Six players who lit up this edition with their pyrotechnics. S. RAM MAHESH and AYON SENGUPTA
Slayer of English clubs in Europe this season, Diego Forlan came to this World Cup as a proven match-winner. The 31-year-old former Manchester United, who had a torrid two years with the Red Devils from 2002 to 2004, found his mark in Spain with Villarreal and then with Atletico Madrid, twice winning the European Golden Boot Award.
It’s chiefly because of this Uruguayan import that Atletico, the poorer and less fancied of the two Madrid clubs captured its first continental silverware in 48 years, last season, winning the inaugural UEFA Europa League. The stylish forward scored both at home and away in his side’s semifinal encounter against Liverpool and also two goals in the final against Fulham at Hamburg.
Despite his European heroics, no critics would have seen him as one of the top players ahead of the 2010 event, but his altruistic work-rate, incisive runs and most importantly shooting mastery over the much maligned Jabulani ball, made him the inspirational leader of a Uruguayan side that surpassed everyone’s expectations in reaching the Cup semis. His five goals in South Africa and also his knack of scoring at the most appropriate of times, like the pile-driver equaliser against Holland, the swerving free-kick against the Ghanaians have deservedly fetched him the Golden Ball as the tournaments best player.
Wesley Sneijder might have lost himself in the mayhem of a World Cup final, but his overall run through the tournament after a treble winning season with Inter Milan, has elevated him as one of world football’s elite. Fortune is smiling obsequiously on the 26-year-old, as time and again this World Cup he took advantage of situations, made the most out of it and walked home happy against fuming opponents. In the semifinals against Uruguay, it was his strike, with 20 minutes left on the clock that opened up the game in Holland’s favour. Fortuitous again, his shot from top of the box took a deflection of Maxi Pareira and almost grazed the shin of an offside Robin van Persie’s, spinning past the outstretched hands of Fernando Muslera. Earlier, against Brazil in the quarterfinals, he headed in the winner and was also awarded another retrospectively, though replays had made it clear, an own goal from Brazilian defender Felipe Melo.
The brightest star from Africa’s best performing team this World Cup, Andre Ayew has at last carved out an identity for himself, walking away from the shadows of his illustrious father, the great Abedi Pele. Though it was Asamoah Gyan, scoring most of Ghana’s World Cup goals, it was this winger from French side Olympique Marseille who stole all the limelight. Making his World Cup debut at 20 against Serbia, Ayew found himself in the starting lineup ahead of the more experienced Sulley Muntari, surprising every pundit. But coach Milon Rajevac’s gamble paid off as Ayew terrorised oppositions with his quick run, supreme ball control and tendency to drift inside the 18-yard box, lending support to Gyan in attack. In the round of 16 clash against the U.S. it was Ayew’s lob from almost the centre circle that found Gyan in space, resulting in the winning goal. Bookings, however, kept him out of the quarterfinals clash against Uruguay and his absence stuck out like a sore thumb as the last African representatives in the competition were sent packing after a penalty shootout loss
The tiki-taka twins enhanced their reputation in South Africa, orchestrating Spain’s maiden World Cup triumph. And they did it by staying true to the style they learnt in La Masia, Barcelona’s football nursery — a possession-centred style built on slick passing, off-the-ball movement to make themselves available for the pass, and determined pressing to win the ball back in dangerous areas. They’re different midfielders — Xavi is the pass-making metronome to which the Spanish band is tuned while Iniesta is the chaos creator with his short-range acceleration and close control — but they have a telepathic understanding of the other’s game. Xavi often dropped deeper than he does for Barcelona, helping out the impressive Sergio Busquets and the high back-line, but as he showed against Germany, he can control a game from a less advanced position than most others. Iniesta doesn’t score many goals, but the goals he does score are last-gasp and determining. He ended Chelsea’s dreams in the Champions League and scored the match-winner in the World Cup final
Diego Maradona mightn’t have known who he was in March earlier this year. By July there were few who didn’t. Muller wasn’t the most visually compelling member of a German team that played organised, attractive football. Mesut Ozil, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Philipp Lahm, and even Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich caught the eye with what they did in their areas of speciality. But Muller did the things that evade attention on first viewing. Almost everything about the Bayern Munich forward is deceptive: he’s quicker than he looks, has a better and more functional first touch than he is given credit for, and never switches off when the ball is in play. He’s also well-rounded, capable of playing on the flank, of drifting deep, of running behind the defence. He was unjustly criticised for a lack of composure in front of goal for Bayern Munich — his fluffed chance in the Champions League final against Inter Milan convinced his detractors that Muller would struggle to be a top-line goal-scorer. But five goals in six matches at the World Cup, and the Golden Boot, suggest that the perception was formed too quickly.
Popularity: 1% [?]