The best from 2006
The World Cup headed to Germany in 2006, but the hosts were eliminated at the semi-final stage by Italy – who went on to lift the trophy for the fourth time after a penalty shoot-out victory over France in the final. With the latest edition of the tournament almost upon us, we take a look back at the 10 best players from 2006.
Nuno Ricardo de Oliveira Ribeiro – Maniche to his friends – arrived at the World Cup having spent the second half of the 2005/06 season on loan at Chelsea. The midfielder transformed his fine domestic form to the international stage, scoring Portugal's first goal against Mexico and netting the winner in an ill-tempered last-16 clash with the Netherlands.
Maniche then helped Luiz Felipe Scolari's side into the semi-finals via a penalty shoot-out triumph over England, but Portugal's run came to an end when they were beaten by a Zinedine Zidane-inspired France in the last four.
9. Ze Roberto
An underrated player throughout his career, Ze Roberto was capable of playing just about anywhere on the pitch. He started out as a left-back before being converted into a midfielder at Real Madrid, where he played both defensive and attacking roles at different times.
Much was expected of him and his country at the 2006 World Cup, but Brazil underwhelmed and were knocked out in the quarter-finals. Ze Roberto was their best performer, though, turning in a handful of excellent showings in Germany.
8. Ricardo Carvalho
Carvalho’s international career spanned 13 years, culminating in Portugal’s triumph at Euro 2016. A full 12 years before, he was named in the Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament and carried his exceptional international form into the World Cup in 2006, helping his country to the semi-finals.
Carvalho was part of an incredibly mean defensive unit which shipped just two open-play goals in the entire tournament, with the centre-back's Baresi-esque reading of the game a key reason for Luiz Felipe Scolari's progression to the last four.
7. Lilian Thuram
Thuram had retired from international football before the 2006 World Cup, but he reversed his decision at the behest of coach Raymond Domenech. The defender performed so well for runners-up France that he played on until Euro 2008, eventually going on the become his country's most capped player of all time.
Thuram was superb in Germany, showcasing a range of defensive qualities as Les Bleus conceded just two goals en route to the final, which they lost on penalties to Italy.
6. Miroslav Klose
Despite being Germany’s all-time top goalscorer – outdoing even Gerd Muller for the national side – Klose was never quite held in the same regard as some of the other elite strikers of his generation.
The striker saved his best for World Cup years, scoring 12 goals in 17 internationals in 2002, 13 in 17 in 2006 and 10 in 12 in 2010. Five of those 13 strikes in 2006 came at the tournament, which was enough to bring Klose the Golden Boot as Germany reached the semi-finals.
5. Philipp Lahm
Lahm was so consistent throughout his entire career that it's difficult to pinpoint when he was at his best, but his performances in 2006 are right up there.
The full-back was impeccable on home soil, turning in tireless, assured and positionally perfected performances as the host nation reached the last four. He even scored one of the goals of the tournament against Costa Rica in the competition's curtain-raiser, cutting in from the left flank and bending a right-footed effort into the top corner from the edge of the box.
4. Gianluigi Buffon
Buffon retired from international football this year after Italy failed to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The highlight of his international career was undoubtedly in 2006, when the Azzurri upset the odds to win the tournament for the fourth time in their history.
Buffon conceded just two goals during Italy's victorious run - one against the United States, the other a Zinedine Zidane penalty in the final. His save to deny Zidane in extra time, tipping a header over the bar, was decisive to his country's eventual triumph.
3. Fabio Cannavaro
Gaetano Scirea, Giuseppe Bergomi, Franco Baresi, Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro. At his very peak – which just so happened to come in 2006 – Cannavaro can be spoken of in the same breath as those previously mentioned: as one of the truly great Italian defenders of all time.
The Juventus centre-half was imperious in the heart of the Azzurri's backline, captaining his country to World Cup glory and demonstrating astute positional sense and masterful reading of the game throughout. Largely as a result of his performances in Germany, he later became the first defender in a decade to win the Ballon d'Or.
2. Zinedine Zidane
Zidane's displays in 2006 are up there with the best the World Cup has ever seen, a four-week, one-man performance that carried France all the way to the final. The attacking midfielder was relatively quiet in the group phase before exploding into life thereafter, turning in a particularly mesmeric showing against Brazil in the quarter-finals.
Zidane, who had already announced his intention to retire from the game immediately after the tournament, scored a Panenka penalty in the final against Italy, before inexplicably headbutting Marco Materazzi to earn a red card in extra time.
1. Andrea Pirlo
Pirlo may have missed out on the official award, but he deserves to be recognised as the 2006 World Cup's standout. The midfield metronome was sensational, picking up three man-of the-match awards as he inspired Italy to their fourth World Cup title from the base of the engine room.
His brilliant through-ball to Fabio Grosso helped the Azzurri break German hearts in a pulsating semi-final, before his cool head and laser-guided execution provided the assist for Marco Materazzi's goal in the final. Pirlo then converted his penalty in the shoot-out as Italy were crowned kings of the world once more.
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