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The World Cup's Woeful XI

15/07/2014 09:31 BST | Updated 13/09/2014 10:59 BST

Tired of hearing the praise heaped upon Robin van Persie for that header against Spain? Fed up with analysis about how Manuel Neuer has perfected the art of the 'sweeper-keeper', or the inspired performances of Javier Mascherano in the 2014 World Cup? Here we assess the failures, disappointments, and downright dunces of football's showpiece in Brazil.

GK: Igor Akinfeev (Russia)

The Russian shot-stopper had a tournament to forget as he returned from Brazil without a clean sheet. In a group from which many observers had tipped the Russians to qualify, disappointing draws either side of a defeat against group winners Belgium ensured an early plane home for Fabio Capello's men. It was in those two matches that Akinfeev grabbed the headlines for all the wrong reasons. In his opening match a howling error against South Korea, failing to deal with a tame long-range shot from Lee Keun-ho, put his team behind. An uncertain presence at the back throughout the group stages, Akinfeev condemned his team to an early exit when he fumbled a cross in the final game against Algeria. Whilst the distracting presence of a laser buzzing around his face in the build-up may well afford Akinfeev some mitigation, there can be little doubt that he should have done better.

RB: Brayan Beckeles (Honduras)

The athletic wing-back was part of a Honduran side who flattered to deceive in a disappointing world cup campaign. Having frustrated England in a pre-tournament friendly in Miami, Honduras failed to show the necessary defensive steel in Brazil. Beckeles, an ever-present in the group stages at right back, was as culpable as anybody. He looked thoroughly out of depth from the outset, unable to deal with the wily movement of Griezmann and Valbuena as France beat Honduras 3-0 in their opening game. Ill-judgement would again prove costly in the build-up to Ecuador's match winning goal in round two, whilst a hat-trick from Switzerland's left-winger Xhedran Shaqiri, the right back's designated man, compounded Beckeles' misery.

CB: Sergio Ramos (Spain)

Often described as one of the world's leading defenders, Ramos and his Spanish teammates never seemed able to recover from a chastising opening defeat to the Netherlands. Run ragged by Robben and van Persie, Ramos cut a forlorn figure as his usual traits of pace, strength, and composure seemed to desert him in the 5-1 defeat. It was a story that was to be repeated days later in the deflating loss to Chile as Alexis Sanchez starred for the South American outfit. True, Ramos may have saved some face in a more assured performance against Australia in the final group game, but it was to be of little comfort to a team, and player, who woefully under-achieved as defending champions.

CB: Dante (Brazil)

It was always going to be a tough task replacing Thiago Silva, the generalissimo in charge of Brazil on the pitch, for the semi-final against Germany. Yet it is an indictment of the performance given by Dante in that role that - having played a single game in the tournament, and having been part of an abysmal team effort against the Germans - he stands out enough to have made this team. Towering (if often inelegant) for his club Bayern Munich, Dante was simply awful in the semi-final. His partner, David Luiz, was of course little better, an odd choice for captain in a game that clearly required a cool head to deal with the vast pressure exerted by the home fans' expectation, not the calamitous impression of Sideshow Bob on ice-skates that Luiz provided us with. It was only Luiz's remarkable and match-winning free-kick in the quarter final against Colombia that relieves him from the ignominy of this team sheet. For Dante, there are no such balancing weights. An uncomfortable night that had the suspended Thiago Silva watching with his head in his hands from the stands.

LB: Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon)

The Cameroonian team endured a dismal world cup, and indeed still seem cast under the cloud of match-fixing allegations which refuse to go away. Part of a defence that conceded nine goals in a harrowing group stage, Benoit Assou-Ekotto seemed to reinforce the view that has gained prevalence around White Hart Lane in recent years, that he simply is not good enough. Bamboozled by the trickery of Neymar and Oscar in a 4-1 loss to the hosts, and taken apart by a clinical Croatian side, Assou-Ekotto exemplified none of the experience or leadership that should have derived from over 200 appearances for Tottenham Hotspur. Indeed, a forgettable World Cup for the left-back was rounded off by a disgraceful attempt to head butt his own team mate in the aftermath to the Croatia defeat; and compounded by the loss of his man, Peralta, who went on to score the winner for Mexico in the final group game, and leave Cameroon crashing out of the World Cup.

RM: Kevin-Prince Boateng (Ghana)

One of the stars of the World Cup on African soil in 2010, the Ghanaian midfielder was to return home early from Brazil having been expelled for a breach of discipline alongside former Portsmouth team-mate Sulley Muntari. Widely mooted as potential dark horses to progress far into the tournament, and genuine contenders in the dubbed 'group of death' alongside Portugal, Germany and the United States, Ghana failed to excite as they had done four years previously. Much of this was down to the absence, metaphorically even before his banishment, of Boateng, their creative spark in midfield. A cameo role in the opening defeat to the USA was followed by lifeless performance against Germany, leading to an early substitution. His absence against Portugal actually created a greater degree of balance, with enterprising build-up play in midfield only to be largely offset by the wasteful Asamoah Gyan.

CM: Steven Gerrard (England)

Going into Brazil 2014, Gerrard was cited as the lynchpin of an England side that, though never expected to win the tournament, would bring a youthful and dynamic brand of football to the world cup. Having recently driven an exciting Liverpool side to second place in the Barclays Premier League, Gerrard failed to perform in what is likely to be his last major tournament for his country. The captain had none of his powerful swagger in midfield, none of the metronomic potency usually associated with his prodigious passing abilities. For the most part Gerrard's delivery was poor, and he must claim responsibility for at least one of the goals scored by his former Liverpool teammate, Luis Suarez, after his misplaced header against Uruguay. A sad note on which to, presumably, hang up his international boots, and yet an oddly poignant end for a 'golden generation' of English football that has routinely failed to believe in, let alone deliver, its own hype.

CM: Xavi (Spain)

The waning powers of tiki-taka, and arguably its greatest exponent, Xavi, were brutally exposed at this year's world cup. At 34, the little Spanish maestro certainly does not have age on his side, and, like Gerrard, Brazil may well prove to be a humbling curtain call on Xavi's international career. The game has simply moved on. Pace, allied with constant movement and possession of the Barcelona style, is now regarded as crucial, the counter-attack arguably more important than ball retention. In one game against the Netherlands, the reality of this transformation was painfully imparted on Xavi at the heart of the Spanish midfield. Spain will return bigger and better from a transitional period, but it will be without the ageing Xavi at the helm.

LM: Hulk (Brazil)

Brawn over brains, perhaps Hulk should consider that for an epitaph. The opinion growing in Brazil by the knockout stages was that the home team was increasingly reliant on two men: Thiago Silva and Neymar; whilst carrying the weight of under-performers such as Maicon, Hulk and Fred. The damaging defeats against Germany and the Netherlands seemed to validate these beliefs, and it was the beefy Zenit St Petersburg wide man who rightly carried a great deal of the criticism from the expectant home fans upon his wide shoulders. Scolari's faith in him seems remarkable, having been guilty on innumerable misplaced passes, selfish shots and poor decision-making. His misguided self-belief in the abilities of his hammer-blow left foot are surpassed in the Brazilian squad only by Dani Alves' insistence on taking free kicks from 30 yards or more.

ST: Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)

Another man who seemed to be carried into the tournament's latter stages principally by others. True, the Argentina striker may have scored the winning goal against a stubborn Belgian side in the quarter-finals with a trademark clinical finish, but it belied a generally poor tournament for Higuain. Only one goal for a striker in a team that made the showpiece final represents a poor return for a man who should have been in contention for the Golden Boot. His painful miss in Sunday's final exemplified a below-par performance, devoid of movement or pace to dislodge or even discomfort the German central defensive partnership to any degree. On the rare occasion he did find space, poor touch or the offside flag quickly ended his effectiveness.

ST: Fred (Brazil)

At times in Brazil, it seemed hard to believe that Fred was a professional footballer at all. It was not only the name, but the listlessness with which he padded about the pitch, the heaviness of his touch, and his clear lack of fitness or pace to frighten defenders. In some teams, such traits can be hidden or overcome. In Germany's well-oiled machine Miroslav Klose, at the tender age of 36, is clearly no longer a world beater by any stretch of the imagination. He fulfils a strategic role in the team, acting as the spearhead of the formation, setting up midfield runners with a delicate touch and hounding defenders with an insatiable appetite. The goals are a bonus. Fred should perhaps take note, if you are not scoring as a striker, you must at least be seen to be working hard. The Brazilian front-man did neither in front of the baying masses of green and gold. Having scored five goals in Brazil's Confederations Cup triumph last year, Fred disappointed time and time again, scoring just one goal in six games at the World Cup. A sure-fire casualty of the impending revolution in Brazilian football.

Coach: Vincente Del Bosque (Spain)

For all the talk about the 'death of tiki-taka', there can be little doubt that Spain turned up cold to a tournament that they were still expected, in many quarters, to win. In an attacking sense, it appeared that Del Bosque wrongly placed all his faith in Diego Costa, who had displayed his lack of fitness in the Champions' League final against Real Madrid. Of course, the players did not deliver for the Spanish manager, but his failures in a tactical and motivational sense cannot be overlooked. David Villa, so prolific for his nation for a decade, was consigned to bit-part roles, whilst the pace and energy of younger players such as Koke and Santi Cazorla appeared painfully lacking in a rigid midfield. Moreover Del Bosque's decision to keep faith with Iker Casillas in goal must be questioned, given that the veteran is no longer first choice at his club Real Madrid, and with quality keepers such as De Gea and Reina left on the bench. This was perhaps a team built upon reputation more than reality, and as a result, that reputation has been shattered, perhaps indefinitely, in Brazil. Del Bosque may share a considerable weight of the burden.

Honourable Mentions: Iker Casillas (Spain), Pepe (Portugal), Leighton Baines (England), Alex Song (Cameroon), Olivier Giroud (France), Andrea Pirlo (Italy), Edison Cavani (Uruguay).

This is by no means intended to be a definitive list, please feel free to comment below with your own suggestions or woeful XI's.