David Villa remains on top in South Africa 2009's penultimate Castrol Index, but his hold on pole position has been significantly, perhaps fatally, weakened by Spain's shock semi-final defeat.
Clint Dempsey and Kaka have moved to within touching distance of the Valencia striker, and with the final afforded greater weight than the third-place play-off in this pioneering system of tracking and assessing players' every move, it is the USA and Brazil stars who are best placed to claim the Castrol crown. Of the two, second-placed Kaka - a challenger throughout - is the narrow favourite. Brazil's graceful No10 was not at his brilliant best in the 1-0 win over South Africa, but he still outscored Villa in the semi-final ratings, earning credit for his attacking and defensive endeavours, plus a key role in his side's winner. A good performance in the final could well be enough to take Kaka over the finishing line.
Dempsey at the doubleIf the Madrid-bound midfielder is to be denied, it is Dempsey rather than the current leader who now seems likeliest to pip him at the post. The all-action American certainly has momentum in his favour. Defensively sound in USA's opener against Italy, the Fulham man looked to have dropped out of the reckoning altogether after a performance against Brazil that was typical of his team's lacklustre overall display. However, after emerging as Castrol's top-scoring player in the final round of group matches, Dempsey again outperformed his rivals in the semi-finals, becoming the first player at South Africa 2009 to earn a second successive Budweiser Man of the Match of the Award.
Lauded by FIFA Technical Study member Holger Osieck for "winning nearly every ball in the air, keeping possession and working hard" in the 3-0 win over Egypt, the US star again earned praise for a "tireless" performance against Spain that witnessed him score one goal and set up another. Villa, by contrast, was left frustrated, while Torres fared even worse, slipping from second to fifth on the back of an impotent display in which missed chances contributed to a predictably poor individual mark.
Felipe Melo's quiet advanceNot every Spaniard lost ground though. Gerard Pique, for example, rose from 19th to 12th thanks to a performance that would have been sufficient to take him into the top five had it been replicated throughout the tournament. The centre-half's attacking efforts in the European champions' desperate quest for a way back into the match earned him plus points, while Castrol concluded that defensive colleague Carles Puyol was just as unfortunate to end up on the losing team.
Elsewhere in the Index, South African fullbacks Tsepo Masilela and Sibonsio Gaxa continue to hold prominent positions, with the former moving up two places to fourth and the latter dropping back one to sixth. Iraq goalkeeper Mohammed Kassid, meanwhile, whose heroic efforts ensured the eliminated Asian champions conceded just a single goal, remains in the top ten, but slips from fourth to seventh.
The top 20 features seven players who will be involved in Sunday's final, a figure that would have risen to eight but for Michael Bradley's suspension-enforced absence. As it is, five of this septet of finalists come from the ranks of Brazil, with the unsung Felipe Melo second only to Kaka in the Seleção standings. Indeed, the holding midfielder's quiet, steady progress in the Castrol Index mirrors exactly his understated but effective performances at the heart of the Brazilian midfield, with a one-place rise to eighth leaving the Fiorentina star well positioned to make a late surge into the top five.
FIFA.comwill be publishing the latest Castrol Index after every round of matches here at South Africa 2009, and in the meantime you can read more statistical analysis, delve deeper into this unique ranking system and view the full Castrol Index table by following the links on the right.