Right before the World Cup, our team had decided on 10 men that we think would shine at the World Cup for their respective nations and cement their names in the history books. Some passed with flying colours while others didn’t quite live up to the billing. M. SHANJAYAN evaluates how the 10 key men fared while on their mission to glory.
10. Mario Balotelli
On paper, it seemed like it was all too easy for the Italians. Many even predicted them to top the group consisting England, Costa Rica and Uruguay. However, this wasn’t the case. After registering a goal against England, Balotelli did not find the back of the net against the other two teams, and neither did Italy. They crashed out in the end as Uruguay put the final nail in Italy’s World Cup coffin.
Balotelli was one of the culprits of the nation’s downfall due to the fact that he did not seem inspired to do anything. He was constantly off-colour in the games and picked up two yellow cards for his unneeded tackles and poor discipline. Safe to say that he did not live up to the standards everyone had put on him.
Best moment: The one and only goal he scored against England
Rating: 4 / 10
9. Eden Hazard
Belgium had a star-studded team and Hazard was the biggest name on the team sheet, especially after a great season with his club Chelsea. However, he wasn’t much of a “hazard” to opposing defenders.
He only managed to register two assists in the opening two matches against Algeria and Russia. Other than that, he went missing for large chunks of the remaining games. With Hazard underperforming, Belgium did too. Their run came to an end against Argentina in the quarter-finals where everyone was playing a game called “Find Hazard!”
Best moment: Running Russia ragged during the final minutes of their group game.
8. Paul Pogba
Being nominated in the pool of Raphael Varane and Memphis Depay for the Young Player of the World Cup, Pogba stepped in to claim what was his at the end of the tournament.
“He has the power, the charisma, the technique,” said Arsene Wenger when describing Pogba, and rightly so. The presence he brought to the already strong midfield that the French possessed was a great joy to watch. Whenever Pogba charged forward with the ball, he made his presence known to the defenders trying to catch up with the 21-year-old.
However, he could not help his nation against eventual World Cup winners Germany when they came knocking in the quarter-finals. At such a young age, we can expect him to be a top player in future tournaments.
Best moment: His performance and goal against Nigeria
7. Wayne Rooney
England were below average, but Rooney fared better than most. The Manchester United striker tried his best when England needed him to lift the nation against Italy and Uruguay, and so he did, as he registered an assist for Daniel Sturridge’s goal against Italy and scored the equaliser against Uruguay. Although he worked hard and delivered when necessary, he couldn’t do more and was powerless to prevent England’s exit from the World Cup.
Best moment: Finally scoring a goal in the World Cup.
6. Robin van Persie
The Netherlands’ match with Spain will be remembered for its ridiculous scoreline as much as van Persie’s flying header. It was the kind of technique you wouldn’t normally see these days. Only few others possess the abilities that RVP showed. After scoring in the opening two games, exhaustion seemed to kick in for van Persie as he was substituted off early against Mexico. Right after the Netherlands managed to knock Mexico out, van Persie and Holland could not find the back of the net in normal time against Costa Rica and Argentina. They then lost to the latter in the semi-finals when his side misfired in the penalty shoot-out.
Full credit to him as he tried his best, but it just wasn’t enough to lift the prestigious trophy.
Best moment: That special diving header against Spain.
5. Diego Costa
Costa had a poor World Cup, one that he would not want to be remembered for.
However, in his defence, his style of football seems direct and decisive, judging from the way he played for his La Liga-winning side Atletico Madrid, but there was no chemistry with the midfield of Spain.
He was substituted in both his games against the Netherlands and Chile where he seemed as hopeless as the rest of the Spanish players.
Best moment: Crickets chirped loudly when I thought about this. There was none to speak of.
4. Luis Suarez
Suarez should have waited till the game was over to eat some Italian. Biting Giorgio Chiellini, no matter how well he smelt or tasted, was the worst thing Suarez could have done as he let his whole nation down.
Uruguay lost the first game against Costa Rica without the presence of their star striker but when he turned up for the remaining two matches, they seemed a better side as he scored two goals against England.
As much of a world-class player he is, there is no room for biting in football and he deserves every bit of the severe punishment he was handed out.
Best moment: Two goals against England
3. Lionel Messi
Another World Cup passes, yet Messi is still not able to collect the ultimate trophy. If he had done so, it would undoubtedly make him the best player to have ever lived, since he has achieved everything there is to achieve at club level. He would have kept the critics quiet by waving that golden medal around his neck but now, all that he’s left with are memories of what could have been.
He did receive a trophy of sorts. The Golden Ball was awarded to him although many, including Argentina’s footballing legend Diego Maradona, claimed that he did not deserve the award. To his credit, he did score decisive goals that brought Argentina to the final but the likes of Arjen Robben, James Rodriguez and Javier Mascherano were probably more deserving of the award.
Best moment: The last-minute winner against Iran. An absolute peach of a goal.
2. Cristiano Ronaldo
It was obvious that Portugal were heavily reliant on Ronaldo. Whenever given the opportunity, the ball was played to Ronaldo in the hopes he would cook some magic up. That not-so-revolutionary tactic did not end well for both Ronaldo and Portugal.
Ronaldo seemed like he was playing on his own and his team-mates should feel ashamed after their terrible performances that disappointed many.
At the age of 29, winning the next World Cup does not seem possible for Cristiano Ronaldo and it seems like this world-class player will be regarded as being “among the best”, instead of actually being the best (although he’s in good company with the likes Alfredo Di Stefano, Johan Cruyff and Eusebio).
Best moment: Finally scoring against Ghana in the only game Portugal won during the tournament.
The 21-year-old gave it his all. His work rate and passion were clear. He injured his back due to a tackle from Juan Zuniga of Colombia in the quarter-finals, but it seems more like he broke his back due to the weight of expectation he was carrying.
Without Neymar, Brazil looked like the epitome of hopeless against Germany when they were humiliated and battered 7-1. It seems like they lost all inspiration and drive, crashing out from the tournament with the worst record in their history.
He will undoubtedly take pride in the fact that he gave his 100%.
Best moment : The cool and composed finish against Cameroon.