The FIFA World Cup Knockout Stages start today and thus it is a good time to take a look back at the group stages and the players who performed well to bring their team into the Knockout Stages and those who underperformed and led to their team being eliminated. That is to say lets take a look at the best and the most disappointing eleven.
Lets start with the best eleven.
Goalkeeper – OCHOA (Mexico)
Ochoa has been stellar in this tournament, and in all the matches has pulled off stunning saves, not least against Brazil, where he was so good that some sections called the match to be Brazil vs Ochoa and not Mexico.
Defender – THIAGO SILVA (Brazil)
Thiago Silva has been a rock at the back for Brazil, and has done his growing reputation in world football no harm at all.
Partnering David Luiz, who can be very eccentric at times, is no easy task, but Thiago Silva has led the defence of Brazil brilliantly and while Neymar has stolen the show upfront it is Thiago Silva who has done the job at the back for Brazil.
Defender – DUARTE (Costa Rica)
When the draw for the world cup was out, no one gave Costa Rica any chance at all to progress from the group, consisting of three former world champions. However not only did Costa Rica progress, they conceded only 1 goal in their matches against teams consisting of world-class attackers.
This has been down to a lot of hard work and organisation in defence, and Duarte has led the Costa Rican defence brilliantly. He has looked strong in tackles, and been handy in the air and has been the foundation on which Costa Rica’s success story has been built.
Defender – MARIO YEPES (Colombia)
Yepes is a veteran and at this world cup he has shown just how much experience counts when it comes of the World Cup. Colombia have impressed us all with their attacking display but at the back it is Yepes who has kept things tight and has been one o the stand out performers.
His experience was particularly handy when he towered above all else to keep out a rampaging Ivory Coast onslaught which threatened to grab at least a draw.
However Yepes was just outstanding, as has been in all the matches he has played, and ensured Colombia hold on for the win.
Holding Midfielder – BORGES (Costa Rica)
Costa Rica have thrilled us all with their counter attacking play, and it is Borges who has been the platform for it. His play in midfield and distribution have been key to the swift counter attacking Costa Rican strategy being a success.
Borges has also been very solid in the midfield and has protected the Costa Rica backline brilliantly especially against the world class midfielders that Costa Rica have had to face so far.
Central Midfielder – SCHWEINSTEIGER (Germany)
Bastian Schweinsteiger has been key to adding a lot of steel to the German midfield. In the match against Ghana, the pace and attacking movement of the Ghana attackers was causing the German side all kinds of trouble and with their swift movement, the Ghana side was able to quickly by-pass the midfield of Germany and get a route in on their goal.
However once Schweinsteiger came on, he completely stopped the Ghana forward surge, and the final 20 minutes of the match belonged to Germany. Similarly against the United States Schweinsteiger was able to not just ensure German dominance in the midfield but also was actively involved in the final third.
It is this ability of Schweinsteiger to be able to contribute in all three thirds of the pitch that make him so dangerous, and he has shown that this world cup.
Inside Forward – NEYMAR (Brazil)
This World Cup in many ways will be remembered as Neymar’s coming of age. Neymar’s talent was never in question but after a somewhat unconvincing club season, many people were wondering if too much is being expected of Neymar at the world cup, and if he ready for such a big responsibility.
Neymar has emphatically answered those questions and far from buckling under the weight of expectations he has taken his game onto the next level.
He has taken it upon himself to lead the Brazil challenge and he has done it brilliantly and is the joint topscorer of the tournmant and it seems many more goals will follow.
Attacking Midfielder – JAMES RODRIGUEZ (Colombia)
James Rodriguez has taken the world cup by storm and has ensured that Colombia don’t miss their star striker Falcao one bit. James Rodriguez with his pace and direct running struck terror in all the back lines he has faced so far.
Not only has been a bit of a creative genius providing two assists, but he has also scored in all three group matches. James Rodriguez has been one of the stars of the group stages.
Inside Forward – LIONEL MESSI (Argentina)
So this was the World Cup where Messi finally came into his own and while it has been a long wait, but it has definitely been worth it. Messi has been at his lethal best in front of goal, and three of his goals are strong contenders for goal of the tournament.
The fact that if you take away Messi’s goals Argentina, who have full points in the group stages, would not even qualify for the next round tell you all you need to know about how important Messi’s contribution has been for Argentina.
Striker – THOMAS MULLER (Germany)
Thomas Muller has been a star at the World Cup, and has been key to Germany’s safe progress into the knockout stages. He scored the first hat-trick of this World Cup and that too against a strong Portuguese side, and then followed it up an assist for Klose’s historical record equalling goal against Ghana and then scored the winner against the USA.
Muller has been a key player for Germany and has had a hand in a majority of their goals, as a striker should.
It was hard to include everyone in this list, and some key players have been left out, like for instance Hazard, Fallaini, Robben and Robin van Persie. However there is no doubting their contribution, just that there have been some who have had a bigger impact in the group stages.
So now lets take a look at those who disappointed in the group stages.
Goalkeeper – IKER CASILLAS (Spain)
Iker Casillas is the one who gets the goalkeeper’s slot for this.
However he had very tough competition in this regard from Igor Akinfeev of Russia who had an appalling World Cup, first virtually throwing the ball into his own net against South Korea, and then coming out for a cross against Algeria and then getting caught in no man’s land leading to Algeria scoring in an empty net, and had it not been for this goal, Russia would have qualified for the knockout rounds.
So while Akinfeev was terrible, but its was Casillas who disappointed us the most. Casillas is one of the legends of the modern game and it was his poor performance that was a greater disappointment for most.
Casillas had a world cup to forget, first getting caught in possession to let van Persie score then getting caught in no man’s land and letting Robben round him for the finish and then being very uninspiring against Chile.
Iker Casillas would like to forget this World Cup as quickly as possible.
Defender – PEPE (Portugal)
Pepe gets in this list for that one second of madness where he head-butted Muller and made a tough match for Portugal even tougher, and a person of the experience of Pepe should have known better.
The match was a tough one for Portugal already with Portugal already two goals down and then shortly before the half-time Pepe head-butted Muller, and that could have had only one outcome a red card and after that Portugal stared at disaster.
Eleven against Eleven Portugal could have kept score respectable but due to Pepe’s madness, Germany had a stroll and Portugal suffered a humbling loss. The negative goal difference was too much for Portugal to eventually make up, as despite finally winning their match Portugal went out on goal difference.
Defender(s) – SERGIO RAMOS (Spain) and PIQUE (Spain)
Ramos and Pique jointly walk into this team and the two were found badly wanting in the matches against Holland and Chile, which sealed Spain’s exit from the world Cup. There seemed to be a distinct lack of communication between the two on the field and they were poor both in the air as well as set-pieces.
First they let Robin van Persie free to score a header, and while the finish was great, but van Persie was no doubt helped by the fact that Ramos and Pique had left him completely free to run in on goal, and there was no defender putting pressure on Robin van Persie at all.
Ramos and Pique were undone numerous times in the match most notably when Robben ran from within his own half all the way into Spain’s penalty box and then round the Keeper and then had all the time in the world to finish, and during all this neither Ramos nor Pique could get a challenge in.
Against Chile their woes continued and their miscommunication and reluctance to challenge was badly exposed for Chile’s first goal. The two are world-class defenders how so ever you look at it and a much better performance was expected from them.
Holding Midfielder – SERGIO BUSQUETS (Spain)
While Busquets has many critics, not many can complain about the primary role he does, that of being the anchor in the middle of the field. He wins the tackles, keeps possession and does a fine job protecting the backline. Only he didn’t do any of this at the World Cup.
Busquets was notably missing on many occasions as the baal made its way into the Spain box, against both Chile and Holland, and not only did Busquets fail at his primary job, he was also guilty of missing a virtually open goal against Chile to score what could have been a potentially vital equalizer against Chile and get the scores level.
Central Midfielder – GERRARD (England)
Steven Gerrard has been a dominant figure in whichever midfield he has played. Gerrard likes to dominate the midfield, is good at tackling and stopping attacks and at the same time Gerrard has a keen eye for a pass and can score too, often screamers.
However if someone was watching Gerrard for the first time, then watching his play in this World Cup, they would have found it hard to associate any of those things with Gerrard.
Gerrard failed to create any opportunists, was totally dominated in the midfield and looked way off the pace of the game. Expected to be a major contributor to England’s chances, Gerrard proved to more of a liability.
Central Midfielder – MODRIC (Croatia)
Modric is a very creative midfielder, and for his teammates there is never a dearth of chances on the field. However he proved to influence the game much in any of the three matches he played, ultimately failing to provide a single assist in the tournament.
All teams fully aware of Modric is capable of, closely man-marked him denying him space, and while a good player finds space to do what he does best, however Modric failed to break the shackles and exited the World Cup without making any impact.
Inside Forward – WELBECK (England)
It is quite a mystery what Welbeck really contributed to Roy Hodgson’s plans, but Hodgson must have seen something nobody else did, and played Welbeck ahead of Barkley who made a positive impact whenever introduced. Whatever Roy Hodgson may have seen in Welbeck, to the rest of the viewers Welbeck was a big disappointment.
Welbeck was poor in possession, failed to make any successful runs, or beat his man and in the box he seemed to lack any real confidence.
On the whole, Welbeck looked totally out-of-place playing in the World Cup and was so poor that it would not be incorrect to say that with Welbeck on the pitch England were effectively playing with 10 men.
The No. 10 Role – SERGIO AGUERO (Argentina)
Sergio Aguero is a striker par excellence and a great finisher. However it seems at the real Aguero has been abducted and been replaced by his evil twin for this World Cup. Aguero has seemed a mere shadow of the player he potentially is. Aguero, has allowed himself to be tied down and has used none of the creativity and guile he possesses to make space for himself even in the face of tight marking.
Argentina have struggled as a team because of Aguero’s poor form, and had it not been for the brilliance of Messi, would have been eliminated from the tournament. Agueo is a global footballing star and that he has done nothing of note whatsoever in the tournament makes him one of the biggest disappointments so far.
Inside Forward – DAVID SILVA (Spain)
David Silva is another creative players who has totally failed to leave a mark on the tournament. Much was expected of Silva to provide the creativity for Spain, but he has totally struggled both in terms of passing and struggled in front of goal.
Given his stature in world football and what he is capable of David Silva finds a place on this list.
Striker – DIEGO COSTA (Spain)
It seemed the boos that greeted Costa’s every touch of the football in the stadiums got to him, because apart from this there cannot be any other explanation for the disaster of a tournament Costa had.
For his club last season he emerged as one of the best strikers in the world, but once he stepped on the field for Brazil, it seemed his touch left him.
That winning a somewhat contentious penalty was Costa’s most telling contribution at the world cup in a sums up the poor tournament he had.
Much was expected of Costa, but he seemed lost on the field, was repeatedly caught in possession, failed to beat defenders, and when the chances presented themselves, he was woeful with the finishing. The sooner Costa moves on from this the better for everyone.