2014 World Cup: My 2014 World Cup XI

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.

Subs:

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

Advertisements

Bayern Munich – The world’s first hybrid football team

Over the last few years the concept of all things hybrid has spread across the world. We now have hybrid cars – both on the road and in motorsport – there are hybrid road bikes and even ‘phablets’ which are a cross between a smartphone and a tablet.

There has, however, never been a hybrid football team – until now.

Bayern Munich, the German, European and world champions, are arguably the first tangible example of such a thing in the sporting, not technological, world.

A couple of seasons ago, Bayern were eclipsed in the Bundesliga by the burgeoning force of Borussia Dortmund.

‘Die Schwarzgelben’ had revolutionised German football with their aggressive defensive pressing –  ‘Gegenpressing’ – and their razor-sharp attacking play which regularly made fatal incisions into Bayern’s defence – most notably during a 5-2 German cup final win in 2012.

Dortmund’s powerful arrival onto the German footballing scene provoked a reaction in Munich. Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes finally had the barometer that would help elevate his side and convert their huge potential – setting them on the path to becoming the world beaters they are now.

Heynckes’ response was to recalibrate Dortmund’s ‘gegenpressing’ – using it in a way that would suit Bayern. The results were devastating.

The following season Bayern defeated Dortmund in the German Supercup and later went on to win the treble – including a last-minute win over their arch-rivals in the Champions League final at Wembley.

Yet, it was Bayern’s performance in their semi-final against Barcelona – then comfortably held to be the best team in the world – that drew the most attention as they crushed them 7-0 on aggregate.

In the first leg they swamped their Spanish opponents, asphyxiating them with a brutal display of counter-attacking and finishing them off with startling lethality in a 4-0 win.

Barcelona’s Camp Nou had long been a fortress – particularly in European football – but Bayern flattened it in the second leg, cruising to a 3-0 victory.

The Bavarians sent shockwaves through the footballing community – especially the Catalonian one – and from there they have built upon that success.

Heynckes left Bayern last summer but was replaced by Pep Guardiola – a man who had been the chief architect of Barcelona’s rise to the top of the game.

Guardiola has not hindered Bayern’s progress though – he has sharpened it.

In just eight months at the helm he has developed the German giants into an all-conquering machine and the theme of hybridity is the ideal way to describe their style of play.

A key feature of the modern Bayern is the seamless transition from defence to attack.

Guardiola has drilled a sublime one-touch passing game into his new side, which serves to speed up the way Bayern shift the ball from their penalty area to the other.

Full-backs David Alaba and Rafinha have a licence to raid forward – particularly Alaba who is rapidly developing into the most potent left-back in the world.

However, it is when Bayern are faced with a wall of 11 players in front of them that they are at their most fluid.

Their defence, midfield and strike force all combine in each venture forwards, with an interchangability that is unprecedented in the modern game.

So much so that some photographs of Bayern’s offensive shape this season show a 1-8-1 formation – an almost incomprehensible form for a football team to sustain.

That ‘midfield’ eight usually comprises Alaba, Rafinha, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Toni Kroos, Phillip Lahm and Thomas Mueller.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice Lahm’s absence in defence. Only a few years ago Lahm was seen as one of the best full-backs in the world, but Guardiola has transformed him into a free spirit that roams across midfield.

Effectively, Lahm acts an important cog between defence and midfield but, such is Bayern’s constant fluidity, the diminutive captain can pop up on either flank to assist wingers Robben and Ribery with attacks.

In Schweinsteiger, Bayern have the typical box-to-box midfielder – himself reformed from a flamboyant winger in his early career.

His partner in central midfield is contract rebel Kroos, whose growing influence during Bayern’s games has seen him linked with several top clubs in Europe.

Then there is Mueller – one of the most underrated players in world football at the present time.

Mueller has the ability to play as a striker – indeed that is where he started in his early career – but in recent seasons he has acted on the edges of an attacking three.

That Mueller is also an extremely hard-working midfielder enables his side to spring forward in numbers while also knowing that he will return goalside quickly if his side loses the ball.

This takes a huge amount of discipline and drilling on the training ground, and Guardiola must take credit for that.

What Guardiola has created is, in effect, the all-round football team.

In cricket, there are all-rounders, in cycling there are rouleurs and now in football there are hybrids.

Bayern’s influence on world football is now so strong that teams in England are dropping players whose talent only extends to one area of the game.

This is best evidenced in footballers such as Juan Mata and Mesut Özil.

Mata was allowed to leave Chelsea by Jose Mourinho in January. The Spaniard’s attacking quality was not in doubt, but his willingness to defend was.

Mourinho is keen to have the same all-round, hybrid player that Guardiola has created at Bayern. Consequently, players such as Ramires, Oscar and Eden Hazard were preferred to Mata for their greater work without the ball.

The same is true of Özil at his new club Arsenal. Although Real Madrid didn’t let him leave because of his lack of defensive diligence, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger dropped the German due to his ‘tiredness’.

After noticing Özil’s complete disinterest in tracking back, many critics saw this as a veiled signal to Özil that his work rate must improve.

As talented as Mata and Özil are, they are not the complete all-round footballer. They could even be considered a weakness if they do not perform to their high attacking standards because they offer little in defence.

This is where Bayern have excelled. They have changed the type of player needed to perform at the highest level and have quickly set up a squad containing players who are comfortable and capable of playing in several positions.

What used to be the utility player, a rare breed, is now a necessity.

Even goalkeepers are being asked to play as sweepers – good examples of those are Bayern’s Manuel Neuer and Tottenham’s Hugo Lloris.

Having such a goalkeeper allows teams have an extra layer of defensive security, and that is just one part of how the modern game is developing.

Defenders are midfielders, sometimes even attackers, midfielders are starting to flourish in any position across the width of the pitch and strikers are doing defensive duties too.

This hybridity will continue to reign in football for years to come and until then Bayern are the team to beat – just as Barcelona were when their tiki-taka football dominated the game.

The question is which team will be able to take football onto the next level and render the concept of hybridity a thing of the past?