There were a number of standout performances at the World Cup. But I did my best to select the very best here. This is my World Cup best XI and second best XI. I tried to put players in their correct position, but I needed to be creative in a few areas to get the deserving players on the teams.
FW – Arjen Robben (Netherlands) – From the opening match against the reigning champions, Robben lit the World Cup up with extraordinary displays of pace and skill. When he wasn’t scoring goals, he was earning penalties or drawing two or three defenders to set up his teammates. Aside from his bald head, one wouldn’t have known Robben was nearing the end of his international career by his performances in Brazil.
FW – Thomas Müller (Germany) – Müller did it again at the World Cup, scoring another five goals and leading his country to the title. He was always in the right place at the right time, and his finishing was clinical. But beyond his goals, it’s his work rate that make Müller such a useful player. Never one to walk on the pitch, the lanky German made a number of impressive tackles in addition to all the chances he created on the offensive end. He could have won the Golden Ball.
FW – Lionel Messi (Argentina) – The winner of the Golden Ball for best player at the World Cup, Messi was incredible in Argentina’s first few games, showing the world why he’s considered the very best. His stoppage-time winner against Iran was just one of many magical Messi moments from the first four games. However, Messi’s effectiveness dropped significantly when Argentina’s tactics turned more defensive. And in the World Cup Final, he needed to be better.
CAM – James Rodriguez (Colombia) – Nobody will mispronounce the young Colombian’s name anymore. James ran rampant in Brazil, making everyone forget about Falcao. He scored in every single game he played, and most of his goals were absolute beauties. He was adventurous going forward, with a lethal combination of strength, speed and vision. His play in this World Cup won’t soon be forgotten, and he looks to be world superstar in the very near future.
CM – Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany) – It’s a toss-up between Toni Kroos and Schweinsteiger for this spot in the midfield, as both Germans were outstanding in the middle. But Schweinsteiger gets the edge for his improved play as the tournament wore on. Once Philipp Lahm moved to right back, Schweini found his ideal spot in the defensive midfield role. His distribution was excellent against Brazil, and in the Final against Argentina, his combative instincts halted countless counter attacks. His man-of-the-match display in the final gives him the nod in this spot. He could have been a worthy Golden Ball winner himself.
CDM – Javier Mascherano (Argentina) – Mascherano arguably had a better case for the Golden Ball than his teammate Messi. The defensive midfielder was the key to Argentina’s success, the main reason why his country didn’t trail at the World Cup save for the last few minutes of extra time. The Barcelona man was impeccable in his defensive role, always being in the right place for timely interceptions and tackles. And going forward, his distribution was usually spot on. It’s hard to say what his best match was, because he was great in all of them.
LB – Jan Vertonghen (Belgium) – While Vertonghen might say he hates playing left back, he sure plays the position well. Belgium wasn’t particularly impressive going forward as a team, but most of the time they found success, it came down the left. Vertonghen got the winner against South Korea, and in the round of 16 against the United States, he was the most dangerous player on the field. His defending was also solid on the left side of defense. He’ll have a hard time convincing everybody he’s better at center back.
CB – Mats Hummels (Germany) – The big German defender was excellent in the air, giving Germany the edge on every set piece, both offensively and defensively. Particularly against France, Hummels’s physicality kept talented strikers off the board. His tackling was spot on and while he lacked pace, he compensated well with his positioning. He looks to be just about the best defender in the world at this point.
CB – Ron Vlaar (Netherlands) – The veteran defender surprised nearly everyone with his consistently impressive play in the back. Alongside two inexperienced center backs, Vlaar provided the much needed composure in the back. His tackling was almost perfect, and his positioning was always spot on. That he missed a penalty in the semifinal shootout shouldn’t cloud the fact that he was brilliant in Brazil.
RB – Philipp Lahm (Germany) – While Lahm only played three games at right back, he earns this spot for his overall play over the course of the tournament. In his holding midfielder role, he helped key the 4-0 win over Portugal that got things going. And when he moved to defense, his runs down the right almost always led to a chance for Germany. Brazil had no answer for Lahm in the 7-1 thrashing. Defensively, in the right back role, I can’t think of a single mistake he made. The German captain looks eternally young.
GK – Manuel Neuer (Germany) – Not enough can be said about the play of Neuer at this World Cup. His performance against Algeria is one of the gutsiest displays we’ll ever see from a keeper. His ability to act as a sweeper was incredible to watch, and it proved effective time and again. His shot-stopping could not be questioned either. And as if Neuer couldn’t do everything else well enough, his distribution was the best of any keeper in Brazil. That he won the Golden Glove Award should come as no surprise.
CF – Karim Benzema (France) – One of the early stars in this World Cup, Benzema was lethal in France’s opening games. His movement up front opened up spaces in the defense, and that was a huge part of France’s goalscoring form. His performances against Honduras and Switzerland were some of the best individual play in Brazil. While Germany shut him down in the quarterfinal, Benzema had a great tournament overall.
LW – Juan Cuadrado (Colombia) – While James was the undisputed star of Colombia’s World Cup journey, Cuadrado was the Pippen to James’s Jordan. The pacey winger was always on the move, wreaking havoc on defenses that couldn’t deal with his speed. His ability to get forward quickly sparked a number of brilliant counter attacks. Without Cuadrado, James wouldn’t have found as much space in the final third. Cuadrado’s goal and four assists were vital to Colombia’s quarterfinal run.
CAM – Neymar (Brazil) – The poster boy of the tournament started brightly, playing some superb football in the group stage. He scored a number of big goals early on, and was the driving force behind nearly every Brazilian attack. However, in the knockout stage, he was noticeably quiet. Opposing tactics beating up the young Brazilian left him battered and eventually gave him a broken back. Neymar was the inspiration for an entire country. And without him, his team was nothing.
RW – Mathieu Valbuena (France) – The diminutive Frenchman put a poor club campaign behind him with a number of impressive performances in Brazil. He was France’s most consistent player, continuously using his guile and pace to create chances for his forwards. He may have only gotten one goal and one assist, but he was a true joy to watch on the right.
CM – Xherdan Shaqiri (Switzerland) – Shaqiri earns his spot in the Second XI for one performance. In a crucial group game against Honduras, he absolutely took over, scoring a brilliant hat trick and sending his country to the knockout round. The Bayern Munich man certainly left his mark on the World Cup with one of the performances of the tournament. He and his Swiss team were unlucky to lose against Argentina in extra-time. It has to be said that he is one to watch for 2018.
CM – Toni Kroos (Germany) – Kroos easily could have been in the best XI. He was incredibly consistent in the German midfield, and whenever he was on the ball, the opposing defense was on their heels. His set pieces were always dangerous, producing more goals than any other team from those opportunities. Kroos’s calming presence in the midfield also helped Germany settle whenever there a problem, as he rarely misplaced a pass. Like most of the German midfield, he played the game of his life against Brazil in the semifinal. A careless giveaway in the final could have been disastrous, but overall, he was outstanding this World Cup.
LB – Marcos Rojo (Argentina) – Left back was seen as a bit of a problem for Argentina coming into the tournament, but Rojo put in a number of assured performances. When he was called upon to attack in the first few games, he did so effectively. But in the semifinal and the final, he was needed in the back. And his disciplined performances helped stop Arjen Robben and Philipp Lahm. Both Netherlands and Germany attacked down his side, but he was always up to the task.
CB – Thiago Silva (Brazil) – The Brazilian captain was spared the embarrassment of the 7-1 semifinal defeat due to his own stupidity, but that loss only served to confirm how important the central defender is to his country. He kept together an undisciplined back line through the quarterfinal, putting in a number of strong performances himself. Against Colombia, he was Brazil’s best player. But that yellow card for blocking the goalkeeper’s punt will forever haunt Silva. However, he and Neymar might be the only Brazilians to leave with their reputations intact.
CB – Giancarlo Gonzalez (Costa Rica) – Few expected Costa Rica to make the run they did in this tournament, but much of that was down to their defense. Gonzalez could easily have earned a spot of the first team, but he narrowly missed out to Vlaar. The defender who plies his trade in the MLS was always in the right spot for the Ticos. His aerial displays and hard tackling kept the potent attacks of Uruguay, Italy and England stifled.
RB – Cristian Gamboa (Costa Rica) – The other standout Costa Rican to make my team is the right back, Gamboa. This position was the weakest one in Brazil, with few right backs consistently playing well. Gamboa wasn’t spectacular, but he was solid. And that assured presence on the right allowed Costa Rica to send men forward on the counter. Gamboa’s positioning was as good as any right back in the tournament.
GK – Tim Howard (USA) – The American keeper earns his spot on the team for making big save after big save. His 15 saves against Belgium will forever be remembered in the United States. He was also excellent against Portugal. He showcased his shot-stopping ability with a wide variety of saves, including impressive displays of balance and strength. Howard was tremendous.
Final Squad Member
GK – Tim Krul (Netherlands) – Every team needs a 23rd man, somebody who can make a difference in a singular cameo if called upon. Out of every single player at the World Cup, nobody made a bigger impact in their time on the field than Krul. While Krul only played a couple minutes, his substitute appearance for penalty kicks against Costa Rica was a brilliant move by Louis van Gaal. Krul did his job in PK’s, psyching out Costa Rica with trash talk and powerful saves. Krul’s success goes to show to that even a squad’s third goalkeeper plays an important role at the World Cup. For this reason, he earns the final spot on my squad, and an honorable mention in my Best XI’s of the tournament.
What are your thoughts on the best players in Brazil? Who did I leave out? Please comment below.