6. Paolo Maldini, Italy
As age caught up with the great Franco Baresi, another AC Milan defender emerged as Italy’s colossus. Left limping on the wing in the 1-0 defeat of Norway, he was forced into the middle to replace Baresi at centre-back in the group game against Mexico, but on his 26th birthday he performed with all his customary elegance, despite an injured ankle.
This was the bright side of Italian defending, not cynical or violent, but based on an acute understanding of angles: defending as mathematics, as art. He captained the side through to the final, when Baresi returned.