miroslav Klose as the recognized central striker in the squad, the onus was on Mueller once again to repeat his heroics from last time round. He got off to a great start, scoring 3 against a hapless Portugese side.