It has been a wonderful tournament in Brazil. The usual suspects have shone, there have been major upsets and some world class players have been born. While attacking stars like Messi, Neymar, Robben, Muller and James Rodriguez have set the world alight with their pace trickery and goal threat and goalkeepers like Navas, Enyeama and Ochoa have been stealing head lights. There have been genuine heroes that have remained in the shadows of these headline makers, the defenders. It has been a tournament that has seen more structured defensive performances by teams and the big teams conceding fewer goals and the big attacking threats of teams not given space to operate. Teams like Costa Rica, Iran and Greece have been the ultra-defensive teams and teams like Germany have added goals to their defensive prowess often hitting their opponents on the counter with deadly precision. This type of football would not be possible if the defenders weren’t excellent ion their tackling, positioning, awareness and distribution. The defenders at the world cup have been excellent; they unfortunately have not been as celebrated as the strikers. Here is a rundown of the top 5 defenders at the world cup.
Do you know that Netherlands have played two hours, sixty five minutes of football in the world cup without conceding a goal? The last time the Netherlands conceded a goal in open play was against Mexico. It is on this strong defensive foundation that Netherlands put together a run that saw them playing in the third place playoff match conceding only four goals on the way. The Netherlands were able to repel Diego Costa, Alexis Sanchez and Giovani Dos Snatos and keep Lionel Messi quiet. One man has been at the heart of the Dutch defense, his name is Ron Vlaar. After giving away a penalty against Spain, Vlaar has grown into the tournament going on to put in a stellar shift against the world champions, he went on to step toe to toe with Alexis Sanchez and ensured the Arsenal man did not get a sniff of the ball when their teams collided in the first round. The Aston Villa center back’s timing of the challenge has been a thing of joy to behold all through the tournament and on Wednesday against Argentina, Vlaar had his best game of the tournament, wining 75 percent of his aerial duels, making 4 key tackles and effectively reducing Messi to an ordinary player on the pitch. The Dutchman was so good, Messi couldn’t come up with one shot at goal from open play. While Robben has gotten the plaudits for his running and creativity all through the tournament, it is Vlaars defensive heroics along with Martins Indi and Vrij that took Netherlands thus far in the tournament.
Power, an ability to read the game, excellent tackling, presence of mind and a immense aerial ability. These are the qualities that distinguish the Brazilian captain from most defenders. Julio Cesar hasn’t had to make a lot of saves during the world cup, that is because more often than not, Thiago Silva was on hand to block the shots before they got to him, also making two goal line clearances and even getting up to the other end to score a goal. Thiago Silva hasn’t just been a captain but he as been the bedrock of the Brazilian team’s world cup campaign. If you need any more proof, his absence against the Germans saw the Brazilians embarrassed 7-1 that is how important a player he is. Often exposed by his midfield, Silva was responsible for organizing the defense and motivating his teammates at key moments and his ability to pick out the right pass and start an attack is also quite impressive.
Germany have been the most impressive unit at this world cup, defending with military-like organization and counter attacking with surgical precision. Klose is getting all the headlines for becoming the all-time top scorer in world cup history while Muller’s 10 goals in two world cups is also news worthy, one man has been at the heart of the German defense and he is Dortmund’s Mats Hummels, he has been excellent both in the air and on the ground and has organized the German back four so well. His tough tackling has helped him win duels and bully strikers and his ability to read the game has been well documented. Against France,Hummels was nothing short of fantastic, sniffing out every chance Benzema had on the ball and even getting forward to score the winner (his second goal of the tournament) Hummels has been fantastic for Germany at Brazil and if he keeps up his good form, Nessi is in for a tough test at the final
Messi may have stolen the limelight along with Di Maria, but Mascherano has been Argentina’s unsung hero at the finals. Making an average of 4.7 tackles per match, the highest at the world cup and hardly putting a foot wrong, the barcelonaman has been deployed as a center back and defensive midfielder operating tactically as a half back providing cover when Rojo and Zabaleta have gone forward. The former Liverpool man is tough as nails and his world cup performances have been no different often coming up to sweep up behind his center backs Demicheilis and Garay, Mascherano has been phenomenal at the world cup. Against Netherlands, he was always on hand to muscle Robben off the ball and ensure the Bayern man had no room to operate and when Sneijder got within 5 meters of the argentine eighteen yard area he had Mascherano for company and somehow Javier was also always there to take the ball off the foot of van Persie when Argentina needed it. it has been a fantastic world cup for the tough tackling defender.
Country: Costa Rica
You might not know this, but Costa Rica conceded the least number of goals at the world cup: 2. So while the world was busy talking up Joel Campbell and Bryan Ruiz and praising the heroics of Navas, one man was putting in shifts of tough tackles, defensive awareness and team organization his name is Giancarlo Gonzalez. The Columbus new defender made an average of 3.6 blocks, 9.4 clearances and 2.2 tackles per match during the world cup. With a pass accuracy of 80.5 percent the Costa Rican hardly gave the ball away in key areas and against Netherlands, he was on hand to ensure that van Persie didn’t so much as get a sniff of the ball. The Costa Ricans kept a high line with Gonzalez often the last man and he was spot on accurate keeping Robben, van Persie, Depay and lens offside more often than not. So while we talk about the saves Navas made, we must remember that Gonzalez and co were responsible for the saves Navas didn’t have to make. Costa Rica’s world cup campaign was built on a solid defense and Costa Rica’s defense was built around Giancarlo Gonalez
Other defenders that put in notable performances at the world cup are
Gary Medel: Chile
Per Mertesacker: Germany
Laurent Koscielny: France
Vincent Kompany: Belgium
Micheal Umana: Costa Rica
Stats gotten from whoscored.com