this is not a popularity contest

greetings from south africa on the last day of world cup 2010… ok, i’m lying. i’m sitting in my living room in ohio at 9 in the morning, just like i have for a majority of this summer’s big event.

and from my bird’s eye, HD view of the action, i’ve had a chance to watch a constant stream of amazing footballers grace the pitches in south africa. and though the football wasn’t necessarily the greatest most of the time, there is no doubt that some players really stepped up to the occasion.

of course villa made my best XI, but there is no way his world class teammate cesc could squeeze in.

with that in mind, i’ve tried my best to assemble my best XI of south africa 2010. i’ve always been quick to criticize to bash fifa’s decisions for this team in past tournaments, but doing this for the first time on my own was way more difficult than i had imagined. this is especially true when you could probably just use the whole of the spanish starting eleven and call it a day. and the difficulty of not naming high profile players, even those who didn’t perform to their abilities, is that much harder.

(a quick tangent… “the high profile player” pick easily explains how claudio reyna made the 2002 best XI, despite having a poor tournament. a USMNT spot on that team was guaranteed because of their impressive run to the quarters, and that spot should have been landycakes, or brad friedel’s. instead, the organizers probably looked down the US roster and said to themselves, “oh, i know who reyna is… he used to play for rangers!”)

anyway, without further delay, here are my picks for this summer’s edition. and feel free to throw out any objections you like.

fernando muslera (gk – uruguay)
i really struggled not to pick muslera’s teammate, luis suárez, for the keeper spot in the eleven. however, picking a striker who just so happened to make the save of the tournament seemed a little out of place. either way, muslera deserves the nod over portugal’s eduardo due to his team’s deeper run in the tournament and his huge penalty saves against ghana. despite the fact that muslera had only 12 caps with the national team.

giovanni van bronckhorst (d – netherlands)
love him or hate him, the oldest player in the tournament (this includes goalkeepers and outfield players) has been a rock in the back for the dutch. the captain somehow always evades the probing eyes of the referee when pulling off his dirty tricks, which makes him few fans despite the fact it’s part of what makes him so effective at this age. add in his thundering goal in the semifinal against uruguay, and there is just no way you can leave him off his this team.

philipp lahm (d – germany)
another captain, another solid performer. and it should have been expected from the right-sided back from bayern munich, as he was one of the standout performers in germany’s 2006 run to the final on their home soil. he also had to stepp up big to hold the captaincy in place of the injured michael ballack, and managed the job very well.

carles puyol (d – spain)
it pains me to put him in this team, even though he rightfully deserves it. at times for barcelona, he is so out of control that you have to wonder if he has any clue what he’s doing out there. and yet he always seems to make it work. plus, do i really want to put a neanderthal in my best XI? (after writing this, i’ve now become a little afraid of having the geico caveman show up and kick my ass.) alas, i have to. puyol was instrumental in spain’s three game clean sheet run to today’s final, and the winner in the semi against germany doesn’t hurt either.

michel bastos (d – brazil)
this kid is fun to watch. he runs up and down the flank just like any brazilian left back should, yet he does it with a little more style and class (probably due to the fact that he plays on the left wing for lyon). i’ll probably get some cocked heads from this selection, but i think the 26 year old is had a strong tournament and is a rising star in the game.

xavi (m – spain)
although i prefer the stylish play of his teammate, iniesta (who was a hard snub for the first XI), there is no doubting xavi’s place here. if he’s not on your team, you didn’t watch enough games or have no clue what you’re talking about. he will be one of the front runners for the golden ball, heavily depending on the result of today’s final and whether or not villa scores again.

wesley sneijder (m – netherlands)
i still don’t get how real madrid didn’t think they would need sneijder any longer. it makes me so mad. and yet here wesley is, after leading his new side inter to champions league glory this spring, pushing the oranje towards world cup glory. yeah, there is no way you would need him. especially when kaka is a shell of his former self.

schweinsteiger pushed his way into my team, despite the fact that he haunts my nightmares.

bastian schweinsteiger (m – germany)
i like to describe schweinsteiger as a bigger, stronger and more technical version of craig bellamy. they both look like they could kill you if they felt like it… you know, that crazy eye look that they both give players that they’re mad at. and all i can picture schweinsteiger as is a gigantic SS officer… and that’s exactly how he patrols his midfield. with intimidation, size and great technical ability.

thomas müller (f – germany)
in addition to making my best XI, he is probably a shoe in for the young player of the tournament award too. the young bayern stand out has been incredibly impressive this summer. he has formed a very impressive partnership up front with whomever he plays with, but is an especially strong 1-2 punch when partnered with klose. look for young thomas and his other young teammates (ahem, ozïl) to be an international force for years to come.

david villa (f – spain)
he’s been lethal. i don’t think i really need to say much more than that. and as a real madrid fan, he makes barcelona infinitely more scary.

diego forlán (f – uruguay)
from manchester united flop to perennial pinchichi candidate in spain, “san diego” continued his fine run of form this summer in south africa. along with national hero suárez, forlán carried uruguay all the way to the last four with style and pin ache. could a big move back to england be in the cards for the atletico madrid man?

on the bench are a few more decent players:

  • iker casillas (gk – spain)
  • john mensah (d – ghana)
  • andres iniesta (m – spain)
  • landon donovan (m – united states)
  • lionel messi (m – argentina)
  • keisuke honda (m – japan)
  • asamoah gyan (f – ghana)
  • luis fabiano (f – brazil)

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