There are only six games to go until the World Cup is done and dusted and how many really great games have we seen? There have not been many, and as a tournament it certainly has not lived up to that of Germany four years ago.
What has been particularly notable is how so many of the big names of world football have failed to live up to their stellar billings, culminating in Kaka and the Brazilians making their early exit yesterday afternoon. He may be the Brazilian No 10 but, to put it simply, he has been rubbish in South Africa. He is not alone as a succession of the great names of European football have been so, so poor. Try this for my Flops XI: Green, Zambrotta, Cannavaro, Abidal, Evra, Ronaldo, Lampard, Ribéry, Kaka, Gilardino, Rooney.
It has, though, allowed others to take the spotlight and there can have been few tournaments in which so many young players have seized their moments so impressively. None has caught my eye more than Mesut Ozil, comfortably my player of the tournament and a classic No 10. He is the brightest name in my selection of young players who have made the breakthrough in South Africa. On paper the Flops look unbeatable but then the events of the past few weeks prove they are anything but.
Why have the big names struggled and the youngsters shone? There is something in the idea that you get more fearful as you get older – I was never more nervous playing for England than when I won what turned out to be my last cap. And England looked so uptight throughout their stay – and look what happened to Italy's veterans. The way Germany – with 21-year-old Ozil pulling the strings – have played, with freedom and a total lack of fear, is a direct result of having a core of youngsters in the team.
The controversial Jabulani ball and the pitches have definitely had something to with the number of poor games, and with the failure of the likes of Ronaldo – he was awful – and Franck Ribéry – ditto – to make an impact. With this ball and poor surfaces there has been so much miscontrol of the ball – do older players have slightly poorer reaction times? But then some of Wayne Rooney's control has been really poor and he is still a young man. Even Lionel Messi has been struggling at times to tame the Jabulani.
While the drop in standards has been astonishing among the big names, the sudden rise of a new generation has been inspiring. So here is my breakthrough XI, the players who saved the tournament:
Manuel Neuer (Germany)
For a man who came into the tournament with four caps to his name, he has impressed. He has not had an awful lot to do but he looked very cool against England and his handling has been sound throughout.
Gregory Van Der Weil (Holland)
He has had a few run-ins with the hierarchy at Ajax and has a bit of devilment about him. He has a swagger too about the way he plays. Coming forward he has everything a modern right-back needs – he's quick and good with the ball. But what really impresses an old defender is the positions he takes up. A lot of full-backs at his age, 22, play off the cuff, but already he has an idea of the art of defending and that marks him out.
Fabio Coentrao (Portugal)
I sat next to Arsène Wenger to watch Portugal play Spain – my old boss says that Coentrao is the real deal. The test for a young defender, he's 22, is how he sets himself up when the opposition has the ball and Coentrao made all the right decisions, he knew when to get tight and when to drop off and there are few tougher tests than facing Spain. A natural.
Jonathan Mensah (G hana)
He is young (24) for a centre-half, a position that demands experience. He does the basics well but again in defence what makes the difference, what ensures longevity, is positioning. It is the first thing I look for in a defender. It's what helped someone like Tony Adams stay at the top for so long. The number of times Tony found himself in the way of the ball in the box was no accident and Mensah has something of the same in him.
Diego Godin (Uruguay)
Like Mensah, he's 24 but seems older. It has not been a great tournament for central defenders and so while Godin has not been outstanding, he has been solid enough.
Alexis Sanchez (Chile)
I enjoyed watching Chile. They have a refreshing approach, play with a bit of pace and have a breezy approach to the game and Sanchez, 21, has been the pick of the bunch. He is energetic and enjoys a dribble.
Sami Khedira (Germany)
When the 23-year-old is on the ball there is something of the Glenn Hoddle about him, although he is also strong in his defensive duties. He has more than made up for the Germans losing Michael Ballack and has impressed nearly as much as Ozil.
Matias Fernandez (Chile)
Again like Sanchez, he likes to get on the ball and play. As with most of his team, he plays with a bit of spark.
Mesut Ozil (Germany)
Simply brilliant, he has been the best player in the tournament. He is the perfect all-round No 10, playing in that hole between the back four and the midfield and has been so difficult to stop: he ripped England to pieces.
Asamoah Gyan (Ghana)
To lead the line on your own is tough and for a 24-year-old Gyan does it very well. He holds the ball up and scores goals – what more can you ask for from a lone striker?
Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
He has recovered from a poor start. He has real ability and does not shirk a challenge, which suggests he would fit in well in the Premier League.
Müller and Klose can expose the weak backline of Maradona's men
One thing is for sure, in Cape Town this afternoon Argentina will not be taken by surprise by the vibrancy, fluidity and pace of this young German side like England were last weekend. But I still think that Germany can upset them for all the attacking talent Diego Maradona has at his disposal.
The Germans are on a roll – I have seen all their games and they have made a definite impression. You just get a feeling about them now – they are going to be very hard to stop.
The most notable thing about Joachim Löw's young side is the balance. From front to back they they work so well together and to cap it all they just run and run.
I have always had doubts about their defence – but then there are just as many, if not more, concerns about the Argentina backline. The Germans wobbled at times against England, but Manuel Neuer (see above) is a solid keeper and in Philipp Lahm, Per Mertesacker and Arne Friedrich they have
plenty of experience at the back. It is further forward that the true strength lies.
Spain may have the best midfield unit in the tournament, but Germany have the best playmaker in Mesut Ozil. Sami Khedira also performs a key task in anchoring the attacks, while out wide Lukas Podolski and Thomas Müller run their socks off down the flanks. And then they have the experience of Miroslav Klose, a man who reserves his best performances for when he pulls on his national shirt, to finish things off. Argentina's suspect defence has yet to be tested – it will be this afternoon and may be found wanting.
1. More to come from Torres and Spain
Spain have not hit top form yet, nothing like it really, and Fernando Torres has looked a shadow of the player we have seen in the Premier League over the last couple of seasons. He was awful against Portugal and doesn't look anything like fit enough. But they still have the best midfield and should beat Paraguay easily enough.
2. Referees have been too important
There have been too many games when we have found ourselves talking about the officials. From the Kaka sending-off to Frank Lampard's "goal" and the Tevez offside one against Mexico, there have been too many big mistakes. The refereeing has not been good enough.
3. Signings show City are moving in right direction
There may be a World Cup going but you can't help be impressed by what has happened at Manchester City this week – Yaya Touré and David Silva are high-class signings. People say you cannot buy success, but Chelsea did and City are going to. It will not be long until they win the League. In one sense their emergence is good as it leads to a more competitive title race, but there is no doubt it is inflating the transfer market and that is a concern.
4. Keeping clear of Clarence
One of the benefits of being part of the BBC's team at a World Cup is the chance to meet some of the foreign players who share the studio. In Germany I became good friends with Leonardo – we still keep in touch. In South Africa it has been great to meet Jürgen Klinsmann and Clarence Seedorf. I get on well with Clarence, although he could be unbearable now the Dutch are in the last four.
5. And now for my other favourite event...
I can't wait for the Tour de France to get underway. Our driver is another big cycling fan and he assures me that it will all be on TV live out here. I will be up first thing to watch it as it is one of my favourite events. I would like to see Lance Armstrong go out on a high, but it would be great if Bradley Wiggins could win it.Reuse content