The World Cup’s top 10 stand out performers
1) James Rodriguez (Colombia)
The praise surrounding this young man’s performances has been nothing short of overwhelming. Not often is a player awarded such uniform acclaim, particularly if said player finishes on the losing side. Rodriguez has, however, produced some quite special displays over the tournament and, while it would be unfair to give him sole credit for Colombia’s strong showing throughout the competition, he can justly be regarded as the team’s catalyst. With James as the country’s linchpin, Colombia could well be a force to be reckoned with in years to come.
2) Guillermo Ochoa (Mexico)
What do you do when you’re out of contract at your current club? Produce some unbelievable saves at a tournament being watched by millions around the world, that’s what. Ochoa, available on a free after his release from French side Ajaccio, shone brightest against home nation Brazil, keeping Neymar et al at bay for 90 minutes in a highly creditable 0-0 draw.
3) Michael Bradley (USA)
Bradley’s performances may well have passed under the radar, particularly after such adulation was heaped upon Tim Howard following his goalkeeping heroics against Belgium. During the group stages Bradley ran 23.6 miles – more than any other player in the tournament – and in doing so epitomised the never say die attitude drilled into the squad by coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Bradley’s displays were not infused with flamboyance or an excess of trickery, but his willingness to put his body on the line for 90 minutes is an attribute that is, unfortunately, often unreasonably maligned in modern football.
4) Lionel Messi (Argentina)
What is there left to say about this phenomenon that has not already been said? The Argentine coach and even Messi himself have declared that there is more to the Argentina team than the Barcelona man, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a person that believes they would have reached this stage of the tournament without their talisman. His performances haven’t been out of this world, but it only takes a split second for him to turn a game in his team’s favour, and it’s this quality that makes him so, so valuable.
5) Bryan Ruiz (Costa Rica)
It can’t be easy being a Fulham supporter at the moment. Managerial upheaval, relegation, big-money signings failing to deliver… and to top it all, a player that was sent out on loan in January deciding that NOW is the time to produce some of the best football of his career. Where has this Bryan Ruiz been hiding during his stay in the Premier League?! He may not have done anything particularly spectacular during Costa Rica’s surprise run, but he certainly exuded the essence of a natural leader, and the rest of the team clearly gained confidence from his presence. It doesn’t look likely that he’ll be staying in England for much longer, and it’s something of a shame that he never really showed the level of performance of which he is clearly capable.
6) Neymar (Brazil)
Despite leading the line for Brazil and being a relative mainstay in the Barcelona first team, Neymar still divides opinion. Joey Barton is quoted as saying that Neymar is the ‘Justin Bieber of football; great on YouTube, terrible in reality.’ While this view may lead to the nodding of heads from Neymar’s critics, it’s difficult to deny the impact he’s had in Brazil’s journey to the tournament’s final 4. Yes, he dives and, yes, he has arrogance to burn, but he has remained Brazil’s one constant threat throughout. The fact that Brazil have reached this stage of the tournament with Hulk and Fred in the team should go some way to proving Neymar’s ability to paper over the cracks of a relatively poor attacking lineup. He will be sorely missed by the host nation.
7) Arjen Robben (Netherlands)
Infuriating, frustrating, embarrassing… but without a doubt an exceptionally gifted footballer. Arjen Robben is loathed and loved in equal measure. His penchant for hitting the ground after the most minor contact with an opposition player is, to put it bluntly, everything that is wrong with the modern game; however, Robben is able to redeem himself through his ability to run defences ragged. His display in the Netherlands’ 5-1 demolition of Spain was absolutely dazzling – how many players have the ability to makes Casillas, Pique and Ramos look Sunday league quality? Like him or hate him, there’s no doubt that he’s a special talent.
8) Keylor Navas (Costa Rica)
Let’s be honest, nobody knew who this guy was before the World Cup started. Currently plying his trade in La Liga with Levante, the 27 year-old goalkeeper has performed heroics in the Costa Rican goal during the tournament, but particularly so in his side’s quarter final clash with the Netherlands. How his goal remained unbreached during that game is nothing short of miraculous. His saves may not have been spectacular but they were vital, and gave Costa Rica the opportunity to progress via a penalty shootout when, really, the Netherlands should have been out of sight long before. Expect a flurry of bids for his services this summer.
9) Mats Hummels (Germany)
German footballers are renowned for their ability to produce solid performances week in, week out. The stereotyped German ethos is that extravagance should kept to a minimum while performing in a manner almost mechanical in its efficiency should be prioritised. Although this is not a wholly accurate representation of the current German national side – players such as Ozil, Gotze and Reus have a wealth of technical ability – Hummels is a player that harks back to a different generation. His strength, positional sense and consistent reliability give his teammates the confidence to push forward without ever needing to worry about the defence being left vulnerable. The fact that he can chip in with a few goals doesn’t do any harm to his stock, either.
10) Divock Origi (Belgium)
Every international tournament brings to the fore a young player that quickly garners the tag of ‘future world star’. Coming into the World Cup as a relative unknown, Origi has repaid the faith put in him with a couple of standout performances. He scored a vital goal against Russia in the group stages and did everything but find the net in his side’s encounter with the USA. If newspaper reports are to be believed then his assured displays look to have secured him a lucrative move to Liverpool; we should be seeing a lot more of this lad in the near future.