Tuesday, July 11, 2006

World Cup Post #18

World Cup Team of the Tournament

JUST about everyone else has had a stab at their team of the tournament, so here’s mine, set out in the most popular world cup formation, the 4-5-1, or 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 or whatever slant you want to put on it. The hardest part, for me, was trying to decide whether there was room for Lucas Neill alongside Fabio Cannavaro in central defence and who should slot alongside Patrick Vieira in the deep central midfield role, either one of Torsten Frings, Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso. Here goes;

Goalkeeper, Gianluigi Buffon (Italy); In a tournament where the general level of goalkeeping was excellent, Kalac’s blunder against Croatia stuck out. Klinsmann proved he made an excellent choice in Lehmann, ditto Domenech in choosing Barthez ahead of Coupet. Such has been the focus on organised defences in modern football that no single keeper was overworked, but they had to be alert when needed. This is where Buffon shone. In every game he had to make the odd brilliant save at a crucial moment, such as his block from Chipperfield, his save against Ukraine in the quarter final when his team were up 1-0, his spectacular tip-over from a Podolski blast in the semi final and his flying stop to deny a late Zidane header that would have given France the crown, all vital work. His work in remonstrating for Zidane to be red-carded was less memorable.

Right back, Gianluca Zambrotta (Italy); One of the world’s best and most consistent defenders for the past decade, he has been a pleasure to watch in major tournaments and the Champions League, and his work this month was in keeping with these fine standards. Started on the left, but when Zaccardo made a howler against the States, Zambrotta was switched to the right and Grosso came in on the left. In terms of effective adjustments, few have been better. Blessed with two good feet, Zambrotta looks to get forward but never neglects his defensive duties, but he did get lucky not to give away what looked a clear penalty in the final, when he miss-timed a tackle on Malouda.

Central defender, Fabio Cannavaro (Italy); Like Zambrotta and Alessandro Nesta, one of the best defenders in the world for the past decade, this was his stage, his time, as the Italian captain, to add to the legend. I was fortunate enough to witness, live, his performance against the Socceroos in Kaiserslautern, simply superb. In truth, I wish he’d chosen another day to be so good, but his performance highlighted everything you want from a defender – strength and speed on the ground and in the air, all done with composure and a cleanness. His performances just got better, particularly in keeping a clean sheet in the Dortmund semi final. Only the extreme pace of Henry troubled him, but even then he scrambled well. Unlucky the voting for the Golden Ball was done at half time in the final.

Central defender, Lucas Neill (Australia); While Lillian Thuram and William Gallas were rocks at the back, enhancing and reinforcing their reputations for Les Bleus, France defended largely as a unit, in numbers and deep, making it more comfortable for the central defenders. The Socceroos, meanwhile, played positive attacking football, often leaving themselves exposed at the back. It was a gamble by Hiddink, but in Lucas Neill he had a defender/sweeper who did a brilliant job at coming out of the defensive line, covering it and then playing or bringing the ball out of the back. His timing in the tackle was most often spot on, except on that one crucial occasion, when he may have been better advised to stay on his feet. Proved under Hiddink he has so much more to his game than the hack we've grown accustomed to seeing in the EPL, a revelation.

Left back, Philip Lahm (Germany); Right from the first minute of the first game, this diminutive left back was impressing with his combination of tenacity, drive and penetration. Came to prominence for VfB Stuttgart a couple of seasons back in the Champions League and became such a threat going forward in this tournament that teams in the knockouts placed players on him solely to limit his forward thrust. Peckerman did so by using Maxi Rodriguez, while Lippi used Cameronesi high up the pitch to keep Lahm busy, but he eventually got on top of both. His goal v Costa Rica was a scorcher, a great way to kick off the festival.

Central midfielder, Patrick Vieira (France); While much has been made about the sublime contribution from the great man, Zidane, in getting France to the final, the unsung hero was Vieira. When Les Bleus where down and seemingly out of the tournament (0-0 at half time v Togo), there was one thing lacking from their game, drive from midfield - too much ball-to-feet stuff and little penetrating. Up stepped Vieira, driving forward to score one and set up another. He continued his great screening and use of the ball against Spain, Brazil and Portugal, before a tweak finally brought him undone in the final. After being outplayed by the apprentice Fabregas in the Champions League, Vieira got his revenge in the quarter final.

Central midfielder, Torsten Frings (Germany); Outstanding in all six games he played (he missed the semi due to being suspended for punching Julio Cruz after the penalty shootout win in the quarter final), his energy and commitment in a four man midfield (remember most top teams had the luxury of a three-man central midfield ) was top notch, doing the dirty work for the likes of Ballack, Klose and Podolski. Frings, more familiar to us as a right wing-back in previous German teams, was everywhere, covering the fullbacks when they overlapped and even getting forward on occasions, as witnessed by his bomb against Costa Rica. Like Klose, his technique has improved remarkably over the past four years.

Attacking midfield, Zinedine Zidane (France); Despite his brain explosion late in the final, it was just great to see the great man rekindle the powers that most, including this correspondent, thought we’d never see again. His performance in the Brazil match was the stuff of a legend, grasping and controlling the game on his own, much as he had done on an almost weekly basis at his peak. Also played well against Spain, Portugal and Italy, but it was his quarter final that will live in the memory.

Right midfield, Frank Ribery (France); Largely unknown before the finals, he was a surprise inclusion ahead of Ludovic Guily in the squad. Now we know why. Ribery, blessed with blistering pace, a wonderful attitude and good technique played every game, belying his nimble frame by getting stuck in and mixing it physically, working back as often as he ventured forward. Seemed to get better and more confident by the game. Supremely fit, he could have won the trophy for France had his extra time shot finished the other side of Buffon’s post. One senses he won't be at Marseille for long.

Left midfield, Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina); A player who impressed at youth level in 2001 under Peckerman has made the step up to the senior ranks seamlessly, buzzing inwards from the flanks, driving, creating and scoring, all with excellent technique. In a sensational team performance against Serbia & Montenegro, he shone, scoring twice and being involved in everything. It was the same against Mexico in the second round, his extra time volley capping a man of the match display. Strangely, against Germany, he was deployed wide on the right, as much to stop Lahm from getting forward as to create himself.

Striker, Miroslav Klose (Germany); What a transformation from four years ago when he hardly set the world on fire with a style best described as powerful in the air but poor on the ground. This time around he still had the power - remarkable power - but his technical skills on the ground have improved beyond belief. He mightn’t be van Basten, but Klose was the busiest, most difficult to deal with striker in the tournament, teasing defenders with his intelligent movement, as Sorin found out late in the quarter final. He also proved he could create for others, teeing up two beauties for Podolski against Sweden. Not surprisingly he ran out of steam towards the end of the tournament, but that’s only because he’d worked so hard he had nothing left. Thoroughly deserved the Golden Boot.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

It’s a shame Italy won the world cup, sure they put the final goals in, but their overall acting performance doesn’t represent what the world game is all about. It seems the same Italian players keep falling creating controversial penalties at critical times in critical games. If you compare this type of play with the rest of the world cup teams then you can clearly see the advantage it gives a team in what most would describe as dimsal play from an otherwise very professional group of players.
Why do they play like this? Well that’s anyone’s guess.

To think the Aussies walked all over the Italians in our recent match proves to me as well as 95 per cent of Australians as well as 80 per cent of the world that if it wasn’t for that fall in the dying seconds creating a penalty which in turn put a goal against us we undoubtedly would have been in the final, possibly winning the world cup.
Go the Aussies… NB

Wed. Jul. 12, 11:12:00 am AEST  
Anonymous Pinuts Pethia said...

Referee of the tournament?

Mon. Jul. 17, 04:11:00 pm AEST  
Blogger The Round Ball Analyst said...

Pinuts....

It just got better by the game;

Markus Merk was outstanding in the Brazil v Australia game,

Graham Poll was better in the Croatia v Australia game,

The Russian Valentin Ivanov was in total control of the Holland/Portugal 2nd round,

But surely no-one was better than Medina Cantalejo at the Fritz Walter!!!

On serious side, FIFA really does need to look at the whole officiating of the world cup, whether that includes the introduction of video analysis or making a concerted effort to stamp out the cynical play-acting that increasingly took-over the tournament.

As the games got tighter and more important, the stakes lifted, tactics became more defensive meaning teams needed to find an edge somewhere, which unfortauntely meant many resorted to cynical means to obtain that edge.

But the officals can/should see this, and come down hard.

It all comes from the top, so it'll be interesting to see Blatter's response.

Mon. Jul. 17, 05:00:00 pm AEST  

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