An extra-time Mario Götze winner sent Argentine fans into despair and their German counterparts into scenes of jubilation, as the 20th World Cup drew to an enthralling, exciting close – if not one filled with goals, or even a superior side. Nevertheless, this is Germany’s fourth World Cup win in the history of the tournament – fans of German football music or just general football history will recall their triumphs in 1954, 1974 and 1990 – but this may well be the sweetest yet. While Germany were listed in the pre-tournament favourites, their hopes were hit by injuries and a reasonably slow start, something reflected actually in the run of play on Sunday evening at the Maracana, but they are now, fittingly, the Champions of the World. Argentina, meanwhile, showed themselves to be worthy runners-up, giving the German defence a number of scares in the second half in particular, something the Germans acknowledged post-match, forming a guard of honour as Argentina, led by Lionel Messi, collected their runners-up medals.
Story of the Game
Both sides attempted to gain a feeler for their opponent in the opening minutes, Argentina also still getting used to Christoph Kramer’s late introduction to the game following an injury to Real Madrid’s Sami Khedira; as such, both sides pretty much reverted to type – or at least, the type we’ve seen all tournament – Germany pulling the strings and passing neatly among themselves as Argentina sat back and looked to hurt Germany on the break, the three-pronged attack of Messi, Higuain and Lavezzi sure to menace the German rearguard.
Argentina’s front-men were the first to pose a real threat. Germany had a free-kick in a dangerous area, relatively central to the Argentinian goal, but nothing came of it, Argentina instead pouncing on the counter, outnumbering Germany on the break and the ball eventually reaching Gonzalo Higuain, who flashed across the face of goal after nice build-up by Lavezzi. Germany’s best attacking movement was coming from the right hand side, Philipp Lahm and Thomas Müller combining very neatly in the early minutes of the game. One such combination, almost directly after the missed Higuain chance, nearly drew first blood for Germany. Lahm fed Müller, who drilled a ball deep into the area towards the likes of Mesut Özil and World Cup record goalscorer Miroslav Klose, but the Bayern midfielder’s ball wasn’t aimed very well, hitting an Argentine defender and trickling almost apologetically into the gloves of AS Monaco’s Sergio Romero.
From the ensuing Argentine counter, Lionel Messi surged past Mats Hummels – twice in one action – before squaring for his countrymen in the middle, having reached the byline. Rather than a South American boot on the end of a magical stretch of the legs from Messi, it was Bastian Schweinsteiger who made the vital contact, hacking the ball clear of the area, eliminating all immediate danger. Lahm had an entertaining dash down the right wing minutes later, squaring for Miroslav Klose whose outstretched leg couldn’t quite make the all-meaningful contact the build-up move for it had perhaps deserved.
Moments later, late arrival to the first XI, Christoph Kramer, who, remember, hadn’t even been named in the provisional 30-man squad before impressing in that pre-tournament friendly against Poland and making the final cut, was in the wars. On the edge of the box, Kramer challenged Garay for the ball, but felt the full force of Garay’s side in the head, leaving the Borussia Mönchengladbach midfielder concussed and seemingly dazed. While he tried to play through it, there wasn’t to be the Javier Mascherano-like performance that viewers across Germany dreamed of, Kramer coming off not long later. It was a shame for him personally, as well as Germany who had lost a player who had already shown several good touches, and had to alter their shape, bring on a winger in Andre Schürrle.
At this early stage, Germany had around 75% possession, but both sides were creating a similar amount of chances – this quite clearly showed the game plans of the respected sides that we’d all expected. Interestingly, Argentina looked the more dangerous of the two sides, and they were about to prove that again. A rather clumsy build-up on the counter for Argentina led to a breakdown in attack, Germany winning the ball back in a central area with Napoli’s Higuain miles offside. A high ball, however, fooled Toni Kroos, who in a moment of madness misjudged a header which flew past the two centre backs, Boateng and Hummels, and directly into Higuain’s stride. Fortunately for Kroos, however, his blushes were spared, as Higuain dragged a shot wide under pressure from an onrushing Neuer. It was poor – let that be said – and could have been a defining moment in the game if it swung momentum Germany’s way.
It didn’t, though. Sure, Germany had further chances in the first half; it’s just that Argentina probably had the better, with momentum actually growing in their favour before half-time. Argentina had the ball in the net, through that man Gonzalo Higuain, not long later. A sweeping counter found Ezequiel Lavezzi, whose whipped ball around the German defence found Higuain who this time made no mistake, firing neatly past Neuer and wheeling off in jubilation. Awkwardly, the Argentine hadn’t realised he was a good yard offside, having completely mistimed his run, sparking disappointment in the Argentine sections of the crowd and indeed on the touchline.
Germany swept down the left almost immediately after and Müller set free Schürrle, whose high drive was slightly deflected off the back of Mesut Özil and was well saved by Romero; Özil tried to bury the rebound, but firstly – didn’t, and secondly – was offside at the time of Schürrle’s shot, so it wouldn’t have counted anyway. Messi then found himself in the area after a gliding run from wide, but he was crowded out in the area, with Jerome Boateng slicing clear off the line. It was an excellent piece of defending by the Berlin-born defender, but Messi really ought to have done more with what was a golden chance.
Özil continued the frenetic, counter-attacking vibe of the game, pacing past two Argentine men before squaring to Toni Kroos, whose shot wide lacked the necessary conviction to challenge Romero in the Argentine goal. It could have been a tame end to a pulsating first half, but fortunately yet more excitement was to follow on the stroke of half time.
Benedikt Höwedes rose highest at the final corner of the half, winning a free header but unfortunately striking the inside of the post. It was a beautiful header, one which was also very powerful too, but lacked the necessary direction to nestle into the net – that was all it really needed to hoist Germany into a 1-0 lead. Thomas Müller tried to slice the rebound in, but Romero was equal to it again, while Müller had been offside anyway – it wouldn’t have counted. Nevertheless, it was an exciting end to a first half which blew all memories of that torrid Johannesburg night out of the water.
The second half started with Argentina on top, Messi presented – almost immediately – with the best chance of the game until that point. The diminutive forward took the ball past Boateng with a drop of the shoulder, but his left footed shot was scuffed just past the post, as Manuel Neuer looked on helplessly. It looked, though, that Argentina were getting closer. Messi was growing into the game while Germany’s high line, which pundits made so much of earlier in the tournament, was beginning to be called into question again. Schürrle soon took matters into his own hands, however, skipping down the left wing and into the box. The Chelsea forward was fouled, but the ball trickled out to Müller whose blocked cross earned his side a corner – and a chance to put Germany in front. That didn’t happen, though, Argentina countering, as Higuain challenged Neuer for a ball on the edge of the area which Neuer punched clear, hurting the Napoli forward in the process. It was almost like a not-as-bad Schumacher in 1982 moment, because Neuer clearly only had eyes for the ball and Higuain wasn’t too badly hurt, but the striker did leave the field moments later, anyway, Palacio replacing him.
Schürrle created another opportunity, this time having his cross deflected behind the onrushing Mesut Özil who could only flick wide. Müller then fed Schürrle, but the Chelsea man’s body wasn’t open to the pass, so he dallied on the ball and lost it to a defender. Kroos missed a near-carbon copy of his first half effort towards the end of the half, as Germany went for the jugular, but it was the last real chance of normal time, so we went on for a further half an hour. Would extra time provide a winner?
Well, yes. But not immediately. Schürrle very nearly opened the scoring in a similar fashion to against Algeria earlier in the tournament, but his shot was dealt with well by Romero from close range. Minutes later, substitute Palacio found himself alone in the box with Manuel Neuer, and, under pressure, opted to awfully lob the goalkeeper rather than sensibly take a shot. This went feebly wide, letting Germany off the hook after leaving themselves too open at the back. Mats Hummels looked a shadow of the man earlier in the tournament – hell, even earlier in the final – as it became clear that he was suffering from the injury which forced him off at half time in the semi, still. He carried on, though, sitting a lot deeper than Jerome Boateng but providing some key passes and tackles as the game wore on.
The first half of extra time finished with no more real incident, other than a horrible tackle by Mascherano on Schweinsteiger which should have earned the Barcelona midfielder a second yellow. Sergio Agüero followed suit minutes later, punching Schweinsteiger in the face in a challenge for the ball, but he also wasn’t deemed worthy of punishment by referee Nicola Rizzoli. Finally, though, the game was opening up again, though.
Andre Schürrle received the ball deep on the left, and he ran his man Pablo Zabaleta well. Getting to the byline, Schürrle squared towards Mario Götze, just on as a substitute, to apply a stylish finish past Sergio Romero. As well as being the winner – with just 6 minutes left on the clock for Argentina to reply – it was a historically significant goal in more than one sense. In November 2010, Mario Götze and Andre Schürrle came on as substitutes for Germany at the same time in a friendly against Sweden, for their debuts. These weren’t normal debuts, though – Schürrle and Götze were the first German national team players to have been born after the re-unification of Germany in October 1990, meaning that the combination for a goal which won Germany its first World Cup as a reunited country was fittingly scored and assisted by the duo. It was a nice goal, too, which always helps.
Lionel Messi had two late chances – heading over before firing a free kick wildly past Neuer’s goal – but it was Germany’s night. They are World Cup Champions for the fourth time, their first World Cup win since the summer of 1990, in which they also beat Argentina 1-0 in the final. Some things never change.
As the German band Sportfreunde Stiller put it in their 2006 World Cup anthem, “’54, ’74, ’90, 2006”, “The first time it was a Miracle, the second time lucky. The third time deserved, next time a sensation”. Looking back 8 years on, that’s probably a fitting summary of what this victory means to Germany.
Player Ratings (out of 10)
Manuel Neuer – 7: Wasn’t actually all too busy – Argentina didn’t get a shot on target in real time – but was a commanding presence and deserved the Golden Glove he picked up at the end.
Philipp Lahm – 7: Linked up well with Thomas Müller down the right – and, as the captain, the image of him lifting the trophy will go down in history forever.
Jerome Boateng – 8: Imperious doesn’t cover it. Boateng made several great tackles and interceptions, including the tackle of the tournament just after the re-start in the second half of extra time.
Mats Hummels – 6: Looked on his last legs towards the end, and was exposed a lot by Lionel Messi, but otherwise reasonably solid.
Benedikt Höwedes – 6: Missed two good chances, and didn’t cover Hummels very well, but again, an otherwise solid performance.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – 9: Proved yet again what a big game player he can be. Schweinsteiger was everywhere on the pitch, breaking up attacks and orchestrating ones of his own.
Christoph Kramer – 7: Was one of Germany’s bright sparks in the half hour he was on the pitch, a concussion suffered early on ruled him out for most of the proceedings though.
Thomas Müller – 7: Caused havoc throughout. Positive performance, just lacking the eye for goal somewhat.
Toni Kroos – 6: Pretty poor in an attacking role and didn’t trace runs when he dropped into the “Doppelsechs”. Not his finest hour.
Mesut Özil – 7: The Arsenal man has been unfairly derided all tournament long, but looked very good against Argentina. Maybe lacked the killer instinct in the final third at points.
Miroslav Klose – 7: Wore out the Argentina defence effectively, and ran almost until the end – no mean feat for a 36 year old. This triumph will be his crowning glory.
Andre Schürrle – 7: The Chelsea forward was wasteful in normal time, but was excellent in extra time, setting up the winner. Can’t argue with that.
Mario Götze – 8: A handy performance capped by a World Cup winning goal. Can’t fault that!
Per Mertesacker – 6: Only really had to win one header in his cameo, was probably more a symbolic move by Löw.
Sergio Romero – 7: Made several good saves, unlucky to be beaten by an excellent finish late on.
Pablo Zabaleta – 6: Didn’t attack very well, and didn’t really do much to negate Schürrle either. Baffling performance from the Manchester City defender.
Martin Demichelis – 7: Cut out several German attacks – maybe bolstered by his experience of playing with around half of the team in his stint with Bayern.
Ezequiel Garay – 7: Another good performance by Garay. Injured Christoph Kramer with a clumsy challenge, but let’s forgive and forget.
Marcos Rojo – 5: Terrorised all night by Müller and Philipp Lahm.
Javier Mascherano – 8: Pulled the strings for Argentina yet again. Forget Messi – Mascherano is this side’s key man.
Lucas Biglia – 7: Reasonable performance, certainly matched the German midfield for phases throughout.
Enzo Perez – 7: Similarly to Biglia, Perez looked at home in the midfield. Positive performance for the Benfica man.
Lionel Messi – 7: Showed glimpses of what he can do, but was limited to just that – glimpses.
Ezequiel Lavezzi – 8: Probably Argentina’s most creative attacker, though replaced at half time with Agüero.
Gonzalo Higuain – 5: Did his best Fred tribute act.
Sergio Agüero – 5: Aside from one lovely turn of pace, he wasn’t the Agüero we know from Manchester City. Struggling with injury though, so let’s not criticise too much.
Rodrigo Palacio – 5: Missed a fine chance in extra time. Oh well, Rodrigo.
Fernando Gago – 6: Didn’t really make an impression on the game.
Man of the Match
Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern München midfielder was everywhere on the pitch, looking exactly like the player we all know he can be. This – at his peak as a player – will be his crowning moment. No more can he and his generation – the likes of Lahm, Mertesacker, Klose and Podolski – be labelled as bottlers. It wouldn’t be surprising to find out he covered every blade of grass, and while he was definitely played more in a defensive function than usual, that’s not entirely surprising given the presence of Lionel Messi in Argentina’s line-up. A worthy champion.
David Ospina: The man behind the changing tide at Arsenal?
Brazil 2014 was a big changing point for this 26 year-old gentleman, given that how well Columbia did. Normally, when you perform at the highest platform, you make a good case for a club or/and agent to bunk up your worth. This said, David made a great case for himself at a point where he decided that he was to move on from his former club, Nice to pastures new. Not for the lack of trying, I’d bet a pound to a penny that Nice did everything in their power to keep the energetic Keeper from leaving. After seeing Fabianski leave the Emirates for plucky underdogs Swansea, there was room on the bench/understudy to Szczesny and what better than James Rodriguez’s brother-in-law (just throwing that in, I’m sure his CV is glossier than that).
I don’t think I’m the only one which has seen the void in net since the departure of Seaman. Jens did alright, but I only got the impression that he was filling the gap for a younger and more headstrong keeper. Almunia felt similar, although he has a common trend in coming as back-up and replacing a mistake ridden mess in the first team. Mannone was lost in the great search for a main keeper which saw him Szczesny and Fabianski all jumping for that number one slot like prized salmon. That said, Mannone moved on to the Nightswatch (Sunderland) and so did Fabianski to Wales (Poor bastards) last summer and Arsene signed Ospina.
Southampton are pivotal to Ospina’s career at Arsenal. Not only did he make his debut in the 2-1 loss in the Capital One Cup but later the game in which they lost 2-0 where Szczesny conceded and appeared to give not much cop except only about his thirst when he chugged from his bottle soon just after Southampton scored. This was the infamous “Showersmokergate” where the Polish international was apparently caught with a lung full of the naughty stuff which, apparently, isn’t that uncommon at the Emirates.
After being dropped like an aftershave bottle on the foot of Canizares, Arsenal have gone on an emphatic turn in which has led to Ospina having one of the greatest Win Ratio’s in the League. Sure if you look at it you see names like del Horno and Stepanov which I’m sure are now excellent pundit’s/twitter bait for “Forgotten Players of Yesterday”, but Ospina recent ratio of 91.7% pretty much encapsulates how well they’re doing with him. 11 victories out of the last 12 has pushed pundits and supporters alike to say “they could, you know, not do that stupid fourth place race with Spurs and make Chelsea’s life difficult”. Given Man City’s fall of grace and fan’s raising questions on why can’t a hipster’s choice make it in the Premier League? (Just wait for Klopp), Arsenal look ever more likely to shout “heeeey batter batter swing” every time Chelsea play to keep them looking over their shoulders.
I look at Ospina and instantly feel he’s more of a keeper than Szczesny. All that bravado and cocksure attitude from the Polish international only made me think he wasn’t all that confident in his own abilities and given an Arsenal defence can breakdown at any time like a late 90’s Fiat Punto, then it’s possibly not the best fit. Ospina doesn’t have that problem with his power-steering nor his ability. He’s an excellent shot stopper given the size of him and can organise and scream at his defence with the best of them. Given that he stands at just 1.80 meters tall (5ft 10 to you and me) he shadows in the comparative light of De Gea (6ft 2) and Courtois (6ft 7), but still, he’s keeping up with the Paul Joneses.
Ospina can’t take all the limelight for all the good that’s become of recent months (we’ll just forget about Monaco), as they’ve come across Coquelin and Bellerin which have added to well needed Polyfilla to that leaky-if-not combustible tap of a defence. Coquelin is what Arsenal have been searching for, what every fan who watches and says “why’d we never replace Vieira?” and lastly, what every bloke buys a man to cover the position for on Football Manager. A rough, tough tackling midfielder general who gets the ball from deep that isn’t covered in a cast like Wilshere nor kicks the living shit out of players like Flamini. Bellerin has been equally impressive with eye-catching performance like the recent pearler he scored against Liverpool.
Good year for Arsenal if they maintain it and given the players who’ve come out to play and play extremely well together, they could do the unmentionable if Chelsea slip up in one or two matches, but now I’ve mentioned or at least alluded to, so you know Arsenal fan’s, sorry about that forth spot.
Bursting Onto The Scene – World Cup Breakthrough XI
As well as showcasing some of the best footballers of this generation, the World Cup in Brazil also served as a stage for some of more unknown players to shine. With the likes of Costa Rica, Mexico, and Algeria doing better than expected in the tournament, as well as many players shining in Brazil, we have selected a World Cup ‘Breakthrough’ XI.
Goalkeeper: Guillermo Ochoa
Guillermo ‘Memo’ Ochoa has always been recognised in his home nation as a world class shot stopper, but received little recognition outside of home. When his spell at boyhood club América ended, rumours of a move to the likes of Manchester United, Fulham, Sevilla and Roma soon followed. Ochoa eventually signed for Ajaccio in France where he spent three seasons. The Mexican entered the World Cup knowing that he would be a Free Agent by the time his campaign finished, and put in a string of supreme performances in a tournament where Mexico exceeded expectations. After showing such stunning World Cup form, Ochoa will not be short of options this summer, especially now that a free transfer is on the cards.
Right Back: DeAndre Yedlin
Despite not starting a game in the World Cup, 21 Year Old Right Back DeAndre Yedlin makes the team after some electric performances off the bench. Eyebrows were raised initially upon Yedlin’s inclusion in the 23 man squad, but he impressed immensely in the three substitute appearances he made in Brazil. Despite defeat, Yedlin’s incredible stamina coupled with his blistering pace caused Belgium a world of problems in the Round of 16 match. Since that game, and in turn USA’s tournament exit, rumours of interest from the likes of Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich have flooded in. While it may be a risk moving to Europe with such little experience under his belt, many teams would happily pay the £3m fee that Seattle Sounders are rumoured to be waiting for.
Centre Back: Daley Blind
As far as young Dutch talent goes, Daley Blind may be seen as a late bloomer despite still only being 24 years of age. Blind caught the eye in Brazil from the Left Back and Centre Back position, with accomplished performances throughout the tournament. While he has shown defensive quality in Van Gaal’s 5-3-2 formation, with a goal and 3 assists to his name, including the stunning pass to Robin Van Persie that set up the striker’s header against Spain, Blind has shown plenty of ability going forward too. For Ajax this season, Blind played in a multitude of positions, namely Centre Midfield, Left Back and Centre Back, and had a pass success rate of 87% in all competitions last season.
Centre Back: Giancarlo Gonzalez
26 year old Centre Back Giancarlo Gonzalez was a rock in the impressive Costa Rica defence at the World Cup. The expected whipping boys of the group surprised everyone by winning the tough Group D ahead of Uruguay, Italy and England. Gonzalez was a crucial part of the hard working Defensive system that conceded only 2 goals from open play in the tournament where they reached the Quarter Final stage. QPR Defender and World Cup pundit Rio Ferdinand was very impressed with Gonzalez, and said he would be shocked if Gonzalez wasn’t signed by a European team. After dealing with the likes of Wayne Rooney, Edinson Cavani, Arjen Robben and Mario Balotelli in the tournament, who is to say Gonzalez isn’t good enough for a top Champions League side?
Left Back: Miguel Layun
The #TodoesculpadeLayun (Everything is Layun’s fault) hashtag on social networks took off in May 2011 and was used to cruelly focus the attention of Club America’s struggles at that time onto Layun. The Defender’s career was on the slide back then, enduring poor form with America after already struggling in a two-year stint with Atalanta in Italy. The turning point in Layun’s career however, came when current Mexico coach Miguel Herrera took over at Club America ahead of the 2012 Clausura. Layun developed alongside Herrera at club level and then internationally too with Herrera taking over in October 2013. Layun became one of Mexico’s biggest weapons in Brazil as the left wing-back in the 5-3-2 system. Layun has a European passport which opens the door to a move to a European team – something which could come in handy after the impressive tournament he endured.
Centre Midfield: Valon Behrami
While most of us know Valon Behrami from his time in the Premier League with West Ham, and now with Rafa Benitez at Napoli, few knew he was capable of such accomplished Centre Midfield performances as he showed with Switzerland out in Brazil. Playing in a deep role alongside Captain Gokan Inler, Behrami got about the pitch like few others can, showing his great stamina and tactical nous. Behrami finished the World Cup with an impressive 84% pass accuracy from the 4 games he played, and made an average of almost 4 tackles per game. Behrami will be hoping to guide Napoli through the Champions League playoff round next month.
Centre Midfield: Hector Herrera
Hector Herrera, I believe, is one of the most underrated Midfielders playing in Europe. Herrera had a huge part to play in Mexico’s impressive showing in the tournament, with his well rounded game causing Brazil, for one, many problems in the group stage. Herrera averaged 3 key passes per game in the World Cup, with his 82% pass success providing an assist too. Manchester United were rumoured to be interested in the Midfielder when he left Pachuca, and they could do a lot worse than go in for the Mexican this summer. Herrera’s Porto is another team who will need to win a playoff game to make the Champions League for next season – should be still be a Porto player by then that is.
Attacking Midfield: James Rodriguez
By no means was James Rodriguez unknown before the World Cup, but the extent of his performances has since propelled him to become one of the most expensive footballers of all time. 6 Goals in 5 World Cup Games earned Rodriguez the highly prestigious Golden Boot award, and since then a £63million 6 Year Deal with Real Madrid too. As well as his 6 goals (including the goal of the tournament against Uruguay), Rodriguez also made 2 assists for his teammates and averaged 2 key passes during the tournament. It will be interesting to see how Real Madrid can fit Rodriguez into an already star studded lineup next season.
Right Wing: Ahmed Musa
Nigerian Forward Ahmed Musa looks to be a real talent aged only 21. Musa became the first Nigerian to score twice in a single World Cup game against Argentina, in a piece of brilliance only surpassed in the same game by one Lionel Messi. The youngster has already represented his nation 40 times, after making his debut aged 17, and scored 7 International goals. While he has had Champions League experience with CSKA Moscow already in his short career, don’t rule out a summer move on the back of such an impressive World Cup.
Striker: Joel Campbell
Arsenal’s Costa Rican Forward Joel Campbell had a World Cup to remember in a Costa Rican side which more than exceeded expectations in the tournament. We got a glimpse of Campbell’s ability last season in Olympiakos’ Round of 16 Champions League meeting with Manchester United, with Campbell scoring a fantastic long distance curling effort to put the Greek side 2-0 up in the first leg. Campbell scored 8 League goals last season, and earned a starting place in Brazil as a result. A goal and an assist in the tournament have furthered Campbell’s claims to be a first teamer next season with Arsenal.
Left Wing: Memphis Depay
PSV’s Memphis Depay could be Holland’s next big thing. The 20 year old had a breakthrough season in the Eredivisie this season, scoring 14 goals and getting 10 assists in all competitions for his club. His rise to prominence has resulted in a host of top clubs reportedly chasing the Winger, including Tottenham, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester United. Depay came on for the Dutch for his 7th international cap against Australia in Brazil, and scored a superb match winning goal from 25 yards out to make it 3-2, and in turn guarantee Netherlands progression out of the group stages a match early. Depay then scored again against Chile to double his tally. As a Left Winger, his electric pace and skilled dribbling (averaging over 3 successful take ons per game) has already seen him compared to a young Cristiano Ronaldo in his native Holland.
Bundesliga 2014 World Cup XI
Germany had a fine World Cup in more ways than one. Not only did their national team win the World Cup in historic style, but their national league, the Bundesliga, saw the rise to prominence of many of its young stars. A number of sides featured some incredibly talented Germany-based players, while the German squad itself contained no fewer than 16 Bundesliga men dotted around the country. With this in mind, then, what would a World Cup best XI look like if made up purely of Bundesliga players?
Manuel Neuer – FC Bayern München – Goalkeeper
Manuel Neuer is an easy choice for the position of goalkeeper, his fine tournament already eclipsing the relatively average Diego Benaglio of Wolfsburg before officially winning the Golden Glove, while the likes of Yann Sommer, Roman Weidenfeller, Roman Bürki, Daniel Davari (now of Grasshoppers, but Braunschweig’s first choice goalkeeper last season) and Ron-Robert Zieler were all consigned to the bench.
Neuer’s strength in goal was confirmed with several stunning saves, especially in the latter stages, as he kept Germany in the game against Algeria in a surprisingly pulsating Second Round tie, while he withstood a French barrage late on in the Quarter Final before producing one of his best performances in the final. One area which delighted more than ever, though, was his role as a sweeper keeper, quite literally taking defending into his own hands as the German high line faltered at stages in the tournament. Neuer’s quick thinking and fleet-footedness may not have added to his save ratio, which already stood at an impressive four saves per goal conceded, but it definitely prevented Germany from conceding more goals than they did, as Neuer kept four clean sheets during the tournament, including against Argentina in the final.
Fabian Johnson – Borussia Mönchengladbach – Right Back
Lauded early on as the best full back of the competition, a number of big clubs will have been rueing not picking up Fabian Johnson on a free from 1899 Hoffenheim at the end of this season; FC Barcelona were even linked with a multi-million Euro move for the American, before he’s even linked up with new club, Borussia Mönchengladbach, for pre-season training.
As it is, he’ll stay with the Foals, which will no doubt please fans and his teammates alike. Johnson’s marauding runs were one of the only dangerous elements of a relatively blunt USA attack, and this was typified in Johnson’s man of the match performance in the 2-2 draw with Portugal, as he stretched the weakened Portuguese backline all night long. With an incredible passing percentage for a player whose game relies a lot on crossing – 77% – and having won all his attempted tackles and more than half his take-ons throughout the tournament, Johnson can quite rightly lay claim to being the best Bundesliga-based right back of the 2014 World Cup, as the other contender, Philipp Lahm, was very poor in a midfield berth for most of the tournament, before successfully moving back to his usual position.
Sokratis Papastathopoulos – Borussia Dortmund – Centre Back
It’s hard to overstate how far Sokratis has come along in the past year at Borussia Dortmund. Joining largely as cover for both centre and right back, the Greek centre back has cemented himself as an important part of the defensive puzzle at the Westfalenstadion, and confirmed his name on the World stage in Greece’s surprise run to the Round of 16, where he scored a dramatic last-gasp equaliser against Costa Rica.
Papastathopoulos was the lynchpin of the Greek defence, attempting successfully to control a number of opposition defenders. Given that Greece conceded 5 goals throughout, he did this rather successfully, and this was typified in the second game against Japan when, against ten men, Sokratis marshalled a defence which kept a clean sheet despite Japan’s technical and attacking prowess.
Mats Hummels – Borussia Dortmund – Centre Back
It’s absolutely impossible to not include the German centre back supremo Mats Hummels in the team of the tournament – and even more so in the Bundesliga team. Hummels was probably Germany’s most consistent outfielder despite playing with a knee injury through the whole tournament; his goals against Portugal and France were some of the most important of Germany’s entire campaign, starting off their tally for the tournament and in arguably their toughest game before the final, while a tiring, very clearly injured Hummels quite easily held the likes of Agüero, Messi and Palacio at bay despite being exposed by the hapless Benedikt Höwedes and not being able to walk very well.
One area which characterised Hummels’ tournament was his elegance and confidence on the ball. Completing 87% of his passes, it’s easy to see why he’s Germany and Dortmund’s first choice on the team sheet at centre back, as he can be relied on to distribute the ball as well as any midfielder could. His slight lack of pace wasn’t exposed all too much – a few Messi bursts in the final aside – because of his incredible positional play, which even manage to accommodate Per Mertesacker in a high defensive line. Who knew that could work?
Ricardo Rodriguez – VfL Wolfsburg – Left Back
It’s quite telling that, in Switzerland’s first game against Ecuador, Switzerland didn’t create anything of note until Xherdan Shaqiri relinquished the taking of set pieces to Rodriguez, the set piece specialist in the Swiss set-up. That paid immediate dividends, the Wolfsburg full back setting up Admir Mehmedi for a sensational equaliser with his first corner of the game. Unlike many dead ball men, though, Rodriguez is dangerous from open play too, setting up the Haris Seferovic winner in the same game, too.
One thing which was made abundantly clear in the Bundesliga this season is that Rodriguez is far too good to stay at Wolfsburg forever, and having built upon that reputation this summer he’ll no doubt continue to be linked with clubs such as Chelsea for the foreseeable future. His style in the tournament, very similar to that of fellow Bundesliga XI member Fabian Johnson, will no doubt have impressed pretty much anyone who watched Switzerland play.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – FC Bayern München – Central Midfielder
Bastian Schweinsteiger has been criticised and maligned as a player not made for the big games by some (albeit ignorant) sections of the press up until the past year or so, after a handful of spectacular big game failures in the 2010 World Cup, Euro 2012 and of course that Champions League „finale dahoam“ against Chelsea. What a way, then, to consign that waffle to the past. Schweinsteiger obviously began to shake off that reputation as a bottler with Bayern’s treble in 2013, but this World Cup title will be all the sweeter for one of the lynchpins of the Germany team.
Schweinsteiger was instrumental in the final, covering virtually every blade of grass despite his advancing years. His range of passing and bravery in the tackle set him apart from his teammates and the opposition; while his stats may often look marginally less impressive than Philipp Lahm’s, Schweinsteiger actually attempts passes that are longer than about 5 yards, while he also created several good chances from his deep midfield position. A worthy Champion.
Toni Kroos – then of FC Bayern München – Central Midfielder
It’s hard to overlook Toni Kroos for the second of the three central midfield berths in the side, purely because of his incredible performance against Brazil in the semi-final. Sure, Kroos isn’t actually a Bundesliga man anymore, having made the switch to Real Madrid the other day, but for the whole of the World Cup he was a Bayern man, and the alternatives in this slot are Ja-Cheol Koo and Luiz Gustavo, both of whom had poor World Cups, so we’ll just have to run with it.
Kroos’ three assists – two of which came in the latter stages, against France and Brazil – and his two goals typified his importance to the German side, who, after Kroos went missing somewhat in the final against Argentina, lacked the bite going forward they did when Kroos was playing balls into them. What is very clear when one looks at Toni Kroos’ game is that he is a player who is incredible with the ball, completing a ridiculous 90% of passes – a large proportion of which were quite long passes, rather than the 5-yard pap mentioned earlier. His positional play is also very good for a player who isn’t perhaps seen as a natural number 6 – most experts agree he slots in somewhere between a natural defensive midfielder and a number 10, maybe in the mould of the Frank Lampard of old – and of course, fourteen chances created over seven games isn’t to be sniffed at. Great tournament for Kroos.
Kevin de Bruyne – VfL Wolfsburg – Central Midfielder
Kevin de Bruyne was easily Belgium’s best player in their World Cup campaign, scoring potentially the most important goal of it to, the opener in extra time against the United States. De Bruyne played as a central midfielder for vast swathes of the tournament, flittering into attacking midfield at stages too, which means in this team he’s the furthest forward midfielder, but ultimately it was actually his play from deep that has actually cemented his place in the team, with Belgium’s attack well below par, if you consider the sort of talent it consists of.
De Bruyne played the role of creator for Belgium more often than not – creating no less than sixteen chances over the course of five matches, which outclassed the likes of the highly-rated Eden Hazard (who created thirteen). One weak area was his weakness in the challenge, losing take-ons more often than not, but even so, this was bypassed by his excellent passing, which clocked in at an impressive 80%.
Thomas Müller – FC Bayern München – Right Winger
It’s hard to know whether to considering Thomas Müller as a striker or a wide-man in the context of the 2014 World Cup, given that he pretty much spent half his playing time in each position. His five goals weren’t enough to pick up a second Golden Boot, but did propel his side to the final, alongside his assists in vital games against Ghana, Algeria and Brazil.
As such we’ve opted to go for a relatively fluid front three, with both wingers playing very narrowly. This should suit Thomas Müller quite well, whose ability to find space is second to none in the German side, while playing centrally limits his combination plays with the full backs a little too much to help his side offensively down the wings. A hat-trick against Portugal is what will be remember, but working in tandem with Philipp Lahm against Argentina was arguably his finest hour in the 2014 World Cup if you consider the amount of chances created.
Arjen Robben – FC Bayern München – Left Winger
Like with Mats Hummels, it’s pretty much impossible to not have Arjen Robben in any World Cup 2014 team, let alone a Bundesliga one. The Dutch attacker, deployed by his country largely as a second striker, was in inspired form throughout the tournament, scoring three goals and assisting another. Most strikingly, however, the shot-happy Robben actually only registered one shot off target in all seven games – compared to 9 which hit the target – while he created an incredible 17 chances, a high for any player in this team. There’s every indication he’d work very well in this team, especially when you consider his prior experience of playing with half of the team, too.
Despite being 30 years of age, Robben is also still a speedster – while that “record sprint” against Spain didn’t turn out to be a record after all, Robben still attempted 50 take-ons, completing 34 successfully, which is an astonishing statistic. Robben showed at the World Cup that he’s matured like a fine wine over the past few years, and at this rate you wouldn’t rule out seeing him in Russia next time around.
Admir Mehmedi – SC Freiburg – Striker
The toughest position to pick in the team. Not because of a wealth of talent to choose from, but actually because there’s very little to pick from. Mario Mandzukic left Bayern before the tournament ended, and only played twice anyway, while Germany didn’t even bother to take a striker from the Bundesliga to the World Cup and Leverkusen’s duo of Heung-Min Son and new boy Josip Drmic flattered to deceive. Admir Mehmedi is pretty much the last man standing in a tournament which didn’t really end well for strikers anyway, and, despite playing as a wide man for vast swathes, is arguably the most successful Bundesliga striker at the tournament.
Is this taking away from his performances a bit? Yeah. It must be stated that Admir Mehmedi was excellent in an unfamiliar position, in a team which fell short of expectations somewhat. His first touch of the tournament – against Ecuador – resulted in a goal, and this was arguably his high point of the World Cup, but the Freiburg man also toiled to some reward against Honduras, and worked very hard to keep Argentina at bay too. Plus, viewers of the Bundesliga will know very well how talented Mehmedi is – it’s not like he’s a random pick.
Well, there we have it! An exciting, attacking 4-3-3 befitting of an exciting, attacking league.
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