World Cup Difference Makers: The Names You Need to Know
You know most of the stars at this point, but sometimes it’s the lesser known players who become heroes during the World Cup, like we saw with Italy’s Fabio Grosso in 2006. Here’s a list of under the radar difference makers for the teams currently sitting in the top eight spots of FIFA’s world rankings.
8. England — Joe Hart
Word out of England camp has Joe Hart holding the edge as starting goalie for England, but whoever wins the job would find their name in this space. England hasn’t been settled in goal since Peter Shilton suited up for the 1990 World Cup at age 41. Fans have suffered through piss-poor keeping by the likes of David Seaman and Paul Robinson. Old man David James has shown he isn’t the answer either, which means Fabio Capello needs to show faith in one of the two young keepers. Knowing England’s history for conceding PKs, there’s a good chance Hart will have plenty of pressure on him at some point in this tournament.
7. Argentina — Gabriel Heinze
Speculation is rampant right now that Argentina coach Diego Maradona is daring enough to start the tournament with a 3-4-3 formation. The three-at-the-back methodology isn’t that prevalent in soccer these days, unless you’re playing your buddies in a game of “FIFA.” With only three defenders, Heinze, Argentina’s most capped defender, will have far less room for error.
6. Germany — Bastian Schweinsteiger
One by one they’ve been falling like dominos in Germany. Christian Trasch, Rene Adler, Simon Rolfes, and finally Captain Michael Ballack are all out for Ze Germans and it’s Schweinsteiger whose being forced into a more authoritative role. He was a little wet behind the ears during the ’06 World Cup in his home land, but he now has the experience needed in major competitions. Will he wilt under the pressure or be able to lead the usually consistent German team?
5. Italy — Riccardo Montolivo
Those who don’t follow the Italian league might not be too familiar with Montolivo, who only has 14 caps for his country, but everyone will soon know who he is. The play-making midfielder will likely be inserted into the starting lineup due to Andrea Pirlo’s injury, which looks likely to keep him out for the first two games of the tournament. Italy is known for starting slow in World Cups and if it happens again, it’s Riccardo who will be blamed for not being able to fill the big shoes of Pirlo in the opening matches.
4. Holland — Martin Stekelenburg
The Dutch team has known only one keeper for the last three World Cups, but Edwin van der Sar has hung up his international boots. Stekelenburg hasn’t taken his game out of the Dutch league yet, like Ed de Goey and van der Sar before him, but a good impression in the next month could catapult him to one of the big four leagues. A good goalie can cover up a questionable defense, so it might be up to Stekelenburg to save Holland’s hide.
3. Portugal — Liedson
Not good enough to crack the lineup for his native Brazil, Liedson decided to file for Portuguese citizenship after six years of residence in the country. Soon after, he was called up to the Portuguese national team, and has scored three goals in his first 10 games. Coach Carlos Queiroz hasn’t been able to find a quality striker for years now, so he’s putting his faith in the man who has averaged about a goal every two games for Sporting Club of Portugal in the last seven seasons.
2. Spain — David Silva
We all know the names Torres, Villa, Xavi, and Iniesta by now, but Silva is a man garnering a lot of attention this summer. Liverpool and Chelsea are among the many top-flight club teams currently fighting for his services. Silva will need to keep his attention on the field of play, however, as he’ll likely be able to fly somewhat under the radar against opposing defenses with all the talent around him. That should present some tasty opportunities for him to shine and his left foot could help break the World Cup drought for La Furia Roja.
1. Brazil — Lucio
If Brazil’s new style of play is going to be successful, Lucio will have to be the linchpin of the Brazilian defense, like he was in the ’02 World Cup. Brazil has all the superstars up front, but it’s Lucio who will control the back line and queue the counter-attack. Bayern Munich coach Louis van Gaal lost faith in Lucio after the ’08-’09 season and that came back to haunt him when Lucio triumphed over Bayern with his new club, Inter Milan. He’s in ideal form right now and won’t have to change his playing style too much as he transitions from club coach Mourinho to international coach Dunga.