Cream of the crop

THE year is coming to an end! Having watched countless days and nights of football, I've been mesmerised by the amount of talent we have in world football.

Bayern Munchen will be remembered for the triple trophy haul while Brazil are one of the favourites for next year’s World Cup after winning the Confederations Cup this year.

Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are still the greatest stars in world football but there is more than Ronaldo and Messi.

IWhether it’s the Confederations Cup, Barclays Premier League, Malaysian League or Bundesliga, I’m always entertained with good football.

But when I decided to pick the best line-up of the year it wasn't an easy choice. There is one surprise and many would be shocked to see why I’ve left him out.

I opted for Zlatan Ibrahimovic rather than Lionel Messi. Why? Lionel Messi has been impressive this year with his goals and displays but when it comes to talismanic performances, Zlatan nicks it!

Here is my team of 2013 :-

Manuel Neuer (Goalkeeper - Bayern Munchen, Germany)
Undoubtedly one of the best goalkeepers in world football right now. He had a phenomenal season with his club and helped his country to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. The 27-year-old Neuer was an indomitable presence behind goal and pips out other keepers like Petr Cech, Thibault Courtois and David De Gea. He impressed during the UEFA Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund and in September, he recorded his 100th clean sheet of his Bundesliga career. Known for his quick reflexes and good reading of the game, Neuer will continue to dominate in the coming years and he will be key for his country and club.

David Alaba (Left-back - Bayern Munchen, Austria)
Six goals for Austria in the World Cup qualifiers and some critics say, he has under-performed for his country - You’ve got to be kidding me! His forays on the left side of defense has been impressive and it will be a blow not to see Alaba play in the World Cup. Having joined Bayern Munchen from Austria Vienna in 2008, the 21-year-old full-back looks set to be the mainstay for Bayern’s defence for many years. Austria will surely rely on him in their quest to qualify for Euro 2016. His pace, technique and powerful shoots have been talking point for many fans and he continues to set Bundesliga and Champions League alight with his marauding performances.

Philipp Lahm (Right-back - Bayern Munchen, Germany)
If you want to learn consistency from one player - Lahm is your man! Many would feel that I'm biased towards Bayern players but hey, most of their players were brilliant this year! The Bayern Munchen and Germany skipper is known for his efficient displays as full-back and under Pep Guardiola, he has been utilised as a defensive midfielder. That shows his versatility as a player and Pep once said, "He is perhaps the most intelligent player I have ever trained in my career. He is at another level," Germany will need him to be at his best for next year’s World Cup and with the form that he is in right now, Germany can be sure of another fine tournament from the ‘Magic Dwarf’!

Mats Hummels (Centre-back - Borussia Dortmund, Germany)
I’ve always loved ball playing centre-backs and in my list of top eleven, both centre-backs are known for their abilities with the ball. Hummels' rise has been meteoric and his displays with Borussia Dortmund have been really impressive. Also a Germany international, the 25-year-old centre-back is renowned for his strength, height and reading of the game. His display for Borussia in the Champions League was impressive and he was one of the key players behind Borussia’s run to the final. Coming from the Bayern Munchen academy, he looks set to move to the bigger leagues in the near future and if he impresses in the World Cup, Borussia can bid adieu to their hardman!

Thiago Silva (Centre-back - Paris St Germain, Brazil)
You would be surprised to see only one Brazilian in this side. The 29-year-old centre-back may not be as tall and strong as Hummels but he makes it up with his technique, awareness and ability to help build up attacks. A rock in Brazil’s defense, he was astute and assured during the Confederations Cup and against Spain in the final, he was immense. Brazil will surely rely on his experience and he will be one of the key players at the World Cup. He also helped his club side PSG to win the French title and reach the quarter finals of the Champions League this year.

Franck Ribery (Left-winger - Bayern Munchen, France)
Together with Alaba, Ribery terrorised defenders on the left side of the field for Bayern. They wreaked havoc during the group stages and I  remember their display against Barcelona in the Champions League semi final. The 30-year-old Frenchman is one of the best attacking players in the world and proved his worth this year with his goals and assists. Known for his mazy runs, dribbles and great control of the ball, he has been the keyman for French football for many years. He will be influential in France’s quest for next year’s World Cup. He is still tearing defences up in the Bundesliga and Champions League and expect him to carry this form for many years to come. He also one of the favourites for this year's Ballon D’Or!

Marco Reus (Right-winger - Borussia Dortmund, Germany)
Elegant, silky, able to control with both feet and…pacy! These are some of the best attributes to describe Reus. The 24-year-old playmaker who can also put in a decent shift as a winger has been instrumental for Borussia Dortmund since he joined from Borussia Monchengladbach last year. Borussia’s pressing and attacking game has been talked about by many analyst this year and he is one of the key players behind the system. Known for his burst of pace and keen eye for goal, he can also help out in defense. Together with Mario Gotze, they were described as the classic attacking duo by Germany legend Franz Beckenbauer but Gotze has since left for bitter rivals, Bayern Munchen.

Bastian Schweinsteiger (Central-midfielder - Bayern Munchen, Germany)
I’ve got five Germans in my line-up and this shows the strength and depth of the national side. Schweinsteinger has grown as a player and to me, he is the best midfielder in world football right now. Able to play anywhere in midfield, the 29-year-old has been the talisman for club and country for many years. He played a key role in Bayern’s champions league victory and earned plaudits for his dominating performance in midfield. His passes, reading of the game and leadership have made him the player that he is today. He has already won many accolades and now, he will surely eye the World Cup! Does he have a chance? With such a talented squad and inspirational leadership under him and Lahm, they are the favourites to win the title.

Paul Pogba (Central-midfielder - Juventus, France)
Manchester United will rue their chances for not taking the extra effort to keep Pogba, who is 20 and already a key player for Juventus. His meteoric rise in world football is impressive and many teams have been undone by his performances. Powerful, skillful and creative, Pogba helped Juventus to win Serie A this year and also helped France to qualify for the World Cup when they beat Ukraine in the play-offs. He has also gained a nickname - Il Polpo Paul (Paul the Octopus) for his long legs that look like tentacles during tackling or running. Another reason for his inclusion in this list  - He just won the Golden Boy Award for 2013!

Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Striker - Paris St Germain, Sweden)
His amazing goal against England in a friendly, single-handedly firing goals for his country and club and almost helping Sweden to qualify for the World Cup - These are some of the highlights of the 'Zlatan Show' this year. Qualification to the World Cup would have been icing on the cake but he was nicked by Cristiano Ronaldo inspired Portugal. What a year he has had! He was the top scorer in Ligue 1 and helped PSG to qualify till the quarter-finals of the Champions league. He matures like a fine wine! He is 32-years-old but still possesses the strength, agility and skills of a 25-year-old. This season, he is continuing his good form and has overshadowed PSG’s new big name signing Edinson Cavani. It’s a shame that he would not be able to play in next year’s World Cup. He has a point - “the World Cup is nothing without him!” Messi may have scored more goals than him but he has got the ammunition from Xavi, Francesc Fabregas and Andres Iniesta. As for Ibrahimovic, at times, he can win matches on his own.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Striker - Real Madrid, Portugal)
Hardwork, determination and passion - Ronaldo has all these ingredients in him. Though he couldn’t win any trophies with Real Madrid he helped Portugal to qualify for next year’s World Cup when he bamboozled Sweden by scoring four goals in the two-legged playoffs. Known for his pace, skill, control and dribbling ability, Ronaldo has been the talisman for Real Madrid this year but if the other players performed up to expectations, they could have retained the La Liga title they won in 2012. For 2013 alone, he has already scored 67 goals. Currently he is nursing a thigh injury but that’s just a minor blip. He will continue plundering in the goals and carry that form to Brazil!
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