Stats: The real stars of this World Cup - not Neymar, not Muller

There is interest from Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United as their transfer targets are lighting up the World Cup from the back.

The effectiveness of attack-minded full backs has long been a motif at World Cups, with Arsene Wenger yesterday highlighting the industry and adventure shown by Brazilians such as Jorginho, Leonardo, Cafu, Roberto Carlos in past tournaments.

"For Brazil, their historical success has been linked to the ‘efficiency’ of those full backs. [Dani] Alves and Marcelo have a big responsibility to contribute to Brazil’s success going forward," he wrote in his Yahoo notes.

It is perhaps with a cruel twist of irony that the player who could make best use of Alves' crossing (20% accurate in La Liga last season) and Marcelo's (22%), is the player who shunned them for a Spain call-up, now already eliminated from the World Cup - Diego Costa, a physically-adept athlete who went up for 169 headers at club-level with Atletico Madrid last term, winning 36 (21%).

Aside from forcing Guillermo Ochoa into a wonder save by virtue of a headed attempt on goal, aerial ability is not Neymar's strongest suit and, considering how few touches Fred has on the ball, Costa would no doubt have been a preferred option.

Alas, Brazil's full backs are yet to demonstrate their true worth and have been overshadowed by Serge Aurier, Daley Blind (an emerging target for Manchester Untied and Liverpool), Ricardo Rodriguez and even Patrice Evra for Cote d'Ivoire, Netherlands, Switzerland and France, respectively.

  NationOpponentAssistChancesCross AccPass AccTouchDribbleMins
Aurier Cote d'Ivoire Japan 2 3 42.9% 85.7% 84 1 90
Blind Netherlands Germany 2 4 33.3% 87.8% 66 1 90
Rodriguez Switzerland Ecuador 2 3 28.6% 90.6% 62 0 90
Evra France Honduras 1 4 42.9% 94.0% 75 1 90
Alves Brazil Croatia 0 0 0% 85.5% 105 3 90

In the Ivory Coast's opening World Cup match-up, against Japan, Aurier demonstrated all the traits that give credence to the transfer rumours linking him with a move to Arsenal in the summer market.

As midfielder Santi Cazorla stated earlier in the season: "Full backs play a pivotal role in our team. We don't have pure wingers apart from Theo Walcott. Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky and myself do not stick strictly to the touchline, therefore we open up spaces so our full backs have a corridor where they can go up and down.

"Full backs are essential… you see it every game."

The importance and significance of Aurier for the Cote d'Ivoire will not be lost on Wenger, who will have been scouting Serge when he created his hat-trick of goal-scoring opportunities (two of which were turned into direct assists), his 43% crossing accuracy, 85% passing accuracy and his extraordinary amount of touches for a defender - 84.

Aurier is not alone, though, as Daley Blind functioned in a similar way for the Netherlands during the Dutch destruction of Spain in a performance that prompted Gunners great Thierry Henry to wax lyrical rather than focus on goal-scorers Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.

Rodriguez, too, was rampant for the Switzerland against Ecuador, providing - like Aurier and Blind in their first World Cup game - a brace of assists and at least three chances.

Yet not one of them would deserve higher praise than Golden Boot front-runners Thomas Muller (Arsene Wenger's pick for the player of the tournament) were it not for the fulfillment of their primary obligation - to defend.

  NationOpponentTackleBlockClearanceInterceptDuel wonAerial WonClean SheetMins
Aurier Cote d'Ivoire Japan 3 0 3 6 5 0 No 90
Blind Netherlands Germany 3 0 1 2 4 1 No 90
Rodriguez Switzerland Ecuador 5 0 4 0 12 6 No 90
Evra France Honduras 0 0 0 1 2 0


Alves Brazil Croatia 1 0 3 1 5 1 No 90

Of all players listed in the first data table, only Evra was part of a rearguard who kept their sheet clean, however, part of that will have been down to the easiness of their work and the dismissal of Honduras midfielder Wilson Palacios.

Rodriguez was the most successful and prolific when it came to dueling - both in the air and at ground-level - while his tackling and clearing statistics also out-shone his peers. Aurier's work, like Blind's remained, steady.

True, the Golden Ball award is often skewed in favour of a player who occupies a sexy position on the pitch, like past winners Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Romario, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Garrincha and Ferenc Puskas.

Rare is the day when a player other than an attacker wins the honour of being the World Cup's best player - yet Oliver Khan did receive the prize in 2002 and there has once been a full-back champ - Jose Nasazzi, of Uruguay, in 1930.

But all too often the work of the all-action players patrolling the flanks goes unheralded. It is certainly noticed by their peers, like Cazorla, and management, like Wenger, but with Aurier, Blind and Rodriguez all likely targets for buying clubs, perhaps the spotlight will be shone this summer.

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