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World Cup Team of the Semi-Finals

The Best of the Best of the Last Round of World Cup Play

12
July
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This World Cup has been a long, arduous road. Bogged down by poor performances by traditional powerhouses and 2006 finalists France and Italy, controversy over the almost weightless Adidas Jabulani ball and numerous poor refereeing decisions, the tournament has finally reached its final. The Spanish Golden Generation has impressed yet again, narrowly making it past each round to reach the final and earn a chance to add to their Euro 2008 success. The Dutch team has also worked hard, and had a good bit of fortune, to make to this final, despite having a team less star-studded than the previous, more storied Holland sides of the 70's and late 80's. In their wake are the surprising, darkhorse Uruguayans, led by two time Golden Boot winner Diego Forlan, and a a young gun German side featuring numerous players that graduated from the Under-21 side that lifted the trophy at the youth World Cup last summer, with only 2 starters over the age of 25.Stars from each of these four teams have performed well all tournament-long, yet here we will evaluate which players stood out during the semi-final stage.

Formation: 4-2-3-1


  • GK Fernando Muslera:
    The young Lazio (Nazio) keeper has been impressive all tournament, saving penalties and commanding his area. He kept up his hotstreak against the Dutch as he swallowed up every ball in the box and made a worldclass block on Van der Vaart. It's strange to see a keeper who shipped in 3 goals in one game on the team of the week, but he cannot be faulted for any of the goals; one a well-placed header, another that was clearly interfered with by an offside Van Persie and the third an unstoppable blast into the upper 90.



  • LB Giovanni Van Bronckhorst:
    Would merit a place on this team with his aforementioned screamer from outside the box alone, but to say that his well struck effort was his only contribution to the game would not be doing him justice. In addition to scoring one of the goals of the tournament, he policed the left side with the same authority he did with Barca in the mid-2000s, turning back the clock. Also was nice to see a goal from distance in a World Cup that was starved of long range efforts due to the unpredictable nature of the Adidas Jabulani football beachball. The 35-year old veteran gave a captain's performance, but one can't help but wonder how his aging legs would have fared with Luis Suarez's presence on the left.



  • CB Carles Puyol:


    The caveman put in a composed performance throughout the game, dealing with the ever dangerous Klose all too easily. Yet it was his offensive contribution that really buys him a spot on this team. His header was the difference in this hard-fought contest. With Germany's midfield putting in a hard shift and their defence holding strong, Puyol's leap over Friedrich provided the setpiece goal that opened up the game for the Spanish, who were having no luck from open play. Despite being one ugly, Prehistoric-looking motherfucker, Puyol played like a true leader, and makes one question the decision to give the captain's armband to Casillas instead of Barca's general.



  • CB Sergio Ramos:
    Though technically playing on the right side of the defense, the Real Madrid natural centerback Sergio Ramos slots in the middle of this formation, simply because it would be absolutely criminal to ignore his performance against the Germans. Charging up and down his flank, he was a constant menace to poor Boateng. Yet he never failed to get back and track down Trochowski, and also completely marked Oezil, one of Germany's brightest young talents, out of the game. Say what you will about his obnoxious hairstyle and habit of diving, but it's hard to believe that this cultured defender, with 66 caps already for la Furia Roja, is still just 24 years of age.



  • RB Maxi Peireira:
    Worked hard on the right for Urugay, if a little sloppy with the ball. Capped off his industrious performance with a well taken goal after a cleverly taken short free-kick, his first for la Celeste. The Benfica fullback has had an incredible tournament, and has really given blood, sweat and tears for the cause. He and his partner-in-crime Jorge Fucile, unlucky to be suspended for this clash, have been key to Uruguay's progression in South Africa, providing width and defensive cover for a team without much creative talent. Look for both maurauding fullbacks to be rewarded for their fine World Cups with moves up to more prestigious clubs this summer, with numerous Premier League and La Liga clubs vying for their signatures.



  • CDM Marko Van Bommel:


    Lets get two things straight: 1. Like almost any fan, I find Marko Van Bommel to be the dirtiest, most dishonest, violent and unlikeable player, possibly in this entire World Cup, and 2. Man, I wish he played for my team. The Dutch holding midfielder was uncontrollable all game, breaking up play all over the midfield. Only problem was, he was trying to break a lot of other things too. His high challenge on Walter Gargano, in the build up to Van Bronckhorsts goal, was cynical at best. Yet this edge has been key to Holland's success throughout this tournament, and with Van Bommel seeming completely immune to yellow cards, hasn't come back to haunt the Oranje. The Netherland's have always been known for producing players with great technique, yet have never won a World Cup, always lacking that steel in the middle. Yet with Van Bommel and the equally-tough-tackling-but-slightly-less-dirty Nigel de Jong returning from suspension for the final, this new Oranje style might just see them lift the trophy over three decades after they really deserved it.



  • CDM Bastian Schweinsteiger:
    Were I to pick the player of the tournament today, it would no doubt go to this young German. Its hard to believe that this hard-tackling midfield engine was once a high-flying winger. Yet he never fails to remind us of his technical ability, as his runs into the penalty box caused problems for the Spanish, just like they did against Argentina. He never neglected his duties in both attack and defense all game against Spain, and will feel hard-done with the loss. With serious interest from Real Madrid and Chelsea (where he would be a perfect long-term replacement for the aging Frank Lampard and his departing countryman Michael Ballack) some have speculated he might leave Bayern, but it would be hard to imagine the Bavarian-bred player leaving his hometown club. Also gets extra credit for being so German. On a Nationalmannschaft that consists of 3 Poles, a Tunisian, a Turk, a Ghanaian and some sort of half-Spanish, half-Italian striker, it is refreshing to see a bleach blond, blue eyed guy with a name like Bastian Schweinsteiger there to remind us that this is, in fact, a German side.



  • CAM Xavi:
    The Player of the Tournament at Euro 2008, the diminutive midfield maestro has not had that cracking of a World Cup thus far in South Africa. Yet against Germany, he did all the subtle, not always noticed, yet vitally important things right. As usually, he was extremely tidy with possession, and managed to keep the ball away from the Germans for much of the first half. With Spain's possession-based style, its necessary to have such an accurate, frugal yet ambitious passer of the ball on the pitch. Also helped by Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets, who bossed the midfield and allowed the small Barcelona playmaker to do his job with the ball.



  • RW Wesley Sneijder:
    The Ballon d'Or candidate has had a very productive, if a bit fortunate, World Cup thus far. The player tied with Zorro look-a-like David Villa for top scorer of the tournament thus far added to his tally to give the Dutch a 2-1 lead over Uruguay. Yet, like two of his previous goals, there was great fortune involved in his strike. Another botched call in a poorly-officiated tournament occurred when the linesman and referee failed to notice an offside Robin Van Persie interfering with Muslera on the deflected shot, leaving the keeper confused as to which direction to dive. Yet this cannot take away from Sneijder's performance, and the midfielder really worked hard to keep the Dutch in the game. Though short in stature, his wide build really allows him to get stuck in there with the strongest of midfielders, and Uruguay's bulky players found it difficult to boss the Internazionale playmaker around.



  • LW Arjen Robben:
    Barely edges out Spain's Andres Iniesta for a spot on the left wing. Like his Spanish counterpart, Robben has a well earned reputation for diving all over the place, and playacting like every bit of contact with a defender were life-threatening. Yet there is no denying his effectiveness, as he added end product to his game with what eventually proved to be the deciding goal. The balding Dutchman struck the ball with the bare portion of his upper forehead, and placed the jabulani expertly, leaving a stranded Muslera with no chance of reaching it. Surprisingly did not, in fact, get injured in a tough, physical match, as he had in the past....6 or 7 seasons. He might not always be healthy, but when he is, this flying attacker is almost unplayable. Along with Sneijder and Van Bommel, he has the distinction of playing in both the Champions League and World Cup Finals in the same year.



  • CF Dirk Kuyt:
    Gets the nod over Diego Forlan (the only pure striker to score this round), but just barely. The Uruguayan goalscorer has been one of the players of the tournament, but in the semi-final none worked as hard as Dirk Kuyt. Larry Bird's long lost Dutch twin brother was everywhere against the South Americans, covering every blade of grass on the ptich. He might not be half as skilled as his technically gifted Oranje teammates, yet he could be their most valuable asset. On a team with such attacking talent, its nice to have such a workhorse to draw defenders away from the playmakers, giving them room to perform their magic. The underappreciated Liverpool man has been key all World Cup for Holland, even if playing out of position on the wings. Here, we put him in the lone centerforward spot.


Honorable Mentions:

Diego Forlan: Best striker of this tournament, only barely misses out to Kuyt. Scored a great goal, if a bit lucky, but did well to create space for himself to shoot. A shoe-in for my Team of the Tournament.

Andres Iniesta: Inventive, with a good workrate. Flops all over the place, but he does need to protect himself as he is a very small guy.

Xabi Alonso: Was a good threat from outside the box and worked very hard. In my opinion a very overrated player, but had a great game.

Per Mertesacker: Just because he's the cleanest defender in the game doesn't make him soft in any way. His excellent positioning helped keep the scoreline down against a very talented Spanish side.

Joan Capdevila: Great threat on the left, and played well defensively. Has had a great World Cup so far.

Miro Klose: Worked hard despite being an island up front with no support and starved of service. Has a chance to match and set the new record for World Cup goals in the 3rd place game.

Martin Cacares: The Barcelona man, who spent a very disappointing last season with Juventus, had a strong game and worked very hard for the Uruguayan cause.

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Dirk Kuyt
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Marko Van Bommel
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Maxi Peireira
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Sergio Ramos
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Carles Puyol
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Giovanni Van Bronckhorst
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Fernando Muslera
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