The finalists for the three major World Cup awards were announced on Friday, and it’s tough to not see Europeans sweeping up all three.
One honor sure to go to a European is the Young Player of the Tournament award, which has three European finalists. Paul Pogba has to be the pick after playing a key role in France’s run to the World Cup quarterfinals. Pogba showed off all the dynamic qualities that make him one of the most highly-coveted young midfielders in the European game. Fellow Frenchman Raphael Varane was a worthy finalist, as was Dutch attacker Memphis Depay, but Pogba is the clear pick for this award.
The goalkeeper award seems a foregone conclusion as well, with Manuel Neuer the consensus pick as the best goalkeeper in a tournament that had several standouts. Neuer’s ability to command the penalty area, distribute out of the back, make the necessary saves, and avoid mistakes, made him the class of the competition. In fact, you could argue Neuer has a strong case for Player of the Tournament honors, though he was not a finalist for the Golden Ball award.
Germany is well represented in that category, with Thomas Muller, Toni Kroos, Phillip Lahm and Mats Hummels all in contention. Let’s be honest, Mueller is clearly the pick out of that bunch, and Lionel Messi is his only real competition among the remaining candidates. James Rodriguez was outstanding at the World Cup, but it’s tough to see a player who went out in the quarterfinals being a serious candidate for the award.
Mueller and Messi are the top contenders and you have to go with Mueller given his greater impact in the knockout rounds. Messi has been contained for the most part by Belgium and the Netherlands, though both teams made it a point to build their defenses around him.
There has been some disappointment from U.S. fans at Tim Howard not being included among the Golden Glove finalists, but as well as Howard played at the World Cup a goalkeeper who managed one win and one shutout isn’t likely to generate strong consideration. In fact, there were as many as five other goalkeepers in the tournament with stronger credentials. Neuer, Keylor Navas and Sergio Romero are all worthy finalists, and you can make the case for Claudio Bravo and Hugo Lloris as well.
Neuer and Mueller are good bets to rack up awards this weekend, but that won’t guarantee them securing the award they want the most, which is the World Cup. Lionel Messi will do his best to spoil the German sweep, and you have to think he has a great chance. At least a much better chance than many are giving him.