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.