A world cup to forget?

I hope you haven’t forgotten about the World Cup just yet – I know I haven’t. Last week I presented my team of the tournament, and now I will bring you a team of players who disappointed during the tournament.

While my team of the tournament used the much-lauded 4-2-3-1 formation, the nature of this team leads me to use the 4-4-2 which many(perhaps prematurely) now feel has had its day.

Goalkeeper – Robert Green (England)

Club: West Ham United. 11 caps (0 goals)

It may seem unduly harsh to select a goalkeeper who only made one mistake, but Green’s error is thought by many to have set the tone for England’s poor World Cup performance.

In a tournament where many ‘keepers were remembered for their impressive stops, individual mistakes stand out more than ever. This is especially true when – as was the case with Green – the individual in question is not given time to atone for his mistake.

With David James moving ever closer to retirement, both England and West Ham will hope the former Norwich shot-stopper recovers from the media scapegoating to reassert himself as first choice for club and country.

Right-back – Jonas Gutierrez (Argentina)

Club: Newcastle United. 19 caps (1 goal)

Just as fans of West Ham United gasped in shock when their right-back Lionel Scaloni kept former Argentina captain Javier Zanetti out of his country’s World Cup squad in 2006, Newcastle fans will have been surprised to see Gutierrez take Zanetti’s place this time around.

This is not merely because Newcastle had played the previous season in English football’s second tier – Gutierrez was signed with the club in the Premier League and was clearly too good for the division below. Rather the surprised glances came because the player known as ‘Spiderman’ had made his name as a winger, not a right-back.

The supposedly versatile 27-year-old was found out in the opener against Nigeria, and by the time his country’s final group game came around he had been replaced by the lumbering and one-dimensional Nicolas Otamendi. Given the way in which Otamendi himself was destroyed by a fluid German attack, Diego Maradona will surely be ruing the decision not to include a natural right-back in his squad.

Left-back – Patrice Evra (France)

Club: Manchester United. 32 caps (0 goals)

While France may have made hard work of qualifying for the tournament, they were still expected to cruise through a relatively easy group.

It is common knowledge that a lack of leadership – rather than a paucity of talent – is often responsible for Les Bleus struggles, but the quiet and understated Evra was supposed to provide a calming influence as captain.

Few could have predicted what would follow. Two games and one much-publicised clash with a fitness coach later, and Evra was stripped of both the captaincy and his place in the team. There have since been suggestions that the defeat against Mexico will prove to be Evra’s last game for his country, with former stars including 1998 World Cup Winner Lilian Thuram calling for him to be dropped indefinitely.

Centre-back – Fabio Cannavaro (Italy)

Club: Al-Ahli. 136 caps (2 goals)

Yes, the clues were there before the tournament began. Cannavaro’s decision to move to the United Arab Emirates suggested – at the age of 36 – the former Juventus captain felt he was no longer up to playing in Europe’s top leagues.

But few could have predicted the ignominy of his, and Italy’s campaign. Despite being more than matched in the opener against Paraguay, fans still expected the Azzurri to bounce back, as they have done many times before.

An embarrassing draw with New Zealand, during which Cannavaro was hopelessly exposed for Shane Smeltz’s goal, was the antipasti. What followed put to shame the defensive solidity on which the country’s success has been founded. The 3-2 defeat against an uninspiring Slovakian outfit may well go down as the moment at which Cannavaro – and the class of ’06 in general – were forced to give way to a younger and hungrier breed.

Centre-back – Simon Kjær (Denmark)

Club: Wolfsburg. 11 caps (0 goals)

How do you go from being one of the hottest defensive properties in world football to making an uninspiring move to a Europa League side? Well, why don’t you ask Simon Kjær – he should have the answer.

Just months after being sweet-talked by Sir Alex Ferguson in advance of a potential move to Manchester, the Danish defender is packing his bags for Wolfsburg.

The former Palermo man was hardly helped by an error-prone Danish defence, but he did nothing to suggest he had the solidity or leadership qualities required to succeed at the highest level, although – as you and I well know – one tournament rarely tells the whole story.

Right-midfield – Franck Ribéry (France)

Club: Bayern Munich. 48 caps (7 goals)

At this World Cup, the stage was set for Franck Ribéry to finish a disappointing season on the highest of high notes. Not disappointing on the pitch, although Bayern’s domestic double was achieved largely in spite of the French winger, but disappointing in a personal sense.

His achievements at club and international level were first blighted by a knee injury, and then by a prostitution scandal which rocked the French football scene.

International team-mate Karim Benzema had a similarly frustrating 12 months, but while the Real Madrid striker was left out of the World Cup squad – allowing him to take time out to confront his troubles – Ribéry had no escape. His abject performances in South Africa suggested one or more of these issues were still playing on his mind, and questions still remain as to whether he will ever be able to recapture his previous form on the pitch.

Left-midfield – Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Club: Barcelona. 49 caps (13 goals)

All things considered, Messi didn’t play that badly in the World Cup. He lit up proceedings against South Korea as Diego Maradona’s side destroyed their Asian opponents, and showed some good touches against Mexico in the last 16.

But fans and pundits have come to expect more of the enigmatic Argentine. He netted 47 goals in 53 games for Barcelona this season, including splendid hat-tricks against Arsenal and Valencia.

Yet when the world was watching, he failed to reproduce the same goalscoring form, culminating in his nation’s 4-0 loss at the hands of Germany – a loss which he could do nothing about.

Central midfield – Frank Lampard (England)

Club: Chelsea. 82 caps (20 goals)

Frank Lampard should count himself lucky referee Jorge Larrionda failed to notice his shot crossing the line in England’s loss to Germany. Why? Because now fans will remember his campaign in a more positive light.

Now when asked about Lampard’s performance in years to come, people will mention his disallowed ‘goal’ and not his complete absence in his country’s first three games.

This is not the first time the midfielder – almost untouchable at club level – has failed to perform on the world stage. It seems he is so used to being the focal point of the side at Chelsea that he has forgotten how to work for his team-mates.

No doubt he will become a world-beater again when he returns to Chelsea for the new season, free from the shackles of significant responsibility.

Central midfield – Steven Pienaar (South Africa)

Club: Everton. 51 caps (2 goals)

If the host nation South Africa had any hope of reaching the last 16, they would need their most famous footballing expert to pull the strings right from the get-go.

Sadly for them, Pienaar never really got out of first gear, and as a result South Africa lacked the creative spark needed to separate them from the other teams in group A.

While the opening draw with Mexico and the narrow victory against a French side in total disarray gave fans of the Bafana Bafana something to shout about, hard graft and enthusiasm will only get you so far. With Pienaar unable to impose his nous and footballing intelligence on the game, Carlos Alberto Parreira’s side got about as far as they could.

Striker – Wayne Rooney (England)

Club: Manchester United. 64 caps (25 goals)

Those making excuses for England’s poor performance at the World Cup have blamed the arduous Premier League season. However that is only part of the story as far as Wayne Rooney is concerned.

Rooney’s injury problems have been well documented, and many England supporters were relieved when he picked up a knock a few months before the start of the tournament.

Unfortunately, far from getting the much-needed rest enjoyed by the likes of Arjen Robben, Rooney was forced back into action far sooner than Fabio Capello would have liked. Still, with his team-mates offering little in the way of service, there is no guarantee that a fully-fit Rooney could have done any better.

Striker – Fernando Torres (Spain)

Club: Liverpool. 80 caps (24 goals)

Never before can I remember a striker featuring in every game for a World Cup winning country and having less of an impact.

Torres looked out of his depth, failing to score and failing to complete a full 90 minutes at any stage of the tournament. While his team-mates brushed aside their opposition en route to winning the World Cup, the Liverpool man was barely an afterthought in discussions of their success.

And just to cap it all, he picked up an injury in the closing stages of the final which will put a dent in his preparations for the new campaign.

Substitutes:

Fawzi Chaouchi (Algeria, goalkeeper) – Gaffe in opener against Slovenia effectively sealed his country’s fate

Glen Johnson (England, right-back) – Horribly exposed in defeat against Germany, ordinary going forward and absent at the back

Nemanja Vidic (Serbia, centre-back) – Far from his normal imposing self, gifted Germany a penalty in Serbia’s only win

Jean Makoun (Cameroon, central midfield) – Failed to impose himself after an impressive season for Lyon

Kaka (Brazil, attacking midfield) – Allowed himself to be bullied by opponents too easily, although his red card against Cote d’Ivoire was harsh

Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, winger) – Victim of an overly-defensive set-up from manager Carlos Queiroz

Vincenzo Iaquinta (Italy, striker) – Static and lumbering, should have been replaced by Fabio Quagliarella far sooner.

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7 Comments

  1. afraid i dissagree with Evra (what can a captain do when the coaching staff are like that, ecpecially with Domenech!) and also with Pienaar, being the only decent player in the team he couldnt hold it all up himself but was forced to try.

    other than that, I’d definitely go along with everything else.

    “Still, with his team-mates offering little in the way of service, there is no guarantee that a fully-fit Rooney could have done any better.” It would be impossible for me to agree with that any more than i do. spot on observation, one not many seem to be able to spot.

    good article, enjoyed.

  2. Whether or not the coaching staff were out of order, it is not the responsibility of the captain to confront them like that. Fair enough, speak out after the tournament is over if you want, but while it’s going on you have a responsibility to your fans.

    As for Pienaar, if you were watching this tournament alone you wouldn’t be able to guess he was their most talented player. You might think a player of his experience would be able to get more of a connection with his team-mates, but at times it looked like they were playing around him.

    • think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that…wouldnt be football if that wasn’t the case though! haha

  3. Simon Kjaer didn’t always look fantastic defensively, but he looked like a real ball playing centre half. He played an awesome crossfield pass in the build up to a Danish goal against Cameroon – I forget who scored. Young defenders are prone to the odd error, but I reckon he’s got a good future ahead of him. I also think Wolfsburg – a good, middle sized club – is a good step for him at this stage of his career.

    I’ve never much rated Ribery and I’m at a loss as to how he’s so rated.

    Messi has to go down as the unluckiest player at the World Cup. I thought his group stage performance was very good – he was denied a shot at the Golden Boot by some awesome goalkeeping – I’d say he played well in 3 of 4 games. Interesting parallels with Diego Maradona, who had an undewhelming World Cup, aged 22, only to win the next one single handedly, aged 26. For me, he should be hands down World Player of the Year/Ballon d’Or. 47 goals he scored this season.

  4. Without question Messi has to win World Player of the Year. Just because it’s a World Cup year it doesn’t mean performances in one tournament should take precedence over a season’s work. Messi was unplayable for most of the season and – as you say – he didn’t have that bad a World Cup.

    As for Kjaer, Wolfsburg seems like a bit of a sideways step for him. He was being treated well at Palermo (also a good, middle-sized club) and progressing at a great rate at club level, and the move suggests either phenomenal faith in McClaren’s managerial abilities or a desire to move to Bayern within the next three years.

  5. Good points re Kjaer – maybe his thinking is that there’s a big chance of Champions League football in the next two seasons with Wolfsburg? They won the Bundesliga in the not too distant past. That said, Palermo had a good season themselves last year – 5th. He’s only 21 though and I’d encourage more players to make these sorts of moves before moving right to the top tier of clubs. Too many promising young players make big moves and then never make it… if he has 2-3 good seasons then you’re talking about him being well and truly primed to make an impact for a top side aged 23/24. That’s still really young in centre half terms. I reckon that, in terms of the speed of the game, Germany is a good transitional league between Serie A and the Premier League.

    Plus, with the performance of the German national team (with all the players actually based in the Bundesliga) and Bayern last season, maybe that league is set for a bit of a renaissance? It’s funny how we view these German sides as “middle sized” clubs because a decade ago, it was regarded as one of the top leagues in Europe.

    Totally agreed on Pienaar btw. Classic case of a player who thrives in a team of better players when he’s at his club. If we strip away all the host nation sentiment though, I thought they had a poor side. The standard of the African teams in general was as poor as it has been for a while. I still can’t believe Algeria beat Egypt!

  6. Re. the Bundesliga, I’d agree that it’s having a bit of a renaissance. You only need to look at Bayern’s run in the Champions League and Hamburg/Bremen in the 2009 Europa League to notice that.

    I also agree that the Bundesliga can do wonders for certain players, particularly those you’d expect to flourish in the Premier League but who have not hit the same heights in La Liga or Serie A. Again, just look at Robben and Van der Vaart in recent years. SImilarly, players like Owen Hargreaves and Landon Donovan could be said to have succeeded in England due to their experience in Germany, even though Donovan may not have enjoyed playing for Leverkusen at the time.

    However, Kjaer was by no means struggling in Serie A, and – one league title aside – Wolfsburg haven’t been the strongest in recent years. Saying that though, he may have felt the time was right for a change of scenery, and you can understand a reluctance to make the move to England straight away – bear in mind he will have spent a lot of time recently with Per Kroldrup, who definitely made the move from Italy to England too hastily.


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