It was a dramatic last round of the group stages. One that had both very good and very bad games.
I watched on a couple of TVs simultaneously, which especially with some groups were very exciting but for the specific purposes of this particular exercise it wasn't all good since it resulted in some very divided or other times very one sided attention. Some matches I watched paying nearly 100 percent attention to over the other and in other cases it was more like 60-40 or 80-20.
Therefore this is definitely the entry where I have the least confidence in my choices and it is entirely unlikely that I haven't missed some worthy performances.
1st and 2nd Teams
Gk: Rais M'Bolhi - Algeria
Lb: Jorge Fucile - Uruguay
Cb: Bruno Alves - portugal
Cb: John Terry - England
Rb: Philipp Lahm - Germany
Mf: Bastian Schweinsteiger - Germany
Mf: Tim Cahill - Australia
Rw: Landon Donovan - USA
Am: Keisuke Honda - Japan
Fw: Chu-Young Park - South Korea
Striker: Robert Vittek - Slovakia
Notables: Fabio Coentrao, John Mensah, Rios/Perez, Alonso
Rais M'Bolhi - Algeria
The normal first choice Algeria keeper Faouzi Chaouchi was dropped after his costly error in the 1-0 defeat to Slovenia giving newcomer M'Bolhi playing only his third cap. the chance to shine at the biggest stage.
In the game against the U.S - M'Bolhi held on right until the very end making many good saves and interventions and afterwards the American (and best of round 1.) goalkeeper Tim Howard was nice enough (unlike what he is doing to his defenders, I'm really starting noticing, who he is abusing like he was Peter Schmeichel!) to pay compliments to M'Bolhi calling him exceptional:
“When you create so many chances, you expect to at least put one away. But their keeper was exceptional. Our finishing wasn’t the problem, it was the fact that M’Bolhi was in incredible form and managed to get his body in the way at crucial moments. It was really extraordinary.”
So, in a round where rightly or wrongly I didn't notice too many great goalkeeping displays, M'Bolhi beats the rest.
Jorge Fucile - Uruguay
Retains a spot on the team and this round at the position he has actually been playing.
In the game against Mexico we saw a little bit extra emphasis on defending from Fucile compared to against South Africa where Uruguay came out attacking, and definitely extra impressive this time that he was the first defender to keep Mexico's Dos Santos, who has been in great form, largely under control.
Bruno Alves - Portugal
Another defender from a team who is yet to concede a single goal.
His partner Carvalho also had a good game, as well as the whole team did of course, defending, but Carvalho unlike Alves I thought was caught gambling a few times.
Brazil box striker Fabiano made the "best of team" last round and I talked about how well he complemented the other attacking Brazilian players coming from behind moving close to him.
Kaka and Robinho in Fabiano have the skilled box presence they can combine with and the likes of Maicon, Bastos and Elano as well as having that, have a great athletic target for their quality deliveries.
Now before I call Portugal's or Alves defensive performances great it should be noted that quite a few of those names were missing in this game, giving Fabiano worse players to work with, affecting his effectiveness I'm sure, but credit to especially Alves, who it was my impression mostly was on Fabiano, for largely, or at least better than anyone so far, reducing that particular all important Brazil weapon.
We didn't, like many recent Brazil games, watch Fabiano being effective with deliveries from the wings and we didn't really see him being able to combine with the skillful attackers coming from behind. Bruno Alves (mostly I think) would always be in the way.
Now, stopping most of the Brazil attacking players is very much a team effort and not a question of one on one matchups, but this particular one is extremely important not to lose for the central defender closest to Fabiano in the box. The Ivory Coast defenders lost at times badly, which put their Eriksson midfield team defense pretty much to waste, they had done pretty well actually in the beginning preventing passing lanes for both Maicon and especially Kaka, stopping them getting the ball even or quickly taking it away, but the one player they couldn't stop neither getting the ball or giving it back again to other attacking players moving close to him taking advantage in the final third where it hurts the most, was Fabiano though, and with really bad consequences.
There is no doubt a lot of it was less quality around Fabiano. In this game there were only 4 passes exchanged between Fabiano and Julio Baptista and 3 of those was Fabiano finding the "beast" who then predictable was not able to do much with it.
With Kaka against the Ivory Coast on the other hand he exchanged 11 passes. Then in what I think you can also call a bad attacking game for Brazil, against North Korea, Kaka and Fabiano only combined 3 times!
Interestingly in both of those "bad games" Fabiano then saw increased passing from the wingers. Today again and again from Daniel Alves playing instead of Elano, but not to much effect at all and I don't think there is any doubt you'll rather deal with non-getting to the baseline-crosses (which is hard to concede if you sit deep like North Korea and Portugal) than Fabiano being close to the likes of Kaka, Robinho, Elano and Maicon combining around your penalty area.
John Terry - England
On the field at least, quietly having a good World Cup where he as one of very few England players has played well in every game so far.
The highlight of that so far was the all important game against Slovenia where apart from being mistake-free he also had to save the team from danger on more than one occasion.
More than a bit worrying how the England centre-backs have had to do that against pretty ordinary attacking teams so far and the team/Capello will have to find a better balance against the first really good attacking team they'll meet, Germany of course in the round of 16. Otherwise neither Terry, or Matthew Upson for that matter who also had a good game, will make enough of a difference to prevent them getting knocked out.
Philipp Lahm - Germany
Not much to add really from when he made the first team in round 1. Other than like with Fucile earlier, I now have Lahm back at the position he is actually playing, and I'm also further realizing that there is no doubt, defensively, that he is more comfortable in the 1on1 situations that tends to find sidebacks, defending on the right rather than the left.
Germany will of course face England in the next round and with Lahm now fully installed on the right we should see an interesting clash of elite fullbacks between him and Ashley Cole.
It would be great for England if Cole could force Lahm to defend against an athletically superior opponent, giving him something to worry about, maybe even halting his forward progress, but I fear for England most of the worries go the other way, with either a Milner placed on the left, who struggled there (even) against the U.S, or perhaps worse, notoriously unreliable defender this season, Steven Gerrard with important defensive responsibilities on the left.
AT THE VERY LEAST it might force Ashley Cole to play yet another game where he is mostly staying back but can even he if he isn't getting enough support deal with what by far looks like German's strongest side to me, the dynamic Müller supported by Lahm and to some extent Ozil.
It will be interesting to see what Capello does there. I'm in no way ruling out a return for Emile Heskey with defensive duties on the left, like we've so many times over the years for his club teams. It would be an unpopular and controversial decision but one it's easy to see Capello make.
Bastian Schweinsteiger - Germany
Schweinsteiger was possibly even better this game than in the first one against Australia.
Secure short passing with all the right decisions and with his impressive range he sprayed many good longer ones as well.
Defensively he also looked good with many well timed interventions.
All in all this was a game where he hardly put a foot wrong ruling the German midfield.
The only negative is that he picked up an injury and had to come off towards the end. Hopefully that's not something that will bother him the rest of the tournament. His team desperately needs him.
Tim Cahill - Australia
I think my eyes in the beginning at least mostly were on the Germany - Ghana game but the other game between Serbia and Australia kept getting more and more interesting and towards the end there was a clear case of both teams having to chase the dream and push men forward in pursuit of goals.
Serbia of course ended up once again suffering World Cup heartbreak and are going home early while Australia with good performances in both of the last two games really, and by winning this one, at least has some to smile about.
Cahill as he has so many times before, I felt was the player mostly responsible for that, with a great box to box performance, working hard defensively and being dynamic in attack, making well timed run after well timed run threatening the opponent penalty area, and as he has also done so many times before, with a trademark header scoring a goal in the process.
Landon Donovan - USA
Donovan has been good in every game so far being the one U.S player who can provide an extra bit of pace or skill and with that make a difference.
None bigger or more important than what he did this round scoring a crucial 90th minute winner against Algeria that put his country through, top of the group, to the knockout stages.
A great (or the greatest?) moment in U.S soccer history.
Keisuke Honda - Japan
Honda interestingly the most fouled player out of anyone in the group stage makes his first appearance on the team.
In beating Denmark 3-1 he showed once again that he is the Ferrari on Japan's workman like team.
Not that he doesn't put in the extra miles himself. He impressively does that. But his ability with the ball is what sets him apart and against Denmark he showed it plenty.
Usually most noteworthy is his kicking-technique and it was fitting that it was Honda who became the first player to score on a freekick this tournament. Definitely not one of his most impressive, and more the fault of keeper Sorenson than anything and his compatriot Endo's freekick goal later in the game was easily the better one, BUT STILL, it was Honda who broke the duck!
In this game he worked hard defensively and with gliding movement and overall skill he was Japan's main instigator when going forward. Not least exemplified when he brilliantly set up Okazaki's winner.
Chu-Young Park - South Korea
In what was a wild fun back and forth game against Nigeria, Chu-Young Park was one of the few I think who actually played a really good game!
Worked very hard and with his quickness and skill he was a nightmare for the big Nigerian defenders all game long.
Robert Vittek - Slovakia
As an avid Azzurri supporter this is still too soon to talk about (or even look at! Hence the above).
If I try start writing about the events in this game, Italy, Slovakia or even individual players there is no way I can avoid going into emo-rage-tilt mode ruining my whole day and possibly my sleep! Shock, anger and sadness not helped, to say the least, by my own country Denmark then also going out later that very same (fateful) day.
I'll just say congratulations to Slovakia. I had a great time myself in the very nice city of Bratislava once and met some cool people there, and of course (what this is supposed to be about!) also well done to Robert Vittek who with his good target-man display was a key factor in securing the win.
There is no 2nd team this round where like I mentioned in the beginning there were just a little bit too many of the games going on at the same time where my attention was either split or almost entirely focused on one instead of the other.
But I do at least have some NOTABLES:
Left-back: Fabio Coentrao - Portugal
The most notable of all perhaps, missing out once again only by the closest of margins. Had one bad decision on a pass that could have been costly but that's it really. Other than that he was very good and not faced at all by squaring up to the grueling double dose of Maicon and Daniel Alves.
Centre-back: John Mensah - Ghana
Isaac Vorsah the Ghana centre-back who made my first team after the opening games has unfortunately since been injured and the experienced journeyman defender and captain John Mensah (currently at Sunderland) now finds himself playing with another Mensah, the 19 year old Jonathan who was one of the stars for Ghana when they won the U-20 World Cup last year. My first impression though of Jonathan is that he is pretty raw still and make too many bad decisions, meaning more than ever it's the older Mensah who really has to hold it all together.
Against Germany I was surprised how easy Germany got through the Ghana midfield organization that has troubled other teams. Part of it I'm sure is just great German quality with Schweinsteiger, Ozil, Khedira plus Lahm rarely not present with excellent contributions and then there was the choice of Cacau as the striker who was very often dropping deep adding to the midfield numbers.
Still, Ghana themselves have everyone of their non defenders being cagey in midfield so it's not like they were outnumbered and it's not a good sign for them (it is for Germany though!) that they had to rely too this extent on good defending in their box.
There I thought Mensah out-muscled anyone in sight and how he lead the defense to mostly deal. with all those incoming German passes and runs without the ball from behind. was impressive.
Yes there were a few glitches but if you compare to how another midfield who also failed against Germany, the Aussies and how their defenders were then exposed, then I thought the Ghana back-four lead by John Mensah did admirably in not allowing (many) more clear goalscoring chances.
Defensive midfielders: Arevalo Rios and Diego Perez - Uruguay
The workhorses on the Uruguay midfield has defended well this tournament and when the time has been right for attacking they've also been capable of fulfilling their roles requiring them to pass the ball well enough on to the attacking outlets. Not least Forlan of course, but Cavani's movement and performance as a whole also really picked up this round, doing a good job in many places.
Midfielder - Xabi Alonso - Spain
Before the very anticipated match between Spain and Chile somewhere in the second half came to a truce almost, Xabi Alonso had been a very important player.
Chile did show some restraint in their normal high pressure but what we saw was still what we've never seen before, a team meeting Spain up high defending (literally) mano e mano almost all over the pitch.
On the surface perhaps, it looked like a decent success. They actually in many ways prevented Spain's usual fluid possession game through talisman Xavi. And you could say that's an achievement in itself and its a shame we didn't get that intriguing battle for a full 90 minutes because of the Chile sending off and then a full blown stalemate.
But a sending off I think that's also a clear symptom of Bielsa's tactics against a really good opponent.
Defending against, maybe even far more talented individuals - individually instead of "their space" zonal marking collectively as team, just comes with a prize. In this game not least tons of freekicks.
Very often when a Chile defender lost their individual matchup we saw a foul, either out of need cause in a man to man defending scheme there isn't automatically a man occupying space behind. Instead that teammate is likely marking some other man, allowing potentially tons of free space for the opponent winning the individual matchup!
Or other times it would just be a foul as a result of being late against quick technical opponents getting ahead through a nice pass or good first touch.
To put it simply, in their individual marking, too many of the Chile markers were outmatched individually.
Where Alonso then comes in is taking advantage of that as best as possible under the (not to Spain's liking normally) circumstances and with Chile actually largely succeeding in the Xavi individual matchup Spain were hitting more passes from deep, more direct, than you usually see. You could say they were forced to, but I see it more as the natural order of things.
The best at those passers is Alonso and with Spain players put under pressure and marked high up their own half it makes sense to get the ball quickly instead to where the Spain players are man marked in the Chile half, and where a won matchup means oceans of space behind the Chile defender and a lost one nothing serious at all.
Of course very unlike a Chile matchup won in the Spain half where it would be giving away a serious goalscoring chance (to Chile's credit there were actually examples of this).
But enter the goal where an under pressure Alonso in his own half hits a good long pass towards Torres (somewhat harsh but Alonso able to hit that is this sequence's individual matchup number 1 won by Spain) who is marked up high up by a Chile defender, they get into a one on one race into symptomatic non occupied Chilean space. where I'm guessing the Chile keeper then doesn't like his defender's chances (this actually looks like a miscalculation when watching it again) and he comes out trying to clear the ball (meaning individual matchup number 2 won by Spain - even if conceded by the Chile keeper is the more accurate).
It lands in the free space where David Villa using his pace has gotten away from his marker (individual matchup number 3 won by Spain) and he strikes it brilliantly for the goal.