World Cup hopes hinge on defenders

Once again, the Italians will be
one of the strongest defensive teams in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
They won the 2006 World Cup with defence as their foundation and there really
seems to be something ingrained in their mentality that makes this component of
their game so prominent.

This time around three of the back
four from the winning side in the 2006 World Cup will be available again.
Keeper, Buffon, is still one of the most outstanding in that position in the
world. However, the lack of firepower upfront and creativity in midfield will
prevent them from posing enough of a threat to be real contenders this time
around.

As mentioned in last week’s
feature, Brazilian coach Dunga has brought a new structure to the team, making
it one of the strongest in terms of defence. Lucio and Maicon from Champions
League winners Inter Milan are the standout defensive players and while they
don’t have the tradition of the Italians in this department they certainly have
the pedigree. Lucio has presence and guile and is also an exceptional reader of
the game. Maicon has been hugely impressive for his Italian club and country.  Like his counterpart on the left, he brings attacking
flair which is so important for full backs in the modern game.  Maicon’s skill and ability would grace any
World Cup as was demonstrated by his goal against Juventus in April this year.

I also think Germany and England
will be difficult to break down with both teams boasting a strong back line.
The following are my picks for the star players in the back line.

At the goalkeeper position would be
the Real Madrid stopper Casillas, who has been Spain’s number one since he was
19 years-old. His experience and agility was a critical part of Spain’s
European Championships victory in 2008. As a back-up I’d say keeper Italy’s
Buffon.

At the centre back position would
be Serbian Nemanja Vidic who also plays for Manchester United and Brazilian
Lucio.  Vidic has such a commanding presence
and is an exceptional ball winner both on the ground and in the air. He is the
cornerstone of a very good Serbian team which did not concede many goals,
qualified ahead of France and could be a surprise in South Africa. 

It would be difficult to look
further than Chelsea and England’s Ashley Cole for the left back position.  He has had a fantastic season after returning
from a broken ankle and his attacking ability contributed to a number of goals
in the later stages of Chelsea’s Premier League campaign.  With England choosing not to utilize a
natural left footer in mid-field, Cole’s contribution will be extremely
important to their hopes in South Africa.

Brazilian Miacon would be my choice
at right back. If I could have two players to come off the bench, I would
select Chelsea and Portugal’s star centre back Ricardo Carvalho. He was plagued
by injuries during the season so could be fresh for Portugal. He will need all
of this freshness when he is confronted with his club mate Didier Drogba in the
pool match. In fact, Portugal versus the Ivory Coast is likely to be the
decider game on who progresses from this pool with Brazil.

Many may be surprised by my final
defensive choice in the squad. I really admire Arsenal and Cameroon’s Emmanuel
Eboue. Eboue is one of the best attacking right full backs in the world now and
gets himself in very good forward positions. 
He can play a number of positions in a team and performed consistently
at a high level throughout the second half of the season.

These players have the less
glamorous job but the more critical one. Cannavaro from Italy was undoubtedly
the star of the 2006 World Cup and who is to say that the standout player for
the 2010 World Cup won’t be a defender once again. If so, I suspect he will be
one of the players that I have highlighted.