Brazil has laid on a banquet of brisk, attacking football. It’s the kind of World Cup we could all happily tuck into for another month or so. I know I’ve not had my fill of it just yet.
Sadly though the matches are beginning to run dry, which means we’re approaching the time to reflect on what we’ve all learned. With so much to celebrate, where on earth do we start?
To be frank I thought it might be fun to pick on the bad guys. Rather than selecting a Team of the Tournament for the right reasons (and because it’s too early for a definitive list) here’s a big name XI that has absolutely stunk the place out…
Igor Akinfeev (Russia)
It’s been a glorious tournament for the goalkeeping fraternity, but one or two star turns left their invites at home. Russia’s Akinfeev is one of them. He’s the proud owner of the competition’s most calamitous gaffe - letting an innocuous Lee Keun-Ho shot ignominiously slip through his fingers – but that wasn’t the end of it. With his senses scrambled, Akinfeev also gifted Algeria a passage into the next phase when coming for a free-kick cross (and missing it), so that Islam Slimani could nod home in game three. For the hapless Iker Casillas to escape selection, the Russian must have been really bad. And he was.
Dani Alves (Brazil)
He’s been awful, hasn’t he? Yes, I know the Brazilian could still end the month with a World Cup winners’ medal, but for a player of his class the Barcelona man has produced four frightful displays. Whether it’s the new grey ‘barnet’ or not I really don’t know, but Alves has aged before our eyes. Defensively, he’s become a seriously weak link.
Gerard Pique (Spain)
After his horror show against Holland, we never saw the Spanish centre-back again. Exposed as slow and vulnerable by Robben and Van Persie, Vicente del Bosque removed him from the firing line as the panic ensued. For this to happen to a player regarded as one of the game’s best defenders must have been an almighty shock. His only consolation: more time spent on holiday with wife Shakira.
It’s not been a great World Cup for La Liga’s big name defenders, and Pepe is another who will want to forget it quickly. He’d been having a nightmare against a mesmerising Germany side in the opening match, so presumably to spare himself more misery, he idiotically head-butted Thomas Muller to pick up a red card. What a numpty.
Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon)
The Tottenham left-back is famous for hating football, but over the last few weeks it seems like he’s been hating just about everything. First, controversially claiming he didn’t want to play for France because “when they get a bad result, they start to say there is a little bit too many black people, Muslim people and this kind of stuff,” he then crazily head butted his own team-mate Benjamin Moukandjo against Croatia.
Steven Gerrard (England)
If, as expected Stevie G bows out of international football this summer, his exit from the world stage wasn’t what he’d dreamed of. Having been a passenger against Italy in Manaus, the skipper vowed to lead from the front in the pivotal Uruguay game, only to make two crucial mistakes that led to England’s early exit. He’ll be mortified.
Alex Song (Cameroon)
What’s happened to the former Arsenal man? In his final season in north London the Cameroonian impressed as an all-round midfielder, but since making the switch to Barcelona he’s drifted further and further backwards. In an unhappy tournament for his country, his own displays were dreadful and he topped it off with a mindless red card. There was no excuse for slamming his arm into the back of Mario Mandzukic’s neck off the ball.
Xabi Alonso (Spain)
The classy Spaniard has always been one of my favourite players, and he was sensational for Real Madrid en route to the Champions League final last season, but in this World Cup he looked well past his sell by date. Lacking the legs to compete with Holland and Chile’s midfield, Alonso’s decision-making also went to pot. In short, he looked a bad, bad player. Which he isn’t.
Tipped as a Golden Boot contender a few weeks back, many Brazil fans want their number one striker to be given the boot instead. Luiz Felipe Scolari loves him and he may yet shine, but Fred has been a passenger for almost the entirety of this tournament so far. Lazy and disinterested, he needs to buck his ideas up.
Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)
The Napoli ace is a magnificent centre forward, but in four matches we’ve barely noticed him. Perhaps a victim of Argentina’s obsession with passing to Lionel Messi, he’s been shifted to the shadows, but even so, he’s looked a yard or two short of his usual sharpness. There’s still time for him to resurrect his competition, but to date he’s been a desperate disappointment.
Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
The Uruguayans should be ashamed of the way they handled the fall out from his bite on Giorgio Chiellini, and as for the man himself, he’s fortunate FIFA didn’t suspend him for longer. This World Cup has been so fantastic, it’s impossible for any one individual to stink it out on his own, but Suarez’s cannibalistic attack was the lowest of all the low points - which thankfully have been few and far between.
There you have it, my Worst XI of the World Cup. Do you agree?
Bet on France vs Germany and Brazil vs Colombia now!