So far we’ve looked at the outstanding goalkeeping talent and assessed the great and the good of the defensive expertise exhibited in South Africa this summer. Now, in a move foreseen by a certain German cephalopod, we’ll turn our attention to the midfield.
The role of a midfielder has changed a fair bit over the past few years. Some midfielders have transformed into forwards and some forwards have morphed into midfielders (and other forwards have transmogrified into Emile Heskey). So much so that the line that differentiates the two becomes increasingly blurred. So, to make the process of selecting the midfield for the World Cup’s Team of the Tournament, we’ll stick to choosing those who are actually definitely may be midfielders.
Japanese preparations for the World Cup had seemingly gone awry at the final moments when the team suffered three friendly defeats shortly before their first group game. Emergency training sessions were held and a couple of informal matches were organized against whoever was available. Japan’s manager and serial frowner, Takeshi Okada, even offered his resignation.
Okada’s offer was dismissed, however, and, after a tenuous start, Japan kicked off their World Cup finals with a win over Cameroon, with the winner supplied by talisman Keisuke Honda.
Honda, who currently plies his tried in Moscow for CSKA after a winter move earlier this year, then progressed to supply the Japanese side with some exhilarating, hard-working displays of significant magnitude. The 24-year-old even managed to tame the infamous Jabulani ball with a fantastic free-kick against Denmark as Japan entered into the knockout stages for their first time in their history on foreign soil.
Honda’s displays earned him three man-of-the-match awards in his four games.
You won’t find him bursting into the penalty area or dribbling past players to unleash a thunderbolt into the top corner; but, nevertheless, Germany’s Bastien Schweinsteiger has justified his place in the Team of the Tournament with a couple of incredible displays punctuated by superb passing, intelligence, and sound, decisive tackling.
The German has patrolled the German midfield magnificently and was the catalyst behind Die Mannschaft’s demolishing of Argentina. Diego Maradona’s side was quite emphatically overrun by the Germans in midfield in that game, and a lot of that was a consequence of Schewiensteiger’s dominance.
The Bavarian didn’t manage to get on the score-sheet this World Cup, despite having done so in Germany in 2006. However, his influence in the 4-0 drubbing against Argentina and the 4-1 extirpation of England are more than enough for him to earn his place in the Team of the Tournament.
Player of the tournament? Quite possibly. No one would begrudge the choice. The Dutchman has been quite simply phenomenal.
Netherlands first few performances of the tournament were relatively muted, but they have improved and seem to have the uncanny knack of getting the job done. A few pundits have become disheartened their organized and pragmatic approach with some even belatedly lamenting the death of ‘totaalvoetbal’ (even though Johan Cruyff’s famous fluid system died circa 1978). But it’s becoming increasingly harder to criticize a system that is yet to suffer a defeat in the tournament.
Inter Milan’s Wesley Sneijder has been paramount to that success, making the system tick with his dual role as a shadow striker and creative midfielder, and supplying not only ammunition for his fellow Oranje’s, but also goals.
Sneijder, on the eve of the final, currently has five goals to his name, level with fellow finalist David Villa. Could the midfielder pip the Spaniard to the post?
Drawn into a group that included Germany, Australia and Serbia, Ghana were never given a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages, but qualify they did.
It was undeniably a team effort on the Ghanaians behalf but Portsmouth midfielder Kevin-Prince Boateng personified the passion and commitment that gripped the African nation and the African continent. Combined with his technical ability, Boateng supplied some fantastically emotional and memorable performances.
The African’s goal against the USA, where he pounced on Ricardo Clarke’s mistake, summed up his tournament, submitting relentless pressure on his opposition and providing class where it counts.
The 21-year-old was incredible in Germany’s opening game against Australia. His range of clever passes, his relentless ability to find space, and his snappy instincts made him an absolute pleasure to watch. Australia simply couldn’t keep tabs on the marauding midfielder.
In his second game, the Werder Bremen playmaker suffered a slightly disappointing display against Serbia thanks in part to some resolute and stubborn defending and the sending off of Miroslav Klose. However, the youngster was back in full flow against Ghana, scoring a vital long-range effort in a hotly contested game that secured the German’s progression into the knockout stages.
He then provided as many problems for England and Argentina as he had done so with Australia, proving that Ozil wasn’t flattered – as he had perceived to had been – by the Aussie’s lackluster defending.
It’s little wonder that the German, who is of Turkish descent, has become one of the hottest properties in Europe.
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