With strikers, the line between partnership and rivalry is generally thin enough to be almost invisible. So it is proving with David Villa, Fernando Torres and the Castrol Index at South Africa 2009.
The Spain strikers might be united in the common cause of firing *La Roja *to FIFA Confederations Cup glory, but Castrol's innovative system of ranking player performance has ensured that they are simultaneously locked in a battle for individual supremacy. It's a contest in which Torres struck the first blow, climbing to the top of the standings on the back of a record-breaking hat-trick against New Zealand in the European champions' opening match.
Yet Villa also shone that night, scoring once and laying on another, and Spain's next match witnessed the Valencia striker outperform fellow forward as Vicente del Bosque's side laboured to a 1-0 victory over Iraq. With Torres uncharacteristically subdued, *La Roja's *long winning run was only prolonged thanks to a brilliantly-executed header that booked a semi-final spot and took Villa clear of Fernando Hierro as Spain's second-top all-time scorer.
Such exploits have caught the eye of Castrol Ambassador Alan Shearer, who despite tipping Torres for player of the tournament honours earlier this week, is evidently just as impressed by Del Bosque's predatory No7. "He's an instinctive goalscorer," Shearer said of the in-form striker, who climbed from sixth to first. "I think strikers come in all forms but for me it's all about being instinctive. You have to have that feeling of where to be and where you think the ball will be. You need to have fast feet and fast thoughts. Villa is very intelligent and reads the game extremely well."
He's an instinctive goalscorer. I think strikers come in all forms but for me it's all about being instinctive.
Praise and personal accolades are nothing new to the Valencia striker, of course, but although his rise is not wholly unexpected, few would have expected Tsepo Masilela to leapfrog Torres to become Villa's closest challenger. The South Africa defender is up there on merit though, thanks largely to a combination of consistency, defensive heroics - throwing his body in the way of likely goals - and the setting up of Bernard Parker's brace in the crucial 2-0 win over New Zealand.
Parker himself rose 22 places to eighth on the back of that double, while Sibonsio Gaxa keeps his place in the top five and cult hero Matthew Booth forces his way into the top ten after another miserly performance from the Bafana Bafana backline. Kaka, meanwhile, continues to hover ominously in fifth place, while another outstanding overlapping display from Joan Capdevila lifted the Spain left-back to 11th and firmly into contention.
Unlike the first instalment, this latest Castrol Index's top 20 also features a goalkeeper. With Iraq managing just two efforts on goal in as many matches, Mohamed Kassid has faced, and risen to, the challenge of keeping the Asian champions' hopes alive almost single-handedly. That's why, although Essam El Hadary's defiant display against Italy was identified by Castrol Performance Analysts as the outstanding goalkeeping performance of the tournament thus far, Kassid's consistency over the opening two matches earns him pre-eminency.
Yet if El Hadary or any of those outside the top 20 need encouragement on how quickly their stock can rise, they need only look at Carlos Marchena and Maicon. The Spain centre-half and Brazil right-back sat out their sides' respective openers, but with Marchena awarded 21 per cent of the credit for La Roja's strong defensive showing against Iraq and Maicon earning plus points for a goal, assist and clean sheet against USA, both needed just 90 minutes to muscle their way into the reckoning.
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 and delve deeper into this unique ranking system by following the links on the right.
To view the full Castrol Index table, click on the link to the right.