World Cup 2014: Ranking the Top 10 Matches from Group-Stage Games

Rob Pollard@@RobPollard_Featured ColumnistJune 27, 2014

World Cup 2014: Ranking the Top 10 Matches from Group-Stage Games

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    To many, the World Cup is the greatest show on earth, a sporting event that provides a platform for the world's finest players to perform. Those who are a success at a World Cup are immortalised for life, forever remembered for their achievements in a month-long event watched the world over. 

    Unfortunately, recent tournaments have failed to live up to expectations, defensive football too often the prevailing style, with dull matches ruining the spectacle. It led to skepticism in certain quarters about the event's long-term appeal.

    However, Brazil 2014 has been overwhelmingly impressive, bucking the trend of uninspiring football and providing joy and entertainment in equal measure. There's hardly been a bad game during what's been a wonderful group stage.

    Here we look back at the 10 best matches so far. Games were ranked on the quality of the goals and the sheer excitement of the contest.

10. France 3-0 Honduras

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    France have undoubtedly been one of the most entertaining sides to watch, full of artistry and style, with a cutting edge in attack. It's a strong mix that marks them out as potential winners.

    Their 3-0 win over Honduras demonstrated everything that makes them a force in this tournament. Two Karim Benzema goals and a Noel Valladares own goal ensured France were rewarded for their total dominance.

9. Brazil 3-1 Croatia

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    Hosts and favourites Brazil have underwhelmed somewhat so far, but there's no doubt their 3-1 win over Croatia was one of the best games of the tournament.

    Neymar, their star man in the group games, scored two and Chelsea's Oscar added a third in stoppage time. Marcelo scored an own goal for Croatia, but Brazil's dominance told in the end.

8. Germany 2-2 Ghana

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    This was a fantastic performance from Ghana, who managed 20 shots at the German goal and looked to have won the match at 2-1 up. The German's, though, as ever, showed their resilience and scored an equaliser through Miroslav Klose.

    Mario Gotze gave Germany an early lead, with many expecting it to signal a comfortable win for the three-time winners, but this World Cup has been anything but predictable. Andre Ayew equalised soon after, before Asamoah Gyan put Ghana ahead with half an hour to play. However, Klose's goal—his record-equalling 15th in World Cups—drew his side level.

7. England 1-2 Italy

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    This was a different England from the one we've come to expect. Gone was the slow, ineffective football of past tournaments, and in came a new inventive attacking style. It made for a far better spectacle than when they met Italy at Euro 2012.

    The Italians took the lead through Claudio Marchisio, but England hit back almost immediately when Wayne Rooney's cross from the left found Daniel Sturridge inside the area. However, former Manchester City striker Mario Balotelli headed the winner to leave Roy Hodgson's men staring at an early exit.

    It was an absorbing contest indicative of the early matches in Brazil.

6. Argentina 1-0 Iran

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    There may only have been one goal scored, a beauty from Lionel Messi, but this was a thrilling contest. Iran, unfancied and far less well-equipped than Argentina, really played their part and were unfortunate not to take what would have been a famous point.

    Messi's goal, which came one minute into stoppage time, was a brilliant left-footed curler from outside the box—a strike worthy of winning any match.

5. Switzerland 2-5 France

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    France continued their fine start with a demolition of Switzerland to take full control of Group F. Goals from Olivier Giroud, Blaise Matuidi, Mathieu Valbuena, Karim Benzema and Moussa Sissoko put France 5-0 up, before excellent consolation goals from Blerim Dzemaili and Granit Xhaka brought some respectability to the score for Switzerland.

4. USA 2-2 Portugal

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    After losing their opening game to Germany, many felt the USA would feel Portugal's wrath, but Jurgen Klinsmann's men aren't in Brazil to make up the numbers.

    When Nani opened the scoring after a poor clearance by Geoff Cameron on five minutes, Portugal looked likely to go on and assert their dominance, but Jermaine Jones equalised with a stunning strike just after the hour mark.

    The USA looked strong, and with less than 10 minutes remaining, Clint Dempsey looked to have won it, but with seconds left Michael Bradley was dispossessed in midfield and Portugal surged forward, a move which ended with Cristiano Ronaldo's brilliant cross from the right being headed in by Silvestre Varela.

    It was a pulsating finish to an excellent game.

3. Australia 2-3 Netherlands

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    Very few expected this to be such a keenly contested game, given the way the Dutch has steamrollered Spain in their opening encounter, but Australia, led by Tim Cahill, gave an excellent account of themselves and were unlucky to lose.

    Arjen Robben's superb solo goal got Holland off to a flyer, but moments later Australia were level, a wonderful volley from Cahill flying in off the bar.

    Mile Jedinak scored a penalty to put the underdogs ahead, but Robin van Persie's emphatic finish brought Holland back level, before Memphis Depay's long-range effort won it.

    It was a breathless 90 minutes, with Cahill's goal set to go down as a World Cup great.

2. Nigeria 2-3 Argentina

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    Argentina have been one of the most entertaining sides during the group stage, and their 3-2 win over Nigeria was a classic. Once again, Messi was the heart of it, as his side demonstrated their free-flowing best, as well as their defensive vulnerability.

    Messi gave them the lead with a thumping finish after 3 minutes, but Nigeria wouldn't lie down, and Ahmed Musa's brilliant strike brought them level almost immediately. It was the first time in World Cup history both sides had scored in the opening five minutes.

    Messi's free-kick in first-half stoppage time was superb, and it looked at that stage as if Argentina would go on and win comfortably. But Musa scored his second just after the break. Marcos Rojo won it for Argentina, as they breathed a huge sigh of relief at the end of a sensational game.

1. Spain 1-5 Netherlands

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    Spain began the tournament as one of the favourites. Holders of both the World Cup and the European Championship, they're a side that will go down in the pantheon of the greatest-ever teams, their passing and movement making them near unplayable when on song.

    It was a great surprise, then, when the Netherlands, who are nowhere near as strong as previous Dutch teams, battered them 5-1 after going a goal down early on.

    David Silva's miss at 1-0 to Spain proved crucial, with the Dutch suddenly looking dangerous every time they attacked. The quality of the goals scored, particularly Robin van Persie's header, were incredible. This is a match that will forever be remembered as a World Cup classic.