The devastating attacking trio are joined by some of the tournament’s more surprising stars so far in our select XI from the opening phase of matches in Brazil
The 2014 World Cup in Brazil was always billed as the great entertaining showpiece, and throughout the opening two weeks, it has not failed to deliver.
New stars have seen their reputations rise while established names have lit up the grandest stages during a group stage full of attacking football and engaging tactical approaches, and, while picking the best XI from the opening phase of matches has been no easy feat, the players here were simply too strong to be overlooked.
In goal is Guillermo Ochoa of Mexico who, after significant pre-tournament debate over who would start between the sticks for el Tri, has undoubtedly justified his selection. The Ajaccio man was impressive against Croatia and Cameroon, but the way he kept the hosts at bay – in particular Neymar – was remarkable.
Our back three begins with Sokratis Papastathopoulos, who was a rock at the heart of another miserly Greece defence which has seen them scrape into the knockout phase of a major tournament once again. The 26-year-old was vital in keeping Japan at bay as 10-man Greece battled to a point before helping to nullify Cote d’Ivoire in the decider.
In the centre is Mexico captain Rafael Marquez. Another who excelled in keeping Brazil out in the 0-0 draw as he adopted a superb sweeper role, the veteran centre-back stepped up when his country needed him most against Croatia to score one goal and set up another to send them into the last 16.
Lastly, Costa Rica’s remarkable group stage owed much to a defensive solidarity built around Oscar Duarte. His headed goal against Uruguay set the tone for his first three matches, as he went on to put in fine performances to prevent both Italy and England from finding the net.
Our four-man midfield beings with Arjen Robben, who was simply devastating during the group stage. After tearing world champions Spain to shreds in their opener, the Netherlands star bagged another goal against Australia to help his side win the group and send a message to the rest of the tournament.
Further in-field, Egidio Arevalo Rios continued his remarkable destructive form for Uruguay without picking up a yellow card (until a slight moment of petulance against Italy). He was superb in keeping England’s midfield subdued and battled hard to stop Andrea Pirlo dictating for Italy, helping his side to the two wins they needed to go through.
Alongside him is Blaise Matuidi, who struck a fine goal against Switzerland to cap a truly dynamic group-stage showing in which he showcased better than anyone else the frightening transitional speed of France’s play, breaking up opposition attacks before launching les Bleus forward at pace.
On the far flank, James Rodriguez is rewarded for his star turn in Colombia’s perfect group campaign. The Monaco schemer struck three goals in three games and set up Jackson Martinez for his second in his brilliant second-half cameo against Japan, and has taken up the mantle of his country’s standard-bearer following the injury to Radamel Falcao.
There are few surprises in our attack. Lionel Messi carried Argentina to the top of their group with some stunning individual goals, hitting winners against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Iran before his double in the decider against Nigeria. The Albiceleste have not been entirely convincing so far, but their captain has proven he can give them a lift when the most sorely need it.
Next to him is Barcelona team-mate and 2014 World Cup posterboy Neymar who, despite the weight of expectation of the country on his shoulders, has shone in Brazil so far. Four goals, some dazzling skills and three all-round decisive displays to date mean the home side are hading into the knockouts still among the favourites to lift the trophy.
Finally, Thomas Muller spearheads our attack, having begun the defence of his Golden Boot from four years ago with a hat-trick against a Portugal side in disarray before netting the winning goal against USA to secure top spot in the group. His all-round link-up play with Germany’s attacking midfield talent has also been key to their campaign so far and will likely be vital if they are to reach the quarter-finals.