Teams that have lifted the biggest prize in football have been spurred on by effective partnerships. From the defensive pairing of Pietro Rava – Alberto Foni in 1938 for Italy to Rivaldo – Ronaldo in 2002, player combinations have often made the difference over the course of the tournament.
Time to sample some of the potentially spicy player combinations on the offering this year…
10. Alexis Sanchez–Humberto Suazo- Mark Gonzalez (Chile)
With the mad genius Marcelo Bielsa pulling strings from the background, Chile can turn out to be one of the most entertaining teams in this world cup. Playing an exciting (& potentially suicidal) 3-3-1-3, Chile scored goals for fun in the qualifiers, eventually finishing one point behind Brazil.
The fulcrum of the attack is the hefty Humberto Suazo, who has an exemplary scoring record in South American football. He topped the list in the qualifiers ahead of the likes of Fabiano & Forlan. Flanking the big, physical centre-forward will be Alexis Sanchez & Mark Gonzalez – two quicksilver supporting forwards.
Sanchez is currently one of the hottest prospects in the world and is often likened to Cristiano Ronaldo. Gonzalez, on the other hand, impressed in his stint with Real Betis. Matias Fernandez plays as trequartista, feeding the front trident.
Chile’s legendary duo of Salas-Zamorano lit up ’98 world cup and the new generation would look to follow in their footsteps…
Suazo’s trademark celebration
9. Nemanja Vidic–Neven Subotic (Serbia)
Ever since his transfer to Manchester United, Nemanja Vidic has firmly cemented his position as one of the finest centre-backs in the world. With his crunching tackles, good reading of the game & ability to organize defense, he is an irreplaceable figure for both, club & country.
Subotic, on the other hand, is just an upstart when compared to his partner. Coming off a strong showing for German giants Borussia Dortmund, he is often likened to Vidic. After a shaky start to his international career, Subotic finally settled & prospered under the mentorship of Vidic.
If the Serbians are to fulfill their potential, then they will look to this pair to provide an impenetrable wall..
Vidic : The great rock of Serbia
8. Felipe Melo – Gilberto Silva (Brazil)
Twenty-five years ago, if anyone was told that the best defensive midfielder partnership in the world would be from Brazil, he might have been lynched. Brazilian football, known for its illustrious existence, showed a step-motherly attitude towards the less attractive facet of the game.
Then, the 1994 world cup happened. Carlos Perriera deployed a two-man defensive shield consisting of Dunga & Mauro Silva. While it was not vintage Joga Bonito, it was highly effective. With the pair doing all the dirty work in the middle, Romario & Bebeto flourished. Sixteen years on, with Dunga as the coach, it is not surprising Brazil have another pair to emulate the class of ’94.
Don’t let Melo’s form for Juventus fool you! Melo is good at doing simple things and he works well as a snatcher & blocker. However, he does not have the ability to start attacking moves. That’s where Gilberto comes in. Not a proper defensive midfielder, Gilberto starts off the moves for Brazil, while Melo does the dirty work. Their partnership gives Brazil both stability & fluidity.
Gilberto is a multi-talented man..
7. Florent Malouda – Patrice Evra (France)
Coach Raymond Domenech has been universally lambasted over the last four years. Most experts are ruling out the Les Bleus. But they do have enough quality in their ranks including the left flank; on current form, probably the best in the world.
Malouda was hands down one of the best players in last season’s Premier League, torturing right-backs with ease. His speed with the ball & ability of cut in from the flanks would be pivotal for France’s success. Backing his runs would be a guy, who can lay claims to Javier Zanetti’s throne of the most boringly consistent player in the world, Patrice Evra. The diminutive Man United full-back has been possibly the best in his position for over three years now. He strongly holds his place among the pantheon of world class French full-backs of recent times.
If France are to go the distance this time around, the combination of these two will be the one making the headlines..
Malouda indulges in his favourite sport – murder-a-right -back
6. Diego Forlan – Luis Suarez (Uruguay)
Ok, so the world doesn’t particularly like Uruguay. Often derided as the flip side of free-flowing Latin American football, Uruguay have sadly lost their claim to be the original swagger kings. In the 1920s, Uruguay showed skills that bordered towards the ridiculous. And they won it all – two Olympic gold medals & the first world cup. Their first world cup defeat came in 1954! All this came from one of the smallest nations to ever participate in the world cup. But their football did enter a cocoon of negativity for much of the last few decades. This year, though, they would like to dispel the myth.
And they have the fire power, at least, to achieve that. Diego Forlan is one of the best strikers in the world on current form. A prolific and consistent striker, Forlan is currently enjoying the zenith of his career. The fleet-footed poacher will be aided by Luis Suarez. 23-year old Suarez has been a wonder-kid at Ajax in the last few seasons. His tally of goals reached 33 this season. While he plays as a primary target man for Ajax, he can also assist & play off Forlan. This prolific pair would look to propel Uruguay towards recreating the glory days from the past.
5. Robinho – Luis Fabiano – Kaka (Brazil)
Dunga’s Brazil has often been painted as a team of artisans, rather than artists. While it is true to an extent, they do have enough creativity upfront. The goals are supposed to come from the combination of lone striker Luis Fabiano, and Robinho, who drifts in from left wing.
Fabiano, a late bloomer has proved himself to be Brazil’s main striker over the last two years. He averages a goal every two games for Sevilla & was a major contributor to the modest club’s recent success. He topped the goal scoring charts in last year’s Confederations cup.
Robinho seems to have found some solace, finally. After less than flattering stints at Real Madrid & Manchester City, one of Brazil’s most exciting talents looked like going the way of the dodo. But a return to mother club Santos, looks to have reignited his passion.
Kaka has been ordinary for most the last season. But Brazilian players often save the best for the world cup. Playing in the ‘hole’ behind Fabiano, Kaka scored five goals in the qualifiers. The trio combined to score 18 of Brazil’s 33 goals in the qualifiers.
Robinho : Time to fulfill his potential
4. Xavi –Andres Iniesta (Spain)
Xavi is a purist’s delight. Very few players in the world are adept in finding gaps in the defense like the Barcelona legend. Not the fastest of players, Xavi sits deep in the midfield stringing pass after pass, exposing defenses with precise through-balls (ask Real Madrid for further reference).
If Xavi is the fulcrum, Iniesta is his contrast. A tireless runner, Iniesta’s strength is his positioning & ability to keep defenders on the edge for ninety minutes. This contrast makes their combo ever-so lethal. While Iniesta runs into free areas behind the defense, Xavi, with his laser-directed passes, picks him out.
The Xaviesta partnership was arguably the most crucial element behind Barca’s historic season in 2008-09. This might very well be Spain’s year in the world cup. Both the player’s had fitness doubts going into the tournament, but their presence in the field will be a major requisite for Spanish success.
Xavi is a big reason behind Messi’s form
3. Robben–Senijder–van der Vaart (The Netherlands)
When the season started, the trio’s stock was low. Real Madrid wanted to offload them. Robben & Sneijder left, while van der Vaart was retained. Fast-forward twelve months, and the multi-million dollar stars of Real watched, on as the discarded duo faced each other in the Champions League final in Madrid. And you thought god didn’t have a sense of humour!
Both the players made a telling difference to the respective teams. Robben scored crucial goals for Bayern, while Sneijder was the main creative force for Inter. Last season, they won a total of five trophies between them. Van der Vaart was one of the best players in a star-studded Real team. While Kaka faded away, the nearly-discarded Dutch player excelled.
This trio of wonderfully skilled & technically brilliant players would be a major cog if the Oranje are to recreate the magic of 70s.
Robben & Sneijder plotting to take over the world, over a friendly session of jogging
2. Angel di Maria – Higuain/Milito – Messi (Argentina)
While most of the teams are struggling with strikers, Argentina have an embarrassment of riches in this department. Four of the strikers were in top-12 of the golden boot list. Messi got the award with 34 goals but Higuain (27), Tevez (23) or Milito (22) were not far behind.
Messi will most likely drift in from the right wing while young sensation Angel di Maria will start on the left. The choice of a centre-forward will be interesting, though. Diego Milito showed incredible big-match mentality last season, but Maradona has shown preference towards picking Higuain over the Inter hit-man. While Higuain is a wonderful talent, his big match performance is still questionable. With the likes of Tevez & Aguero on the bench, the job of choosing becomes tougher.
Lionel Messi has often been accused of under-performing for his country. Will he finally be able to replicate his sparkling club form in a white and blue jersey?
1. Fernando Torres – David Villa (Spain)
Like Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, these two are ‘partners in crime’; and they really are a couple of smooth criminals. The partnership first came to notice in the 2006 world cup as Spain swept the group stage. It matured by the time of Euro & spearheaded the title-winning run in 2008. This pairing is one of the main reasons why Spain is the tournament favourites.
Villa has a lovely turning ability, wonderful knack of popping up in free spaces and loads of pace. Torres, on the other hand, has a lethal burst of speed. He can hold off defenders & create space for himself, and Villa. Both have superb finishing ability.
Will this be a common sight in South Africa ?
Torres has scored 56 goals in 79 games for Liverpool; Villa has scored at least 20 goals in each of his last five seasons. Torres functions primarily as a lone striker at his club but for the national team he plays a slightly withdrawn role. This is a tactical master stroke, as Torres with his greater mobility links up Villa with Spain’s brilliant midfield.
He was a big reason why Villa ended up as the top scorer in Euro. ‘El Nino’ as Torres is nicknamed, did miss many games last season due to injury, but came good whenever he played. World Cup has often witnessed memorable strike pairs from Meazza–Piola to Romario–Bebeto. Villa – Torres certainly have the potential to be counted in the same bracket.