As I was watching the must win Champions League match between Werder Bremen and Barcelona, what stood out was the hustle, energy and physical play of two of Barcelona's defenders, Gianluca Zambrotta and Carlos Puyol.
You can see why Italy won the World Cup, with players like Zambrotta, his tirelessness and understanding of the game, made life a lot easier of their side. At times, he didn't need to make a hard tackle, just read the play and stepped in and won the ball.
These two defenders always seemed to come away with the ball or clear the ball when needed. Especially in those desperate times when the ball would have gone through to an attacker nearly one versus one with the keeper.
In the game, both players often sacrificed their body or dove in at the last second to clear the ball. These great tackles or a last second clearances, were as important as the first Ronaldinho free kick that slipped under the jumping wall and Eidur Gudjohnsen's second goal, without these defensives plays the game would have changed entirely.
With soccer (futbol or football) being such a sport of momentum, a goal stopping defensive play is one that should receive more praise or at some more acknowledgement. The goal scorers always get all the attention but the great defenders are unappreciated.
Then there's the third defender for Barcelona, Rafa Marquez, who not only is usually in the right place at the right time, but can serve a great diagonal long ball to put the team out of trouble and lead to an attack.
Barcelona are known for the tiki taka style of play, with the short give and goes and one touch passes, but what also makes them unique is their ability to hit the long switch, which all of their defenders can do. So they can play three or four short passes and then hit that long ball to escape pressure and chase again.
In addition to winning tackles and cutting out passes on the defensive end, the great defenders in today's game can also play those short quick passes and hit the long ball.
Later in the game, there was a substitute, and a French international and World Cup winner two times over at that, Lilian Thuram. The former Juventus star eased into the game at first, made a few passing errors, but then made a great goal saving tackle.
This game, with all of its importance, the Champions of the Champions League got their goals in early to ensure advancement, but must thank their corps of defenders for winning the game in the end.
I guess this idea, defenders receiving more praise has come to fruition to an extent, what with Fabio Cannavaro winning the European Footballer of the Year award. However, the praise will fade as the goal scorers again stand up and bow while the defenders stand back in the shadows. Maybe that's the way defenders like it though. They just go out and do their work and help their teams win games.
Here's a list of some of the top defenders in world soccer today. What you'll notice about this list is these are all players who can tackle and defend but also have touch and skills on the ball:
Maicon - Inter Milan
Lucio - Inter Milan
Daniel Alves - Barcelona
Gerard Pique - Barcelona
Carlos Puyol - Barcelona
Nemanja Vidic - Manchester United
Patrice Evra - Manchester United Rio Ferdinand - Manchester United
John Terry - Chelsea Ashley Cole - Chelsea