- Mexican Defense: They have conceded a single goal in the group stages, and really the goal came when the game and Mexico’s spot in the knock out stage was well in hand. Guillermo Ochoa became a star against Brazil. Against Croatia he needed some help from his backline. Regardless they held the line.
- Miguel Herrera: It is difficult to get on the winners list for Group A. Herrera missed the cut both times prior. No more snubs…No one is more entertaining on the sideline. Yeah, Piojo turned the team around with the blessing of San Zusi, noted… But his manic and emotional reactions in the tactical area is as entertaining as the match. FIFA is missing out by not having a channel dedicated to him. If he returns to coach Club America, are you not watching, just for a little peek?
- Brazil: It took the second half of the third game to really impress. Brazil looked shaky against Croatia in the first match and Ochoa robbed them in the second. Against Cameroon, Brazil got themselves right with a goal from Fred, and two more from Neymar. They go into the knock out once again as one of the clear favorites.
- Cameroon: 9 goals conceded, 1 scored, 0 points. Throw in the Alex Song red card in the second game, the teammates fighting on the field, and Allan Nyom shoving Neymar when they were running passed the touchline. Cameroon kept it classy
- Officiating Crew from Mexico-Croatia: With Mexico pouring on the pressure in the second half a desperate Darijo Srna slid to block a shot and intentionally handed the ball. Honestly it was probably the best save made by a Croatian player. Head official Ravshan Irmatov and the linemen missed what would have been a PK in a scoreless game and a straight red for Srna. Irmatov is only lucky Chicharito didn’t eat his face.
- Stipe Pletikosa: Just a bad performance for the keeper. Fortunately, Tim Howard and Gigi Buffon are keeping it going for the old man keepers.
Man of the Group: Miguel Herrera
Runners-up: Neymar and Guillermo Ochoa
- David Villa: Villa announced his retirement for international play prior to the World Cup. The hard-working and rarely showy striker let it all hang out against Australia. Back heeling, flicking and ball hogging, Villa was trying to send a message to the Australians, many of which he’ll be playing against during his 10 game loan to Melbourne City. Villa earned the right to ball out in his pseudo-testimonial. Well done, David.
- Memphis Depay: In 63 minutes: 2 goals and 1 assist. He’s the super sub of the tournament with substitutes scoring at high rates. The 20 year-old winger/forward with PSV Eindhoven is already linked to… big surprise… Manchester United.
- The Netherlands’ Defense: Perceived to be the team’s biggest weakness, answered the call against their biggest test. Chile had 65% possession, but only managed 7 shots and 1 on target.
- The Spanish New Guard: The old Spanish guard were rightfully criticized for their on the field performance. Off the pitch the most humiliated and disgraced among them handled themselves with class. Xabi Alonso and Andrés Iniesta addressed the media and accepted the blame. Before the match, it was rumored Cesc Fábregas didn’t start due to an incidence in practice. He was accused of being more concerned with the Chelsea transfer than preparing for the competition. After the Australia match, Jordi Alba confronted a reporter from the Madrid tabloid AS in front of the press pool.
- Fernando Torres: Since his injury, Torres has been an easy target for not scoring against the better opponents and winning Golden Boots as a flat track bully. His goal against Australia will add to that image, despite the fact he plays hard regardless of the opponent. Yes, he’s on the losers list for playing well, this is his life.
- Chilean: They got exposed on the counterattack as predicted. Do they have an answer to against the counter?
Man of the Group: Arjen Robben
Runners-up: Memphis Depay and Alexis Sanchez
- James Rodríguez: Iniesta, Pirlo, Özil, and di María would likely appear on anyone’s list of top midfielders coming into the World Cup. James Rodríguez has been better than all of them. The 22-year old Colombian has been a truly spectacular and the break out star of the tournament.
- Greece: They scored 2 goals all tournament, both in the game against the Ivory Coast. That’s the first time they scored in 9 World Cup games. They are the worst team to make the knock round, but they are in it, so…
- Costa Rica: Greece’s next opponent.
- Ivory Coast: They may have had the most talented players coming into the group or at least the most well-known. Not getting out of the group is a big disappointment.
- Japan: The results are less disappointing than the way they played. They were to be the ying positive attack to the Greece yang negative defensive.
- Colombia: Their road may be tougher than second seeded Greece.
Man of the Group: James Rodríguez
Runners-up: Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and Wilfried Bony
- Jorge Luis Pinto: Los Ticos achieved the unimaginable. The Central and South American coaching lifer got a collection of players from mid-table teams in the top leagues, Major League Soccer, and second-tier European leagues of the past three former World Cup winners. They played aggressive, smart and disciplined defense without bunkering down. They drew opponents offside a total of 18 times, including 11 times against the “tactically brilliant” Italy (my words). All this missing their best striker Álvaro Saborío and would be starter leftback Bryan Oviedo. Easily the best surprise of the tournament.
- Diego Godín: Godín is having a great couple of months. He became an Alteti immortal with the header that won La Liga and the goal that almost gave them the Champions League. The usually steady Godín rose to the occasion again by scoring the header to put Uruguay into the knock out round.
- Skip the final winner, extra space is needed in the losers…
- Claudio Marchisio: Italy was dominating possession until he earned a straight red card. Fortunately for him, he is a footnote to this match.
- Roy Hodgson: In two World Cups, his teams have never won a game.
- Luis Suárez Enablers: Suárez’s actions go beyond this silly list or the ridicule from some blogger. Rather than rip Suárez, it is time to point to those who enabled him through the years, and specifically this past season.
Even before returning from suspension, Liverpool and his handlers began the redemption narrative. He’s been good in practice, fit, and in good spirits. During the season he behaved, played brilliantly, and revived his career with the forgotten giants of Merseyside. Within the United States, Suárez was probably the most discussed South American pre-World Cup, mainly due to the status the English Premier League enjoys here. ESPN’s essayist/poet laureate of the World Cup, Wright Thompson, profiled him as a “Serial Winner” willing to do anything for his family. In Sports Illustrated he told Grant Wahl the incidences on the field were not really him.
Whoever he is or believes himself to be includs emotional demons he cannot control which involve primal acts of rage. Uruguayan teams defend him, sponsors have yet to drop him, and Real Madrid and Barca are still eyeing him. Why change? Those without a stake in his success see the embarrassment of his actions.
What is the most embarrassing are those around him that have not provided adequate mental health treatment for him. Providing mental health professionals for athletics is not a foreign concept for the American operators of the Fenway Sports Group. Is it healthy to allow an employee which serves as the face of one of your flagship products work himself into a state of primal aggression over an artificial threat? A football match is not a life or death struggle, regardless of your financial situation. Beyond being a physical menace to opponents it is emotionally destructive, or if planned and aware psychopathic.
Regardless, his employers, sponsors, management and the country that idolizes him enable this action which will ultimately lead to his professional and/or emotional demise. If those with a stake in his success truly care for his well-being, he needs professional mental treatment. Or there will not be much left to suck out of him.
Man of the Group: Jorge Luis Pinto
Runners-up: Diego Godín and Joel Campbell
- Xherdan Shaqiri: Helvetia was watching over the 22 year-old Bayern Munich midfielder as his hat-trick made him a national hero. Not on the level of Roger Federer, Henri Nestlé, John Calvin, Johanna Spyri or some really famous skier, but definitely on par with Stanislas Wawrinka, Kubilay Türkyilmaz, and Johann David Wyss. His scoring touch showed William Tell like accuracy. If you ask ten brewers about his performance you will get only one opinion, Merci vilmal.
- Swiss is Greece’s Dream: All the talk about Greece wanting to open it up and play more attack was a noble idea but fruitless in practice. If Greece were to achieve their dream style, it would look Swiss.
- France: No cards (though should have been) and no injuries…
- Ecuador: France was well ahead on goal differential with no realistic chance of dropping to the second seeded. It was the France A2 team with a few first teamers. The debate can be do you continue to do what brought you success (only win away from Quito in 2 years) or devise a plan B tailored to a situation? Ecuador played their game with an added aggression and cynical emphasis. Perhaps Ecuador had a plan to attack in the second half but a red card for their captain changed the calculation.
- Antonio Valencia: At halftime, the Swiss had a 2 -0 lead and Ecuador had to attack. A red card by Antonio Valencia likely forced Ecuador to either display or throw that entire plan out the window. He wasn’t the first captain to sink his team with a red card, but this is the most impactful.
- Return of Honduras Prison-ball: Honduras returned to the game plan used against France and got the same result. Shaqiri got the glory while Josip Drmic did the dirty work against the Honduras backline. The veteran CONCACAF side had no answers for the young Swiss attack expecting to hack them down.
Man of the Group: Karim Benzema
Runners-up: Xherdan Shaqiri and Enner Valencia
- Alejandro Sabella: In two previous World Cups, Lionel Messi has scored only once. In this World Cup Messi has four and carried Argentina through two underwhelming performances. Defensively they have handled themselves against less than spectacular oppositions. If they can figure out how to incorporate the rest of the attacking talent, they can be the favorites on their side of the bracket.
- Lionel Messi: Congratulations. He now has as many as our great American hero Landon Donovan.
- Nigeria: They became the first African team to qualify for the knock out round, despite losing the final game and having no brand-name superstars. Part of the reason for their success is the weak group and the other part is they actually attempted to defend. The Super Eagles only conceded 3 goals.
- Bosnia-Herzegovina: The unluckiest team in the World Cup. They played well enough to get a result against Argentina, but ended empty handed. They suffered from the worst incorrect offside call in the World Cup against Nigeria. Finally, after B&H were eliminated they put it together against Iran. Welcome to the World Cup…
- Iran Football Federation: With everyone trying to market their wares this World Cup, Iran was just trying to keep their shirt on their back. Iran was perhaps the least supported squad by their government and Federation. On the field, they were well organized but ultimately just another fourth place AFC team.
- Sergio Agüero: Invisible. Unremarkable. Absent. Injured. All things that describe Agüero’s performance and the last his status. It is to be determined if he is out for the Cup, but he’s almost certain to be out for the first stage of the knock out round.
Man of the Group: Lionel Messi
Runners-up: Ahmed Musa & John Obi Mikel
- Jürgen Klinsmann: He picked the team that met his grand vision, and implemented practices and procedures that experts questioned. And that team got third in the World Cup, then 6 years later beat his new team in the group stage…
- Omar Gonzalez: When the lineup was announced, twitter blew up. I never realized so many people watched the CONCACAF Champions League or MLS. Yes, Omar has been suspect since he became a DP and especially this season with the knee problem. The LA Galaxy have one of the best goal against averages with Omar in the line-up despite his best centerback partner playing leftback. Omar, I am sorry, you were excellent today. Twitter, now it is your turn…
- Germany: Jogi Löw got three solid performances out on his top European team. That has not been easy in this World Cup. He played four centerbacks. Rather than Phillip Lahm in rightback, he played in the middle, it worked for him. No forward under 36, no problem. Snuff out his former boss, check. Germany looks like one of the two best hopes to end the trend of no World Cup champions for Europeans in the Americans.
- Ghana: After earning a hard fought result against Germany, the next four days they spent fighting each other for money. It is easy to place total blame on the players as a whole, however there are reasons, not only Ghana and before the World Cup Cameroon, do not trust their Federation to pay bonuses. This does not excuse certain players’ action or the team’s lack of effort, rather shifting a partition of the blame away from the players.
- Ghanian Bank Industry: Because flying $3 million in cash and driving an armored convoy through Brasilia is a better idea than a check.
- Paulo Bento: I am not giving up on this…
Man of the Group: Thomas Mueller
Runners-up: Clint Dempsey & Jermaine Jones
- Algeria: They made a South Korea match watchable and played with honesty, pride, and emotion. Returned an ounce of respect back to CAF.
- Islam Slimani: His goal-tying header is the biggest goal in Algeria’s history.
- Belgium: Perfect through the group and did just enough to get by with the help of some well-timed substitutions.
- Belgium: For doing just enough to get through a weak group with substitutes scoring all their goals.
- Fabio Capello: The highest paid manager in the World Cup joined the second (Roy Hodgson) and third (Cesare Prandelli) highest at the airport. He blamed the referees for Russia’s early exit, but really you would want to point to…
- Igor Akinfeev: On the vigor on defeating South Korea, Akinfeev, who was by no means flawless throughout, allowed the shot from distant to slip through his fingers for the game tying goal. Was there a green laser pointer in his eye on the free kick? Yes. Did he completely whiff on the free kick that lead to the goal? YES! Tough to give him the benefit of the doubt with the performance in the opener.
Man of the Group: Islam Slimani
Runners-up: Jan Vertonghen & Vincent Kompany
This Round’s Throw-In: Best XI in the Best Formation 3-4-3
Goalkeeper: Guillermo Ochoa
Defenders: Rafa Márquez, Serge Aurier, Ricardo Rodriguez
Midfielders: Xherdan Shaqiri, James Rodríguez, Oscar, Lionel Messi
Forwards: Thomas Mueller, Karim Benzema, Neymar