World Cup 2014: Best XI of Day 20 with Messi, Rodriguez and Lukaku
Day 20 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup featured standout goalkeeping and a pair of matches that went into extra time.
In Sao Paulo, Argentina struggled to beat Switzerland shot-stopper Diego Benaglio until Angel Di Maria’s 118th-minute winner, and in Salvador, United States goalkeeper Tim Howard stood on his head until being beaten by both Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku in extra time.
But there were many more exceptional performances on Tuesday, and over the next few slides we’ll have a look at Day 20’s best XI.
This best XI is almost entirely subjective, taking into account basic statistics but mostly revolving around our assessment of each player's effect on his team.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard, United States
Tim Howard couldn’t do anything about Kevin De Bruyne’s opener—an expertly placed finish inside the far corner after some good work from Romelu Lukaku. And he was similarly helpless on Lukaku’s winner near half-time in extra time.
But over the balance of the 120 minutes in Salvador, the Everton goalkeeper was absolutely outstanding—his 15 saves representing the most ever recorded by a ‘keeper in a single match at a World Cup, as noted by OptaJean.
Right-Back: Toby Alderweireld, Belgium
Anthony Vanden Borre’s leg fracture suffered in training meant a return to the starting line-up for Atletico Madrid right-back Toby Alderweireld, who hadn’t featured against South Korea.
But against the United States, the 25-year-old provided some useful width down the flank, while also tucking in to help teammate Daniel van Buyten when necessary.
The full-back positions aren’t exactly a strength for Belgium, but at least on Tuesday, they weren’t a liability.
Centre-Back: Omar Gonzalez, United States
Introduced to United States manager Jurgen Klismann’s starting line-up when Geoff Cameron was made the fall guy for his side’s group stage draw with Portugal, Omar Gonzalez excelled against Germany and picked up right where he left off on Tuesday against Belgium.
The 25-year-old—although he might have done better on Belgium’s second goal—rarely put a foot wrong in the centre of defense in Salvador. And that he helped smother the opposition attack for more than 90 minutes, while committing a minimum of fouls, only speaks to his excellent positional sense.
Centre-Back: Johan Djourou, Switzerland
Switzerland manager Ottmar Hitzfeld struggled to find a go-to defensive pairing until he put Fabian Schar and Johan Djourou together in front of goalkeeper Diego Benaglio.
An injury to Steve von Bergen, combined with Philippe Senderos’ shocker of a performance against France, had opened up the spot alongside Schar, and on Tuesday, Djourou took it and ran with it.
Over the 120 minutes against Argentina, the 27-year-old won all of his aerial battles, and he also kept Gonzalo Higuain and Ezequiel Lavezzi at bay, while only committing a single foul.
Left-Back: Ricardo Rodriguez, Switzerland
Ricardo Rodriguez was Switzerland’s standout performer against Argentina.
Despite playing much of the round of 16 encounter opposite Pablo Zabaleta, Ezequiel Lavezzi and, occasionally, Lionel Messi, the left-back did his job exceptionally well and can hold his head high despite the 1-0 defeat.
The New York Times blogger Stefan Bienkowski tweeted, "Rodriguez is having an outstanding game. In fact he’s having an outstanding competition. What a player."
After a terrific season at Wolfsburg, it’s no wonder Inter Milan and Chelsea are keen on signing him, per TalkSport.com.
Central Midfielder: Javier Mascherano, Argentina
Argentina didn’t win over many admirers with their 1-0 win against Switzerland.
Throughout much of the match, they struggled to piece together sustained periods of buildup, and many of their players conceded possession far too often.
Javier Mascherano wasn’t one of them.
"Gago seems to be very rarely offering himself / finding good positions to get moves going," world football writer Dermot Corrigan tweeted. "Mascherano main playmaker from deep."
The Barcelona midfielder was his side’s metronome on Tuesday—helping things tick along in spite of poor performances throughout the line-up.
At the final whistle, he had touched the ball 111 times, completed 91 percent of his passes and contributed four tackles on the defensive side of the ball.
Central Midfielder: Gokhan Inler, Switzerland
As Switzerland and Argentina headed to extra time in Sao Paulo, Gokhan Inler patted Lionel Messi on the back. Messi promptly removed the Switzerland midfielder’s arm. He wasn’t having any of it.
Apparently, it hadn’t been all that comfortable being kept in Inler’s pocket.
Until he put Angel Di Maria through to score, Messi was mostly contained by Inler, who also passed for high efficiency and contributed several tackles without picking up a yellow card.
Attacker: Xherdan Shaqiri, Switzerland
For a time, it seemed as though Xherdan Shaqiri, and not Lionel Messi, would leave his mark on the Argentina-Switzerland match in Sao Paulo.
Powerful and inspired, Shaqiri caused the Argentine defense plenty of nightmares with his blazing quick runs and liking for a tackle, and he also took four shots at target.
This will come as news to no one, but the 22-year-old is poised for an exceptional season no matter where he spends it. Liverpool, according to Daily Star, are especially keen to sign him from Bayern Munich.
Attacker: Kevin De Bruyne, Belgium
Belgium needed a hero to step up and defeat the United States, and Kevin De Bruyne proved to be that man.
Early into the first period of extra time, the Wolfsburg playmaker spun off his marker with the ball at his feet and proceeded to beat goalkeeper Tim Howard inside the far post.
Then, in the 105th minute, he set up Romelu Lukaku for what proved to be the winner in Salvador.
Attacker: Lionel Messi, Argentina
It was a frustrating day for Lionel Messi.
Angel Di Maria wasn’t providing his usual linking play; Gonzalo Higuain seemed completely isolated. Ezequiel Lavezzi wasn’t any help to anyone. Messi could only do so much.
"Lionel Messi created more chances than any other player against Switzerland (8) and assisted the only goal of the game," World Cup Stats tweeted.
But then, on a rare dribble through the Switzerland midfield, Messi picked out the struggling Di Maria with a pass that begged for a finish.
Di Maria obliged, and Argentina were through to the quarter-finals.
Centre Forward: Romelu Lukaku, Belgium
Romelu Lukaku played just half an hour of football on Tuesday, but it was one of the most important 30-minute periods of his international career.
Benched against South Korea, the striker was only introduced against the United States once manager Marc Wilmots had decided to withdraw Divock Origi after normal time. He turned to Lukaku, and he didn’t regret it.
Less than three minutes had been played in extra time when Lukaku made his first contribution—carrying the ball downfield and setting up Kevin De Bruyne’s opener.
Then, about 12 minutes later, he scored what proved to be the winner, after accepting De Bruyne’s pass and beating Tim Howard with an accurate finish.
All statistics via WhoScored.com.