FRANKFURT, Germany -- Today is a significant day: For the first time since the start of the World Cup, there is not a single game being played.
An off-day. A welcome off-day, might I add. Since there's no game to analyze, no matchups to break down, it seems like the perfect time to unleash some of the thoughts that have been kicking around in my head since we began this little tournament almost three weeks ago.
Here's my Favorite XI, based on what I've seen (Keep in mind, I've spent something like 129 hours on trains and in cars, so I've missed a few games and there's a chance I might be leaving off the second coming; this is strictly what I've witnessed with my own two eyes):
GK: Gianluigi Buffon, Italy. He makes it look so very easy.
LB: Philipp Lahm, Germany. He pretty much cemented his place with that scorcher that was the first goal of the tournament. The li'l guy was a handful against Costa Rica, and he's been consistently bedeviling foes ever since.
CD: Fabio Cannavaro, Italy. The Italians have conceded one goal the whole tournament. Their captain is the man who holds things together. He's never out of position and it seems as if he never fails to win a ball he's got a chance at.
CD: Lucas Neill, Australia. He's in for two reasons. One, he had a hell of a tournament. Two, as a show of support for guys who actually play the game instead of diving around like a bunch of ponces. Neill will unfortunately be remembered for conceding a penalty against Italy in the final minute of the Aussies' run.
It was a gutless play by Fabio Grosso, who saw a defender on the ground and decided to take the easy way out and hit the dirt. And it was a gutless call. Neill's only crime was placing his trust in the ref and assuming some card-happy moron wouldn't decide he was going to single-handedly determine the outcome of the game. Alas, Neill was wrong.
RB: Steve Cherundolo, U.S. Is 'Dolo better than Cafu? No. Is he better than most right backs in the tournament? Probably not. But no right back's performance sticks in my mind more than Cherundolo's against Italy. The guy played his ass off and was incredibly dangerous. A triumph for the (very) little man.
LM: Sulley Muntari, Ghana. This is the best position in the tournament, hands down: Arjen Robben, Joe Cole, Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi (if he drops back), Pavel Nedved. (Sorry, DaMarcus, you don't make the list.) So why am I picking Muntari? I have no idea. Except his performance against Brazil was outstanding. He was all over the place. You couldn't watch for more than a minute or two without noticing him. If Ronaldinho had been that active, Brazil would have scored nine goals. Muntari deserved better than a 3-0 loss and a trip home. Hopefully, being named to my Dream XI will ease the pain. What? Oh, I didn't think so.
CM: Michael Essien, Ghana, and Michael Ballack, Germany. Could you imagine these two playing together? Wait a minute. They will be next year, at Chelsea. Based on what we've seen (Essien, the perfect mix of tough guy and playmaker, Ballack, a tireless worker who's one of the most threatening midfielders in the world), if the Blues don't win Champions League next year, Jose Mourinho should be dumped out on his smug, overcoat-wearing, Portuguese butt.