FIFA has announced the nominees for the World Cup's individual player awards and while all of them are deserving of the recognition, one name was noticeably absent. U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard was left off the three-man goalkeeping award shortlist despite his record-setting performance against Belgium in the round of 16 that ultimately wasn't enough to keep his team's improbable World Cup run going.
But before naming those who were included, here are the nominees for the Golden Ball award, which goes to the tournament's best overall player:
Angel Di Maria, midfielder, Argentina — Robin to Messi's Batman. Scored Argentina's round of 16 winner before suffering a thigh injury in the quarterfinals that ended his tournament.
Mats Hummels, defender, Germany — One of the best defenders in this World Cup and he's also contributed two goals.
James Rodriguez, midfielder, Colombia — The tournament's breakout star and leading scorer with six goals.
Toni Kroos, midfielder, Germany — A vital cog in the German machine. He's scored two goals and set up four others.
Philipp Lahm, midfielder/defender, Germany — Germany's captain and most important player. Whether in midfield or at his natural position of right back, he's powered the team to the final.
Javier Mascherano, midfielder, Argentina — Has literally done Argentina's dirty work. The man tore his anus while preventing Arjen Robben from scoring late in the semifinal.
Lionel Messi, deity, Argentina — Despite massive pressure, he's scored half of Argentina's eight goals and set up Di Maria's in the round of 16.
Thomas Muller, striker, Germany — Five goals, three assists and five stitches. Wherever he is, goals appear like scarves out of a magician's sleeve.
Arjen Robben, genius and tumbling expert, Netherlands — His diving got lots of attention, but he led the Netherlands to an unexpected semifinal appearance with three goals, one assist and all of Mexico cursing his name.
Neymar, hope of a nation, Brazil — Before suffering a back injury late in Brazil's quarterfinal win over Colombia, Neymar carried the host nation with four goals. Without him in the semifinal, his teammates seemed more concerned with paying tribute to their No. 10 than not losing by six goals.
The Best Young Player Award nominees are midfielder Paul Pogba and defender Raphael Varane from France and Memphis Depay from the Netherlands. And the three goalkeepers deemed better than Tim Howard are shootout heroes Keylor Navas of Costa Rica and Sergio Romero of Argentina, plus the tournament's undeniable top keeper, Manuel Neuer of Germany.
In fairness, this World Cup has had an absurd number of excellent goalkeeping performances and limiting the list to just three names leaves off more deserving nominees than just Howard. Mexico's Memo Ochoa, Belgium's Thibaut Courtois, Chile's Claudio Bravo and the Netherlands' Jasper Cillessen (shootout substitution aside) all deserve recognition, as well. But had the U.S. scored twice on Belgium in extra time instead of the other way around, Howard surely would have been included. It's just a bit harder to justify nominating a player from a team that only reached the round of 16 when Navas kept a clean sheet in the quarterfinals before losing in a shootout and Romero and Neuer have both helped their teams reach the final.
The tournament's other individual award, the Golden Boot, will, of course, go to whoever scores the most goals. At the 2010 World Cup, Uruguay's Diego Forlan won the Golden Ball, Spain's Iker Casillas won the Golden Glove, and Thomas Muller won both the Golden Boot and Best Young Player Award.
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