It’s been a captivating group stage at this year’s World Cup, with a Best XI of the first 48 matches required.
While some names on this team were expected, others of course have been pleasant surprises to what has been an enthralling competition so far. Here’s my best eleven:
Keylor Navas (Costa Rica): While Thibaut Courtois got all of the deserved praise and awards in La Liga this season, it could be argued by a good bit that the Levante keeper was truly the best in his position in the Spanish top flight. The 27-year-old has simply continued his great season with club to lead his country to a remarkable tournament already. Navas was barely beaten by Edison Cavani’s penalty against Uruguay and hasn’t come close to conceding since.
RB- Paul Aguilar (Mexico): The 28-year-old has showcased why he has been one of the standout fullbacks in Liga MX for almost a decade now. A threat going forward each match in Group A, the Club America man is in his best form of his career and has outperformed much more glamorous names in his position
CB- Giancarlo Gonzalez (Costa Rica): The surprise of the entire tournament, the new Columbus Crew defender could see his stay in MLS not last long after a highly composed group stage effort for Los Ticos. The 26-year-old Gonzalez has been so discipline and solid in containing Edison Cavani and frustrating Mario Balotelli with timely tackles and synchronized coordination with his backline members in playing a risky but effective high line.
CB- Hector Moreno (Mexico): While the extraordinary revival of Rafa Marquez has garnered the most attention, the steady play of the always dependable Espanyol centerback has been maybe the real key to Miguel Herrera’s remarkable backline play so far. The 26-year-old seems to always place himself in key positions were a special team move is the only thing that will leave him as a pedestrian.
LB- Daley Blind (Netherlands): Considering the weakness that was the Dutch backline coming into this tournament, the 24-year-old in-demand Ajax man has been the expected standout force for Louis van Gaal. His deep long ball passing was evidenced in the famous 5-1 win that included two great assists, including the one to Robin Van Persie’s Superman effort. More impressive has been his usual display of versatility thus far, with his third match against Chile seeing him a left centerback in the five man Dutch defense. It was a fine display for a player who looks to not play in Amsterdam come August.
DM/HM – Hector Herrera (Mexico): Although scoring attackers will get the most of the Golden Boot campaign support, it could be a case made that the best player in these World Cup Finals games so far has been the 24-year-old former Pachuca standout. Resembling the bright prospect he was in Mexico’s 2012 Olympic championship run, the now Porto product has simply been a two way force. What’s been surprisingly is that Herrera, more comfortable as a “destroying” holding midfielder, has been give more freedom to go into Mexico’s opponents half of the field. His passing exemplary and his long range shooting also at its pinnacle (as evidenced by his shot that turned around the Croatia game), it has been a resume building first three matches for him.
DM/HM – Juan Jose Vasquez (Mexico): Herrera’s freedom to go forward more has been allowed by the great energy displayed by Vasquez, who along with Gonzalez have been the surprise packages of the tournament. Considering that Vasquez was the replacement for Luis Montes in the center of the midfield for El Tri makes his displays all the more impressive. His tackling has been wonderful so far and has formed a great bond with Herrera and Andres Guardado . It is a shame though that he will be out of their Round of 16 against Netherlands.
CM- James Rodriguez (Colombia): While prominent clubs will be firmly rejected by Monaco for his services after the tournament, the Colombian playmaker will forever be in their minds and hearts after the displays he put on for Los Cafeteros in the group stage. Creating and scoring the goals in a variety of ways, Rodriguez just edges out Juan Cuadrado on the list thanks to his second half cameo outting against Japan. Whether it’s a clever dummy, a great snapping header or a terrific weighted pass, Rodriguez has done it all this Cup.
Right Forward- Arjen Robben (Netherlands): It seems the 30-year-old Dutchman is one of the rare players who gets better with age. No longer suffering nagging hamstring and other injuries, the Bayern Munich superstar has been simply breath taking thus far. He’s been a prime reason for his nation’s resurgence after an awful Euro 2012 and has laid some claims to being the best player in Brazil. Even if you try to use common sense and not allow him to cut on his left foot, Robben still has that amazing pace to get behind any defense and cause havoc no matter who stands in front of him.
Left Forward- Neymar (Brazil): What more can be said about the face of this World Cup? With all the pressure on him to perform, he has produced just that and thensome. Almost like Messi’s presence for Argentina, he was instrumental in getting Brazil out of trouble in Group A. A remarkable performance by Guillermo Ochoa has prevented him from being the top goal scorer by himself in this tournament.
Center Forward- Lionel Messi (Argentina): The man next to having the most pressure outside of Neymar has been his Barcelona teammate, and just like the 22-year-old rising force, the Argentine legend has come up massive for his nation. Messi has silenced any critics still remaining of his international exploits, scoring either the opening goal or match winning tally in all three of the Albiceleste’s wins. Suffice to say, especially with both Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez’s participation in this tournament being over, Messi wants to be in pole position for another Ballon D’Or. Most importantly, however, is getting his first World Cup and third for his nation.