Best XI in World Cup Round of 16

Aaron Bower@@aaronbowerFeatured ColumnistJuly 2, 2014

Best XI in World Cup Round of 16

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    Fabrizio Bensch/Associated Press

    A total of 24 teams have left the 2014 World Cup, and there are just eight nations left in the fight to become champions of the world.

    The host nation are still there in the battle, but they are joined by perhaps some lesser household names in Colombia and Costa Rica. But those two teams have lit up the World Cup with some great play and are definitely in the quarter-finals on merit.

    Elsewhere, the likes of Argentina are still standing, after they scraped through against Switzerland with a late, late goal. It took extra time for Germany to progress against Algeria, while France continued to breeze their way through the tournament with another comfortable win.

    But out of all eight last-16 ties at the World Cup, which 11 players stood out above the rest? Let's take a look.

GK: Manuel Neuer (Germany)

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    First and foremost, let me make it clear that it was incredibly hard to leave out Tim Howard. He was a real warrior in vain for the United States, making an astonishing 15 saves in their defeat to Belgium.

    And although Howard was excellent, it's worrying to imagine what could have happened to Germany if Manuel Neuer wasn't playing.

    Neuer has brought the concept of the sweeper keeper into the mainstream, and he is quickly establishing himself as the best stopper on the planet.

    His performance against Algeria was one of the best of the entire tournament, with a real commanding presence at the back taking the pressure off the German defence.

    Their lack of pace at the back is apparent, but with Neuer bailing them out time after time, you can't write off Germany against France in the quarter-finals.

LB: Ricardo Rodriguez (Switzerland)

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    Is Ricardo Rodriguez the best left-back of the entire World Cup? Perhaps. He's impressed massively for Switzerland throughout the tournament and has a massive influence on the Swiss playing well.

    Sure, they exited the World Cup in the last 16, but the European Championships will surely feature the Swiss, and Rodriguez.

    Per Squawka, Rodriguez was Switerland's second-best performer at the tournament (behind Xherdan Shaqiri).

    His passing ability is superb, and he looks remarkably comfortable on the ball going forward. He gives the Swiss a real calming presence at the back and underlines why they can be such a tough team to beat.

    Against Argentina he was excellent and dealt with the large attacking threat they carried magnificently.

CB: Essaid Belkalem (Algeria)

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    Jon Super/Associated Press

    Watford fans must have been watching Germany vs. Algeria and wondering just what a star they've got on their hands for next season.

    Essaid Belkalem only played eight times for the Championship club last season, but Watford made it a permanent deal before the World Cup got underway.

    And against Germany, he was one of the best performers on the entire field. It's no coincidence that the Algerians kept Germany scoreless for 90 minutes, and Belkalem played so well.

    His presence at the back underlined the Algerian determination all the way through the tournament, and he was absolutely everywhere against the Germans.

    Although they went out in the last 16 on this occasion, expect Belkalem to have a big impact on English football next season.

CB: Omar Gonzalez (USA)

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    Although Tim Howard only just missed out on selection for this best XI from the last 16, two United States defenders do make the cut.

    First of all, joining Essaid Belkalem in the central-defensive positions is Omar Gonzalez. In truth, it could have been Matt Besler who made the cut, as both centre-halves were absolutely incredible.

    Belgium's attacking threat is well-noted, and it is what makes them such a threat at this World Cup. But for 90 minutes, Gonzalez and Besler were phenomenal.

    The USA were dead on their feet after an hour, but Gonzalez somehow found a way to get behind every shot the Belgians threw at the American goal.

RB: DeAndre Yedlin (USA)

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    Matt Dunham/Associated Press

    It's safe to say that, prior to the USA facing Belgium in the last 16 of this World Cup, their best player has been right-back Fabian Johnson.

    However, midway through the first period against Belgium, Johnson pulled up with a hamstring injury. That forced their impact sub, DeAndre Yedlin, to come on and do a job in the absence of one of their big stars.

    But Yedlin didn't just fill Johnson's shoes. In fact, he exceeded all expectations with a remarkable performance. He was comfortable at the back all night, but it was going forward where he was so impressive.

    Quick, pacey and technically superb, Yedlin has surely commanded some interest from European clubs after that performance on Tuesday night.

DM: Luis Gustavo (Brazil)

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    Andre Penner/Associated Press

    With all the talk of Neymar carrying the hopes of a nation heading into the latter stages of the World Cup, it's easy to forget that they've got some pretty decent defensive and midfield options, too.

    And chief among them is Luis Gustavo, who has been doing a fantastic job of anchoring the Brazilian midfield. His job is a thankless one; as he sits deep and soaks up pressure, the infamous Brazilian attack surges forward and does their stuff.

    He's a real busy midfielder, who likes a tackle and loves an aerial duel. Sure, his passing accuracy of 74 percent against Chile wasn't brilliant, but that shouldn't overshadow the excellent job he did in front of Brazil's defence.

    The Bayern Munich man is one of the best holding midfielders in the world, and plenty have known that for some time. However, he is cementing a growing reputation at this World Cup with some excellent performances.

DM: Javier Mascherano (Argentina)

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    Ricardo Mazalan/Associated Press

    As individual performances at this World Cup go so far, Javier Mascherano's effort against Switzerland is up there with the very best.

    So often humped back into the centre of defence to shore up a gap, Mascherano has been allowed to play his normal holding-midfield role for the Argentinians at this World Cup.

    His passing accuracy against the Swiss was a stunning 94 percent, and his work rate in defence allowed the Swiss to rarely get anywhere near the Argentinian defence.

    Lionel Messi has dominated the headlines when it comes to Argentina's performances at this World Cup. But Mascherano shouldn't be overlooked when it comes to ranking the best of the best.

AM: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

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    Manu Fernandez/Associated Press

    Is Lionel Messi solely carrying Argentina toward World Cup glory? Like Diego Maradona in 1986, Messi's performances for Argentina in this tournament have been nothing short of inspirational.

    There was that moment of magic against Iran that separated two pretty even teams, and then there was his performance against Nigeria. But against Switzerland in the last 16, Messi was Argentina's only hope in attack.

    Although Angel Di Maria scored the winning goal, he was absolutely appalling. In truth, so was Gonzalo Higuain. It has been up to Messi to carry the hopes of a nation in attack, and so far, he is doing a pretty good job.

    That winner would never have occurred without the guile and creativity of Messi. And the more he does it, you just get the feeling Argentina's name could be on that trophy come the end of the tournament.

AM: Alexis Sanchez (Chile)

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    It's a real shame that Chile have exited the World Cup so early, in all fairness. They have been fantastic for the tournament, and the way they play the game is incredibly admirable.

    And chief among their attacking threat is the outstanding Alexis Sanchez. Much is being made of his future, with a potential move to the Premier League on the horizon, according to a report by Paul Clennam on And if Liverpool or Arsenal gets their hands on Sanchez, they should automatically be installed as one of the biggest contenders to win the league.

    That's how good Sanchez is. It's heartbreaking to think that his tournament will be remembered for that missed penalty against Brazil, because his general performance was breathtaking.

    With a slightly easier draw, Chile could have gone seriously deep in this World Cup. But when the dust settles on the tournament, Alexis should still be regarded as one of the best players in this amazing World Cup.

AM: Juan Cuadrado (Colombia)

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    Thanassis Stavrakis/Associated Press

    There will be few who think Colombia have a chance against the mighty Brazil in the quarter-finals. With the host nation riding on a wave of fan emotion to try to steer them toward the final, the task seems tough for the Colombians.

    But with the midfield guile of Juan Cuadrado, it's impossible to completely write off the Colombians. He's made the most assists of anyone throughout this World Cup and is a perfect partner in crime for James Rodriguez in attack.

    He's technically brilliant with the ball at his feet and has a superb passing range. And against Uruguay, he put in a remarkable performance to brush off the Luis Suarez-less Uruguayans.

    You suspect if he keeps up these levels of performance, a move away from Fiorentina could be on the cards before too long.

ST: James Rodriguez (Colombia)

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    Fabrizio Bensch/Associated Press

    This World Cup has been dominated by scintillating attack. Lionel Messi has finally arrived on the World Cup stage with some breathless performances for Argentina, and the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Neymar have done their bit, too.

    But without doubt the player of the tournament so far is Colombia's James Rodriguez. It wasn't supposed to be like this for Colombia, who are without their real lynchpin in Radamel Falcao.

    But Rodriguez has seriously stepped up to the plate in Brazil and is spearheading Colombia's charge toward a first-ever World Cup success. His goal against Uruguay is the goal of the tournament so far, and underlined just how much talent the Monaco man has in his locker.

    Can they go all the way? It will be tough, but if they somehow get past Brazil, they have every chance of lifting the trophy. And if Rodriguez can deliver with some sublime football yet again, Colombia cannot be ruled out against the host nation.