FIFA World Cup

20 Players Whose Stock Rose During the 2014 World Cup Group Stage

Matt CheethamCorrespondent IJune 27, 2014

20 Players Whose Stock Rose During the 2014 World Cup Group Stage

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    Buda Mendes/Getty Images

    The 2014 FIFA World Cup has already lost half its attendees, with 32 teams quickly whittled down to 16.

    The group stages are now done and dusted, and from here on in, it's pure knockout football.

    With just 25 percent of the tournament remaining, here's a look at some of the individuals who have impressed most during the 48 games so far.

    While the likes of Lionel Messi, Karim Benzema and Neymar have all starred, such players are already viewed as elite; high-class performances from them keep their stock in a similar positionright at the top of the game.

    Therefore, this list considers only those who have thrust themselves into a new level of prominence following their form in Brazil.

     

    All statistics via WhoScored.com

Guillermo Ochoa

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Few goalkeepers have excelled in Brazil in what's so far been an extremely attacking tournament.

    An exception to this, however, is Mexico's Guillermo Ochoa.

    The soon-to-be out-of-contract 29-year-old has picked the perfect time to shine, with his defiant heroics against Brazil sure to line up potential suitors.

    Ochoa faced 10 shots during the group stages, including six against the hosts. Up until now, he's only conceded one goal—the joint best record in the tournament.

Ivan Perisic

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    While Croatia are on their way home, one player to enhance his reputation is Ivan Perisic.

    Deployed in an attacking berth on the right, the 25-year-old was a willing runner, providing important support up front.

    He weighed in with two of Croatia's six goals, assisting another, while also providing five chances—the leading creative return for his nation.

    His efforts have already seen him linked with a summer transfer, with Everton and Roma rumoured admirers, via The Daily Star.

Luiz Gustavo

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    Miguel Tovar/Getty Images

    Not many Brazilians qualify for this list, with their status already established near the top of the game.

    One player set to join his colleagues, however, is Luiz Gustavo, who's been impressing in defensive midfield.

    With Dani Alves and Marcelo scuttling forward at every opportunity, Gustavo has the unenviable task of covering both flanks as well as supporting his centre-backs.

    His 14 interceptions is the second highest return at the tournament and highlights his ability to snuff out danger before it threatens his defence. His form will be vital to Brazil's hopes of lifting a sixth World Cup.

     

Charles Aranguiz

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal may be Chile's best players, but Charles Aranguiz has grabbed attention for his all-round excellence in midfield.

    The 25-year-old was particularly impressive against Spain, recording a goal and an assist in Chile's surprise 2-0 win.

    Alongside the similarly impressive Junior Diaz, he practically pressed Xabi Alonso into irrelevance and repeatedly disrupted Spain's rhythm. 

    In such a fluid system, his energy and versatility are vital at both ends of the field for Chile, acquiring Aranguiz a new level of appreciation.

Daley Blind

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    Daley Blind has been key for a surprisingly strong Dutch squad, already appearing in two different roles.

    He lined up as a left-wing-back against Spain and Australia before switching to one of three centre-backs against Chile. He also spent much of the season performing in a central midfield role for Ajax, emphasising his versatility.

    Blind has supplied accurate delivery, shown an ability to pass through a defence and has been one of the top tacklers in Brazil so far, recording 16 already.

    He also leads the tournament with three assists, including two in the 5-1 thrashing of Spain, and may well have played his way out of the Eredivisie this summer.

     

     

James Rodriguez

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    Warren Little/Getty Images

    James Rodriguez is arguably an elite talent already, with little room for his stock to rise; however, his move to Monaco will have kept him off the radar of some—until now that is.

    The 22-year-old has been one of the players of the tournament thus far, playing the key No. 10 role in Colombia's 4-2-3-1 formation.

    In his three games so far, he's been directly involved in five of his nation's nine goals, scoring three and adding two assists—no player can boast a better return.

    He's also shown a willingness to drop back and orchestrate attacks from a deeper role, freeing up space for others to exploit. If Colombia make serious progress, he will be in contention for FIFA's Golden Ball.

Kostas Manolas

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    Bernat Armangue/Associated Press

    After some shaky opening exchanges against Colombia, Kostas Manolas has continued to forge a reputation as one of Europe's most promising young defenders.

    The 23-year old has led his back four, especially during the 10-man, rearguard effort against Japan.

    He also kept Didier Drogba quiet for long periods against the Ivory Coast and, following a favourable draw, will be key to his country's hopes of advancing further.

    If Greece could only get Kyriakos Papadopoulos fit, they could field one of Europe's most exciting young centre-back pairings.

Serge Aurier

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    Serge Aurier has been a name bandied about gossip columns for a while, yet is perhaps only familiar to French football fans, as well as those in his own country.

    His consistent form in Brazil has enhanced his reputation and will only increase the regularity of these transfer rumours.

    The right-back has been a constant source of attack for his country, regularly willing to overlap and either cross or provide a cutback.

    He delivered both assists in the 2-1 win over Japan, and, according to FIFA.com, has recorded the fastest speed of any player at the 2014 World Cup.

     

Giancarlo Gonzalez

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    Michael Steele/Getty Images

    Any number of Costa Ricans could have made this list, such is the lack of notoriety of their squad and their stunning results in Brazil.

    Keylor Navas has been one of the tournament's best goalkeepers but already has a fine reputation in La Liga. Yeltsin Tejeda is another contender, but Giancarlo Gonzalez trumps them all based on his rise.

    Tasked with keeping a premium crop of strikers quietin Mario Balotelli, Edinson Cavani, Daniel Sturridge and Wayne RooneyCosta Rica have conceded just once all tournament, via a penalty.

    Gonzalez has been central to this, playing as the lead figure in his nation's five-man defence.

    He has provided some of the World Cup's best defensive displays, demonstrating a perfect blend of anticipation, positioning and aggression.

Cristian Gamboa

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    Jamie McDonald/Getty Images

    Given their remarkable performances, it's perhaps unsurprising to see more than one Costa Rican make this list.

    To the right of their five-man defence, Cristian Gamboa's another to win many admirers with his rampaging bursts forward from wing-back. 

    In attack, the Rosenborg defender has proved a handful, always eager to take on a man and provide his side with an overlap.

    At the back, he's been dogged in the tackle and made valuable contributions to preserve Costa Rica's stingy record.

Jose Maria Gimenez

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    Petr David Josek/Associated Press

    Another previously unsung and unheralded defender is Uruguay's Jose Maria Gimenez.

    The 19-year-old centre-back has been ushered in to play following injury to Diego Lugano and has struck up instant chemistry with Diego Godin, despite playing just one league game all last season.

    He also played on the right of three centre-backs against Italy and showed strong composure during a late Italian onslaught.

    Following a 3-1 loss in their opening game, Gimenez's inclusion has solidified Uruguay's back line, which must remain just as resilient following Luis Suarez's ban.

     

Ricardo Rodriguez

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    Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

    Ricardo Rodriguez arrived in Brazil as a statistical marvel, following an impressive domestic campaign at Wolfsburg.

    The left-back scored or assisted more goals (14) than any other defender in Europe’s top five leagues and was the most creative defender in Germany.

    Some impressive displays in Brazil have supported his numbers and shown him to be one of Europe's leading young left-backs.

    While Switzerland have appeared fallible at the back, and a little too individualistic as a team, Rodriguez has been a constant weapon going forward and generally faultless in defence.

    He registered both assists in the 2-1 win over Ecuadorincluding a composed, last-minute cross for the winning goal—and is one of the tournament's leading tacklers.

Mathieu Valbuena

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    Elsa/Getty Images

    France is another tough nation to draw a generally under-appreciated player from; however, if Mathieu Valbuena wasn't previously considered a leading talent, he is now.

    In the two games he's started, the diminutive 29-year-old has played a surprisingly central role for his country.

    He supplied a goal and assist against Switzerland and has been an unrelenting source of creativity, expertly moving defenders around and finding key pockets of space in attack.

    At 29, his form may even push through a belated move away from France, with Arsenal and Liverpool among his many admirers, via The Daily Mail.

     

     

Enner Valencia

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    Clive Rose/Getty Images

    Enner Valencia was Ecuador's leading player in Brazil, providing the attacking threat many assumed Antonio Valencia, Felipe Caicedo or Jefferson Montero would also bring.

    The 25-year-old Pachuca striker was a constant nuisance to opposing defenders, showing a formidable blend of searing pace, strength and ability in the air.

    He scored all of Ecuador's three goals from just eight shots, giving him one of the tournament's leading conversion rates.

    It's hard to imagine him not at a European club at the start of next season.

Kenneth Omeruo

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    Ian Walton/Getty Images

    Nigeria are another side few envisaged making much progress in Brazil.

    However, largely thanks to two clean sheets in their first two games, the Super Eagles did enough to stave off Bosnia and Iran to finish behind Argentina.

    Alongside the experience of Joseph Yobo, Kenneth Omeruo has provided this surprising level of security to Nigeria's defence and been crucial to these clean sheets.

    He currently leads his nation in tackles (11) and blocks (3), and has managed an impressive 11 more clearances (24) than any other team-mate.

    At just 20, it's easy to see why Chelsea handed him a four-year contract in May.

Ahmed Musa

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    Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

    Another Nigerian to shine in Brazil is Ahmed Musa, an attacker who's currently playing away from the European spotlight in Russia.

    Right-footed, Musa has predominately operated on the left at this World Cup and was especially prominent against Argentina.

    He scored twice and exposed the experienced Pablo Zabaleta more than any wide player in recent seasons.

    At just 21, his form may well take him away from CSKA Moscow this summer.

Muhamed Besic

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    Fernando Llano/Associated Press

    Playing at their first World Cup, Bosnia will be disappointed not to have escaped Group F.

    Defeat to Nigeria saw them eliminated, but several players enhanced their reputations with strong individual displays.

    Miralem Pjanic supplied regular ammunition to his front men, creating the most chances (12) at the World Cup so far. He certainly excelled in midfield; however, in terms of a rapid rise in stock, Muhamed Besic leads the way.

    The hard-working, defensive midfielder played well against Lionel Messi for most of the opening game.

    He was equally impressive in his following two starts, spending much more time on the ball. He recorded 223 passes with an accuracy of 91 percent, making him Bosnia's leading and most consistent passeradding to his disruptive qualities.

Fabian Johnson

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    Many have excelled during America's impressive qualification from Group G.

    Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones have formed an uncompromising partnership in midfield, while Matt Besler has led the defence.

    However, Fabian Johnson has won considerable admiration for his energetic contributions at both ends of the field.

    The dual-footed right-back completely terrorised Portugal's left flank, providing the difference in the crucial 2-2 draw. He was also one of the sole attacking outlets against Ghana, while suppressing most of the Black Stars' left side in defence.

Islam Slimani

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    Despite key creativity coming from Yacine Brahimi and Sofiane Feghouli, Islam Slimani's stock has seen the sharpest increase of all Algerians at the 2014 World Cup.

    Leading the line for the tournament's surprise package, Slimani scored the crucial equaliser against Russia to seal a place in the last 16.

    That in itself caused his reputation sky rocket, but he was also instrumental against South Korea. He scored again, but it was his pace and aerial ability that left his opponents unsure about where to deploy their line.

    Slimani capitalised on their hesitancy and was central to the 4-2 win.

Divock Origi

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    The 2014 World Cup has already seen more goals from a substitute (24) than ever before.

    Leading the way for impact player of the tournament is Belgium's Divock Origi, who's added some much-needed spark during each of his three appearances from the bench.

    Origi spent most of the season on the wing at Lille but has been used in a central role for Belgium. He scored the winning goal against Russia and saw his effort rebound to Jan Vertonghen, who grabbed the winner against South Korea.

    In the 95 minutes he's been on the field, Belgium have scored four times and are yet to concede. Remarkably, they have not scored in the 175 minutes he's missed, conceding once.

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