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John Barnes on the Men at the Back

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England: Once again, the Italians will be one of the strongest defensive teams; they won the 2006 World Cup with this as their foundation - and there really seems to be something ingrained in their mentality that makes this component of their game so prominent. This time around three of the back four from the winning side in the 2006 World Cup will be available again. Keeper, Buffon, is still one of the most outstanding in that position in the world. However, the lack of firepower upfront and creativity in midfield will prevent them from posing enough of a threat to be real contenders this time around.

As mentioned in last week’s feature, Brazilian coach, Dunga, has brought a new structure to the team, making it one of the strongest in terms of defence. Lucio and Maicon from Champions League winners, Inter Milan, are the standout defensive players for Brazil and – while they don’t have the tradition of the Italians in this department – they certainly have the pedigree. I also think Germany and England will be difficult to break down with both teams boasting a strong back line.

I am picking my Fantasy Football squad for the tournament beginning this week with the back line as follows:

My pick for the goalkeeper position would be the Real Madrid stopper, Casillas, who has been Spain’s number one since he was 19 years old. His experience and agility was a critical part of Spain’s European Championships victory in 2008. As a back-up keeper Italy’s Gianluigi Buffon, would be an ideal replacement.

At the centre back position would be Serbian, Nemanja Vidic who also plays for Manchester United, and Brazilian, Lucio Filomeno, who together would make a tremendous partnership. Vidic has such a commanding presence and is an exceptional ball winner both on the ground and in the air. He formed the cornerstone of a very good Serbian team which did not concede many goals and qualified ahead of France. In fact, Serbia could be one of the dark horses in South Africa. They may not be fancied by many because they’re not considered to be one of the glamorous nations but could pose a real threat if teams choose to take them lightly. Lucio has the presence and guile one would expect from a Brazilian and is also an exceptional reader of the game. There would not be too many attacking line-ups that would get much change from these two.

It would be difficult to look further than Chelsea and England’s Ashley Cole for the left back position. He has had a fantastic season with Chelsea after returning from a broken ankle. Despite having a turbulent time off the pitch, his attacking ability from left back provided Chelsea with the cutting edge on numerous occasions with Cole contributing a number of goals in the later stages of Chelsea’s Premier League campaign. With England choosing not to utilize a natural left footer in mid-field, Cole’s contribution will be extremely important to their hopes in South Africa.

At right back, Douglas Maicon of Brazil and Inter Milan, has been hugely impressive for club and country. Like his counterpart on the left, he brings attacking flair which is so important for full backs in the modern game. Maicon’s skill and ability would grace any World Cup as was demonstrated by his goal against Juventus in April this year.

If I could have two players to come off the bench, I would select Chelsea and Portugal’s star centre back, Ricardo Carvalho. He was plagued by injuries during the season so could be fresh for Portugal. He will need all of this freshness when he is confronted with his club mate, Drogba, in the pool match. In fact, Portugal versus the Ivory Coast is likely to be the decider game on who progresses from this pool with Brazil.

Many may be surprised by my final defensive choice in the squad. I really admire Arsenal and Cameroon’s Emmanuel Eboue. Eboue is one of the best attacking right full backs in the world now and gets himself in very good forward positions. He can play a number of positions in a team and performed consistently at a high level throughout the second half of the season.

These players have the less glamorous job but the more critical one. Cannavaro from Italy was undoubtedly the star of the 2006 World Cup and who is to say that the standout player for the 2010 World Cup won’t be a defender once again. If so, I suspect he will be one of the players from my Fantasy Football picks.

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