Best Player: Xavi, but not without Busquets. While Xavi orchestrates plays and controls the rhythm like no one I've ever seen, with a patience and precision of a miniature painter, none of it would be possible without Busquets. Busquets gets the ball, passes it to Xavi who passes it on to Iniesta or someone else, forever available--and they do that hundreds of times each game, over and over again, and everyone knows they will do it and they do it still. When I was a kid I liked the spectacle of fancy-footwork individual players--players like, say, Ronaldo--but, the Zen-like simplicity of Spanish midfield marshaled by the genius of Xavi and Busquets is a wonder to behold. Xavi was the best player of Euro 2008 and is the best again. When not winning international competitions, Xavi likes to collect mushrooms.
Worst Player: It is between Otamandi, who was so out of his depth against Germany that his inclusion alone would suffice to prove Maradona's coaching ignorance, and Gareth Barry, whose performances in this World Cup were embarrassing, an example of everything that is wrong with the English team--slow, lazy, conceited, used to habitual, delusional praise, devoid of vision. His slowness and sloppiness against Germany certainly call for a retirement from international soccer, but that is not going to happen.
Biggest Surprise: Uruguay. Never would I have thought they could get this far, for they were presumably the weakest in the South American contingent. But I underestimated the greatness of Diego Forlan. I always thought he was a good player, but could not foresee the kind of maturity that allowed him to carry the entire team on his shoulders. Because of him, I will watch the 3rd place game, which no one ever really watches.
Biggest Prick: Without a doubt, van Bommel. The greatest--or at least the most inexplicable--refereeing mistake, made game upon game, was not carding van Bommel. The first yellow card he received was in the injury time of the semi-final against Uruguay, and that one was for time wasting. It is hard for me to tell whether nearly every contact with a player from the other team is a foul because he compensates for his slowness with his prickness, or he is just a pure dirty prick--probably both. How he was not red-carded at all, and did not get at least a yellow per game, is entirely beyond me. Nearly every tackle he engaged in was not only a foul, but a card. He regularly tackled from behind, and/or with his cleats up, he elbowed and flopped when he was tackled--all of those infringements mandatorily cardable. How he got away with so much I do not know--perhaps he's having an affair with a member of Sepp Blatter's family?
Biggest Prick Runner-up: Robben. His solo performance against Brazil (even if van Bommel's contribution cannot be denied) was so annoying, what with his incessant flopping and writhing on the pitch, that the Brazilians completely lost it and self-destructed. It was the collective equivalent of Zidane's suicidal head butt in the 2006 finals.
Worst Coach: Maradona, for his complete absence of tactical thinking, evident even before the WC in his leaving Cambiasso and Zanetti behind. After the game against Germany, there was a shot of Maradona hugging Messi, who was standing like a block of ice, looking away--you could almost see his thought bubble reading: “How did I ever get to play for this idiot?”
Worst Coach Lifetime Achievement Award: Raymond Domenech, who single-handedly and thoroughly destroyed the legacy of the French team that triumphed in the 1998 WC. In 2000 France, having added a European Championship to their World Champions title, was on top of the soccer world. They may have dipped after that, having failed to get out of the group stage in 2002, but there was plenty to work with and recover--as evident in their reaching the finals in 2006. There was dissent and locker-room war in 2006 too, the players rebelling against Domenech’s congenital ineptitude, but back then Zidane's authority could stand up to Domenech’s idiotic schemes and conjure up team spirit. Then Zidane head butted Materazzi and Domenech was left alone with the French team and it all fell apart. Now they have to erase the stain of global humiliation and start from scratch.
Most Inexplicable Moment: Serbia's Kuzmanovic handled the ball in his team's box in the 84th minute in the game against Ghana. It was 0:0, Serbia was a man down and was doing well, a cross came from left side, no Ghanians around and Kuzmanovic goes out of his way to reach for the ball. Ghana scores from the penalty, Serbia loses. The more inexplicable moment--but that one belongs to the domain of aberrant psychology--was when Kuzmanovic ran up to the ref, who had just called a penalty, and tried to convince him, apparently, that what just happened did not happen.
Hardest Working Team: Paraguay. There is a club in my hometown of Sarajevo called Zeljeznicar, which translates as the Railroad Worker. The Paraguayans could be called Coal Mine Toilers. Talk about a socialist team.
Greatest Moment: When Ghana's Gyan took the first penalty in the shootout against Uruguay, moments after he missed the penalty in the overtime that would have changed the history of the World Cup by placing his team in the semi-finals. The whole of Africa and large chunks of the rest of the world wanted him to score that one and then he missed. A lesser, less courageous player would have forgone taking part in the shootout, but Gyan stepped to it and scored a perfect penalty. I had tears in my eyes.
Best Game: Spain-Germany
Click here for Leon Krauze's Best and Worst.