The surprise stars
While goals have been at a premium this World Cup and the free-flowing football we were hoping for hasn’t always flourished, there is, lo and behold, a silver lining: the rise of the underdog. It has been a tournament where defences have dominated, games have been tight and scorelines fairly even, and there have been a few players who’ve been instrumental in their sides’ headline-making.
At the heart of probably one of the biggest upsets of the World Cup (so far) is NZ’s good old-fashioned centre-half Ryan Nelsen. At 32, there’s nothing pretty about the way he performs –some may call him a poor man’s John Terry – but here’s a player who puts his body on the line and plays with immense honour and authority.
Behind him in goal was the equally impressive, penalty-saving Mark Paston. Some may have expected newcomers NZ to post double figures in their goals-against column thanks to opposition such as Italy and Paraguay, but keeping it at two deserves high praise.
Another player who is emerging as one of the tournament’s stars is USA’s Michael Bradley. Eyebrows were raised and accusations of nepotism made when coach Bob picked his son, but he can feel vindicated on every front by the performance of the feisty 21-year-old. With a phenomenal engine and a typically competitive US spirit, Bradley will surely be attracting attention from Europe’s elite.
Also hard to ignore is the lively Giovani dos Santos. The Spurs misfit, currently playing on loan at Galatasaray, has brought much zest and energy to this year’s surprise package Mexico, and in doing so is finally living up to his potential. Once regarded by Thierry Henry as a superstar waiting to happen, dos Santos has tormented defenders with some genuine left-wing flair and trickery.
The other South Americans to have caught the eye are Uruguay’s Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez, who have proved this WC’s most dangerous front pairing. Confident counter-attacking seems to suit Uruguay, and coach Oscar Tabarez won’t mind sacrificing possession if these two remain so clinically sharp and deadly up front.