Posted by: mdegeorge | December 31, 2010

Starting XI Points: World Football Team of the Year

‘Tis the season to be jolly…and to try and encapsulate 12 months of footballing history into a selection of 18 players who captured my attention on the pitch in 2010. It was a monumental year that gave us a European treble, doubles galore, and a few guys who got together to play some soccer in South Africa.

So without further adieu, here’s my Starting XI from the world of football in 2010.

Moses Mabhida Stadium Durban Germany v Spain (0-1) Match 62 07/07/2010 Carlos Puyol (SPA) celebrates winning goal with Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique Photo Roger Parker Fotosports International Photo via Newscom

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas. Winning a World Cup isn’t too shabby for the 29-year-old Madrid native. He fell short domestically to the tour de force that is Barcelona despite eclipsing 400 La Liga appearances for Los Merengues. But his calming presence in net was at the heart of Spain’s stingy world champion defense. He surrendered only two goals in seven World Cup games—both of which came in the group stage—and kept the Spanish sheet clean over the final 432 minutes of the tournament.

Right back: Philipp Lahm. It’s kind of slim pickings at this position with somewhat down years for the usual suspects like Maicon and Dani Alves. But Lahm still richly deserves the honor. His versatility to play either on the left or right for club and country is a bonus. He plays both sides with equal aplomb and is a stellar defender and vice-captain for domestic double winners Bayern Munich. With the Bavarians struggling this term, Lahm has upped his offense with three goals and two assists. But most importantly, Lahm started and played the full 90 in all 34 of the Bundesliga matches and 12 of 13 Champions’ League triumph.

Center back: Carlos Puyol. The lion-mained Barcelona and Spain captain lifted the World Cup Trophy thanks to his rock-solid defense leading the Spanish back line. He also contributed on the other end of the pitch with a goal in the semifinals, just his third in Spanish colors in 94 caps. His work ethic and tenacity are unmatched in the game.

Center back: Lucio. The towering Brazilian was at the heart of Inter Milan’s treble-winning squad and arguably one of its most influential players. He was a constant fixture, appearing in 31 of 38 Serie A matches and 12 of 13 Champions’ League matches as well as all five of Brazil’s World Cup matches. The marauding defender has shocking pace for his size; his rambling forays into attack from defense are a weekly occurrence that turn the tide of momentum in matches.

Left back: Ashley Cole. Cole’s is unquestionably the world’s best left back (especially when Lahm is confined to the right side of the pitch). We was one of the stalwarts in a beat-up Chelsea back four that had enough gas in the tank to win a Premier League title. Chelsea’s 103 goals in 38 Premier League contests owed a great deal to its raiding left back, able to launch attacks from the back at will against overwhelmed English midfields.

Central midfielder: Xavi. There may not be another player in the world as perfectly suited for his club’s and country’s style as the Catalan playmaker is for Barca and Spain. His deft touch yielded 17 assists last season for Barcelona in all competitions to go along with 4 goals, though those numbers fail to grasp the majority of his impact on the game. His incisive runs make him dangerous with and without the ball. The all-world Lionel Messi owes a great deal of his prolific goal tally to the inch-perfect passes he receives from the center of the pitch.

Central midfielder: Wesley Sneijder. Sneijder had periods in 2010 in which he incited fear in the hearts of defenders whenever he came near the ball. He was worth every penny Inter paid for him before the transfer window closed in August 2009. He scored just eight goals in all competitions for Inter last season, but had a hand in many more though his two-way work in the midfield. His performances for the Netherlands were sublime, tallying seven goals in 2009, including five in a dominant World Cup performance that includes both of the markers that send Brazil packing in the quarterfinals.

Attacking midfielder: Cristiano Ronaldo. Love him or not, his goal-scoring record is mind-blowing. He found the back of the net 33 times in 35 contests in all competitions last season to go along with seven assists. This term, he’s bagged 25 goals and eight assists in just 25 matches. And all this was despite a “down” start to the 2009-2010 season as he adjusted to the Spanish game. Now that he’s nice and comfortable, it’s scary what he can accomplish.

Attacking midfielder: Lionel Messi. Speaking of ethereal offensive proficiency…Messi matches his El Classico and Iberian rival Ronaldo goal for goal. In 2009-10, the diminutive Argentine had 47 goals and 11 assists in 53 matches across all competitions. This fall, he’s tallied 27 times to go with 14 assists in just 24 matches. He’s a legitimate goal-per-match and two-point-per-match threat this season. The only knock on him is his relative paucity of goals for Argentina, for which he was shut out in South Africa at the world cup and only has two goals—both in the fall—in 10 caps.

Forward: Carlos Tevez. The Argentine firebrand has 12 goals in 17 matches this season on the heels of a 23-goal performance in the Prem last season. He’s made the best out of a mix-and-match Manchester City midfield that has undergone more personnel changes in the last year than Italian parliament. He’s like a raging river on the pitch: vital for a team that can somehow harness his power, deadly for those in his path.

Forward: Diego Milito. Inter’s inability to get Milito going this season and their corresponding dip in form illustrate just how integral Milito’s contributions were to their treble last season. He tallied 30 goals in 51 matches last season, including the only two markers of the Champions’ League final that earned him man of the match honors. He’s managed 46 goals over the last two full seasons in Europe’s stingiest league, which means his faltering fall is probably just an aberration.

Bench:

Goalkeeper: Julio Cesar. In keeping with the overwhelming South American theme, Cesar’s backstopping of the European treble winners earns him plaudits as one of the world’s best.

Defender: Nemanja Vidic. His play has been consistent throughout the year. In the expansive arsenal of players at Sir Alex Ferguson’s disposal, Vidic is as irreplaceable an outfield player as they come.

Defender: Fabio Coentrao. The young Portuguese left back is an emerging star, blossoming out of the blue at age 22 to assume a starting role in the nation’s World Cup squad.

Midfielder: Esteban Cambiasso. The deep-lying midfielder is at the heart of Inter’s stingy defense as well as the fulcrum to launch the attack forward.

Midfielder: Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern Munich and Germany midfielder is one of the imminent creative forces among the European midfield ranks.

Forward: Luis Suarez. His 2010—and potentially, his career—will be remembered by his handball in the World Cup quarterfinals. His 49 goals in 48 matches for Ajax and three tallies for Uruguay in South Africa should be right up there as well.

Forward: Diego Forlan. While we’re in a Uruguayan mood, might as well mention their most dangerous striker, another player who was on an ungodly hot run during the summer.

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