World Cup 2014: Best XI of Day 24 with Messi, Robben and Navas
Day 24 of the 2014 FIFA World Cup featured a pair of cagey quarter-finals, some standout goalkeeping and the end of an extended goalscoring slump.
In Brasilia, Gonzalo Higuain finally found the back of the net as Argentina beat Belgium 1-0 at Estadio Nacional Mane Garrincha. In Salvador, the Netherlands required penalties to see off Costa Rica at Arena Fonte Nova.
There were other key performances on Saturday, and over the next few slides, we’ll have a look at Day 24’s best XI.
This XI is almost entirely subjective, taking into account basic statistics but mostly revolving around our assessment of each player's effect on his team.
In the spirit of the three-man defensive units we’ve been seeing so much at this World Cup, the following team is organised in a 3-4-3 formation.
Goalkeeper: Keylor Navas, Costa Rica
His World Cup is over, but Keylor Navas gave the Netherlands quite the scare on Saturday.
Over the 120 minutes of normal and extra time, the 27-year-old goalkeeper made seven saves, including three on Robin van Persie. He also successfully claimed 100 percent of the crosses and corners he attacked, per WhoScored.com.
Given his overall performance at the World Cup, it’s no wonder both Arsenal and Liverpool are reportedly keen to sign him from Levante, according to Metro.
Centre-Back: Ezequiel Garay, Argentina
Ezequiel Garay didn’t give anything away in Argentina’s quarter-final win over Belgium.
Neither Divock Origi nor Romelu Lukaku had the time or service to make anything happen for the Red Devils, and the 27-year-old Benfica man was at least partly to credit for that.
Centre-Back: Giancarlo Gonzalez, Costa Rica
Like Ticos teammate Keylor Navas, central defender Giancarlo Gonzalez likely did enough to earn a lucrative transfer over the next few weeks.
Against the Netherlands, the 26-year-old—who plays his club football for Columbus Crew—repeatedly got the better of Robin van Persie, and his efficient rate of passing allowed Costa Rica to spring the odd counter-attack in Salvador.
Centre-Back: Johnny Acosta, Costa Rica
Johnny Acosta only suited up for Costa Rica because Oscar Duarte was unavailable through suspension.
There wasn’t the slightest drop-off.
The 30-year-old central defender played a physical 120 minutes in front of goalkeeper Keylor Navas, and he was especially helpful when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar was introduced to the Dutch attack.
Right Wing-Back: Dirk Kuyt, Netherlands
Dirk Kuyt is the sort of player who will go out and do whatever is asked of him.
Against Costa Rica on Saturday, the Fenerbahce attacker once again functioned as a wing-back in Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal’s 3-4-3 formation. And once again, he put in a display that was both workmanlike and effective.
The 33-year-old touched the ball more than 100 times in Salvador, and he still had enough left in the tank to successfully convert his spot kick during the penalty shootout.
Central Midfielder: Yeltsin Tejeda, Costa Rica
Yeltsin Tejeda was the unsung man in an unsung squad, but over the course of Costa Rica’s World Cup adventure, he became a vital player in a team that surpassed all expectations.
Against the Netherlands in Saturday’s late quarter-final, the defensive midfielder ran himself ragged while mopping up his teammates’ mistakes. He also made a vital goal-line clearance to prevent a Dutch winner in the second half.
Central Midfielder: Javier Mascherano, Argentina
Javier Mascherano kept close tabs on Kevin De Bruyne on Saturday, and he also helped neutralise the likes of Eden Hazard and Kevin Mirallas in Brasilia.
The Barcelona midfielder didn’t get his customary number of touches against Belgium, but he moved the ball efficiently and, most importantly, gave nothing away when on defense.
Left Wing-Back: Junior Diaz, Costa Rica
Junior Diaz will turn 31 in September, but at the 2014 World Cup, the left-sided defender played like a man 10 years younger.
Arjen Robben could well have nightmares of the Mainz man during the next few nights, and Robin van Persie, too, struggled to get the better of him.
Forward: Arjen Robben, Netherlands
Arjen Robben doesn’t run out of energy. He just goes and goes and goes.
Against Costa Rica, the Bayern Munich attacker constantly had the opposition defense on the back-foot. While he didn’t put the ball in the back of the net during 120 minutes of open play, he won eight dribbles and passed for high efficiency in the attacking third.
Then, crucially, he successfully converted his penalty as the Netherlands went on to book a spot in the semi-finals.
Forward: Lionel Messi, Argentina
Argentina manager Alejandro Sabella was full of praise for Lionel Messi following his squad's 1-0 quarter-final win over Belgium.
“Messi played a wonderful match,” Sabella remarked, according to Goal. “Every move he makes is a sign of hope for us. What he does is always decisive; it’s beyond scoring goals.”
Against the Red Devils, Messi’s midfield pirouette and subsequent pass to Angel Di Maria helped set up Gonzalo Higuain for the only goal of the game.
Forward: Gonzalo Higuain, Argentina
Gonzalo Higuain’s 528-minute goalscoring slump came to an end in Brasilia on Saturday.
In the eighth minute against quarter-final rivals Belgium, the Napoli striker latched onto Angel Di Maria’s pass with a single swing of his right foot and watched as the ball beat goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois inside the far corner.
“I was calm and relaxed,” the 26-year-old said after the match, as per Goal. “I knew the goal would come and I was just doing my best for the team.”
Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com.