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Best of the best

July 12, 2010

The Golden Ball, the Golden Boot and whatever the World Cup trophy is supposed to represent have all been handed out. But who will make Deutsche Welle's list of the best 11 in South Africa?

Diego Forlan of Uruguay
It was a World Cup to remember for Uruguay's ForlanImage: AP

The jury for Deutsche Welle's top XI consisted of Sports Editor Matt Hermann, reporters Nick Amies and Jefferson Chase and a special guest. This year, DW-TV moderator, political expert and renaissance man Peter Craven joined the fray.

The rules were simple. Four guys, each with one vote per position, come up with the super-duper starting lineup.

Four being an even number, we also introduced a tiebreaker. In case of two of more players being judged relatively equal, the one with the best hair got the nod.

So without any further ado, and staying with the hair theme, here are our picks.

Diego and David

Uruguay's Diego Forlan celebrates
At DW, we're big fans of ForlanImage: AP

Peter made an impassioned plea for Miroslav Klose to be included, in response to Jefferson arguing that a fair number of his 14 career World Cup goals were tap-ins. But ultimately, Miro had to take a back seat to two of the best players of the tournament.

The first is Diego Forlan, the Uruguay forward who was deservedly named the World Cup MVP. As Matt putt it, "he played on a defensively minded team that offered only intermittent support and was the heart and soul throughout."

Normally, we hate football players with loads of talent and swept-back, movie-star blond locks. But Forlan also seemed like a genuinely nice guy when interviewed and played in the true spirit of the beautiful game. So Diego, if you're ever in Berlin, Bonn or Brussels, we'd like to buy you a beer.

Slightly less likeable but no less prodigious was Spain's David Villa. The diminutive forward kept the Spanish in the tournament when they stumbled early on and scored an outrageous goal from just inside the halfway line against Chile.

Plus he gets extra points for the Frank Zappa-esque goatee thing.

Tommy, Schweini, Wesley and Xavi

Germany's Thomas Mueller, right, competes for the ball with Argentina's Gabriel Heinze
Twenty-year-old Thomas Mueller was the man against ArgentinaImage: AP

The 2010 World Cup was a midfielders' tournament, and Ghana's Kevin-Prince Boateng and Japan's Honda drew kudos from the jury. But ultimately there was consensus on who the middle four should be.

Twenty-year-old Thomas Mueller made everyone's list. At an age where most young men's greatest life achievement involves a fifth of Jack Daniel's and a funnel, the German World Cup debutant picked up the Golden Boot and, almost as an afterthought, the Best Young Player Award.

His teammate Bastian Schweinsteiger also swept our ballots for holding midfielder. We were impressed not only with his presence in midfield but also his leadership qualities, which were one reason Germany recovered so well from the loss of captain Michael Ballack to injury.

The Netherlands' Wesley Sneijder was a somewhat more curious case. He never seemed to do anything all that spectacular but ended the World Cup with five goals. As Nick put it, "he kind of embodies the Dutch approach of players who are really talented and really mouthy - I like that."

Spain's Xavi Hernandez, center, controls the ball
Xavi is our midfield leaderImage: AP

That left one big question: who to take from Spain? The options, obviously, were Xavi or Iniesta, but that was like asking a hardcore Radiohead fan to say whether "OK Computer" or "Kid A" is a better album.

Iniesta scored two crucial goals, while Xavi looked more like the true field general and delivered the pinpoint corner kick that propelled Spain past Germany. In the end, Xavi won on the hair rule. Iniesta has hardly any, while Xavi's Michael Corleone slick-back perfectly reflects his ruthless strategic acumen on the pitch.

King Poodle and consorts

Spain's Carles Puyol, left, competes for the ball with Netherlands' Gregory van der Wiel
A fine example of the hair rule in actionImage: AP

Left and right back were relatively easy choices. Spain may not have had the greatest offense, but Sergio Ramos attracted everyone's votes for being a constant source of pressure up the left flank. He was also solid defensively, as Spain shut out their final four opponents.

Meanwhile, Maicon did on the right what Ramos did on the left. No opposing defense really had an answer for the burly Brazilian, who is much bigger than most players at his position. As Peter succinctly put it, "The Selecao disappointed; Maicon did not."

Selecting central defenders was harder, but we felt we had to pay tribute to New Zealand's Ryan Nelsen. "He's a player with limited gifts, but was at the heart of an amazing campaign," Matt pointed out. "Three games, 270 minutes of white-knuckle defending, one goal conceded. Class."

We were all over the shop, though, when it came to picking Nelsen's partner. Among the candidates we looked at were Friedrich, Lugano, Pique and Lucio. But in the end, one man stood out from the pack.

He's been called the Caveman and King Poodle, but presumably never to his face. Spain's Carlos Puyol has been around as long as any of us can remember, and his 2010 performance was as gritty, controlled and clutch as any he has ever turned in. Plus, he's got the best hair since Carlos Valderrama.

Netherlands goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg
Stekelenburg was the Netherlands' flying DutchmanImage: AP

Who should be between the posts was an even tougher call. The wacky World Cup ball meant that the goalkeepers were pretty tentative, and little separated Spain's Iker Cassilas, Germany's Manuel Neuer and Holland's Maarten Stekelenburg.

But Stekelenburg was our ultimate choice. In Nick's words: "The Dutch tended to panic in the last six meters before goal, and they were lucky they had such an agile, intelligent keeper who was on the ball."

The Netherlands would in fact have never made the finals had the lanky Dutchman not diverted a short by Kaka in their quarterfinal against Brazil, when the Selecao were leading 1-0.

So we think he makes a fine addition to a cast of 11 that outshone all others in South Africa.

So from all of us to all of you: Nice work, guys. And to Carlos Puyol in particular: love the hair.

Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Martin Kuebler