It would have seemed inconceivable when the World Cup began four weeks ago, but the FT’s team of the tournament contains not a single Brazilian.
Midfielder Kaká came closest to inclusion in the prestigious XI, chosen by the newspaper’s team of correspondents on the spot in Germany. But the AC Milan playmaker, who scored a stunning goal against Croatia before fading later in the tournament, just lost out to Juan Román Riquelme, one of three Argentinians selected.
There was a broad consensus about more than half of the team. In defence, the only doubt was over Italian captain Fabio Cannavaro’s centre-back partner. In the end, French veteran Lilian Thuram got the nod ahead of William Gallas, Roberto Ayala and Rio Ferdinand, partly on the strength of his imperious semi-final performance against Portugal.
On the flanks, there were no serious rivals to Gianluca Zambrotta and Philipp Lahm, whose screamer for hosts Germany against Costa Rica got the competition off to such a bright start. Even so, another adventurous left-back, Fabio Grosso, who played a key role in Italy’s hard-fought victories over both Australia and Germany, also caught the eye. Goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon completes a heavy Italian presence in the rearguard.
In a tournament that exposed the limitations of 4-4-2, there was unanimity about the choice of Miroslav Klose, leader in the race for the golden boot, as the side’s only out-and-out striker. After his masterclass against Brazil, Zinedine Zidane’s claims for inclusion likewise were impossible to ignore.
It was the midfield engine-room that posed the most problems for our judges, with a dozen or more players jostling for the three available places. Two of these slots ended up going to Argentinians: Javier Mascherano, who provided the solid base upon which Riquelme and the rest of an absurdly talented front-line could build their bewitching attacks; and Juan Pablo Sorín, whose energy and versatility would complete a strong left flank.
Alongside this pair, Pavel Nedved secured the final berth in the midfield, in spite of the Czech Republic’s early exit. He never stopped running in a losing cause and, in his team’s lone victory (over USA), produced a performance that had opposing coach Bruce Arena purring in admiration.
Those who just lost out in the race for midfield places included Andrea Pirlo, Claude Makelele, Maxi Rodríguez, scorer against Mexico of a goal of breathtaking beauty, and the Portuguese pair Maniche and Cristiano Ronaldo.
The team would be coached by Marcello Lippi, with Jürgen Klinsmann and Leo Beenhakker standing ready to assist if required.
And the opposition? Well, since none of them were selected, why not Brazil? In point of fact, though, some of those chosen may find themselves playing come August in the distinctly less rarefied environs of Crotone and AlbinoLeffe. Five of the team, you see, play their club football for Juventus, who are facing relegation in the corruption scandal engulfing the Italian game. The verdict of a special sports tribunal could come out at the same time or just after Sunday’s big match. Even by its own singular standards, these are strange times on Planet Football.