And so the dress rehearsal for the World Cup has been and gone. The past two weeks in Brazil have seen some stunning goals, with the planet's top international teams fighting it out.
Home side Brazil eventually did win 3-0 in the final against Spain but there was plenty of talent on show across the fortnight worthy of being saluted in Goal's Team of the Tournament.
Towards the end of his time at Inter, Julio Cesar's form waned and Brazil fans must have been dreading the Confeds when their goalkeeper was relegated from the Premier League with QPR. However, the 33-year-old has acquitted himself brilliantly for his country, helping the Selecao keep back-to-back clean sheets in their opening two group games before saving a crucial penalty in the semifinal with Uruguay and a shutout in the final against world and European champion Spain.
Spain's route to the final was one decided by a mixture between a stern defense and its ever-threatening attack. Gerard Pique came off the back of a difficult season at Barcelona, but was a solid presence for la Roja and showcased his nerve by slotting home a penalty in the shootout win over Italy. However, he did receive his marching orders in the final following a lunge on Neymar.
The Brazilian attacker's teammate David Luiz joins Pique in defense. The Chelsea man has been questioned over his defensive capabilities when at the back but barely put a foot wrong all tournament, ensuring the Selecao's back line was difficult to break down. Just ask Spain's Pedro who saw his effort in the final cleared off the line in a fantastic piece of last-ditch defending from the 26-year-old.
The final defender is Daniele De Rossi. The Roma man has had a turbulent season at the Stadio Olimpico, falling out with former coach Zdenek Zeman, but remains a key member in the Azzurri setup. Though a midfielder by trade, he has performed admirably at the back for Cesare Prandelli's side and was a major part of his team's success in keeping Spain quiet for 120 minutes.
|GERARD PIQUE ||DANIELE DE ROSSI ||DAVID LUIZ |
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|SPAIN ||ITALY ||BRAZIL |
|ALVARO GONZALEZ ||PAULINHO ||ANDRES INIESTA ||JORDI ALBA |
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|URUGUAY ||BRAZIL ||SPAIN ||SPAIN |
Our midfield begins with Alvaro Gonzalez. Uruguay was lacking steel in the center of the park during its first fixture of the tournament, a 2-1 loss to Spain, but he was soon installed into the starting lineup by Oscar Tabarez and justified his coach's decision with his tireless running and tackling. His brilliant display in the unfortunate semifinal defeat to Brazil was a particular highlight.
Ahead of his summer move to Europe, Paulinho demonstrated to the world just what he is capable of. In a brilliant opening fixture for the Selecao against Japan, he showcased his great technique with wonderful control and a cool finish, before scoring a late winner to send his side through to the final against Uruguay in the semis.
There is little more we can say about Andres Iniesta. The Barcelona midfielder was in supreme form throughout the tournament in Brazil, carving out openings for teammates whether he was playing through the middle or on the left wing. He was simply majestic in the team's opening 2-1 win over Uruguay.
Finally, on the left, we have Jordi Alba. Since bursting onto the international scene just over a year ago, the Catalan-based wing back has risen to the very top of his game. His displays at the back across the last fortnight were more than assured, and his two-goal heroics against Nigeria were absolutely key to his side's 3-0 victory.
|GIACCHERINI ||FRED ||NEYMAR |
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|ITALY ||BRAZIL ||BRAZIL |
Emanuele Giaccherini may not be the most glamorous member of the Italy squad but his performances have shown him to be an absolutely key member of Cesare Prandelli's side, constantly threatening opponents' goals and scoring a crucial goal against Brazil. Had his effort against Spain gone in rather than struck the woodwork, the tournament may have ended far more happily for the Azzurri.
There were serious question marks over Fred's suitability to lead the Selecao line ahead of next summer's World Cup, but the former Olympique Lyonnais front man has moved to prove everyone wrong. His late double in the clash with Italy was fundamental in his side finishing in top spot in the group, while a poacher's effort in the semifinal helped steady the ship when Uruguay was on top. With two further goals in the final, he left everyone feeling red-faced.
Finally, we have the star of the show. Neymar came into the tournament with many people doubting whether he would be able to justify Barcelona's massive outlay for him, but within minutes he had sent a brilliant volley into the back of the net, and more memorable strikes followed against Mexico and Italy. The second of Brazil's three strikes in the final was the cherry on the cake.