World Cup 2014: Group Stage Winners and Losers
The 2014 FIFA World Cup has been nothing short of excellent so far, bringing us 48 matches to date that have been mostly exciting, goal-laden and full of offensive football.
At the end of it all, we're left with 16 teams progressing through to the knockout stages, and the same number of teams who are on a plane out of Brazil, homeward bound after three fixtures apiece.
There have been surprises, shocks, moments of inspiration and stupidity and a few stand-out individuals throughout, and here is our chance to assess the biggest winners and losers from each group.
Group A Winner: Neymar
It can't be easy to carry the hopes of a nation into a World Cup on home soil during your first appearance. And it certainly can't get much better when most of your first-pick team-mates don't turn up for the first three games.
Luckily for Brazil, Neymar appears to be well up to the challenge, running riot with four goals already and being comfortably the team's stand-out player.
The Barcelona man is revelling in his role, as he noted—per FIFA.com:
When you’re living a dream and achieving a goal you’ve had since you were a child, you don’t feel any pressure. I’m doing what I’ve dreamed of, so I want to help my team-mates by scoring goals, defending, challenging for the ball, whatever’s needed to get us the win.
Creatively he has been almost their only outlet at times, while he's certainly been the main man where goalscoring is concerned. Others should step up as the tournament goes on, but for the group stage at least, it was Neymar against the world.
Group A Loser: Cameroon's Lack of Discipline
Cameroon might have come into the tournament with hopes of having an impact, but they were nothing short of terrible.
A ragged and indisciplined side in terms of their shape, plan of attack and ability to link play through the middle of the pitch, Cameroon were dominated by Mexico, completely fell apart against Croatia and blown out by Brazil.
Add into that Alex Song's petulant red card and the fact they leave with no points, and it's been an horrendous tournament for them.
Group B Winner: Louis Van Gaal's Tactics and Selections
Netherlands were handed a tough group draw but passed with flying colours by winning all three matches. Van Gaal's emphasis on early balls from wide and counter-attacks were perfect against Spain as the Dutch demolished the reigning holders, while they also saw off the challenge of Chile.
A somewhat nervy win over Australia might have been costly if not for the great threat in the final third the team carries, but that's the point: Van Gaal has made the absolute most of his team's strengths.
They finished as top scorers in the group stage, the only team to reach 10 goals.
Group B Loser: End of an Era for Spain
Who else, but Spain?
The World Cup holders lost their first two matches, looking a pale imitation of their formerly successful selves.
Their dominance was always going to come to an end at some point, but the manner and completeness of how it came about was tough to watch. They'll build again, but we've seen the last of the likes of Xavi, David Villa and perhaps more.
Group C Winner: James Rodriguez, the New Star on the World Stage
Aside from those who watch Ligue 1, James Rodriguez might have been a name but not a face before the World Cup.
There's no doubt that right now, he's one of the most watched players on the planet; Colombia's fast style of play, their free-scoring ability and Rodriguez's great skill have made them an exciting side.
The forward has made an impression on the Daily Mail's Jeff Powell, who wrote: "The real beauty of Rodriguez is his creativity, his orchestrating of the play with such elegance that there seem to be times when even the most hostile of opponents cannot help but stand back and admire."
Led by Rodriguez, who has three goals and two assists, Colombia will be one of the neutrals' favourite sides to watch and will have great hope of progressing further at the finals.
Group C Loser: Ivory Coast's Inability to See out the Final Minute
Ivory Coast were almost there.
With 90 minutes on the clock, they were level with Greece, needing a point that would have seen them finish second in the group—but disaster struck largely of their own making. Ivory Coast didn't maintain possession of the ball well at all late on, did not ever look in control and made odd final substitutions when they needed to protect the defence.
Giovanni Sio gave away a penalty, and out they went.
Group D Winner: The 'Whipping Boys' Who Topped the Group
Costa Rica were placed in Group D with three former winners of the World Cup final, the small CONCACAF nation against two UEFA countries and one from CONMEBOL.
It couldn't possibly happen—except it did. Costa Rica beat both Uruguay and Italy, then saw off England with a scoreless draw to finish top of the group. A phenomenal achievement, and most certainly a deserved one.
Group D Loser: Hopeless, Hapless Hodgson
Luis Suarez, yes. But Uruguay have gone through without him; in the grand scheme of things, Suarez is a loser but his nation continue their World Cup adventure.
England and Italy went home early after disappointing group stages each. Italy boss Cesare Prandelli had the grace to acknowledge failure and resign; Roy Hodgson insists progress has been made and will continue in his job for the next two years.
That's after no wins, one point, very little invention or tactical innovation and finishing bottom of the group. Bring on the Euros, then.
Group E Winner: Didier Deschamps, Vindicated
France boss Didier Deschamps was questioned when he left out Samir Nasri from his World Cup squad, especially after the injury to Franck Ribery.
His decision looks to have been made with great deliberation and reason now, though, with France looking a real team, not just a squad, with plenty of players contributing to the group stage success.
The attack has never looked more fluid or dangerous either—with eight goals in three games—and don't think it's all because of a "weak" group.
Group E Loser: Honduras' Overall Approach
There haven't been too many sides who have come to the World Cup with the sole ambition of bringing anti-football, but the accusation can certainly be levelled at Honduras.
Their poor disciplinary record was surpassed only by Uruguay's tally of cards, and even that's only because of a very lenient referee in the match against France.
Honduras came not to win, but to stop others from doing so, and finishing bottom of the group without a point was as much as they deserved.
Group F Winner: Lionel Messi
Where Neymar has trodden, so too has Messi.
The Argentine forward lifted his side beyond the mediocre and into top spot in the group, essentially winning each match for them.
Messi's moments of individualism have bested Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria, and though his side need to improve dramatically to impact seriously on this World Cup, it's definitely a case of job done so far for the four-goal forward.
Group F Loser: Safet Susic
Legendary status was within Safet Susic's reach, but right when it mattered most, the Bosnia and Herzegovina head coach lost his bottle.
Bosnia's progress to the World Cup finals was based on an offensive style of play, two goalscorers leading the attack and a fairly regular starting XI.
Come the World Cup, Susic changed that to a more practical, defensive approach until it was too late; fair enough against Argentina perhaps, but even that game was there for the taking. Bosnia couldn't pick up the pace against Nigeria, and their World Cup dream was over.
They should be preparing for a round of 16 clash; instead, they're heading home. Susic stepped down as coach of the side, per The Guardian.
Group G Winner: Thomas Mueller
No forwards, no problem.
Germany opted to take only one actual striker to the finals with the knowledge that a host of their versatile attackers could fulfill the centre-forward role, but it's Thomas Mueller who has really stepped up as the goalscorer.
He followed his hat-trick against Portugal with another good finish against United States. Mueller is tied for the lead in the Golden Boot race at the end of the group stage.
Group G Loser: Ghana
The first thing the Ghana players should be doing with their $3 million in World Cup money is distributing it to the fans.
For such a well-backed, impressively supported side, the national team was an absolute disgrace and their supporters deserve far, far better.
It's not just the hilariously awful on-pitch organisation, from the strange shape-shifting of John Boye to the petulance of Andre Ayew. It's also the horrendous lack of discipline from senior "stars" Sulley Muntari and Kevin-Prince Boateng, and the awful, unforgivable threat of refusing to train if they didn't get their money. In cash. Ahead of the established time of payment.
So long, Ghana. Your fans might be missed, but the team won't be.
Group H Winner: Algeria
If Ghana were the disappointment of Africa, Algeria are absolutely the heroes of the continent right now.
After suffering a late comeback defeat to Belgium in the opening game, Algeria picked themselves up to go unbeaten against their final two opponents, taking the game to Korea Republic with a hugely influential and attacking display, before showing great resolve and spirit to come back against Russia in the final match to earn a draw.
It's the first time in their history they have reached the round of 16 of the World Cup, and they are very much deserving of finishing second in their group.
Group H Loser: Fabio Capello
On a huge salary and charged with building a national team to hold pride of place when they host the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Fabio Capello has utterly failed with this Russia team.
A defensive, stilted and unimaginative group phase concluded without a single win, with at least two sides surely seen as beatable for the European nation before the tournament began.
Capello's insistence on not starting Alan Dzagoev has cost him dearly, but one player doesn't make or unmake this Russia side—it's built in Capello's own image, and that ideology was not a successful one at the 2014 World Cup.