With the dust having now settled on an entertaining 2014 World Cup tournament, here we look at the 20 best players from Brazil.
20. Dirk Kuyt - Netherlands
The 36-year-old veteran showed the world that age is but a number this summer. His work rate is nearly in a category of its own and it shows on the pitch. Kuyt proved invaluable to his team during their impressive World Cup run, even when placed in a position he had never played before.
Naturally a striker, Kuyt quickly learned to play as a wing-back and was able to win and retain the ball more often than not. Had it not been for a patch of poor crosses in his nation's semi-final against Argentina, he would surely have placed even higher on this list.
19. Luis Suarez - Uruguay
The most controversial character to grace the fields of Brazil this summer was undoubtedly Suarez. Although it is easy to discredit his efforts in the shadow of his World Cup-ending bite on Italian centre-back Georgio Chiellini, it must be remembered that without him, Uruguay would quite possibly never have made it out of the group stages.
His brace against England proved to the world that he is every bit the world-class striker when he can control his disciplinary issues.
18. Oscar - Brazil
A few Brazilians made their way onto this list despite the country's underachievement. It would be foolish to discount the efforts of the young Chelsea star at this year's World Cup.
Oscar scored twice and assisted once during the tournament, but aside from his decent goalscoring statistics, he also added an important creative element to his side which helped them create chances throughout the tournament. At only 22, Oscar is a player to keep an eye on in the future.
17. Juan Cuadrado - Colombia
The speedy Colombian midfielder was a joy to watch in Brazil and was a priceless asset to his nation. Cuadrado registered four assists and helped teammate James Rodriguez to win the Golden Boot despite his side's quarter-final exit to Brazil.
Cuadrado also netted a goal for himself, beating Japan’s Eiji Kawashima from the penalty spot to start a 4-1 rout in the their group stage match.
16. Guillermo Ochoa - Mexico
Ochoa was, without a doubt, Mexico’s most valuable player at the World Cup. The first 'keeper to appear on my list, Ochoa earned his spot with heroic performances both against Brazil in the group stages - in which he held the strong favourites to a 0-0 stalemate - and again against the Netherlands in the round of 16 clash in which he nearly carried his team through after a goal from Giovani dos Santos.
Unluckily for Ochoa and Mexico, he wasn’t able to stop two Dutch goals in the dying minutes of the game from Wesley Sneijder and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar.
15. Robin van Persie - Netherlands
The flying Dutchman was hit and miss at this World Cup. Van Persie’s incredible flying header right before the half against defending champions Spain was what started a mind-boggling 5-1 rout for the Netherlands, and was the catalyst for his side to overachieve its way all the way to the semi-finals.
Van Persie went on to score another goal against a fumbling Iker Casillas and then levelled the score from point blank range against Australia. Unfortunately, the Dutch skipper picked up a second yellow card and was forced out of his side's 2-0 victory over Chile, and he was never able to re-discover the form he had displayed in his opening matches.
Although barely noticeable in the knockout stages, Van Persie was able to bring his goal tally to four after scoring a penalty against Brazil to start another big win, with the Dutch triumphing 3-0 over the hosts in the third place-playoff.
14. Pablo Zabaleta - Argentina
Zabaleta was a key man at the back for finalists Argentina. His grit and perseverance fuelled the entire backline and for a team that had had received criticism defensively, Argentina looked one of the strongest teams in the tournament in that area. This was largely due to Zabaleta’s rock solid defending.
13. Mathieu Valbuena - France
Although small in stature, Valbuena’s contributions on the pitch were anything but. In France’s run to the quarter-finals, he managed to earn himself both a goal and an assist.
Valbuena was a key creative-minded player for ‘Les Bleus' and proved himself worthy of taking Manchester City midfielder Samir Nasri's place in the squad. France proved to the world that they are once again a footballing force to be reckoned with, after dismal showings at both the Euro 2012 championships and the 2010 World Cup Finals. This was largely due to the little Frenchman’s contributions.
12. Keylor Navas - Costa Rica
Levante’s 'keeper made good on his chance to impress during this World Cup, helping his underdog team all the way to the quarter-finals. Navas recorded a clean sheet against both Italy and England, and then carried his team through the round of 16 by saving two of Greece’s spot-kicks.
This World Cup will long be remembered by Costa Rican supporters, as their nation broke well beyond even the most audacious predictions and Navas will surely be remembered as a key component to their success.
11. Stefan de Vrij - Netherlands
Dutch youngster De Vrij proved to the world this summer that he is a world-class defender, and will likely be scooped up by a major club in the near future.
De Vrij was consistently solid at the back for the Dutch, completing 81% of his passes and recovering the ball an incredible 58 times, a feat unmatched by any player. De Vrij is also credited for scoring the thirrd goal against Spain in the group stages, popping in a Wesley Sneijder free-kick from the back post with a well-placed header.
10. Bastian Schweinsteiger - Germany
Schweinsteiger was one of the most important players on Germany’s road to becoming the world champions this summer. He was key in manipulating the midfield and served as an anchor for the rest of his team to revolve around.
The Bayern Munnich man completed an impressive 88% of his passes and recovered 31 balls. Without Schweinsteiger, it’s uncertain whether or not Germany would have made it to the end.
9. Mats Hummels - Germany
Towering German defender Hummels was crucial for his country too. He scored twice during the tournament, one of which was the all-deciding goal in the quarter-final against France.
Hummels recovered 47 balls, blocked five shots and that, paired with his 81% pass completion rate, qualifies him for the number nine spot on my list.
8. Neymar - Brazil
Brazil’s golden boy had the weight of a nation on his shoulders going into this summer’s World Cup. As the hosts, Brazil were expected to win and nothing short of that would be satisfactory.
Skeptics were also on the case of the young Brazilian, with many feeling that he wouldn’t be able to handle the pressure. However, this was not the case. Neymar flourished on the world's greatest football stage, scoring four times and assisting once in his five appearances.
It was a clumsy tackle by Colombian defender Juan Zuniga that ended his terrific run of form, with Neymar suffering a fractured bone in his back.The injury ended the 22-year-old's World Cup and seemingly Brazil’s as a whole.
Brazil went on to suffer a crushing 7-1 defeat to future world champions Germany, followed by a 3-0 defeat to the Netherlands.
7. Toni Kroos - Germany
Kroos was a midfield maestro at this year’s World Cup, his play keeping the German football machine in motion.
Kroos scored two goals and earned himself a whopping four assists during his country's successful campaign. He was also the winner of the Castrol Index, a system of player ratings based on a select bunch of statistics. Since the World Cup, Kroos has transferred to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
6. Ron Vlaar - Netherlands
Vlaar didn’t earn the nickname “Concrete Ron” by fluke, and he proved himself to be concrete at this World Cup. Vlaar was instrumental in holding together a surprisingly solid Dutch defence and had multiple standout performances.
One of these was the match against Argentina in the semi-finals, in which he won 100% of his tackles, 100% of his headers, made 11 clearances, six interceptions and had an astounding 92% pass accuracy.
This performance may have been overshadowed by his poor penalty that was stopped by Argentinian 'keeper Sergio Romero in the penalty shootout, but this should not be put entirely on Vlaar’s shoulders as he is not normally known to take spot-kicks.
Vlaar recovered 42 balls and blocked five shots on the Netherlands' road to a podium finish.
5. Manuel Neuer - Germany
The Golden Glove winner was bound to be mentioned in this article. He won that award for a reason and there’s a strong argument to be made that Neuer is the world's best goalkeeper.
Neuer is not only great for his incredible shot-stopping ability, but also for the role he plays as a sweeper. The Bayern Munich man is every bit the modern goalkeeper, revolutionising the role entirely.
Being a 'keeper no longer solely involves stopping shots, but also reading the field of play and knowing when and when not to step in. Neuer is an expert in this field and maintained an 86% save rate and also had 82% pass completion, which is a tribute to his extremely accurate goal kicks.
Neuer also completed nine clearances, a number higher than many world-class defenders to have played at the World Cup.
4. Lionel Messi - Argentina
He may have won the Golden Ball, but Messi was not the tournament's best or most valuable player. However, Messi was a joy to watch this summer, and every time the Argentinian skipper receives the ball, the whole world holds their breath and waits for magic to be spun.
Messi scored four times at this World Cup and assisted once. All of his goals were during the group stage, but this is nonetheless an impressive achievement. Something must also be said for Messi’s leadership, as he was able to lead Argentina all the way to the final, where they narrowly missed out on glory when Mario Gotze scored the extra-time winner.
Messi may or may not be the most talented player to ever grace a football pitch, but he was not the best this summer in Brazil.
3. Thomas Muller - Germany
Muller is a goalscoring machine. The young German star started out his side's World Cup run with a hat-trick against Portugal and never stopped producing game-changing performances.
Muller continued on to score two more goals - matching his Golden Boot-winning performance at the 2010 World Cup Finals - and also got three assists. Muller’s work rate is nearly unmatched (perhaps Kuyt has something to say about that) and he can be found all over the pitch.
His versatility is also incredible, as he can play in the centre of midfield, on the right wing or up-front as a central striker. With 10 goals in only two World Cups at only 24 years of age, Muller is well on course to match, or even surpass, German teammate Miroslav Klose’s all-time scoring record which he broke this summer.
2. James Rodriguez - Colombia
The breakout star of 2014 was undoubtedly James, who stepped in as Colombia’s go-to goalscorer with injury forcing star striker Radamel Falcao to miss the tournament.
James scored a Golden Boot-winning six goals - one of them which was good enough to win the goal of the tournament - and he also got two assists. James charmed the world with his dancing and knack for scoring beautiful goals and at only 23 years of age, he can only get better.
1. Arjen Robben - Netherlands
Robben was the most valuable player of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. He opened up with a brace in the Netherlands' 5-1 thrashing of Spain, scoring the go-ahead goal and then humiliating the Spanish defence as he raced pass Sergio Ramos, breaking the World Cup’s all-time speed record in the process with some sources reporting a top speed of 37km/h, one that rivals some of the top olympic sprinters.
Robben scored three times for the Dutch at this World Cup and made one assist, but his contributions didn’t stop there. He made 19 deliveries into the penalty area, 95% of his shots were on target, he won 2twopenalties (though controversial, they undoubtedly helped his side to victory) and made an incredible 38 solo runs into the opposing penalty area, more than any other player.
Robben proved that he is more than capable of playing outside of his favourite position (right wing) and his chemistry with strike partner Van Persie was undeniable. The Bayern Munich superstar was a threat every time he received the ball, and was the biggest contributor to an impressive Dutch campaign.
Honourable mentions: Philipp Lahm, Angel Di Maria, Jasper Cillesen, Karim Benzema, Yohan Cabaye, Tim Howard, Marcos Rojo, Miroslav Klose, Andre Schurrle
Have your own list? Post it in the comments.
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