With the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro fast approaching, it’s time to focus on the players that will make up the FIFA team of the tournament.
Of course, the public don’t get a say, but there is plenty to discuss with several world-class performances throughout the tournament.
Regular World Cup followers will see dozens of ‘World Cup XI’ selections over the coming days, but here is my team along with seven substitutes who have also caught my attention.
For those interested, I’ve opted for a standard 4-2-3-1 formation – you can see my team on sharemytactics.com.
GK. Keylor Navas (CRC)
Navas attracted plaudits from across the globe for a series of stunning displays as he almost single-handedly kept Costa Rica in the World Cup. His world-class saves against Greece in their last-16 penalty shoot-out were arguably his best but another impressive shot-stopping spree against the Netherlands in the quarter-final proved futile as the Central American team went out on penalties.
RB. Cristian Gamboa (CRC)
The contest for the right-back slot was close, but Gamboa wins out for his lung-bursting runs down the right flank. His tireless efforts gave the Costa Ricans a vital get-out to relieve heavy pressure against Holland and Greece and, refreshingly, he is a full-back who is equally at home in defence as he is going forward.
CB: Mats Hummels (c) (GER)
Hummels is Germany’s giant at the back and possibly their most reliable player of the tournament, making him the ideal choice to captain my World Cup XI. The centre-back makes defending look easy with his almost telepathic reading of the game and has also weighed in with two goals including the winner against France in the quarter-final.
CB: Stefan de Vrij (HOL)
Perhaps one of the most unsung players at the World Cup, de Vrij has quietly gone about his business as a quality centre-back. Like Hummels, de Vrij has an excellent reading of the game and seems to thrive on the pressure of tournament football with his performances getting better as the tournament endured. He kept Gonzalo Higuain at bay with ease for 120 minutes in the semi-final against Argentina and also scored in the 5-1 thrashing of world champions Spain.
LB: Marcos Rojo (ARG)
Rojo has shown during this World Cup why a move to a big club in Europe could lie in wait. His pace on the left has provided Argentina with a formidable left flank as Rojo has been deployed in tandem with Angel di Maria. The 24-year-old grabbed a goal against Nigeria in the group stage and looks set to enjoy a long international career.
CM: Toni Kroos (GER)
The German midfield is loaded with talent, but Kroos surpasses his compatriots with his deadly ability to take a controlling grasp of matches. He ducks in and out of attack and defence making him hard to mark and also has the nous to thread an incisive pass. His quick double against Brazil in Germany’s incredible 7-1 mauling of the hosts illustrates why Real Madrid are chasing his signature.
CM: Javier Mascherano (ARG)
He has his critics, but Mascherano has had an outstanding tournament. The gritty Argentine has been cast into his preferred central defensive midfield slot and his country has reaped the rewards. A stunning late block from Arjen Robben’s shot in the semi-final win over Holland was Mascherano at his typically hard-working best.
LM: James Rodriguez (COL)
With six goals Rodriguez is currently top goalscorer at this World Cup, the best of which was a stupendous volley against Uruguay in the last-16. Although Colombia crashed out to Brazil in the quarter-finals, Rodriguez had made his presence felt with a number of world-class attacking displays. Could he follow Ronaldo and Messi as the next footballing superstar?
AM: Lionel Messi (ARG)
The man responsible for dragging Argentina through to the final is unsurprisingly Lionel Messi. Part of an average Argentine side, Messi has provided his country with a winning touch having scored the winning goals in two games and having created Angel di Maria’s winner against Belgium in the quarter-finals. Despite his improved form at this World Cup, his critics will argue that until he wins football’s greatest prize he cannot be elevated above Pele as the best that ever lived.
RM: Thomas Mueller (GER)
Mueller has had another productive World Cup with five goals and is quickly threatening the all-time record tally. One of his finest strengths is his elusive nature. Always on the move, the German can drift to either wing to take possession or can be deployed as a ruthless striker – as his predatory hat-trick against Portugal showed.
ST: Neymar (BRA)
The darling of Brazil, Neymar’s tournament was cruelly cut short by a mischievous challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga which fractured a vertebra. Had he not been taken out so early he could have finished as top goalscorer, but his four goals gave an unusually dull Brazilian side hope of a home World Cup win.
GK: Manuel Neuer (GER)
Solid, but not spectacular, Neuer’s tally of three clean sheets owes much to the powerful German defence as it does to his flamboyant sweeper-like antics.
CB: Thiago Silva (BRA)
Thiago Silva’s class during this tournament was defined by his absence in the 7-1 semi-final annihilation by Germany. He was the glue in the Brazilian defence and, when missing through suspension, they were leaderless and duly crumbled.
CB: Ezequiel Garay (ARG)
Garay has had an outstanding tournament for Argentina at the back, and his new club Zenit St. Petersburg will feel vindicated at the £12m they paid Benfica for his services.
RM: Mathieu Valbuena (FRA)
Arguably France’s best player at the World Cup, Valbuena was a constant menace on the right-wing with his pace and trickery. His deliveries from set-plays were sublime and he also scored a deserved goal against Switzerland in the group stage.
LM: Arjen Robben (HOL)
Despite admitting to diving during Holland’s 2-1 win over Mexico in the last-16, Robben earns a place on the bench. He terrified Spain with a brace in a famous 5-1 win and was full of his jinking runs even in extra-time periods against Costa Rica and Argentina.
ST: Robin van Persie (HOL)
The Dutch captain is worth his place on the bench purely because of an astonishing diving header against Spain, and he went on to notch two more goals despite being starved of service as the tournament progressed.
ST: Miroslav Klose (GER)
His goal at the second attempt against Brazil was a record-breaker for Klose as he overtook Ronaldo as the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer with 16. He has the chance to line up in his second World Cup final but has yet to score in one.
You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89