By Brian Homewood
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Flops of the tournament as selected by Reuters journalists (4-3-3):
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain)
Defenders: Dani Alves (Brazil), Sergio Ramos (Spain), Pepe (Portugal), Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon)
Midfielders: Eden Hazard (Belgium), Shinji Kagawa (Japan), Alex Song (Cameroon)
Forwards: Fred (Brazil), Mario Balotelli (Italy), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)
Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas (Spain). Kept his place ahead of Pepe Reina and David de Gea despite no longer being automatic first choice at Real Madrid. He began with a nightmare performance in the 5-1 defeat by the Netherlands and produced another blunder in the 2-0 loss to Chile when he punched a free kick straight to Charles Aranguiz who scored the South Americans' second goal. Left Brazil with his reputation in ruins.
Right back: Dani Alves (Brazil). The Barcelona player left so much space down Brazil's right flank that it was dubbed "Dani Alves Avenue" by local media. Coach Luiz Felipe Scolari eventually lost patience and brought in Maicon to try and plug the gaping hole in the quarter-finals and semi-finals, but with no success.
Centre back: Pepe (Portugal). The controversial Real Madrid defender got himself sent off before halftime in the opening 4-0 defeat by Germany for pushing his head into Thomas Mueller as the forward sat on the ground. Banned for the next game against the United States, Pepe returned for the final match against Ghana but the damage was done and although Portugal beat the African side 2-1, their star-studded team failed to make the last 16.
Centre back: Sergio Ramos (Spain). The World Cup seemed to be a bridge too far for Ramos after his exertions in helping Real Madrid win the Champions League. Sank without trace as Spain were utterly overrun and humiliated in their 5-1 defeat against the Netherlands, from which they never recovered.
Left back; Benoit Assou-Ekotto (Cameroon). Made headlines when he incredibly attempted to heat-butt team mate Benjamin Moukandjo late in the 4-0 defeat by Croatia. French sports daily L'Equipe reported that the bust-up continued in the tunnel after the game with Assou-Ekotto throwing a water bottle at his team mate. He was dropped for the following game against Brazil.
Midfield: Eden Hazard (Belgium). Supposedly the pick of Belgium's so-called "golden generation", Hazard performed one of the most impressive disappearing acts at the tournament. The low point was his utterly ineffective performance in the quarter-final defeat by Argentina which led him to being hauled off near the end.
Midfield: Shinji Kagawa (Japan). A shadow of the livewire player who helped Borussia Dortmund win two successive Bundesliga titles, Kagawa was substituted late in the game against Ivory Coast and dropped altogether against Greece. He said he had "lost the battle with myself" against the Ivorians.
Midfield: Alex Song. After his uncle Rigobert Song was sent off in both the 1994 and 1998, Song kept up the family tradition when a senseless elbow in the back of Mario Mandzukic earned him a first-half sending off against Croatia. Trailing 1-0 at the time, Cameroon crashed to a 4-0 defeat and were eliminated after two games. Song, who apologized for what he described as a blunder, was banned for three internationals by FIFA.
Centre forward: Fred. Following in the footsteps of Jairzinho, Careca, Romario, Bebeto and Ronaldo was never going to be easy, and Fred never came close. Arguably the least effective Brazil striker since Serginho in 1982, he managed a meager one goal and was singled out for vicious jeering by the crowd during the semi-final drubbing by Germany.
Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo. Suffered tendonitis in his left knee shortly before the tournament and never lived up to his world player of the year status. Although he got precious little support from a thoroughly mediocre Portugal team, Ronaldo did not help his cause by the manner in which he continually remonstrated with his team mates. He scored the winner in their final match against Ghana but Portugal's hopes of getting the big win they needed to qualify had already been scuppered when Ronaldo missed a sequence of excellent chances in the second half.
Centre forward: Mario Balotelli. Having scored the winner against England, "Supermario" followed up with two ineffective performances in losses to Costa Rica and Uruguay. He missed two good early chances against the Central Americans which could have sent Italy’s campaign in a completely different direction. The maverick striker did not help his cause by filling a Panini album with stickers of himself after the England game and posting a photograph of it on his Facebook page. Daniele De Rossi said after Italy's elimination: “We need real men, not Panini stickers or characters."
(Editing by Ed Osmond)