Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Our team of the Round of 16

Just a little light entertainment while we prepare our in depth review of the Round of 16. Here's an XI composed of players who enlivened our Round of 16 watching. This round saw some good football, even if it was predictably cagier than the group phase. The main disappointment was that not one of the underdogs prevailed; this WC has seen few fairytale results and even the Costa Ricans were the favourites against Greece. 

The bigger teams' progress wasn't always deserved, particularly not that of Brazil against Chile or Argentina against Switzerland.

Redressing the balance somewhat, we've included here plenty of plucky characters of whom the Round of 16 provided our last glimpse - for now.

Safe hands...
GK Tim Howard (USA): This was a great round for keepers. We could have picked Vincent Enyeama of Nigeria, and almost did; the nod could equally have gone to any of Algeria’s Rais M’Bohli, Germany’s Manuel Neuer, or Switzerland’s Diego Benaglio (the latter for his stoppage-time overhead kick on goal, if nothing else). But then Big Tim goes and makes the most saves in a World Cup match, ever. Move over, Lev. Move over, Gordon Banks.

LB Ricardo Rodriguez (Switzerland): Gave the single outstanding left-back performance of the tournament so far against the Argentines. Was certainly challenged at times down the left, but rose to it, and offered an outlet in attack too. He appeared to leave Di Maria unmarked for the winner, but he’d had to commit elsewhere. Harder to beat than Nigel Winterburn in his prime.

CB Johann Djourou (Switzerland): The former Arsenal man gets a hammering from the pundits for unreliability, but we love his doggedness. Against Argentina he did make mistakes, but he always recovered. Anything he squandered through lack of composure, he had usually earned in the first place through sound positional sense. Whenever the ball came into the Swiss box, Djourou was there.

CB Gary Medel (Chile): All of our defensive selections play for teams who lost their ties, which goes to show how much we think Chile, Nigeria and Switzerland were robbed. Against Brazil, Medel was the best man on the pitch, even if he could barely walk by the time he was subbed. 

RB Efe Ambrose (Nigeria): On a night when Nigerian wingers Peter Odemwingie and Ahmed Musa failed to shine, Ambrose consistently buckled the swash to provide his team’s main attacking outlet. Didn’t get what he deserved from a match in which France were fortunate winners.

DM Karagounis (Greece): One of the oldest outfielders in the tournament, but you’d never have guessed it from the way he covered every blade against Costa Rica. Showed terrific fitness and mobility for a player in his late thirties, and never looked slow. His defensive and attacking qualities were essential for Greece, just as they have been for over a decade now. Boy, will they miss him when he goes.

DM Blaise Matuidi (France): Adventurous forward runs are a feature of this deep-lying all-rounder’s game. Against Nigeria he consistently offered options in the box and had the energy to do his bit when reverse gear was needed.

AM Arjen Robben (Netherlands): Alright, he dived, and he didn’t score. He left the latter job to Wesley Sneijder – who had previously had a very, very quiet World Cup – in a frightening demonstration of the depth of talent in the Oranje attack. But Robben made the game once again. Once again, it was he who energized the Netherlands and gave flight to their ambitions. Won the crucial penalty in a tie the Dutch could easily have lost.

AM James Rodriguez (Colombia): Standout player of the tournament so far, and its leading goalscorer. James hasn’t played the crafty, creative No.10 at this World Cup as we expected, but has focused instead on offering goal threat from midfield. Colombia need him, because they lack a truly convincing striker without Falcao. James' screamer against Uruguay was the best goal of the round (maybe jointly with Bryan Ruiz' cute little roll-in).

AM Antoine Griezmann (France): Has burst from nowhere to stake a claim for himself as the future of French football. Slight but quick and determined, he’s included here for the way he changed the game against Nigeria, more than for his goal. We hope he starts the quarter-final.

CF Alexis Sanchez (Chile): It wasn’t a great round for centre-forwards (ask Thomas Mueller) and we were somewhat tempted to pick a false 9. But instead we’ve given the no.9 spot to the Barca man for his boss-like performance against Brazil. For whole periods, he basically ran the game.

Honourable mentions to Raphael Varane of France and Giancarlo Gonzalez of Costa Rica, both excellent at CB in this round, and to Joel Campbell of Costa Rica. The Arsenal youngster was too shattered in extra time to do anything much, but that's because of the energy he'd expended playing target man to perfection during the 90.

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