And so, it’s all over – the 2014 World Cup has concluded. But whilst a little bit sad the games have finished there exists perfect consolation in the tournament coming to its ideal close, with the best side winning, playing the best football, and sealing victory in a typically tight and tactical final with a wonderful goal (brilliantly assisted by a Chelsea player). Germany’s fourth World Cup win and its first as modern, unified nation is ultimately a victory for dedication to exciting, fast paced football as well as commitment to long term thinking and investment in youth from the beginning. Last night the years of work put into German football by Joachim Low and previously Jurgen Klinsmann was vindicated, as his side stood victorious in the Maracana – a squad of players filled with superstars from the current and future generation, well and truly at the pinnacle of the international game.
Other players besides the Germans are owed a lot of credit for making this such a closely contested and fascinating competition to observe, however. Here are my top 10 players of the tournament:
10) Mats Hummels – In a competition where virtually no centre half has stood out, Hummels’ performances have perhaps gone a little underappreciated. Not blessed with great pace and partnered with the even slower Per Mertesacker in the opening games, he helped make up a rather unconvincing high line. But as the tournament progressed he slowed his class, and was particularly good against the French where he scored the solitary goal of the game, evading Raphael Varane to put a smart header past Hugo Lloris.
9) Neymar – It was supposed to be his tournament, and for a while it appeared he would actually live up to the ludicrous expectations placed on his shoulders. It wasn’t until he was cruelly ruled out by injury however that the extent to which his genius was helping mask the many flaws in this Brazilian team became apparent. He can certainly be proud of his contributions.
8) Toni Kroos – Two dreams came true in one night for the young German after he confirmed post match his imminent transfer to Real Madrid. I think Bayern are morons for allowing him to leave. Kroos is totally without peer, even in this outstanding German midfield, nobody comes close to him in terms of both ball retention ability and for quality of movement in the final third. After this tournament his talent should finally be fully appreciated across the globe.
7) Arjen Robben – Two quiet showings in two extremely cagey, tactical games in the latter rounds prevented the Dutchman from staking a more serious claim for Golden Ball trophy, but over the opening fixtures, Robben was outstanding. Four goals in his first four games and two outstanding performances against the Spanish and Mexico led his side further than most thought they could possibly reach. Louis Van Gaal’s tactics were excellent throughout but ultimately it is Robben who is owed the credit for the Dutch’s remarkable over-achievement.
6) Manuel Neuer – Simply the best goalkeeper on the planet and one of the greatest of all time, was lucky not to concede a foul for a dangerous charge down of Gonzalo Higuain in the final, but otherwise was immaculate. As gifted a pure keeper as you’ll ever see, the German is also world class coming out of his area to play the ball from defence – just a sensational all-round footballer.
5) Javier Mascherano – More at home scrapping in midfield than he is in his usual centre half position for Barcelona, in both the final and semi-final, Mascherano turned in the two finest central midfield displays of the competition. Complete with brilliant, anus-splitting tackles, surprisingly effective distribution and some masterful reading of the game, he was the understated hero of his side’s journey to the final.
4) Thomas Muller – In a tournament where no centre forward has truly stood out, the best forward play of the tournament has come courtesy of the Bayern attacker. A classically scrappy hat-trick in the opening game, a fine winning goal against the USA and the opener in his country’s historic mauling of Brazil constitutes a second successive excellent World Cup for Muller. Miroslav Klose may have broken the all-time record for goals scored in World Cup games but, barring injury, that record will surely be Muller’s by Qatar 2022.
3) James Rodriguez – Golden boot winner, goal of the tournament scorer and the only player to be outstanding in every single one of his games, not reaching the final four is the only reason Rodriguez is not the player of the tournament. Regardless, the Colombian is without doubt the breakthrough star of the summer, proving himself to be a perfect all-round #10. His movement, passing, goal-scoring, and even tackling in midfield were all first rate. Only some overly aggressive tactics from the Brazilians in the quarter finals were able to stop him dominating the game.
2) Lionel Messi – Many scoffed at FIFA’s decision to award the Golden Ball to the Argentine as the player was made a victim of his own phenomenal standards. Three truly wonderful winning goals in each of his group games helped mask a poor start to the competition for his country, he then played a crucial part in both goals in 1-0 victories over Switzerland and Belgium. Clearly exhausted, burdened with obscene pressure and man-marked by two, sometimes three men at all times, the Barcelona star was clearly some way from his best – but was still a damn sight better than everyone else. Well, everyone except for…
1) Philipp Lahm – Following in the footsteps of his country’s greatest ever player Franz Beckenbauer, exactly forty years on, the German captain is a more than worthy successor. By a distance the best full back on the planet, he may be the best central midfielder in the world too. Brilliant in both positions for his country throughout, Lahm is capable of dictating play from almost anywhere on the field; he is as sharp a tactical mind and as technically gifted a player as you’re ever likely to see and though not as spectacular as Messi or James, he is now a World Cup winning captain and fully deserving of the honour. Congratulations to him and his squad.