Best Player: In the first half of the tournament, I was very impressed with Argentina’s Lionel Messi, which is why I’m so dismayed by the talk that his goalless World Cup was somehow on the same level with Cristiano Ronaldo’s or Wayne Rooney’s disappointing performances. Granted, I’m a fan, and I won’t claim to be unbiased, but focusing on the fact that Messi didn’t score betrays a rather narrow understanding of an elite player’s impact on a game.
Best Player: Xavi, but not without Busquets. While Xavi orchestrates plays and controls the rhythm like no one I've ever seen, with a patience and precision of a miniature painter, none of it would be possible without Busquets. Busquets gets the ball, passes it to Xavi who passes it on to Iniesta or someone else, forever available--and they do that hundreds of times each game, over and over again, and everyone knows they will do it and they do it still.
Best goal: Van Bronckhorst’s, no question. Where the ball ended up was the only place it could have gone while still eluding the keeper. About as close to a perfect strike as I’ve ever seen. Watch him repeat it right-footed. Best player: David Villa. Forlan gets honorable mention, of course, but Villa somehow looks dangerous every time he gets the ball. Yes, he gets great service from the Spanish midfield, but with Torres slumping, he’s had to do it without a threatening attacking partner. Best goalkeeper: Manuel Neuer.
"The particular insanity of the World Cup." Spain's happy hangover Zonal Marking's analysis of Spain-Germany Jonathan Wilson: Spain dominate in possession The Arjen-Robben-as-ball Photoshop meme (more here) Turf wars hurt English development Holland-Uruguay...in Legos
Best Player: Schweinsteiger has been the best so far. Tip of the hat to Forlan, who’s been incredible. However, Schweinsteiger’s control of the game, his play on both sides of the ball gives him the edge, in my opinion. The tournament isn’t over yet, though, and my favorite player, Iniesta, shined in today’s game. If he plays as well in the final, then I’ll give it to him. I know that a couple of games does not a tournament make, but I am biased. Biggest Revelation: My first response would be Mesut Ozil, but then I want to give a shout out to the entire German team.
Best Uniform: Uruguay, for the insouciant way they wore their collars. No two players agreed -- should it be up, a la Eric Cantona; non-existent, a la Brazil, or all messed up? All messed up seemed to dominate. Worst individual performance: Ricardo Clark, USA. Phew, he was dreadful. Substituted after half an hour against Ghana? That's a starting pitcher giving up 8 runs in the top of the first. On two grand slams. No one out. In the post-season. Least enjoyable game: England vs. Algeria. Did anything at all actually happen?
Best team: Germany. Consistently dynamic, the German team was dazzling from start to finish. Beckenbauer wasn’t exaggerating when he said that the performance against Argentina was perhaps the best game ever by a German team. The maturity shown by the German side was even more impressive when one considers the team’s youth: Manuel Neuer is 24 years old, Mesut Ozil is 21, Bastian Schweinsteiger – that veteran – is 25. That’s just amazing. Generous, hardworking and even humble, the Germans were the opposite of the odious French or the smug Argentines.
I’ll take Howard’s bait. I think it is OK to both admire and root for Germany, and I’ve found myself doing both. Yes, my father was the first mate on U.S. Merchant Marine ships running supplies to Normandy, and the Nazis did occupy his native Greece. But that was quite some time ago. In my well-postwar lifetime, personal bias against Germany has involved disdain for the country’s efficient, machine-like, insert-backhandedly-complimentary-adjective-here character (and caricature), and with their soccer.
There’s no doubt that Germany looked magisterial against Argentina. Late last year, I watched a team pummel Diego Maradona’s team in similar fashion. They ran all over them with astonishing ease, making them look like a third division team on the brink of the brink of relegation. This was a particularly low moment for Maradona, the winter when his team was more messy than Messi. Still, the side that beat them clearly possessed players of superior quality. That was last December when the albiceleste ventured into Barcelona’s Nou Camp. They left the stadium that day defeated 4-2.
It’s not that I want fewer games or fewer teams or anything. What I’d like to avoid is that sad feeling of diffusion, mixed with an odd short-term nostalgia, that always rears its head around now. Remember the first match, that thrilling 1-1 draw between South Africa and Mexico?