The group stage of World Cup 2014 has finished and it has brought more goals than any of the previous ones at the same stage. With the first rest day over, its time to reflect on who has been most standout performer from each continent.
It is difficult to look beyond the indefatigable Arjen Robben. In very basic terms, he has made a decisive contribution in every single match he has played. At times his acceleration can be frightening and it is an obvious asset. However, Robben’s technical ability is often overlooked. Look at the first touch over the shoulder for his first goal against Spain. At top speed, that is a very difficult thing to do. Lots of players at the World Cup have searing pace – but either they don’t possess the same technical skill and ball control Robben does (Welbeck) or don’t possess his mental strength, particularly his composure in front of goal (Ozil). Furthermore, he is showing great leadership qualities – he took on extra responsibility against Chile in the absence of Van Persie and it paid dividends.
Main Contenders: Benzema, Shaqiri, Muller, Hummels, Van Persie, Valbuena, Kompany.
Asian teams have performed poorly at the World Cup – Iran, South Korea, Japan and Australia have all exited the competition at the group stage. Japan, in particular, had high hopes of the last 16. Startlingly, not one Asian representative have won a game at this tournament. In contrast to the region’s other teams, Australia played very well against both the Netherlands and Chile, and Iran defended manfully against Nigeria and Argentina. This leaves a straight choice between both of these countries’ best players at the World Cup – Tim Cahill and Iranian right-back Pejman Montazeri. Possibly the best goal at this World Cup has been scored by Tim Cahill – an unstoppable volley from a 50 yard pass on his weaker foot – and so this gives him the nod. An impressive header against Chile when he towered over Gary Medel also swayed the decision versus Montezeri’s heroic defensive efforts and crossing for Iran vs Argentina and Nigeria.
Main Contenders: Keisuke Honda, Matthew Leckie, Mile Jedinak, Pejman Montazeri.
Algeria and Nigeria will fly the flag for Africa in the next round. Cote D’ Ivoire produced a shocking performance against Greece in their group decider, while Ghana conceded two goals of high comedic value versus Portugal. This would rule out their players, although Gervinho, Serge Aurier and Wilfried Bony had good tournaments.
Cameroon have been possibly the worst team in the competition, limping out in a dispiriting manner that has been well documented and is being investigated by their government.
Therefore, Islam Slimani, scorer of two goals and with one assist and Sofiane Feghouli are the front-runners. Overall though, Vincent Enyeama and particularly Ahmed Musa, have eclipsed them. Nigerian keeper Enyeama has kept two clean sheets and made vital saves against Iran and particularly to deny Edin Dzeko in the dying minutes vs Bosnia. He was also not at fault for any of the goals against Argentina. Musa is the region’s outstanding performer though – he was excellent and wreaked havoc down the flanks against Bosnia and got two high quality goals vs Argentina.
Main Contenders: Vincent Enyeama, Serge Aurier, Sofiane Feghouli, Gervinho, Wilfried Bony, Islam Slimani.
There are many candidates for this one. Costa Rica, Mexico and the USA have performed with distinction, while only Honduras have exited the competition. Los Ticos have been a revelation with the rampaging Junior Diaz at left wing-back, Giancarlo Gonzalez at centre-back and the Scandinavian-based duo of Bolanos and Borges in midfield excelling. USA have had some standout performers also – Clint Dempsey, Jermaine Jones and Fabian Johnson have made a huge impression. Mexico battered a good Croatian team, drew with the hosts and instigated the Cameroonian slide out of the competition. El Tri have been particularly good in midfield and at the back, with Rafa Marquez rolling back the years and Hector Herrera moving the ball well. Guillermo Ochoa has provided the best goal keeping display so far and probably has done enough to earn the plaudits above the other contenders.
Main Contenders: Rafa Marquez, Christian Bolanos, Celso Borges, Clint Dempsey, Hector Herrera, Fabian Johnson, Giancarlo Gonzalez, Jermaine Jones.
This has been the World Cup where South American (and Central/North American) teams have dominated. All of the regions teams have gone through except Ecuador – where Enner Valencia had a great tournament. Brazil’s Oscar, Colombia’s Mario Yepes, Chile’s Mauricio Isla and Uruguay’s Alvaro Pereira should be praised for their fine form so far. However, the absolute standout performers are Alexis Sanchez, Neymar, Lionel Messi and Colombian duo James Rodriguez and Juan Cuadrado. Neymar and Messi have been particularly decisive with their contributions thus far, and are pivotal to their teams chances of success. Alexis Sanchez destroyed both Spain and Australia for Chile. However, It is difficult to argue that Colombia have not been the best team from the region so far, and with that in mind, Juan Cuadrado and James Rodriguez have both been magnificent for Los Cafeteros. Rodriguez triumphs, largely due to the outrageous 15 minute cameo against Japan where he set up two and scored himself. A creative genius.
Main Contenders: Neymar, Messi, Juan Cuadrado, Alexis Sanchez, Enner Valencia, Mauricio Isla, Mario Yepes, Alvaro Pereira, Oscar.