We started with a club record 17 players in Brazil. Somewhere along the line, we picked up Cesc Fabregas and dropped David Luiz, the overall number staying constant. Ten have gone on to the knockout round. Seven are coming home (or, to be more specific, going on holiday). These are their stories.
While the most any of these players have played would be three matches, which is a tiny sample in comparison with the rest of their seasons past, nobody's career has ever been hurt by a good performance on the world's biggest stage. Conversely, while nobody's career has ever been destroyed by a few bad games, when all eyes are on you, it's the perfect time to step up and the worst time to choke up. With that in mind, onwards with the snap judging!
England, 3 app. (270 min.)
There are very few England players who have emerged from this brief campaign with their heads held high; as the only competent defender on display in the three games, Cahill is certainly one of them. Though I was critical of his misplay on Mario Balotelli's header, Cahill was particularly good against Uruguay only to be undone by incompetence all around him. The Three Lions did keep a clean sheet against Costa Rica to ensure that they didn't go home in the same manner most of their play unfolded.
Ghana, 3 app. (239 min.)
Atsu may be the breakout Chelsea star of the tournament, or least of the first round. Hidden away on loan for the season at Vitesse where he mostly played in central midfield, at the World Cup we got to see a pacy, hard-working, skillful inverted winger. Who is unfortunately still a bit raw and lacks consistent end-product, and could never quite match the same danger that he posed in the first game against the USA in the other two games. But consistency should come with age; the 22-year-old already displayed surprising maturity when chosen for the final pre-match press conference by the head coach.
Spain, 2 app. (180 min.)
Dave was at his natural right back position for Spain's first two games, then got to rest for the final meaningless 3-0 consolation victory over Australia. Unfortunately there were no standout events, positive or negative, in Azpilicueta's play. I do remember him having to try to (unsuccessfully) defend against two players at the same time versus Chile (with the rest of his defense gone walkabout), so at this point I think we should just be happy for him that he worked his way up to first-choice Spain full back and that he's coming back without any injuries. He will be very much needed for our title challenge.
Spain, 1(2) app. (143 min.), 1 goal
Torres got his goal. Wouldn't be an international tournament without it. The fact that he didn't look any worse or any better than (an injured?) Diego Costa for most of the time is absolutely hilarious, though Spain's entire campaign was one big elaborate Andy Kaufman joke.
Cameroon, 1 app. (90 min.)
Technically still a Chelsea player for a few days, Eto'o comes home after completing a most Eto'o-esque hat trick on the international stage: lead a protest, almost score an important goal, get injured. Good luck to whomever he ends up with next.
England, 1 app. (90 min.)
If the 0-0 draw does truly end up being not only Lampard's final game for England but the final competitive game that he plays while on contract with Chelsea, at least he ended it on a positive, dare I say, best England man on the pitch performance. While there were no long-range bombs or penalty kicks to convert, we got to see several of those trademarked first-time looping balls over the top of the defense, a few well-timed runs into the box, and got to start looking forward to Frank's eventual return (testimonial? coaching? managing?) to Stamford Bridge.
Spain, 0(2) app. (34 min.), 1 assist
From one of Chelsea's longest serving members to the newest, Fabregas's World Cup was hardly one to remember for more than a microsecond, especially with the 'training ground issues' between him and Del Bosque. Though he did provide a very nice assist to Juan Mata, albeit at the end of a mostly meaningless match that had already been decided. Still, a glimpse is a glimpse and something positive to take away.