The group stage is over and Friday gives us World Cup fanatics a chance to breathe before taking our breaths away for the next few weeks once again.
Speaking of breathtaking, this World Cup has been full of such moments from the opening game right through to the dramatic Group H games to end the group stage. Good luck to the 16 teams advancing, because you threw down a helluva gauntlet to yourselves in the group stage.
It all means there were spectacular group and individual performances, and that’s why we’re here—to sort through the best of the best that was the group stage.
So, here it is…our group stage Best XI.
Goalkeeper: Guilermo Ochoa, Mexico
Yes, Nigeria’s Vincent Enyeama stood on his head against Argentina before he gave in to the greatness that is Messi but let’s be real, not allowing Iran or Bosnia to score is not exactly earth shattering. However, no single game from a goalkeeper stood out more than Ochoa’s performance in a 0-0 tie against Brazil. That performance was as magical as anything we’ve seen from any outfield player and it seemed to give Mexico all the inspiration it needed going forward. There wasn’t a keeper who stood out more than him through all three games.
Defender: Gary Medel, Chile
Chile made it out of a group with the Netherlands and Spain, something it wasn’t supposed to do and if we’re thinking physically imposing defenders, Medel was the model of that. It’s a strange thing to say considering he’s all of 5’7″, but he didn’t back down from challenges all group stage and he had 28 clearances out of the back too. The “little general” as he’s know was massive in Chile’s 2-0 upset of Spain, which was enough to prove he belonged on this list to us.
Defender: Daniel Van Buyten, Belgium
The Red Devils’ attack was shaky at best, but it was the four guys in the back that got Belgium through to the round of 16 as Group H winners. Chief among the back line was Van Buyten, a stalwart for Belgium and one of the more impressive physical forces so far in the tournament. Van Buyten has five blocks, which is tops of any player in the World Cup to date. That individual performance added with the teams gives Van Buyten his spot.
Defender: Per Mertesacker, Germany
Germany needed its back line to show up big considering the style it likes to play, and a guy who wasn’t even good enough to make Euro 2012 was the biggest help in that regard. Mertesacker completed 202 passes out of the back (second from all defenders) and was a rock in the back for a Germany squad that gave up just two goals in the “Group of Death.”
Defender: Rafa Marquez, Mexico
CONCACAF has been the surprise of the 2014 World Cup, and Mexico’s play has been one of the most surprising of all three teams to come from the North American continent. No player on said team has been more effective as a field player than the ageless wonder that is Rafa Marquez. He entered the tournament as a four-time captain with plenty of questions to answer, and he did just that. Marquez was part of a back line that allowed just one goal in the group stages—as many goals as the defender scored himself in group play.
Midfielder: Karim Benzema, France
Yes, Benzema is a forward at times, but he’s also played a midfield role for France, so we’re putting him there because of all the talent at forward on display so far. Benzema simply can’t be kept off this list. Through three matches, Benzema may be the most dangerous player on the field of any team in the tournament. He’s created 12 total scoring opportunities (tied for most in the tournament) and does have three total goals so far.
Midfielder: Jermaine Jones, United States
Going in to the tournament there were many questions over the role Jones could/would play and whether he could be counted on to even stay on the field given his penchant for reckless play. Instead, he’s been the steadiest player the United States has had in the midfield through three games. His goal to put the United States up 2-1 against Portugal was pure class.
Jones may not have all the flashy moments of some other mids in the tournament, but he’s been very impressive the role he’s been asked to play out of the “Group of Death.”
Midfielder: James Rodriguez, Colombia
Simply put—he’s been the best player at the 2014 World Cup so far. When on the field he’s been electric for the South American side with a perfect record through three games. Just how dynamic has he been so far? He’s averaging a goal or assist every 45 minutes, which according to Opta Sports is the best rate of any player to log more than 100 minutes in the group stage. It’s safe to say the Monaco product has just put himself among the elite players in the world and could be in for a major payday if he decides to transfer away from the French side.
Midfielder: Arjen Robben, Netherlands
Speed kills, and no one in the group stages appeared to have more of it than the Netherland’s Arjen Robben. He was simply brilliant in the Dutch demolition of Spain in its World Cup opener and has netted three goals in this tournament.
Not bad for a man who came up empty in each of the last two World Cup’s for Netherlands. He’s also added a beauty of an assist to his name in the tournament already.
Forward: Lionel Messi, Argentina
Messi is brilliant; we all know it from his highlight reel career at Barcelona. However, he hasn’t been as dazzling on the goal-scoring front when donning the Argentinian jersey at the World Cup. That ended in the group stage of this World Cup, as Messi scored some of the most eye-catching goals of the tournament to date. He’s got four goals in three games, and every one of them was needed thanks to a shaky back line. It’s great seeing a superstar come up big on the biggest stage for a change.
Forward: Neymar, Brazil
Messi’s Barcelona teammate has been masterful in his own right, and his Brazil team has needed every moment of his individual creative flare to date too. He’s hit on four goals in the tournament and according to Opta Sport has the best conversion rate of anyone who’s attempted eight shots or more (44.4%). That’s good enough proof for us as to why he belongs on this squad.