Four tightly contested quarterfinals have passed us by with diligent displays and standout sensations rewarded in this Best XI of the second knockout round.
Here is the team:
GK- Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
In case most thought that Tim Howard was the undisputed best goalkeeper of the tournament, the soon to be ex-Levante netminder proved once again that his credentials for that honor are even better than the American stalwart. Navas (along with his valiant back line) prevented the formidable Dutch attack from scoring to ensure that Los Ticos would not suffer a single defeat in regulation in Brazil. His 7-save display was the final chapter in an amazing story that likely will see him move to Atletico Madrid in a few weeks time. The 27-year-old could not pick a better place to continue his amazing rise in the last 12 months.
LB: Jose Maria Basanta (Argentina)
With the suspension of Marcos Rojo, all eyes fail on the unheralded 30-year-old figure, who is the last member of a Liga MX side in the tournament. In what could have been a major weakness for Alejandro Sabella’s side against the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas, Kevin De Bruyne, and Dries Mertens, Basanta was rarely exposed or challenge in his best performance for his nation. Considering that it was the Monterrey’s man biggest match of his career and only his 13th cap for his nation, Basanta’s unexpected great display could be one of many omens that this could be the year of Argentina’s third world championship.
CB: Thiago Silva (Brazil)
He may have picked up the most ridiculous yellow card of the tournament, but that unfortunate moment could not overshadow another great display in defending by the Brazilian captain. His sneaky run past a pedestrian Carlos Sanchez for his goal provided the host nation with the start they were looking for against dangerous Colombia. Silva made sure that Teo Gutierrez didn’t have any real chance in the match and continued his resolute marking when Adrian Ramos came in. While David Luiz’s free kick wonder winner garnered the most praise, Silva demonstrated that even with his silly challenge on David Ospina how great at his position he really is.
CB: Mats Hummels (Germany)
The Borussia Dortmund star provided the latest example of how a world class player can really make a difference for any country. Hummels was simply everything for Jogi Low’s men against France, not only out strengthening Raphael Varane for the winner but being ubiquitous when a Les Blues attack was eminent. Timely blocks throughout on Karim Benzema, as well as not allowing Germany to be terribly exposed to long balls like they were against Algeria in his absence, gave Die Mannschaft the type of defending they will need to win a fourth world championship.
RB: Maicon (Brazil)
Twelve months ago, the thought of the former Inter Milan superstar starting in a 2014 World Cup, let alone a quarterfinal, would have sent the nation into pure uproar. But the amazing resurgence of the now Roma right back has continued with a solid display in helping contain the lethal Colombia attack. It helped that Jose Pekerman chose to go with Victor Ibarbo as his left attacking midfielder, but Maicon’s play limited the ventures forward for Pablo Armero and even contained James Rodriguez whenever he shifted to the outside. Suffice to say, Dani Alves will be fighting for his starting sport in the final two games for Luis Scolari.
DM: Lucas Biglia (Argentina)
Another one of many unsung heroes for La Albiceleste in their long awaited return to the semifinals of the global tournament was the Lazio’s holding midfielder. In comparison to the man he placed, Fernando Gago, Biglia had a fine understanding with Javier Mascherano and even provided more offensive drive in the midfield than the creative Boca Juniors defender. De Bruyne ran by him one time in the midfield, but otherwise had a relatively stress free day to warrant his place in the semifinals against the Netherlands.
CM: Wesley Sneijder (Netherlands)
Although he will never be an intimidating tackler in the middle of the field, and will not be taking on defenders with gallant runs into the heart of a defense, you can still count on a few moments of brilliance from the creative Dutch #10. That class right foot of Sneijder’s provided two more great strikes that both hit the woodwork in a display that seemed like everything would go against Louis Van gal’s side in the end. Just like the Mexico game, it was another display where Sneijder and the rest of his squad took a backseat to Arjen Robben being the clear standout. But those two moments of quality exhibited once again how his world class credentials always are ready to explode. And Sneijder kept the strong mentality exhibited by his side in the deciding penalties by clinically finishing the third spot kick.
LAM: James Rodriguez (Colombia)
He was frustrated and heavily pursued by Fernandinho for a majority of the 90 minutes, but the threat that is the Monaco playmaker was always going to be in existence until the final whistle for Brazil. While Juan Cuadrado was mostly marked out of the game. Rodriguez still provided a glimmer of hope here and there for Los Cafeteros. That “glimmer” turned into a full spotlight with his calm penalty past Julio Cesar gave his spirited nation hope of a famous comeback. The equalizer never came for Jose Pekerman’s side, but Rodriguez’s 6th goal in the tournament see him now as the favorite to take the Golden Ball prize and cap off an amazing four weeks in Brazil.
CAM: Lionel Messi (Argentina)
He’s drawing closer and closer to a world title that would surely vanquish the rest of his critics, if they aren’t anymore in the first place. Axel Witsel (and others) couldn’t contain him in the midfield for Belgium, as the talismanic captain for Argentina showed that usual dribble burst and terrific control synonymous in his time at Barcelona on Marc Wilmots’ upstarts. His desire to always track back unlike most superstar attackers paid off, as his strip of Vincent Kompany in the midfield eventually led to Gonzalo Higuain’s fine match winner. Even with the sudden absence of Angel Di Maria, the 5’7″ giant was undeterred and almost completed his day with a fitting goal, only to be denied by Thibaut Courtois once more this year.
RAM: Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Even in a match where he didn’t score, draw a penalty, or be at the center of another dive, the winger exhibited once again his phenomenal pace and dribble against a Costa Rican side who had never seen that type of combination before in the tournament. With Van Persie struggling to find the back of the net and Wesley Sneijder still well outside of the opponent’s box for most of the game, Robben continues to be the consistent creative force for Louis Van Gaal’s side. Given freedom to move over to the left as well, Robben will certainly have to do some track back play against Argentina’s forward driven full backs in Pablo Zabaleta and Marcos Rojo. But his world class ability could be the difference in seeing the Dutch reach a second straight World Cup final.
F: Gonzalo Higuain (Argentina)
Just when the Messi-dependence were reaching a boiling point for Sabella’s squad, the 26-year-old followed in the footsteps of Angel Di Maria with a return to his best form. His superb snap strike off the Di Maria defected pass is the type of finish that only the best strikers can produce, and Higuain is among that exclusive list whenever he comes alive. That certainly had not been the case in Brazil 2014 before the quarterfinal, as it appeared the Napoli man was worn down by the long European club season. He (along with Sergio Aguero) just didn’t feature the energy or cutting edge that Messi and Di Maria have given their side. That surely changed on Saturday, as the individual brilliance that has made him one of game’s most feared forwards for the last five years . His hold up play and 1-on-1 dribbling (he was a bit unlucky to get a second as his fine run past Kompany in midfield resulted in that shot going off the crossbar) is the stuff that will lighten the load on Messi to produce, especially with Di Maria ruled out for at least the semifinals.
Substitute bench: Manuel Neuer (Germany); Patrice Evra (France), David Luiz (Brazil), Johnny Acosta (Costa Rica), Dirk Kuyt (Netherlands); Javier Mascherano (Argentina), Fernandinho (Brazil), Thomas Muller (Germany).