Brazil 2014: 7 Players Who Have Really Impressed so Far
With the World Cup barely a week old, we've already had a number of players take the tournament by storm—with some eye-catching goals, assists and some killer passes.
Some have done so expectantly, while others have risen from the place of a burgeoning talent to take games by the scruff of the neck.
On the flip-side, for some of world football's biggest stars, there's been a rather unfortunate drop in performance levels, as giants have been slain and egos deflated.
All in all, though, football fans have had plenty to feast their eyes on after the first few matches, and are safe in the knowledge that there remains plenty of big moments to come.
So, it's time to run through seven of the best performers at the World Cup in Brazil so far.
There are occasions when you successfully step up to the plate under pressure, and then there are times when inspiration strikes, moves come off and displays just click.
When Ivory Coast met Japan late last week, Serge Aurier ensured his performance aligned itself more closely with the former than the latter.
He has increasingly been linked with a move to Arsenal in North London, as reported in May by The Telegraph's Jeremy Wilson. The pacy right-back was the key instigator in the Ivory Coast's revival from 1-0 down, after a wonderful Keisuke Honda goal had put Alberto Zaccheroni's men in front.
Thundering down the right-hand side of the pitch, the Toulouse FC defender exhibited not just how proficient he is at putting left-backs under pressure, but also how deadly his delivery is.
Two of his sumptuous crosses were eventually converted by Wilfried Bony and Gervinho after the restart, to ultimately give the African side a slim, yet deserved, lead. The 21-year-old's hard work and eagerness didn't go to waste.
Without a doubt, his display on the right was one of the best of the tournament so far. If he keeps this up, it's only going to be a matter of time before Arsene Wenger has a fight on his hands to secure his signature.
Announcing himself on the world's biggest stage, Costa Rican youngster Joel Campbell made sure Jorge Luis Pinto's charges didn't lie down against one of South America's strongest teams.
Emerging victorious on a scoreline of 3-1, the stars of Edinson Cavani, Luis Suarez and the majority of the global football community were stunned by Los Ticos, as they pulled off an impressive smash-and-grab.
And at the heart of their excellent display, pulling the strings, was a player who's not yet been given a real chance to shine at Arsenal. Looking at his match-winning performance, Arsene Wenger is sure to have a few regrets about not retaining his services during the past season.
Scoring once and assisting Costa Rica's third and final goal, Campbell grabbed the headlines as the clear man of the match.
According to the Mirror's John Cross, the 21-year-old is now scheduled to become a key member of their pre-season squad, as the French boss looks to bring the rising prospect on in leaps and bounds, ready for next season's Premier League challenge.
No doubt, all eyes will be on Costa Rica's upcoming Group D tie against Italy this Friday, and the former's No. 9 will be out to wreak havoc once more.
Can he spring yet another shock?
Hardly anyone gave Australia a chance in hell of getting out of their group when FIFA unveiled the layout all those months ago, and when Chile stormed to an early two-goal lead against them in their opening match, it looked as though the general consensus had been right to rule them out.
But it seems as though the Aussies work better on the back foot as they soon began a dramatic fightback that had the South Americans clinging for dear life as the match dragged on.
Key to that revival in fortunes was none other than former Everton star, Tim Cahill.
First to every ball that was directed his way, he gave Gary Medel a torrid time as he refused to be kept quiet.
Amazingly, his goalscoring run in World Cup finals is better than some of the biggest names in world football. Cristiano Ronaldo has only two goals to his name on the most prestigious stage of them all, while Lionel Messi has netted the same amount— grabbing his second only recently in their 2-1 victory over Bosnia Herzegovina.
But, in all seriousness, Cahill has always been a consistent servant to Australia, and Ange Postecoglou will be ecstatic he's continued in that vein.
The fact they still face an uphill task, with matches to come against Spain and Netherlands, won't perturb them in the slightest.
World Cups were made for upsets, and Cahill is in the humour to capitalise.
A memorable time at last year's Confederations Cup earmarked Japan as a potential banana skin for many of world football's powerhouses, particularly as they almost had the beating of Italy in a thrilling 4-3 goalfest.
Coming up against an Ivory Coast side aiming to get out of their group for the first time ever, Alberto Zaccheroni's outfit knew they faced a tough test.
And so it proved as Les Elephantes eventually took home all three points to jump to second in Group C, just behind Colombia.
But Keisuke Honda proved himself more than a handful for Ivory Coast's back-four, as he hassled and harried them with a few slick moves and skills of his own.
In fact, it was the 28-year-old who struck first to give the Japanese real hope of getting something out of the tie, with an absolutely glorious left-footed belter from just inside the 18-yard box.
Fans at the San Siro will hope new manager and club legend Fillipo Inzaghi puts Honda's skills to good use in the Serie A next season, because when he's striking goals like this, creating chances and hassling defences for most of the match, it's clear Japan's No. 4 has plenty of goals in him.
Shinji Kagawa is Japan's golden boy at the moment, and while he did his best in their first match of the competition, it was Honda who really shone brightest of all.
If he can continue to prove an inspiration to the rest of his team-mates, they might just have enough resolve to finally get past the second round—a barrier they've failed to clear time and again.
It's not often that destiny meets bravery, but Neymar proved it can be achieved with a terrific one-man show against Croatia in the opening match of the tournament.
Following an emotional outpouring from both fans and players alike, Croatia kicked the World Cup into life, as duty fell heavily on the shoulders of Luiz Felipe Scolari's men.
Falling behind early on to a cruelly unfortunate Marcelo own-goal, Brazil fans were dealt a harsh blow to their World Cup hopes as Niko Kovac's men firmly placed the onus on the hosts to come at them.
Proving a difficult nut to crack, it took some questionable officiating before the Brazilians eventually got their noses in front.
But huge credit must also go to Barcelona star Neymar, who produced the goods when his side needed it most—helping his team-mates out of a sticky situation.
Firing a 25-yard, low-driven effort past the outstretched Stipe Pletikosa, he managed to find a way back into the tie for Brazil; a foothold from which they eventually climbed to victory.
Despite the fact the penalty given was an absolute gift to A Selecao, it still took tremendous nerves of steel for the young striker to rattle the net from eight yards out, under the watchful eye of thousands of fans at the Arena Corinthians.
There's not many who'll deny that the Brazilians need to get better as a unit, but Neymar already looks like he has the insatiable appetite one needs when searching for glory.
Robin Van Persie
Close to defying description, Robin van Persie's first goal against World Champions Spain at the weekend was an absolute joy to behold.
When coaches ask players to "throw themselves" into a match, there can't be many who take the instruction quite as literally as the Manchester United star.
Befuddling Iker Casillas in between the sticks for the Spaniards, the 30-year-old attacker did what footballing geniuses have been doing for so many decades; he brought the game to a whole new level for one brief moment.
Having fallen behind, thanks to a penalty won by Diego Costa and struck home by Xabi Alonso, it looked as though the Dutch, who were outplayed for the first 30 minutes, wouldn't have enough backbone to force their way back into a contest.
But moments like Van Persie's flying header often act not only as glorious snapshots of individual brilliance, but as catalysts for teams to up their game.
And that's precisely what happened, as Louis van Gaal's side eventually ran out deserved 5-1 victors.
On a side note, United fans will now be praying that the combination of Van Gaal and Van Persie will inspire the Red Devils to emerge from their slumber and once more challenge for the title; it's entirely possible if the former Gunner continues to outdo himself.
Commanding and positive, Paul Pogba had an ideal start to his World Cup career on Monday evening against Honduras.
Taking the middle of the park as his very own stomping ground, the Juventus midfielder showed us all just how elegant and proactive he can be with his approach play.
Didier Deschamps' charges looked to bounce back from the ignominious exit they suffered in 2010, as they picked up a solitary point following losses against South Africa and Uruguay in the group stage.
And they've done themselves proud so far, after knocking three goals past an overly-physical and one-dimensional team.
Of course, sterner tests are sure to be on the menu for Pogba and company, but the Old Lady's midfield maestro looked good as he glided around the pitch, picked out a number of wise passes and kept the Honduran defence guessing.
Recently, The National's Thomas Woods earmarked the departure of the 21-year-old phenomenon as one of Sir Alex Fergusons's biggest mistakes during his tenure at Old Trafford—high praise indeed.
Having grabbed seven goals in the Serie A last season, France's No. 19 could well chip-in with a goal or two along they way if Karim Benzema goes through a mini goal-drought; certainly a nice back-up plan to have.
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