With the group stage of the 2014 World Cup done and dusted, we pick out the best XI thus far.
Do you agree with our 'team of the group stage'? Have your say in the comments section below.
GK. Guillermo Ochoa
The Mexican stopper is having the tournament of his life and has successfully helped Mexico into the knockout stage where they now face a tricky tie against Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands. Ochoa, quite unbelievably, came into the finals unsure of his future in terms of club football – having opted not to extend his contract with Ajaccio – but is sure to have teams queuing to secure his signature after a thoroughly impressive opening three matches. The 28-year-old has conceded just one goal in the tournament so far and produced a string of fine saves as he helped Mexico to a well-earned draw with hosts Brazil.
RB. Pablo Zabaleta
Pablo Zabaleta, as most Manchester City fans will testify, is a solid and reliable full-back, of which he has proven in Argentina’s three matches at the World Cup so far. The 29-year-old has been dependable, despite Argentina’s defence looking rather suspect at times, and provides good support when La Albiceleste carry the ball forwards. Zabaleta produced a series of smart blocks in what was a fine performance against Nigeria, in which his side recorded a narrow 3-2 win.
CB. Rafael Marquez
The evergreen Rafael Marquez joins fellow Mexican Ochoa on the list after starring for Miguel Herrera’s side. Central defender and captain, Marquez has led his side to impressive wins over Cameroon and Croatia as well as a superb draw with Brazil, and hasn’t looked off the pace despite spending last season playing for Mexican club side Leon. Having spent seven years as a defensive midfielder for Barcelona, Marquez dropped back into the heart of defence and is now relying upon his experience of top European football to marshal his troops into the last 16 of the World Cup.
CB. Jan Vertonghen
Belgium have lived up to their ‘dark horse’ tag during this tournament and are making progress, even if they aren’t necessarily making waves. Marc Wilmots’ side scored just 18 goals in qualifying for the World Cup, but conceded only four – Spain the only side to ship fewer goals. So it’s no surprise that this Belgium side are assured in defence, whilst being optimistically cautious when going forward. Jan Vertonghen has typified everything that Belgium are about in his three performances; solid at the back whilst always looking to create something in attack. The Tottenham defender netted Belgium’s only goal in their 1-0 win over Korea.
LB. Marcos Rojo
Argentine defender Marcus Rojo has a growing reputation across Europe for being one of the most promising young full-backs in football. The 24-year-old is a constant threat as Alejandro Sabella’s side move the ball further upfield, and whilst his defensive prowess has been called into question, Rojo’s attacking capabilities quite often gloss over his frailties. Argentina have been underwhelming in the World Cup to date, but they are slowly picking up pace and are sure to go far in the tournament. The defender bagged his side’s winner in their narrow 3-2 win over Nigeria and could well add to his tally in the games remaining.
CM. Blaise Matuidi
Despite a very forgetful stalemate against Ecuador in their final match of the group stage, France have been one of the standout teams so far. Thumping 3-0 and 5-2 wins over Honduras and Switzerland respectively have seen Didier Deschamps’ men attract much attention, with midfielder Blaise Matuidi standing out alongside striker Karim Benzema. The PSG man has been a key figure in France’s attacks, whilst his defensive capabilities have helped his team in conceding just two goals on the way to winning their group.
LM. James Rodriguez
Much was made of Radamel Falcao’s absence, but James Rodriguez has stepped up and is certainly filling his Monaco teammate’s shoes. The Colombian has taken the World Cup by storm, proving one of the tournament’s best players and showing just why he is considered to be one of the world’s finest young players. The 22-year-old has scored in each of Colombia’s three fixtures, helping them to a last 16 tie with Uruguay.
RM. Arjen Robben
Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands side are considered as one of the favourites to win the World Cup, and with impressive wins over world champions Spain, Australia and Chile, it is not hard to see why. Not only were the Netherlands’ victories impressive, but the manner in which they won was perhaps the biggest surprise. Scoring 10 goals in three matches – more than any other team – Van Gaal’s side look intent on avenging their 2010 World Cup heartbreak, and nobody more so than Arjen Robben. The Bayern Munich winger has arguably been the standout player of the finals to date, terrorising opposition defences with his trademark dribbling. Robben is behind only Lionel Messi, Thomas Mueller and Neymar in the goalscoring chart and will be confident of taking his side past Mexico in the last 16 clash and further.
The expectation of a nation laid heavily on the shoulders of Neymar ahead of the World Cup finals in his Brazil. What may have seemed like a burden to many, the forward has taken on the responsibility and has shone on the biggest stage of them all. Neymar is Brazil’s talisman and has done what was expected him and much more during the host nation’s clashes against Croatia, Mexico and Cameroon - scoring four times whilst playing with the flair and excitement many associate with Brazil.
RF. Lionel Messi
As previously mentioned, Argentina have been largely underwhelming thus far, but their star man, Lionel Messi, has not. The Barcelona forward, like Brazil’s Neymar, was put under much pressure heading into the tournament, but he has excelled whilst many of his teammates have struggled. La Albiceleste laboured to wins over Bosnia and Iran, with Messi the difference between the sides on both occasions. Two goals in the nervy 3-2 win over Nigeria in the group’s final match ensured Argentina the win and his place atop the goalscoring chart.
ST. Thomas Mueller
Germany are second favourites to lift the Jules Rimet trophy – behind hosts Brazil – and are looking very strong as they prepare to face Algeria in the next round. Joachim Loew’s side have been improving at every tournament during his eight years in charge, and could now finally have everything in place to win the World Cup for the first time in 24 years. Not only have Die Mannschaft conceded just two goals, but they have been free scoring – Thomas Mueller leading the way with four goals, including the tournament’s first hat-trick in a resounding 4-0 win over Portugal in their opening match.
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