Football Station


Surprise Package?

As the knockout stages get under way, let’s examine who some of the most influential and surprising players of the tournament have been in South Africa.

5. Robert Vittek – The 28 year old Slovakian striker made a name for himself with two goals in the 3-2 victory over defending

Vittek nets his first for Slovakia against Italy.

champion Italy on Thursday.  Vittek and the Slovaks caught the Italian defense sleeping several times in their match yesterday, and were able to capitalize on three of those chances.  Turns out, that was enough.  The spritely hitman who plies his trade at…uh…Ankaragücü (Turkish side) seemingly ran for the entire 92 minutes he was on the pitch.  He is tied for top scorer in South Africa alongside big names like Gonzalo Higuain and David Villa.  Despite the fact that Vittek, along with the entire Slovakian side, have impressed so far in South Africa, they face an undefeated Dutch side in the knockout rounds.  But if history has told us anything, the Dutch will choke against some opponent, and the Slovak’s will be wondering: why not us?

4. Michael Bradley – For the coach’s son, South Africa has been his playground.  The calm and collected center midfielder is only 22 years old, but to the passing onlooker could be confused for a player 8 years older.  Bradley has turned in key performances in every game the Yanks have played in the World Cup, regardless of who his midfield partner is.  He scored the equalizer in one of the games of the tournament against Slovakia, and has been a rock in stopping attacks and a spark plug in starting them.  Without him, the United States would be standing on sea legs in the ocean that is South Africa.  The Borussia Mochengladbach lynchpin could have put himself in the shop window for bigger European clubs this summer, and with his displays against talented opposition, there’s no reason he shouldn’t get a look.

3.  Alexis Sanchez – Quick and dynamic, Sanchez has played a hand in most every attacking move for the Chilean side, who

He'll be listening to offers after South Africa.

have been impressive going forward the in all their matches.  The winger/striker plays for a very respectable Udinese side in Serie A.  Interestingly, the young gun has no goals this tournament, but has still been a key player for his South American side’s progression into the knockout stages.  They now face a Brazilian side coming off of a disappointing draw against Portugal and may be prime for some surprise attacking football…something that the Chileans almost guarantee.  Chile were unlucky to be reduced to 10 men against Spain.  It would have been a very different game if they were at full strength, as Sanchez & Co were running at the Spanish backline with speed and technically aplomb.

2. Mesut Ozil – Controversial pick here, because Ozil of Werder Bremen was known as a great player before his time in South Africa.  However, many did not give him the credit they are giving him now after his performances in group play.  In Germany’s first game against Australia, the 21 year old checked in with two assists, not to mention countless passes over and through the Australian back line.  Ozil has single handedly ensured that the presence of Michael Ballack has not been missed.  Ozil’s creativity has been the high point of Germany’s World Cup campaign and he capped off group play with a stunning strike against Ghana. He is just about as young as anybody at the tournament, but is playing at a level that the highest performers are on.  Looking for a bet?  Put it on Ozil moving to a bigger name European club for big bucks.

Honda will grow to be one of the hottest talents in world football.

1. Keisuke Honda – CSKA Moscow’s paying £6 millon for Honda now looks like a steal, as the Japanese wizard has lit up Group E.  He opened his first ever World Cup with the winning goal over Cameroon, and has continued to work his magic on the back lines in South Africa, most recently against Denmark as first he smashed a freekick into Thomas Sorenson’s net from 30 yards out but, towards the end of the game, he gave a craftily turned inside the box, and, rather than being selfish, played the ball across to substitute Shinji Okazaki for a goal.  He has been a revelation for the Japanese, and will be their biggest asset going into their clash with Paraguay, which is entirely winnable.  The manager’s claim that they could make their way into the quarterfinals.  With Keisuke Honda’s help, it’s a real possibility.

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[…] Why should they?  They have a great squad every time they come to the World Cup.  Even without Michael Ballack, the Germans have one of the most surprising players filling the void with great skill. […]

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