Superstars who will be missed in 2018

Although Miroslav Klose is yet to make a formal announcement, at 36 it is obvious this was his last World Cup. His swansong has not been a bad one either. With his strike in the 7-1 evisceration of Brazil, Klose became the leading World Cup scorer of all time, his 16-goal record unlikely to be breached by anyone bar Thomas Muller. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

As far as goodbyes go, parading the World Cup before half a million fans at the Brandenburg Gate is a pretty impressive one. For many players, Brazil 2014 was the last time in their country’s service at the competition, but nobody quite bowed out the way Philipp Lahm did.

Germany’s self-effacing captain started the World Cup as a mixed-use midfielder — what volleyball coaches would call a Universal — and finished it as a glorious right-back. His announcement came not distastefully in the middle of the nation’s celebrations but only a few days later.

“I am happy and thankful that the end of my national team career coincided with winning the World Cup in Brazil,” he said. “Over the course of last season, I made up my mind that I was going to end my international career after the World Cup. I informed the Germany coach Joachim Loew of this decision on Monday at breakfast. A heartfelt thank you for a wonderful time.”

Tributes poured in, from the team’s ‘Twelfth Man’, Angela Merkel, to the Bayern Munich chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. “Philipp is a model professional who subordinates everything to success,” Loew said. “He is a great player with heart, passion and character, who has done much for the DFB.”

Although his team-mate Miroslav Klose is yet to make a formal announcement, at 36 it is obvious this was his last World Cup. His swansong has not been a bad one either. With his strike in the 7-1 evisceration of Brazil, Klose became the leading World Cup scorer of all time, his 16-goal record unlikely to be breached by anyone bar Thomas Muller. “I do not know yet if I will go on with the national team,” Klose said. “I'll take a couple of nights to sleep on it and then make the right decision.”

Not all, however, walked into the sunset in a blaze of glory. David Villa found the net against Australia and finished his last game for Spain as the country’s highest goal-scorer, but he returned to the dug-out broken and in tears, consoled by Diego Costa. Spain’s World Cup was a disaster and the final group game a torment that no one wanted to endure.

“Since I was a child I wanted to play until the age of 55 but I know that it’s not possible,” Villa said later, downcast. “We have to be realistic.” Top scorer at Euro 2008 and the World Cup in South Africa four years ago, Villa is one of those players whose value will only become apparent in his absence.

For Xavi Hernandez too this was a last World Cup, one that ended in ignominy and on the bench during the final two games. “Right now I’m feeling good and I’m looking forward to being involved and having a great World Cup,” he had said in the lead-up to the tournament.

“Here’s hoping Spain get as far as possible and if we manage to defend the trophy, knowing how difficult it is will make it all the sweeter. Of course I’d love to go out on a high.”

All that sounds tragic now but we must not recall Xavi as the player who was dropped after defeat to Holland, but as the maestro who espoused Spain’s style of play and imposed his will on hapless opponents during four delightfully dominant years. It was probably the end for 32-year-old Xabi Alonso as well, whose comments in the aftermath of the loss to Chile did not go down very well. “We didn’t know how to maintain our hunger or that conviction needed to win a tournament,” he had said. “The joy and success we’ve experienced is over. Maybe it would be best to think about making changes.”

Then there’s Italy, a team that always appears to be ageing but repeatedly defies predictions and popular wisdom. Andrea Pirlo, all unruffled, bearded cool, yet again orchestrated victory over England, but was unable to lift his side after Manaus. He may yet feature at Euro 2016 despite expressing a wish to retire — “If the new national coach thinks he needs me, I will happily remain available,” he said on arrival in Italy from Brazil — but at 35, his World Cup career is over.

As is that of the great goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon. But we will always have 2006 to remember Pirlo by. After all, not every player that will say things like this: “I don’t feel pressure ... I don’t give a toss about it. I spent the afternoon of Sunday, 9 July, 2006 in Berlin sleeping and playing PlayStation. In the evening, I went out and won the World Cup.”

There will be few positive World Cup memories, however, for Steven Gerrard. He has surely played his last World Cup for England and there’s nothing beyond a missed penalty and an inadvertent back pass that spring to mind.

Not everyone is disgraced in defeat, though. Tim Cahill, Mario Yepes and Rafael Marquez can walk out with their heads held high, having led their countries admirably and having held their own against younger, swifter opponents. The World Cup, they showed, is still country for old men.

A ‘Last World Cup’ XI (4-2-3-1): Buffon; Lahm, Yepes, Marquez, Evra; Pirlo, Alonso; Gerrard, Xavi, Villa; Klose.