The tightest Round of 16 stage at a World Cup Finals brought us five extra time match ups and no true blowouts. Each match, even Colombia’s decisive 2-0 win over Uruguay, was hotly contested as expected in the stage that separates the pretenders from the real contenders. But no one could predict, as with many other aspects of this global tournament, how close and dramatic this first knockout round would be.
So here is a closely analyzed and studied team of the Round of 16 games.
(It includes a regular 23 man World Cup roster, with 3 goalkeepers).
GK: Tim Howard (USA) – It seemed for certain that Keylor Navas would get the honor by being the man who lead his nation to their first ever quarterfinals. Then out of nowhere, Algeria’s Rais M’Bolhi made his claim to almost being the protagonist of an all time upset of Germany. But in the final Round of 16 game, it was the American keeper that became a global social media sensation. Despite Navas and M’Bolhi terrific performances (as well as deserved praise for Chile’s Claudio Bravo, Colombia’s David Ospina, Mexico’s Guillermo Ochoa and Germany’s Manuel Neuer), it could only be Howard after his staggering 16 save performance against eventual winners Belgium. Howard’s tremendous denials almost spurred on his nation to an amazing comeback, making photo memes and other internet elements created of him only fitting. It truly was a great period for the goalkeeping union in the first knockout stage.
LB: Jan Vertonghen (Belgium) – For a man who loathes playing on the outside, the Tottenham figure has showcased why he is one of the world’s top back line talents. Despite not one to always go forward thanks to his primary center back ways, Vertonghen was a constant threat whenever he ventured into the US’s half of the field and produced one ball that should have been tapped in for a goal. His play will give Marc Wilmots more assurance that he can get dynamic play from his fullbacks.
CB: Johan Djourou (Switzerland) – For a player who seemingly has been on the demise of his career with each passing year, the former Arsenal man has revived his reputation a bit with three very good displays. His last one unfortunately means that the Swiss are out of the tournament, but Djourou was simply terrific with Fabian Schar and almost shut out a vaunted Argentine attack. While Schar made the one notable mistake by not winning the tackle to stop Messi’s assist on Di Maria’s winner, both he and the Hamburg man were great in their positioning. Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi’s days were made very difficult because of the surprising elite play from the much maligned Djourou.