6 Players to Watch on Day 15 of the 2014 World Cup
Day 15 of the 2014 World Cup offers up a quartet of fascinating games.
In Group G, Portugal face Ghana, with the USA playing Germany. In Group H, South Korea are paired with group leaders Belgium, while Russia take on an upbeat Algeria.
Belgium are the only team from the groups to have already qualified for the last 16. The remaining seven are all in with a chance of progressing to the next round.
There will be plenty of exciting players on show. In this piece, we identify six individuals who might catch your eye on this thrilling day of action.
They're not necessarily the most obvious names—anyone could pick out Cristiano Ronaldo or Thomas Mueller. Instead, these are six players whose reputations are on the rise off the back of their World Cup performances.
Go to the next slide to see whose star could rise on Day 15.
Harrison Afful, Ghana
One look at Ghana's Harrison Afful tells you he must be a decent player. To make it to the World Cup as a defender at just 5'7", you need plenty of talent.
Afful's speed, skill and intelligence make up for his lack of physical presence. Against Germany, he did well to shackle Mario Goetze for long periods of the game. He also played a crucial role in creating the first Ghana goal.
At present, Afful plays in the Tunisian league. If he continues to impress in this World Cup, a switch to a bigger league could soon be on the cards.
Andre Ayew, Ghana
Experienced Marseille midfielder Andre Ayew has caught the eye with two goals in his first two appearances of the 2014 World Cup. Breaking from behind the front line, Ayew is a versatile, powerful, calm finisher.
According to The Mirror's Ben Burrows, Ayew is a transfer target for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool. Based on his all-action displays in Brazil, he'd be a perfect fit for the Premier League.
He'll hope to end Portugal's World Cup hopes on the final day of the group stage.
Kyle Beckerman, USA
It's hard to miss Kyle Beckerman on the pitch, and not just because of his distinctive hairstyle.
Beckerman has no respect for reputations. The tough-tackling midfielder gets stuck into the opposition, whoever they might be. Against Portugal, the USA international showed no deference to the more celebrated opposition, ploughing into challenge after challenge.
Although Beckerman does not have an enormous global profile, he is already 32.
He is seizing what could well be his final chance to impress on the world stage, as he told reporters, via Michelle Kaufman of the Miami Herald: "Everything has come full circle. You have to be ready when they call your number."
Shkodran Mustafi, Germany
Shkodran Mustafi was not initially selected for Germany's World Cup squad. However, since being called up as a replacement for the injured Marco Reus, he has forced his way into contention for a starting spot.
That should be no great surprise. Mustafi has already shown great tenacity to recover from being released by Everton to forge a promising career with Sampdoria.
The right-back was introduced as a substitute against Ghana. With Jerome Boateng dealing with thumb and thigh injuries, Mustafi could find himself some action once more—although the Bayern Munich man has said he will be able to play, per Joscha Weber of Deutsche Welle.
Dries Mertens, Belgium
Eden Hazard was expected to be the star of Belgium's World Cup campaign. Thus far, however, it is the displays of Dries Mertens that have shone most brightly.
As Bleacher Report tactics writer Sam Tighe noted after the win over Russia, Mertens played a lead role in the victory:
Kevin de Bruyne is a surprisingly good dribbling threat, and Dries Mertens ran rampant on the right, skinning Dmitry Kombarov alive and beating Kanunnikov going that way with ease.
Mertens was the man making ground, with his delightful tendency of knocking the ball into space for a defender to come for, then whipping it from their grasp at the last second, flummoxing Russia every time.
After netting in the opener against Algeria, Mertens started and starred against Russia. His intricate wing play should prove too much for struggling South Korea.
Islam Slimani, Algeria
Islam Slimani plays as a striker for Portuguese side Sporting.
In this World Cup, he has shone for an Algeria side who have played with a refreshing attacking exuberance.
Against South Korea, Slimani picked up a goal and an assist as Algeria became the first African team to ever score four goals in a World Cup game. They'll have to be just as good to break down Fabio Capello's organised Russia side.