The Golden Ball is the most coveted individual award at the World Cup. Or is it? What is supposed to be the accolade earned by the single best performer throughout the tournament has recently become a consolation trophy. Zidane, Kahn, and Ronaldo have been the latest three recipients of the Golden Ball– despite each one losing in the World Cup Final. With this trend in mind, perhaps the following players will be wary of excelling too well this weekend. Anyway, here is my shortlist:
Wesley Sneijder: He’s been Holland’s best player since the opening match. A tournament high 5 goals and 1 assist. The diminutive Sneijder has been creative on the ball, efficient in his short/long passing, and influential in just about every goalscoring movement. Free kicks, corner kicks, curlers, rockets, volleys, and even headers give him approximately 20 million ways to score. If he finds the net again on Sunday, he will probably have done enough to win the Golden Ball. That close already. A midfielder with 6 tournament goals? Must be Sneijder.
David Villa: On the flip side, you’d have to say Villa has been Spain’s most important player. His tally is exactly the same as Sneijder’s– 5 goals and 1 assist. Considering Spain have only scored a total of 7 goals, it shows how crucial he is to their attack. I mean, he has singlehandedly won 3 of their matches. Cunning and inventive, Villa has scored some of the more stylish goals in the Cup, both finishing and creating his own chances. However, since he’s a striker I feel he must outscore Sneijder on Sunday to win the Golden Ball. Also, he had an ineffectual performance against Germany so going anonymous in both the Semis and Finals could destroy his claim for the trophy. (Also also– 1 missed penalty against Honduras is a little black mark against him).
Iker Casillas: The first of our “longer shots.” Spain have only conceded 2 goals all tournament; none in the knockout rounds. With Casillas’ reputation, this alone is enough to include him in the conversation. But if you watch Spain’s games, he’s made many routine saves look much harder than they are. He hasn’t played with the composure he once trademarked, and I still can’t shimmy the blame on the Swiss goal away from Saint Iker. The penalty save against Paraguay certainly helps his cause, but he’ll need more. If a 0-0 Final heads to penalty kicks and Spain prevail thanks to a save, then Casillas “should” get the Golden Ball.
Carles Puyol: Perhaps the biggest threat to the chances of Casillas. The ever reliable Puyol has been more or less the defensive rock he is for Barcelona. He’s the leader of the back four and he gets major major points for his winner against Germany. It looked like nobody could break the German spirit until up stepped Tarzan. If Spain win the Final in a shutout (but not penalties), Puyol might get the credit for the “only 2 goals conceded” stat and win the Golden Ball. Assuming Villa or Sneijder doesn’t score.
Arjen Robben: I don’t see any Dutch player winning the Golden Ball other than Sneijder, but I feel I should include at least one other. Since returning from injury, he’s scored 2 goals. He’s been solid for the Dutch, menacing the wings and challenging keepers’ reflexes/referees’ whistles. Still, he hasn’t been as central to the Dutch success as Sneijder. It will take a hat-trick in the Final (equaling Sneijder’s tally and Geoff Hurst’s record) for him to win the Golden Ball. Of course, if Dirk Kuyt were to notch 3 assists in the Final (doubling his assist tally to 6), he would have just as much a claim as Robben. Or if Van Bommel breaks 3 Spanish legs without getting booked. Just sayin.’
Xavi: If he didn’t have the Euro2008 tournament that he did, would he be on this list? Of course the Metronome has looked lovely this World Cup, turning like a ballerina and directing Spanish traffic– but for all his completed passes only one has been for an assist. And with no goals to his name, it doesn’t look like 2010 will be a repeat of his individual award gathering. In fairness, Xabi Alonso has been nearly as influential in transitioning Spain from defense to attack (although the missed penalty v Paraguay hurts big time). Xavi must have a phenomenal game in the Final and hope for some nostalgic voters to look beyond the 7 World Cup games. Or else, no Golden Ball for Robert Downey Jr.
Diego Forlan: The ultimate long shot. He has 4 goals +1 assist at the moment, so he’s going to need a monster effort (hat-trick minimum) in the 3rd place match to stake a claim. I mean, it’s not that he hasn’t been the most inspirational player in terms of statistics and aesthetic play (I’d say he has), but his team won’t even be playing Sunday. If the award were given on the eye test alone he’d like his chances, but team success is a major factor. So I don’t fancy Forlan for the Golden Ball; he must have a monster day and the Final must be nondescript and uneventful.
If some other player ends up winning the Golden Ball, we’re in for one heck of an enjoyable Final. Just maybe not for him.
Tags: Casillas, Forlan, Golden Ball, Puyol, Robben, Sneijder, Villa, Xavi