The World Cup XI So Far
After a scintillating Group Stage of the World Cup, we look at the players who we believe performed best:
Goalkeeper – Thibaut Courtois, Belgium
Picking an outstanding goalkeeper is difficult as the best ones are often ones that don’t stand out as much as other’s: for one thing, a goalkeeper is much more noticeable when he makes mistakes than when he pulls off a decent save; for another, the best goalkeepers are not only terrific shot-stoppers, but are also excellent in organising the defenders in front of them to close down opposing players and to see runs being made off the ball. To that end, Courtois has been excellent. Whilst others may have been had some outstanding performances, (notably Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico, whose man of the match performance helped Mexico keep a clean sheet against Brazil, and Vincent Enyeama of Nigeria, who has made the most saves in in the tournament so far, with 18) Courtois has been noticeable for how well he has kept a strong Belgian defence organised, and at such a young age.
Right Back – Fabian Johnson, USA
Something of a left-wing choice here, but Johnson has been excellent down the right for the USA this world cup, providing an attacking impetus when needed for his country, and ensuring his team qualified from an extremely difficult group ahead of Portugal and Ghana. Whilst he may not be a household name, Johnson’s speed and willingness to bomb up and down the right flank for his team have set him apart from other right backs at the world cup. Despite the question marks that remain over his defensive capabilities, Johnson has been excellent so far in the three games and could be key to the USA’s hopes of overcoming a stubborn Belgium team in the knockout stages.
Left Back – Daley Blind, Netherlands
Blind started the World Cup with a sensational performance against champions Spain on day 2, and has continued in the same manner since then, providing assists against both Australia and Chile to ensure the Netherlands topped their group with a 100% record. Whilst Robben and van Persie might capture the headlines for the remainder of the World Cup, Blind deserves recognition for his performances so far. With his father, Danny Blind, set to take charge of the Netherlands after the World Cup, Daley can look forward to a continued run in the side for the foreseeable future – and not just because of the family link.
Centre Back – Thiago Silva, Brazil
Despite not having a reliable centre back partner for the duration of the World Cup, Thiago Silva has still had a good World Cup, ensuring his side only conceded two goals in the group stages despite coming up against some formidable attacking talent. Silva has had to martial a defence containing David Luiz, Alves and Marcelo – no mean feat, given that each of these three defenders are known more for their skill on the ball as opposed to their defensive ability. Whilst Brazil’s performances have been up to scratch so far, they will be given a more thorough examination in the knockout stages, starting with Chile.
Centre Back – Rafa Marquez, Mexico
At 35, you could be forgiven for thinking Marquez would only be featuring in the World Cup intermittently this year, captaining the team off the pitch as much as on it; fans of Mexico will know differently, however, and their captain has been a vital part of them getting through the group ahead of the higher ranked Croatia.
Midfielder – James Rodriguez, Columbia
In the absence of Falcao, James Rodriguez has won a lot of admirers in Brazil for his skill on the ball, his creativity and his willingness to get forward and help in attack. He has an exceptional 3 goals and 2 assists in his 3 games so far, and will be key to any hopes Columbia hold of progressing. The Monaco man will be playing in the Champions League next season too, and we all look forward to seeing him playing in the top European club competition.
Midfielder – Arturo Vidal, Chile
Vidal is the epitome of box-to-box midfielder, and anyone who has seen this boy in action during these finals will have been impressed by both his stamina and his willingness to join his team in both defending and attacking. Many will think of the raw pace of Sanchez as Chile’s main threat in this World Cup, but Vidal is a classy midfielder who is enough to cause any team problems on his own. He has been linked with a £30m move away from Juventus to the premier league, but with his partnership with the likes of Pogba and Pirlo, we think it’d take a huge offer to tempt him away, and can see him continuing to lift Scudettos for the Old Lady for years to come.
Midfielder – Thomas Muller, Germany
Okay, it may be a bit cheeky of us including Thomas Muller in the midfielders as opposed to the forwards of this list, given that he has often played as the furthest forward German player in most games, in his role as a ‘false number 9’, but we definitely see Muller as more of a tenacious midfielder than a striker. Regardless, he has been exceptional for Germany so far, looking sharp and potent in front of goal, and is currently the top scorer with 4 goals and 1 assist. Germany are perhaps the most difficult team of the 16 remaining to break down, and we can see them going far, with at least the semi-finals being regarded as par for them – Muller will be at the centre of that.
Striker – Lionel Messi, Argentina
Messi has answered all his critics that have said he doesn’t perform for Argentina with some scintillating displays for Argentina, scoring the winning goal in two of their three matches. His rate of a goal every 61 minutes is the lowest of any of the top five goalscorers, and with the likes of Aguero and Di Maria around him, you can count on him adding to that tally. Messi’s performances for his country have definitely improved since he was made captain, and after an average domestic season by his own lofty standards, you wonder if he was really saving himself for this competition.
Striker – Robin Van Persie, Netherlands
Van Persie’s incredible leap for his header to loop over Casillas and equalise for Holland against Spain proved to be one of the most important moments of the World Cup as it began the downfall of the defending champions. However, it also underlined the quality of a player who has been one of the most potent strikers in the world for years now, and who is probably the best at striking the ball cleanly no matter where it drops to him from. Despite struggling with some injuries last season, van Persie still maintained a steady scoring rate, and now that he looks fully fit he is capable of firing the Netherlands to victory against any team. Van Persie’s teammate, Robben, was extremely unlucky not to earn a spot in this list too.
Striker – Neymar, Brazil
Neymar scored the host’s opening goal of the tournament to equalise against Croatia, and then calmly slotted home a contentious penalty to put them in front; whilst he has had his critics after a mixed first season with Barcelona, Neymar has returned to the scene of his Confederations Cup triumph and continued where he left off from last summer. Neymar is still young enough to play a vital part in Barcelona’s quest to become the dominant force in Europe and domestically once more, and if he can replicate his performances this summer for his club, it is hard to see them not achieving that goal.