The end of the world’s greatest football tournament is almost upon us. There are only four more games to go now following the elimination of 28 national teams. It is therefore time to start writing, eulogizing and lamenting the newest chapter in Word Cup history.
Already FIFA are asking you to name your team of the tournament via their website and we at the Tavern are here to offer you a little reminder of some of the outstanding talent that has been on show at these finals to make your decision. To kick us off then: Goalkeepers.
Despite not winning a game (thanks in part to Yakubu’s vexing miss against Korea), Vincent Enyeama was undoubtedly the stand-out player of the first two weeks of the competition.
The first week’s cagey start created an ideal environment in which the Nigerian goalkeeper could shine and the 27-year-old grasped it with both of his gloved hands.
Undaunted by the prospect of facing the worlds best player the first group game, Enyeama pulled off some stunning stops to keep Nigeria in the game until the final whistle. Only a bullet-header from Gabriel Heinze in the first few minutes managed to travel pass the Nigerian and his team could consider themselves unfortunate to not have earned a point.
In his second match, Enyeama was similarly impressive once again. Nigeria had looked comfortable against Greece until the sending off of Sani Kaita which jolted to life the dormant, aging force of Greece. But, undeterred, Enyeama dominated his area impressively once again. The ‘keeper made numerous saves and was beaten only by a deflection and the bounce and swerve of the Jabulani ball that slipped his grasp to hand Torosidis the Greek winner. His unlucky spill notwithstanding, Enyeama had a fantastic tournament that proved to pundits that Africa can supply decent goalkeepers.
Truth be told, the Dutch have had a hard time replacing their former international goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar and that is why the success of Maarten Stekelenburg at this tournament as been so well received by his compatriots. He may not appear to be the grand indomitable figure of his predecessor but Stekelenburg has come to command one of the meanest defenses still left in the competition.
After keeping a clean sheet in his first two games the Dutchman has conceded three in three; but considering that one of those games was a group game in which they had already qualified, one of the goals was a 93rd minute penalty of inconsequence, and the final one was against Brazil, it’s fair to say that Stekelenburg’s record is still an impressive one.
The game against Brazil is a case in point also for, for all Brazil’s dominance in the first half, the Netherlands failed to succumb to the Samba strikers. The 27-year-old ‘keeper should receive some credit for that.
Eduardo / Fernando Muslera
It’s a dead heat for the final spot in the squad. Both Eduardo and Muslera have proven their credentials only as well as any keeper possibly can: by qualifying from the group stages without having conceded a single goal.
Muslera kept out the Mexicans; he managed to thwart South African hopes; and – most importantly – helped tear apart the fragmented French team. Meanwhile, Eduardo denied the Ivory Coast, the Koreans, and the Brazilians on Portugal’s way to the knockout stages.
Unfortunately for Eduardo, the Portuguese came face to face with the unstoppable David Villa on his destiny drive to become the World Cup’s golden boot winner. With the rampant la Roja bearing down on him, the SC Braga ‘keeper made several quality saves.
For all the Spanish pressure though, Eduardo conceded only a single, marginally offside goal – the only one that he conceded in the tournament.For being so water-tight, Eduardo had to receive a place among the tournaments best.
Muslera, meanwhile, has risen to prominence not only for his shut-outs during the group stage but for his decisive penalty saves against Ghana in the quarter-final shoot-out. Those elements make the 24-year-old – the youngest keeper to make our shortlist – an absolute necessity in the team of the tournament.
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