Reliance on superstars was costly for some

IN A tournament where the expected headline-grabbers turned out to be mere footnotes, it was good old-fashioned teamwork that proved the key factor for the countries advancing to the latter stages.

IN A tournament where the expected headline-grabbers turned out to be mere footnotes, it was good old-fashioned teamwork that proved the key factor for the countries advancing to the latter stages.

David Villa, Diego Forlán, Miroslav Klose, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Thomas Mueller all had their share of the limelight but the defining aspect of the tournament was the lack of standout individuals.

Spain epitomise the approach better than anyone, with every player drilled to a supreme level of technical ability, concentration and spatial awareness that enables them to create patterns of passes probably unsurpassed by any previous nation.

Villa was the man to finish off most of the moves as the chess game produced a series of narrow but convincing victories, while Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets were almost interchangeable in their midfield maze.

When striker Fernando Torres was dropped for the semifinal, Pedro stepped in and the machine carried on without a hitch.

"It shows you that a team is not just one player," said goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

"A player can win the tournament for you, like Argentina with (Diego) Maradona (in 1986) but in the end, everything depends on teamwork."

The Netherlands reached the final with the same approach. Robben catches the eye but the Dutch have won with and without him.

Robin van Persie is the big-name forward but it has been the unselfish running of Dirk Kuyt that has created more danger.

Sneijder has been the fulcrum of the Dutch team, chalking up a remarkable five goals and four man of the match awards, but Mark van Bommel and Nigel de Jong sweated blood to win the ball and create space for the playmaker to operate in.

The Dutch defence have also operated superbly, though somewhat under the radar, while goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg's flying save from Kaká to prevent Brazil going 2-0 up in their quarter-final probably kept them in the tournament.

Germany, of course, set the pattern for teamwork decades ago and sure enough a new generation of players seamlessly eased into their roles in South Africa.

The injury-enforced absence of their biggest name, captain Michael Ballack, worked in Germany's favour as younger players stood up to take more responsibility.

Midfielders Mesut Ozil, Mueller and Schweinsteiger all gilded their reputations while strikers Klose and Lukas Podolski, who both had terrible club seasons, thrived in the atmosphere - giving their all for the country.

Uruguay, Paraguay and Ghana also built their progress on collective will but other fancied teams, whose hopes were too wrapped up with their big names, floundered.

Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal, Wayne Rooney's England, Kaká and Robinho's Brazil and Lionel Messi's Argentina all failed at one stage or another partly due to the inability of their marquee names to produce what was expected. - Reuters

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