x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

The stars who shone in Africa, and some who did not

The World Cup has so often been the launching pad for players to become household names but some existing stars have faded away when they were to shine brightly.

Cristiano Ronaldo was dumped out with Portugal at the last 16 stage.
Cristiano Ronaldo was dumped out with Portugal at the last 16 stage.

The World Cup, the biggest stage of them all, has so often been the launching pad for players to become household names and stamp their place in football history. And the tournament in South Africa has been no different. The performances of players such as Germany's Schweinsteiger, Forlan of Uruguay and the Dutch playmaker Sneijder will live long in the memory.

Bastian Schweinsteiger His younger teammates, Thomas Muller and Mesut Ozil, may have burst onto the international scene, but it was the experience of Schweinsteiger, the Bayern Munich midfielder, which told in Germany's most impressive victories, against England and Argentina. Schweinsteiger, 25, had been identified as the rising star of German football since breaking into the Bayern first team in 2002. He has often struggled to live up to expectations, but an injury to Michael Ballack, the Germany captain, saw him switched from the wing to a more central role.

The Bavarian was a revelation and shone in South Africa as Germany battered England and Argentina on the way towards finishing in third place. Best performance: v Argentina. Beat Lionel Messi at his own game with dribble and run for the third goal by Arne Friedrich in 4-0 quarter-final victory. Diego Forlan The two-time European Golden Boot winner and leading scorer in Spain's Primera Liga has been prolific in club football for much of the past decade.

His form for Uruguay, however, seldom comes under scrutiny because expectations are lower. Forlan said before the World Cup that Uruguay's aim was to advance from the group stage. Thanks to his goals, they did that, and then some. Uruguay were unbeaten as they topped a group containing France, Mexico and hosts South Africa. They progressed to the semi-finals by eliminating South Korea and Ghana, bowing out after a respectable 3-2 defeat to Holland.

Forlan scored a spectacular strike in the semi-final and netted again in the third-place game against Germany as Uruguay slipped to another 3-2 reverse. Forlan's five goals from seven games were a remarkable feat for a player clearly tiring after a long season. Best performance: v Holland. He was injured from the first minute, but scored a screamer as Uruguay went down fighting at the semi-final stage.

Maicon Good enough to keep Daniel Alves out of the right-back spot for Brazil, the marauding Inter Milan defender scored an outrageous goal from a tight angle against North Korea. That was Brazil's first in South Africa and they worked through their group in a manner befitting their pre-tournament joint-favourite status with Spain. Maicon is so reliable that his Brazil teammates claim he is like a robot. He conceded just three fouls in Brazil's five games - an astonishing statistic for a defender and one matched only by the man to his left, Lucio.

Comfortable on the ball, Maicon also had a pass-completion rate of 79 per cent. He won the Champions League in 2010, but missed out on a wonderful World Cup double. Best performance: v Chile. Flew up and down the wing in the last 16 match as Brazil showed their top form for the only time. David Villa The world's best striker, with an unmatched consistency in front of goal for club and country.

Villa's movement, speed and finishing made him Spain's most likely match winner in South Africa, his goals helping Spain recover after an opening defeat against Switzerland. His contribution was more remarkable given that his usual striker partner, Fernando Torres, was seldom at his best. A missed penalty against Honduras in a group game was a rare black spot on an otherwise hugely successful tournament for the Spain striker.

The world is now watching to see how Villa does at his new club, Barcelona, the Spanish champions, where he is expected to partner Lionel Messi. Best performance: v Portugal. In a tight last 16 match, his goal was the difference. Wesley Sneijder Along with his Arjen Robben, his former Real Madrid teammate, Sneijder is one of Holland's two world-class performers. Both showed their former club what they were missing as they outshone more recent Real signings like Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka.

The pair did better in club football after leaving Madrid and their respective teams, Inter and Bayern Munich, met in the Champions League final. An injury to Robben earlier in the tournament meant that Sneijder had a better time in South Africa, the key player and top scorer as Holland became the first country to win five consecutive World Cup matches by a one-goal margin. "Sneijder for me is the best player in the world over the last 12 months," Robben said. "[Lionel] Messi is clearly a fantastic talent but it's almost too easy to say he is the best now." Best performance: v Brazil. Two goals, one fortuitously, inspired his side to quarter-final victory over five-time champions.

Wayne Rooney He failed to score in England's four World Cup games, a surprise given his prolific form not only for Manchester United last season but also for England in qualifying. Rooney seemed sluggish, and there were doubts that he had fully recovered from an ankle injury which limited his performances from March onwards.

Yet at other times he looked too eager to impress as he charged around the pitch needlessly. Over-expectation, divisions within the team and dissatisfaction about tactics all made for a limp England effort in South Africa, with no player more disappointing than Rooney. Worst performance: v Algeria. His usually deft control had disappeared completely in the 0-0 group stage draw.

Cristiano Ronaldo By the time Portugal were on their way to being eliminated by neighbours Spain in a last 16 match in Cape Town, Ronaldo cut a forlorn and frustrated figure. The Real Madrid forward and the planet's most expensive player really wanted to make his mark in a World Cup to prove his greatness. He went into the tournament after a superb season in Spain but without a goal in two years for his country. A rasping shot which struck the bar 10 minutes into Portugal's opening game against Ivory Coast showed his intent, but that was it. Portugal were defensive and disappointing throughout and Ronaldo barely stood out in a team that will be remembered for negative tactics above anything else.

Worst performance: v Spain. Another big game when the forward was anonymous. Yoann Gourcuff The elegant Bordeaux midfielder and Ligue 1 Player of the Year arrived in South Africa with high expectations. He departed in ignominy after receiving a red card in France's humiliating defeat by South Africa. By that time, the French team had imploded, with Nicolas Anelka sent home and the players threatening to strike.

France were dreadful as they finished last in of their group with only one draw in three matches. Les Bleus scored just once and while several players were poor, none were more disappointing than Gourcuff, who was dropped for their Mexico game and looked as sullen off the field as on it. Worst performance: v South Africa. In a game France had to win, he was sent off after 26 minutes.

Gennaro Gattuso The snarling midfielder, so often the heartbeat of AC Milan in the past five years, played just 46 minutes in South Africa. A veteran of more than 70 Italy caps and a World Cup winner four years ago, he was unused as Italy failed to beat Paraguay in their opening game and were held to a humiliating draw by rank outsiders New Zealand in their second match. He started Italy's must-win third game against Slovakia, but was substituted after an ineffective first half and announced his retirement after the 3-2 defeat that eliminated the holders.

A sad way for a great player to bow out. Worst performance: v Slovakia. The day the gnarly midfielder lost his bite. Substituted at half-time. Fernando Torres It may seem unfair to include a Spain player in the list of flops, but the Liverpool striker was far from his usually exceptional self in South Africa. Torres appeared to have overcome injury in time for the World Cup. He was introduced as a substitute in Spain's tournament-opening defeat to Switzerland and started in their group victories over Honduras and Chile, though he was substituted in the second half of both games.

Without a goal to his name, the usually prolific former Atletico Madrid forward was brought off against Portugal and Paraguay in the knock-out stages, before finally being dropped for the semi-final against Germany. A great striker, but he has lived in the shadows of David Villa in South Africa. Worst performance: v Chile. Kept losing his footing and looked short of pace, substituted after 55 minutes of Spain's last group game. @Email:sports@thenational.ae Do you agree with Andy Mitten's tops and flops. Think a different player deserves to be on the list? Have your say in our Forums section.