World Cup swan song XI
With a winners' medal around his neck and a World Cup goal record to his name, there was no finer way for Miroslav Klose to bow out of international football. Germany's triumph may have owed much to a youthful squad -- only Klose and reserve goalkeeper Roman Weidenfeller were over 30 -- but the veteran Nationalmannschaft striker started in the quarterfinal, semifinal and final, his experience helping to guide his young teammates to glory.
Klose was not alone in ending his World Cup journey in Brazil, though no one's tournament swan song was as celebratory.
Here is a team of players who have likely played in their final World Cup; no more than one player per nation has been selected in the XI.
Whether you agree or disagree, let us know using the hashtag #espnswansongXI.
GK: Julio Cesar (BRAZIL)
From zero to hero, then back to where he came from. Julio Cesar was the villain of the piece when Brazil were eliminated from the 2010 World Cup after his mistake cost the Selecao against Netherlands. In 2014 he appeared to have achieved redemption, weeping joyfully and uncontrollably after saving two penalties in the shootout triumph against Chile in the round of 16. But his World Cup roller coaster had one more torrid twist, as he watched seven Germany goals fly past him in Brazil's semifinal humiliation. A dreadful defence meant Cesar will be spared the scapegoat status that haunted Moacir Barbosa -- the Selecao goalkeeper in the 1950 final loss to Uruguay -- but with the Brazilian public screaming for change, the 34-year-old shot-stopper is likely to be one of the first for the axe. A spot in Russia 2018 is unthinkable, even if he is still playing at club level.
Gianluigi Buffon -- A 2006 World Cup winner and arguably the best goalkeeper of his generation; he has seemed ageless but turning out at 40 in 2018 is unlikely.
Iker Casillas -- Spain's record appearance maker (156) and 2010 World Cup captain is expected to step aside after a poor showing in his country's group-stage exit.
Faryd Mondragon -- First played for Colombia in 1993, he became the oldest player in World Cup history when he played against Japan at the age of 43 years and 3 days.
RB: Kolo Toure (IVORY COAST)
A third group-stage exit in a row was an ignominious end to Kolo Toure's World Cup career; that it came via a stoppage-time penalty in the final game against Greece made it all the more agonising. No longer a first choice for his country, Toure performed admirably as he stepped in for the suspended Didier Zokora against the Greeks but could not prevent another early exit for Africa's biggest underachievers of the past decade. Toure -- the second most capped player in Ivory Coast's history -- has marshalled the Elephants' defence at three World Cups, playing against some of the globe's greatest players in the process. He and his teammates fought valiantly in the 2006 and 2010 World Cups but finished third in each tournament's respective group of death. Toure may be in line for a final hurrah at the 2015 African Nations Cup, but another World Cup is beyond the 35-year-old defender.
CB: Rafael Marquez (MEXICO)
A bastion of Mexico's defence for his 17-year international career, Marquez wrote his name into the World Cup annals in 2014 when he became the first player to captain a nation at four tournaments. More impressive, perhaps, was that despite playing centre-back, he is the only Mexican to score in three successive World Cups, with his goal against Croatia in Brazil adding to strikes against Argentina in 2006 and South Africa in 2010. Since Javier Aguirre first handed him the armband at the age of 23 for the 2002 World Cup, Marquez's exceptional leadership on and off the pitch has helped Mexico reach the round of 16 at every tournament he has played in. His first finals brought a nadir as a red card against USA cost El Tri a place in the quarterfinals, but he has remained an uncompromising presence for his country's team -- the two-time CONCACAF Gold Cup winner will retire a Mexico legend.
CB: Mario Yepes (COLOMBIA)
In what was his first, and last, World Cup, Yepes was Colombia's colossus at the back as Los Cafeteros progressed to the quarterfinals for the first time in their history. Speed may not have been his forte, but Yepes' performances nonetheless belied his 38 years. His commanding aerial ability and reading of them game kept Colombia's defence assured and allowed Jose Pekerman's rich attacking options to flourish. "Yepes has a great mentality. He has been very strong and he is a reference point for his teammates," Pekerman said after the group stage victory over Ivory Coast.
LB: Patrice Evra (FRANCE)
A divisive figure at the best of times, Evra's role in the infamous 2010 World Cup player revolt permanently tarnished his reputation in the eyes of the French public. Speaking out against his manager Raymond Domenech mid-tournament was quite a way to announce himself at his first finals and after being banned following the catastrophic group stage exit, few could have believed that he would play for the national team again. However, Evra is no quitter and used every ounce of his unerring self-belief to work his way back into the France fold. Older and wiser, but still possessing a ferociously competitive spirit, Evra regained a modicum of respect from his countrymen with some assured displays in Brazil as one of the elder statesmen of a young Les Bleus squad. That Evra is now coveted by Juventus, after helping Didier Deschamps' side reach the quarterfinals shows. What an impressive recovery he has made; a last international tournament on home soil at Euro 2016 may yet await.
Diego Lugano -- A rock at the back for Uruguay in 2010, he was overshadowed by central defensive partner Diego Godin in Brazil.
Martin Demichelis -- An ever-present in Argentina's run to the 2010 quarters; initially a sub in Brazil, but excellent display vs. Belgium saw him keep a starting spot for semi and final.
Ricardo Costa -- Only he and Cristiano Ronaldo have played in three World Cups for Portugal. Costa has played just five finals games, being sent off in one -- vs. Spain in 2010.
MF: Andrea Pirlo (ITALY)
"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."
A player of pure poise and grace, Pirlo's World Cup pinnacle came in his first finals as Italy lifted the trophy in 2006. He scored the Azzurri's first goal of the tournament and claimed three man of the match awards on the way to his country's fourth World Cup triumph -- delivering the corner from which Marco Materazzi scored in the final and demonstrating his customarily cool temperament to score the first penalty of the shootout. The world was unfortunately deprived of his talismanic talents after the group stage in both 2010 and 2014 as Italy crashed out early; that he was still the Azzurri's best player in Brazil at the age of 35 says much about his powers.
MF: Steven Gerrard (ENGLAND)
Denied his World Cup debut by injury in 2002, had England been able to call on Gerrard's tenacious energy in their quarterfinal against Brazil, the Three Lions may not have been left lamenting a narrow exit. The Liverpool captain played in his first finals in 2006, at the age of 26, and demonstrated his influence with group-stage goals against Trinidad,Tobago and Sweden, before suffering heartbreak as one of three not-so-sharp penalty shooters as Portugal sent England packing in the quarterfinals. As captain in 2010, Gerrard led by example with another World Cup goal, against USA, but once again England suffered disappointment as it went out in the round of 16. His passion and work rate have never waned as the years advanced, but at his last World Cup outing in Brazil, he could not lift his young teammates, suffering the ignominy of captaining England to their worst ever finish in the competition.
MF: Xavi (SPAIN)
Twelve years after taking to the field against Paraguay in Jeonju, South Korea, Xavi became the first Spanish outfield player to feature in four World Cups when he started in the 5-1 defeat of Netherlands last month. It borders on tragic that such a match may be the final international game of a midfielder who has been one of the most consistently outstanding players of the past decade. A pass master for Barcelona, Xavi also became Spain's metronomic maestro -- his guile close to genius at times on the pitch. It was at the 2010 World Cup that Xavi was at the peak of his powers, and arguably the most prodigious proponent of Spain's successful tiki-taka revolution. It is perhaps fitting that Xavi has never scored a World Cup goal -- a penalty in the shootout defeat to South Korea in 2002 aside -- as his style has always been one of quiet excellence rather than taking the spotlight.
Frank Lampard -- Prolific at club level, he surprisingly never netted at a World Cup; his most memorable moment was when he was wrongly denied a goal vs. Germany in 2010.
Xabi Alonso -- Scored his first ever Spain goal vs. Ukraine at 2006 finals and famously took a Nigel de Jong boot to the chest for the cause as La Roja won the 2010 World Cup.
Tim Cahill -- Netted at three World Cups in a row for Australia, the pick of the bunch a stunning volley against Netherlands in 2014.
Giorgos Karagounis -- Greece's longtime captain and Euro 2004 winner is hanging up his international boots after taking his country into the knockout stage for the first time in Brazil.
FW: Samuel Eto'o (CAMEROON)
The only outfield player at the 2014 World Cup to have also featured at the 1998 finals, Samuel Eto'o remains, at the age of 34, Cameroon's talisman. The youngest player at the tournament in France, playing against Italy at the age of 17 years and 98 days, Eto'o was the senior member of his squad in Brazil. In the intervening years he became arguably the greatest African footballer of all time and certainly the most successful, with two UEFA Champions League crowns with Barcelona and one with Inter Milan to his name. On the biggest international stage, however, Eto'o has struggled to inspire the Indomitable Lions. His four World Cups have brought three bottom-place group-stage finishes and just one victory -- Eto'o's goal the winner against Saudi Arabia in 2002. He added another pair of strikes in defeats to Denmark and Netherlands in 2010, before finishing goalless in 2014. The number of times he has performed a U-turn on international retirement decisions means it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he could turn out for the Indomitable Lions in 2018, but the West Africans will be hopeful that a new star capable of carrying the hopes of a nation can step forward before then.
FW: Miroslav Klose (GERMANY)
For a nation blessed with some of the greatest strikers ever to have graced the game, Klose's status as both Germany's all-time leading scorer and the most prolific striker in World Cup history is all the more remarkable. He has more World Cup goals than Jurgen Klinsmann, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Uwe Seeler, Rudi Voller and Gerd Muller; more goals than Pele, Diego Maradona and Eusebio. Klose's World Cup journey began with a hat trick against Saudi Arabia on his tournament debut in 2002 and two goals in the next two group games followed before a barren run that continued through to defeat to Brazil in the final. On home soil in 2006, Klose added another four group stage goals but his most important World Cup strike came against Argentina -- a late equaliser as the hosts recovered to win on penalties. The Albiceleste were put to the sword by Klose again in 2010, as the striker -- always in the right place at the right time -- bagged a quarterfinal brace to add to earlier efforts against England and Australia. In his fourth World Cup came a record-equalling 15th goal in a draw with Ghana before his second of the tournament in the semifinal rout of Brazil saw him move ahead of Selecao legend Ronaldo. Fittingly, it was Argentina who were the opponents again in the final, and although he didn't score, Klose came out on top, ending his free-scoring World Cup adventure with his hands on the famous gold trophy.
FW: Diego Forlan (URUGUAY)
When Diego Forlan was enduring a profligate spell with Manchester United, few could have ever predicted that at the end of the decade he would be the standout player of a World Cup. Having failed to find the net in his first five months at Old Trafford following a January 2002 move, Forlan at least managed to discover his international touch as he played in his first World Cup in Japan and South Korea. The young striker scored on his World Cup debut with a goal in a thrilling 3-3 group stage draw with Senegal that was not enough for Uruguay to progress. Having failed to qualify for the 2006 finals, Forlan and Uruguay bounced back to be the surprise package of the 2010 World Cup. By this time, a proven European striker having impressed with Villarreal and Atletico Madrid, Forlan was also captain of La Celeste. In South Africa, he was nothing short of inspirational -- scoring five goals to take Uruguay almost single-handedly to a fourth-place finish and being named Golden Ball winner for his exploits. Come 2014, Forlan was used only when Luis Suarez was not available through injury and then suspension, but despite ending his World Cup career with something of a whimper, his 2010 campaign will live long in the memory.
David Villa - Spain's all-time leading scorer narrowly missed out on the Golden Boot in 2010. His nine World Cup goals are a record for La Roja; ,the ninth being scored against Australia in what was likely his final international game.
Didier Drogba -- Scored in successive World Cups against Argentina and Brazil no less; impressive cameo in 2014 helped Ivory Coast beat Japan, but a third straight group stage exit was an unhappy end.
Dirk Kuyt -- First and last games came against Argentina, the 2006 group stage and 2014 semifinal; in between, he was one of his country's most dependable players.
Whether you agree or disagree with our lineup, let us know using the hashtag #espnswansongXI.