AS THE whistle blew at the end of extra time in the Maracana, and Mario Gotze’s late goal handed Germany the World Cup, we were faced with a frightening realisation: there are 1426 days until the next World Cup final.
Here at scotsman.com, we’ve tried to come to terms with the end of the World Cup by picking our World Cup XI - as well as our ‘most disappointing’ line-up.
There weren’t any rules regarding formations or how many players were allowed from each team (despite Craig and Patrick sticking to a maximum of two while Peter attempted to field half the Dutch squad), but here are our three picks for World Cup team of the tournament.
James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben and Javier Mascherano made it into all three line-ups, while there were some bizarre choices that we’ve tried to justify.
We’ve even included our Twitter handles if you disagree so strongly that you want to pick us up on our choices.
4-3-3: Guillermo Ochoa (MEX); Philipp Lahm (GER), Thiago Silva (BRA), Giancarlo Gonzalez (CRC), Daley Blind (NED); Javier Mascherano (ARG), Toni Kroos (GER), Paul Pogba (FRA); Neymar (BRA); Arjen Robben (NED); James Rodriguez (COL).
The most controversial choice is Thiago Silva, though I feel my reasoning is justified. Just look at what happened to David Luiz without his partner in the Brasilia massacre. It’s some achievement to babysit a teammate and play as well as Silva did in the five matches prior to his suspension. Picking Guillermo Ochoa over Manuel Neuer was equally debatable, but I just felt that the former had a better tournament, even if the latter is clearly a better keeper. Giancarlo Gonzalez was included because there needed to be someone from the Costa Rican side in the team. There’s always one Cinderella story at every tournament and the Central Americans provided the enthralling ‘nothing is impossible’ narrative this time around.
France fizzled out in that eye-bleeding quarter-final against Germany, but it shouldn’t take the shine off what was an encouraging tournament for a relatively young French side. Paul Pogba is a valuable member of the Juventus team that won the Scudetto, so he’s hardly a newly discovered talent, but he really announced himself among the world’s elite with his performances in Brazil. Alongside him Toni Kroos and Javier Mascherano were absolute shoe-ins, both excellent from first game to last.
Up front was tricky and, in the end, I’ve gone with a sort of false 9 spearheading the attack in James Rodriguez. There was no way the top goalscorer was being omitted from the XI. After Robin Van Persie peaked in the group stages, it really was up to Arjen Robben to lead the Dutch attack and he was such a danger every time he picked up the ball. For me he was the single most entertaining player to watch this summer. On the other side I’ve gone for Neymar ahead of Thomas Muller. Like his teammate Thiago Silva, Neymar’s absence highlighted his own ability even more so. Fred, Hulk and the rest were already deemed average before the injury to one of the world’s greatest players. Without him occupying the bodies and minds of the opposition defence, the space shrunk and their flaws were highlighted tenfold. If Neymar had missed these Finals, Brazil wouldn’t have made it out of the group stages.
5-3-2: Manuel Neuer (GER); Daley Blind (NED), Gary Medel (CHI), Giancarlo Gonzalez (CRC), Ron Vlaar (NED), Christian Bolanos (CRC); Paul Pogba (FRA), Javier Mascherano (ARG), James Rodriguez (COL); Luis Suarez (URU), Arjen Robben (NED).
The triumphant return of the five-man backline was one of the big themes of this World Cup, with Costa Rica and the Netherlands both using their wide defenders to spring attacks and press the opposition, so they make up four of the back five.
France were driven to the quarter-finals by the somewhat gangly but highly effective Paul Pogba, Javier Mascherano’s defensive prowess grew as the tournament went on, and James Rodriguez lit up Brazil with silky skills and the kind of finishing normally seen in YouTube videos of Brazil in the early 1980s.
Up front, Arjen Robben ran defences ragged while only really using one of his feet, while the final place goes to Luis Suarez, a man who missed his side’s first game, scored twice in the second, and bit an opponent in the third.
He may have left Brazil in disgrace, but no retelling of the last month would be complete with him absent.
4-2-3-1: Keylor Navas (CRC); Marcos Rojo (ARG), Ron Vlaar (NED), Jan Vertonghen (BEL), Philipp Lahm (GER); Toni Kroos (GER), Javier Mascherano (ARG), Xherdan Shaqiri (SUI), James Rodriguez (COL), Arjen Robben (NED); Neymar (BRA).
Forget Manuel Neuer’s heroics, or Sergio Romero’s penalty antics. Keylor Navas and the Costa Rican defence only conceded two goals from open play (the best defence after Argentina) and ran the Netherlands close in the quarter finals. The Costa Rican ‘keeper was in fine form during his side’s penalty shoot-out win over Greece, and didn’t disgrace himself against the Dutch either. Costa Rica were the surprise package of the tournament and, like Craig and Peter, I felt it wouldn’t be a World Cup XI without at least one Costa Rican representative.
The back four is self-explanatory - Rojo and Lahm impressed for their respective sides while Vertonghen and Vlaar stood out despite Belgium and the Netherlands falling at the quart-final and semi-final stages respectively, with Vertonghen even grabbing a goal in the group stages and keeping two clean sheets.
Vlaar was large and in charge against Argentina in the semi-final, and could be forgiven his penalty miss for the fact he had to step up after two Dutch players (allegedly) bottled it in the shoot-out.
Kroos and Mascherano were lynchpins in their respective teams while top scorer Rodriguez picks himself. Robben’s trickery and pace helped to propel the Netherlands to the latter stages of the tournament, while on the other wing I’ve gone for Shaqiri.
A left-field choice, perhaps, but the diminutive winger did enough to show why he’s been part of the Swiss national side since he was just 18.
A hat-trick in the group match against Honduras, along with two man-of-the-match awards justifies his inclusion, and I reckon Shaqiri, Robben and Rodriguez would provide ideal back-up to Neymar. Brazil’s capitulation against Germany showed just how much they missed him, both psychologically and in the team.
Our most disappointing XI
In a delightful 4-4-2 diamond formation, this team collectively scored two own goals, landed two headbutts (one on the opposition, one on their own side), missed a golden chance in the World Cup final, and led their countries to ineptitude and humiliation on the biggest stage of all. Still, at least they can try and make up for their showings in four years time, right?
Igor Akinfeev (RUS); Benoit Assou-Ekotto (CAM), David Luiz (BRA), Pepe (POR), John Boye (GHA); Fernandinho (BRA), Steven Gerrard (ENG), Alex Song (CAM); Rodrigo Palacio (ARG); Fred (BRA), Diego Costa (SPA)