World Cup 2014 Best XI of the Group Stage with Neymar, Arjen Robben and More
The 2014 FIFA World Cup has finished its extraordinary group phase, with a number of stars putting in the exceptional performances expected of them—and plenty of lesser-known players doing the same.
Before we head into the knockout stages, it's time to take a look at the best XI of the group matches, comprised of players who performed particularly well on each occasion they took to the field.
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.
Most positions will see an honourable mention, too, especially when the call for first pick was particularly tight, but here's our best XI. Leave your thoughts, comments and own selections below!
GK: Hugo Lloris, France
The goalkeeper of the tournament so far has to be France's Hugo Lloris.
Lloris has kept two clean sheets from three games, being beaten only by two fine, late goals against Switzerland—a free-kick and a close-range volley.
He has kept his side in games early with good saves, and he's generally been a reliable last line behind an offensive and successful team.
Honourable Mention: Rais M'Bolhi, Algeria; Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico
DR: Serge Aurier, Ivory Coast
At right-back, there are a few candidates to consider, but Ivory Coast's Serge Aurier is the pick of the bunch.
Not only did he put in a series of very good displays, but he was also integral to the team's attacking tactic. Aurier was their major out-ball, and he used his pace to break beyond the defence and cross in, both from deep areas and from beyond the penalty box line.
Aurier's delivery was key in Ivory Coast's ability to challenge for points, even though they fell just short.
Honourable Mention: Cristian Gamboa, Costa Rica
DC: Rafael Marquez, Mexico
Up-and-coming defenders have been making their name, but our starting spots go to two veterans of the game.
Mexico had the joint-best defensive record in the group stage (together with Belgium and Costa Rica), conceding just once in their three matches. The solidity of their formation and the reliability of Rafa Marquez was central to that.
Tough to break down or even dispossess, Mexico's approach was held together by the 35-year-old who is captaining his nation at a fourth World Cup finals.
DC: Mario Yepes, Colombia
Along with Marquez, 38-year-old Mario Yepes was superb for Colombia in their first two games, defending with his customary aggression and excellent reading of the game, making up for a lack of pace with a deep defensive line and a will to win every ball.
In the air, he was unbeatable. On the deck, he was first into the challenge, winning the ball back and even raiding forward on one or two memorable occasions.
Yepes earned a rest for the final game once Colombia had already qualified, saving their main man for the knockouts.
Honourable Mentions: Kostas Manolas, Greece; Mats Hummels, Germany
DL: Ricardo Rodriguez, Switzerland
Over at left-back, Switzerland's Ricardo Rodriguez just about gets the nod after a three-way battle.
The Swiss star has been solid defensively and untameable going forward, rampaging down his left flank with the intention of overlapping the wide man and getting the ball toward the forwards.
He claimed two assists during the group stage, but his end product was consistently impressive—he chose the right option more often than not and was a real asset to his side.
Honourable Mentions: Daley Blind, Netherlands; Mehrdad Pooladi, Iran
MC: Charles Aranguiz, Chile
Chile's high-press, high-intensity game has been made possible by the work rate of their attack and the nonstop energy of their midfield, with Charles Aranguiz central to it all.
The Internacional midfielder has played a pivotal role, breaking down opponents' attacks before quickly breaking into the final third to link play with his quick, simple passing game, working the right channel particularly well and getting into the box when he can.
He scored and provided an assist against Spain, but his contribution has been much more than that.
MC: Blaise Matuidi, France
France have been superb so far, mixing aggression with great technique and a will to attack at every opportunity in their first two games.
Blaise Matuidi is vital to their tactics, racing down the left channel from his starting central midfield position and providing overloads down that side to open up defences. Off the ball, he works hard, helps to win it back and retains possession well.
Matuidi also netted one goal during the groups.
Mentions: Marcelo Diaz, Chile; Jose Juan Vazquez, Mexico
AM: James Rodriguez, Colombia
In the attacking midfield role, James Rodriguez is the only choice.
The Colombian maestro has been superb, showing his great technique and skill along with a real invention, unselfish play in the final third—and goalscoring ability.
He's the central wheel that the exciting team revolves around. Rodriguez has already more than played his part in Colombian football's history.
Honourable Mention: Enner Valencia, Ecuador
FW: Arjen Robben, Netherlands
The three forwards have each been superb, and we start with Arjen Robben.
Playing as a second central forward for Netherlands, Robben utilises his pace and dribbling skills to great effect, meeting the Dutch side's counter-attacking ability to perfection to open up defences.
His run from distance and finish against Australia was impressive, while he also found the net against Spain. Robben has hit three in three so far, while also logging an assist for the Dutch.
FW: Karim Benzema, France
Karim Benzema has scored three in his three games, too, but his play for France has been about much more than goalscoring.
The centre-forward drops in to link play, creates space for the wide forwards such as Antoine Griezmann to run into and attacks from deep at times. He also leads the line in other moments, causing a real problem for defenders assigned to him—whether to go and leave a gap or else drop off and leave him free.
Benzema's only blot so far is a missed penalty, but even that, he wiped out afterward by scoring in the same game.
FW: Neymar, Brazil
We finish up our XI with the star of the host nation, Brazil's Neymar.
He has really carried his side through the group stages as they've barely broken out of second gear, struggling for fluency and creativity at times while looking to their forward to be both chief ball-carrier and goalscorer inside the penalty area.
So far Neymar has risen to the occasion admirably, netting four goals and sitting as joint top scorer, and he has adapted well to the more central role he has been asked to play most of the time at the finals.
Honourable Mentions: Thomas Mueller, Germany; Asamoah Gyan, Ghana; Lionel Messi, Argentina