25 Stars from the 2014 World Cup So Far

Rob Dawson@@RobDawsonMENManchester United CorrespondentJune 21, 2014

25 Stars from the 2014 World Cup So Far

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    We're currently a little more than a week into the 2014 World Cup, but there have already been some impressive performances.

    There have been stunning goals, horrible mistakes, flashes of genius and moments of madness.

    There have been shocks, too, with Spain's early exit and Costa Rica surprising everyone to qualify for the knockout rounds after just two games.

    Here's a countdown of 25 stars of the World Cup so far. Weight has been given to the impact they've made and their importance to their team.

    Feel free to use the comments section below to agree, disagree and add your own.

25. Ivan Rakitic, Croatia

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    Another player might only have been remembered for swapping his shorts with Cameroon's Stephane Mbia and walking back to the dressing rooms in just his pants.

    But Ivan Rakitic is good enough to be remembered for his football, too.

    The 26-year-old, who has signed for Barcelona, didn't deserve to be on the losing side against Brazil in the opening game.

    And his partnership with Luka Modric in midfield will make Croatia a formidable opponent should they progress from Group A.

24. Patrice Evra, France

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    As captain at the World Cup in 2010, Patrice Evra is tied to what happened to France in South Africa four years ago.

    But he's using the tournament in Brazil to rubbish any lingering doubts over his ability to play his part in a harmonious national team.

    He might not have the armband any more, but he has played a key part in France's impressive start to the World Cup. 

    There are tougher tests to come, but the 33-year-old has shown flashes of the form that made him the world's best left-back only a few years ago.

23. Andrea Pirlo, Italy

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    By now it should be no surprise that Andrea Pirlo is good on the ball.

    Despite destroying England at Euro 2012 with the grace of conductor waving his baton, he was allowed to do it again in Manaus.

    Even at the 35 years old, the Italian midfielder showed he can still run games at the highest level.

    He capped his performance with a wonderful free-kick that he was unlucky to see hit the crossbar. 

22. Mario Mandzukic, Croatia

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    Mario Mandzukic was suspended for Croatia's opening game with Brazil. And, as games go, it wasn't a great one to miss.

    But the 28-year-old striker, who is reported as saying that he will leave Bayern Munich this summer, made up for lost time in Croatia's second game, scoring two goals in a 4-0 win over Cameroon.

    It's given Croatia the chance to qualify from the group when they play Mexico in the final game.

21. Marouane Fellaini, Belgium

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    Marouane Fellaini had a miserable first season at Manchester United.

    So much so that there are doubts about whether he'll still be at Old Trafford next season, according to James Ducker of the Times.

    But all that seemed to drain away when he came off the bench to score Belgium's equaliser against Algeria in Group H.

    It was a goal that helped Belgium come from behind to win their opening game and let Fellaini put nine months of frustration behind him.

20. Clint Dempsey, USA

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    Clint Dempsey was already one of the USA's stars before this World Cup.

    But when Jurgen Klinsmann announced his surprise decision to leave Landon Donovan at home, the expectation on the 31-year-old increased just a little bit.

    The former Fulham and Tottenham man needed only 30 seconds to deliver, scoring the USA's opening goal against Ghana.

    They still face a tough task to qualify from a group that also includes Portugal and Germany, but Dempsey has already shown himself to be up for the challenge.

19. Alexis Sanchez, Chile

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    Chile didn't arrive in Brazil as Group B's whipping boys.

    But they've made what should have been a tough task to qualify from a group that also includes Netherlands and Spain look easy.

    The aftermath of the 2-0 win over the holders was dominated by reaction to Spain's early exit, which took the attention away from Chile's magnificent performance.

    Alexis Sanchez, with his pace and trickery, has led by example, scoring one and making another against Australia.

18. Carlo Costly, Honduras

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    Scoring your country's first World Cup goal for 32 years should be enough to make you a national hero.

    Carlo Costly's driven finish put Honduras ahead against Ecuador. However, they still fell to a 2-1 defeat.

    Still, the 31-year-old has made an impression in Brazil. Helped, in part, by his colourful background and preference for chewing a bright blue object while he's playing.

17. Joel Campbell, Costa Rica

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    Arsenal's Joel Campbell doesn't know where his future lies after loan spells at Lorient, Real Betis and Olympiacos.

    But the forward's given himself a good chance of being recalled by Arsene Wenger after helping Costa Rica surprise everyone in Brazil.

    The 21-year-old scored against Uruguay in the first game, and he should have won a penalty against Italy in the second.

16. Raheem Sterling, England

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    Despite the cautious optimism when Roy Hodgson named a youthful, exciting squad, it has turned into a miserable World Cup for England.

    There are few positives to take from a tournament that will end at the group stage for the first time since 1958.

    But Raheem Sterling has at least provided one highlight.

    His display against Italy showed that there is hope for the future. And, still only 19-years-old, he should be around for a while yet. 

15. Arturo Vidal, Chile

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    There were question marks over whether Arturo Vidal would be fit enough to take part in Brazil after suffering a knee injury before the tournament.

    And he looked tired in the second half against Australia, coming off after 60 minutes.

    But he dominated the midfield against Spain in the second game, getting the better of Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Andres Iniesta. 

    Just weeks after returning from surgery, that's quite an achievement. 

14. Gervinho, Ivory Coast

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    Gervinho signed for Roma in 2013 after almost becoming a figure of fun during his two seasons in the Premier League with Arsenal.

    But no one is laughing now.

    He scored his first goal of the World Cup as Ivory Coast came from behind to beat Japan in their first game. 

    They lost their second game against Colombia, but Gervinho scored the goal of the game with a wonderful solo effort. 

13. Lionel Messi, Argentina

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    Lionel Messi has won everything there is to win with Barcelona while collecting every personal accolade possible along the way.

    But he arrived in Brazil with Argentina with questions about whether he could recreate his Nou Camp form at the World Cup.

    With just one jinking run and clinical finish against Bosnia and Herzegovina, they were answered.

    Just Messi's presence in the Argentina squad makes them one of the favourites to lift the trophy. A World Cup winners' medal would complete an already impressive CV. 

12. Bryan Ruiz, Costa Rica

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    Bryan Ruiz showed moments of brilliance with Fulham in the Premier League, but he never did so consistently and was subsequently loaned to PSV Eindhoven.

    His ability has never been in question, and he showed what he's capable of by scoring the only goal of the game against Italy to book Costa Rica's place in the knockout rounds of a World Cup for the first time in 24 years.

    The 28-year-old striker will get another opportunity to shock everyone in the last 16.

11. Enner Valencia, Ecuador

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    Ecuador have scored three goals at this summer's World Cup, and Enner Valencia has got all of them.

    His first against Switzerland ultimately counted for nothing, but he scored twice against Honduras to give his team a chance of getting out of Group E.

    Antonio Valencia arrived in Brazil as Ecuador's most recognisable player. But it's his namesake Enner, who plays for Pachuca in Mexico, who has taken Ecuador to the brink of qualification for the last 16.

10. Karim Benzema, France

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    Karim Benzema is helping France to put the nightmare memories of the 2010 World Cup behind them.

    The Real Madrid striker scored twice to help Didier Deschamps' side get off to a perfect start against Honduras.

    And he scored again in the 5-2 win over Switzerland. Unfortunately, his best goal of the tournament came seconds after the final whistle and didn't count.

    With a game against Ecuador to come and the possibility that France could go far in Brazil, the 26-year-old has given himself a great opportunity to win the Golden Boot.

9. James Rodriguez, Colombia

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    You know things are going well for James Rodriguez when he's scoring bullet headers at the near post.

    That's exactly what he did for Colombia against Ivory Coast to hand Colombia their second win at the World Cup as they look increasingly likely to top Group C.

    Playing in a more central position in Brazil, the 22-year-old has done enough to worry any team that might come up against them in the knockout rounds.

8. Thomas Mueller, Germany

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    Mario Gomez isn't in the Germany squad and Miroslav Klose is 36 years old. However, Germany don't need a specialist centre forward if Thomas Mueller keeps up his goalscoring form.

    Germany's task in their first game with Portugal was made easier by Pepe's ridiculous red card.

    But that won't have mattered to Mueller, who put himself in the driving seat for the Golden Boot with a hat-trick. 

    Still only 24 years old, he has already scored eight goals at the World Cup finals. It has put him in sight of Ronaldo's record of 15.

7. Robin van Persie, Netherlands

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    Robin van Persie endured a difficult season at Manchester United, but he's not showing any signs of a hangover in Brazil.

    Fully fit after a knee injury, Van Persie and Arjen Robben were the catalysts for the Netherlands' 5-1 demolition of Spain.

    Van Persie's diving header to level the scores against the reigning champions will be replayed again and again. He later added a second after robbing Iker Casillas to deepen Spain's misery.

    He followed it up with another goal against Australia as Louis van Gaal's team continued their perfect start. 

6. Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico

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    Few outside of Mexico will have heard of Guillermo Ochoa before the World Cup.

    But they now know all about the 28-year-old goalkeeper after his performance earned Mexico a goalless draw against hosts Brazil.

    His save from Neymar's header drew comparisons with Gordon Banks' stop from Pele's header in 1970.

    The exposure is good news for Ochoa, who's looking for a new club after leaving French side Ajaccio.

5. Luis Suarez, Uruguay

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    Uruguay were well-beaten by Costa Rica in their first game. but they beat England in their second.

    You don't need a copy of the teamsheets to know which game Luis Suarez missed and which one he started.

    He wasn't fully fit for the game against England after suffering a knee injury before the tournament, but he got two chances and converted both to get Uruguay's World Cup campaign up and running.

    That he also helped knock out the country where he plays his club football will have been an added bonus for the Liverpool striker.

4. Arjen Robben, Netherlands

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    Arjen Robben's frightening pace has already made Spanish and Australian defenders look like they're treading water while he races to put the ball in the net.

    And there will be few teams who fancy playing against the Bayern Munich winger in the knockout rounds.

    The 30-year-old has so far scored three goals in two games.

3. Neymar, Brazil

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    As a Brazilian footballer, there is no greater pressure than that of wearing the No. 10 shirt at a World Cup on home soil.

    But, still only 22 years old, Neymar is playing like he's relishing the opportunity rather than letting the weight of expectation crush him.

    His two goals helped Brazil come from behind to beat Croatia in the tournament's opening game. 

    Even in the goalless draw with Mexico, it was the Barcelona forward who took responsibility for trying to create something out of nothing to lift his team.

2. Tim Cahill, Australia

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    Australia are already out of the World Cup, but Tim Cahill couldn't have done much more to inspire his team.

    He scored with a wonderful header against Chile to give Australia hope of rescuing a point.

    And his left-foot volley against Netherlands is one of the best goals you're ever likely to see at a World Cup.

    The 34-year-old is suspended for Australia's final game against Spain, but he's already made his mark in Brazil.

1. Jorge Luis Pinto, Costa Rica

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    Jorge Luis Pinto deserves great credit for what he has achieved with Costa Rica in Brazil.

    Most expected them to make up the numbers after being drawn with Italy, Uruguay and England in Group D.

    But, with one game to go, they find themselves with the luxury of being able to rest players for the final game against England having already secured a place in the last 16.

    Pinto has encouraged his team to frustrate but, more importantly, attack Uruguay and Italy. And it's a tactic that has paid off with spectacular results.

    He has led Costa Rica to the knockout rounds of the World Cup finals for the first time since Italia '90.